In 1692, nearly two dozen people were put to death in Salem, Massachusetts, for the crime of witchcraft. One of them, Rebecca Nurse, was hanged on July 19.
Like many of the women and men executed that summer, Rebecca Nurse was a devout Christian. Known for her piety, Rebecca was known for being a regular churchgoer. During her trial, some two dozen community members, including relatives of the accusers, wrote, “We whose nams Are heareunto subscribed being desired by goodman Nurse to declare what we knewe concerning his wives conversation for time past: we cane testyfie to all whom it may concerne that we have knowne her for: many years and Acording to our observation her: Life and conversation was Acording to her profession and we never had Any: cause or grounds to suspect her of Any such thing as she is nowe Acused of.”
So, why was Rebecca Nurse convicted and hanged, despite her role as a model Christian? It is entirely likely that the accusations against her were rooted in a series of unpleasant land disputes she and her husband, Frances, had with their landlords, the Putnam family. Young Ann Putnam accused Rebecca of tormenting her with fits, and – as was often the case – spectral evidence was considered legitimate by the court.
Interestingly, the jury in Rebecca’s trial originally returned a Not Guilty verdict, but they were asked to reconsider, since Ann and several of the other afflicted girls kept screaming and fainting in the courtroom. She was found guilty, and hanged on July 19.
After her death, she was denied burial in the local churchyard, because she had been convicted of witchcraft. However, family members later disinterred her and reburied her at the family homestead in Danvers. Today, the Rebecca Nurse Homestead is the only place where members of the public can visit the home of one of Salem’s victims.