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Rebecca Nurse (Towne)

Also Known As: "Salem Witch Trial"
Birthplace: Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England (United Kingdom)
Death: July 19, 1692 (71)
Gallows Hill, Town of Salem, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts, Colonial America (By hanging as a witch at Salem.)
Place of Burial: Danvers, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Towne, of Topsfield and Joanna Towne
Wife of Francis Nurse
Mother of John Nurse, Sr.; Rebecca Preston; Samuel Nurse; Sarah Bowden; Mary Tarbell and 3 others
Sister of John Towne; Susanna Towne; Sgt. Edmund Towne; Jacob Towne, Sr.; Mary (Towne) Estey, Salem Witch Trials and 2 others

Occupation: convicted as witch, hanged in Salem Village, housewife and accused witch
Pilgram to New England: John & Dorothy of Ispwich and The Rose of Yarmouth, 1637. March 1637 to 9/29/1637
Managed by: Amy Campbell Moran
Last Updated:

About Rebecca Nurse

Rebecca Towne Nurse (1621 - 1692), daughter of William Towne and Joanna Blessing, was born in 1621 at Great Yarmouth, England, the second of eight children. She was baptized on 21 February 1620/21 in St. Nicholas Parish, Great Yarmouth. Her family emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, settling in Salem, although most of the Towne family would eventually move inland to Topsfield. She married Francis Nurse on 24 August 1644, with whom she had eight children. Rebecca Nurse was convicted of witchcraft in the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The subsequent 19 July 1692 execution of this extremely pious, frail 71-year-old woman, is credited as creating the impetus for a shift in public opinion about the validity of the witch trials.

Marriage and Children

  1. Francis Nurse (c.1618 - 1695)
    1. John Nurse (c.1645 - 1719) married (1) Elizabeth Smith (1662 - 1673), daughter of John Smith, on 1 November 1672; and (2) Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel and Alice Very/Vary, on 17 August 1677.
    2. Rebecca Nurse (1647 - 1695) married Thomas Preston (born 1643 Ipswich), son of Robert and Martha Preston, on 15 April 1669.
    3. Samuel Nurse (1649 - 1715) married Mary Smith, daughter of John Smith, on 5 April 1677.
    4. Sarah Nurse (1652 - 1754) married Michael Bowen in 1669 at Topsfield.
    5. Mary Nurse (1659 - 1749) married John Tarbell at Salem, on 25 October 1678. She died 28 June 1749 in her 90th year.
    6. Francis Nurse (1661 - 1715) married Sarah (possibly Tarbell or Craggen) on 15 January 1685. Lived in Reading and Framingham.
    7. Elizabeth Nurse (1665 - 1734) married William Russel, son of William and Elizabeth Russell, of Salem Village on 25 October 1678.
    8. Benjamin Nurse (1666 - 1748) married (1) Tamesin Smith, daughter of John and Margaret (Buffum) Smith, on 21 February 1688; and (2) Elizabeth Morse, widow of Joseph Morse, daughter of John and Mary Sawtelle. Tamesin’s name also appears at Tomasin and Thamesin in historical records.

Early Life

Although not known for certain, it is possible that William Towne and his family emigrated aboard "Rose of Yarmouth" in April 1637. They settled in Salem Village in 1640. Around 1645, Rebecca married Francis Nurse, who had also been born in England. Her husband was a "tray maker" by trade, who likely made many other wooden household items. Due to the rarity of such household goods, artisans of that medium were esteemed.

Together the couple had eight children, four daughters and four sons. In 1672, Francis served as Salem's Constable and was often called to mediate in disputes between villagers. Rebecca frequently attended church and her family was well respected in Salem Village. It was later written that she had "acquired a reputation for exemplary piety that was virtually unchallenged in the community," making her one of the least likely witches to be accused.

The Nurse family lived from about 1638 to 1678 near what is now Skerry Street in the city of Salem. In 1678 they were offered the opportunity to lease-to-own a 300-acre (120 ha) farm in the rural village area of Salem (today Danvers, Massachusetts), originally granted to Townsend Bishop in 1636. 

This was a vast homestead which was part of a 300-acre grant given to Townsend Bishop in 1636. The family had been involved in a number of acrimonious land disputes with the Putnam family, and it is thought that this acrimony may have been the foundation for the Putnams' accusation of Nurse as a witch. Her husband was also an outspoken leader of a committee that believed the Reverend Parris should be removed as minister; while the Putnams were the leaders of the faction supporting Reverend Parris.

Accusation and Trial

On 23 March 1692 a warrant was issued for her arrest based upon accusations made by Edward and John Putnam. Upon hearing of the accusations the frail 71-year old, "I am innocent as the child unborn, but surely, what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of, that He should lay such an affliction on me in my old age."

There was a public outcry over the accusations made against her, as she was considered to be of very pious character. Thirty-nine of the most prominent members of the community signed a petition on Nurse's behalf. Her ordeal is often credited as the impetus for a shift in public opinion about the validity of the witch trials.

Her trial began on 30 June 1692. Witnesses testified to her respectability on her behalf, including her family members. However the young Ann Putnam and her siblings would break into fits and claim Nurse was tormenting them. In response to their outbursts Nurse stated, "I have got nobody to look to but God." Many of the other afflicted girls were hesitant to accuse Nurse.

Although the jury first ruled Nurse not guilty, the magistrate asked that the verdict be reconsidered. At issue was the statement of another prisoner "[she] was one of us" to which Nurse did not reply, probably because of her loss of hearing. The jury took this as a sign of guilt and overrode the verdict, sentencing Nurse to death on 19 July 1692.

Death and Aftermath

On 3 July 1692, Rebecca Nurse was excommunicated - "abandoned to the devil and eternally damned." On 19 July she was driven in a cart with four other women to Gallows Hill where she was hanged. Tradition says that at midnight Francis Nurse, his sons and sons-in-law found Rebecca's body in the common grave where it had been flung and carried it home for a proper burial in an unmarked grave.

Her accuser, Ann Putnam, Jr., publicly apologized to the Nurse family for accusing innocent people. The Nurses accepted Ann's apology and reconciled with her. By contrast, they never forgave Samuel Parris, the village minister, whom they held personally to blame for their bereavement – "none can know what we suffered by the loss of such a mother" – and they did not rest until Parris was removed from office in 1697.

On 2 March 1703 a "Petition to the Governor and General Court" requesting the reversal of Attainder "on thoses Executed and those Condemned in 1692" was made by "several of the Inhabitants of Andover, Salem Village, and Topsfield." Twenty-five pounds was paid to the heirs of Rebecca Nurse in restitution.

Samuel Nurse made this statement in 1710: "We were at the whole charge of providing for her during her imprisonment in Salem and Boston for the space of almost four months. We spent much time and made many journeys to Boston, Salem and other places in order to have vindicated her innocence. Although we produced plentiful testimony that my honored mother had led a blameless life from her youth up, yet she was condemned and executed."

In 1711, the government compensated her family for Nurse's wrongful death.

The notice of her excommunication was erased from church records in March 1721, at the request of her children.

In July 1885, her descendants erected a tall granite memorial over her grave in what is now called the Rebecca Nurse Homestead Cemetery in Danvers (formerly Salem Village), Massachusetts. The inscription is a verse from the poem "Christian Martyr," by John Greenleaf Whittier, "Rebecca Nurse, Yarmouth, England 1621. Salem, Mass., 1692. O Christian Martyr who for Truth could die When all about thee owned the hideous lie! The world redeemed from Superstition's sway Is breathing freer for thy sake today."

In 1892 a second monument was erected nearby recognizing the forty neighbors who took the risk of publicly supporting Nurse by signing a petition to the court in 1692.

The Family Home

Rebecca’s family remained in the Nurse family homestead for many generations. Eventually it was sold to Phineas Putnam, a descendent of the Putnam family and Rebecca's great-great grandson, in 1784. The Putnam family remained until about 1905 and maintained control of the property until 1908. In 1909 the farm was saved by volunteers and turned into a historic house museum that includes the original house and cemetery, on 27 of the original 300 acres (1.2 km2) of land. Today, it is a tourist attraction that includes the original house and cemetery, on 27 of the original 300 acres.

Notable descendants

  • Lucille Ball
  • Zach Braff
  • Mitt Romney
  • Rebecca Nurse is a central character in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, as well as many other dramatic treatments of the Salem Witch Trials.
  • The Crucible (1996) is a film adaptation of Arthur Miller's 1952 play The Crucible, from a screenplay written by Miller himself
  • She is likewise a major character in Robert Ward’s Pulitzer Prize-winning operatic adaptation of Miller's play.
  • The PBS film Three Sovereigns For Sarah (1985) features Vanessa Redgrave as one of Rebecca Nurse's sisters, Sarah Cloyce; although accused, she escaped execution.
  • Rebecca was portrayed by actress Shirley MacLaine in the 2002 CBS miniseries, Salem Witch Trials
  • Nurse was the subject of Lectures on Witchcraft by Charles W. Upham.
  • She is mentioned in passing in Robin Cook's suspense novel Acceptable Risk. A fictional character believes her to be pious and registers surprise when seeing Nurse on her way to her execution.
  • Nurse can also be found as a supporting character in Katherine Howe's historical fiction, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.
  • Her trial and death are elements of the Doctor Who novel The Witch Hunters.
  • Nurse's trial was featured in an episode of the CBS radio program "CBS Is There," which aired on July 28, 1947.


The Nurse surname also appears as Nourse and Norse in historical records.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Bernstrom, Victor (American engraver, 1845-1907), and Howard (Artist, 1853-1911) Pyle. “Arresting A Witch.” New York Public Library Digital Collections, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection,
  • Boyer, Paul S., and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. W. Ross MacDonald School, Resource Services Library, 2008.
  • Carter, Freeland A. “Rebecca Nurse in Chains.” WikiCommons, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Nov. 2007,
  • The Witch of Salem, or Credulity Run Mad, by John R. Musick. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1893. p. 275.
  • “House of Rebecca Nurse.” WikiMedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Mar. 2005,
  • “Rebecca Nurse.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Mar. 2023,
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( accessed 11 March 2023), memorial page for Rebecca Towne Nurse (c.21 Feb 1621–19 Jul 1692), Find a Grave Memorial ID 5872, citing Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, USA; Maintained by Find a Grave.
  • Famous Kin: Ancestry of Rebecca (Towne) Nurse
  • New England Marriages to 1700. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.) Originally published as: New England Marriages Prior to 1700. Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2015. Torrey’s Marriage Index
  • [ Famous Folks: Lucille Ball]
  • "Map: Sites in the Life of Rebecca Nurse". Specters of Salem Village. October 22, 2018. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  • GEDCOM Source: Book Title: A family history : recording the ancestors of Russell Snow Hitchcock : this includes the ancestral lines of Hitchcock, Andrews, Snow, Russell, Bardwell, Warriner, Pepper, and their allied linesFamily history : ancestors of Russell Snow Hitchcoc 1,61157::479879
  • Gagnon, Daniel A., A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2021.
  • Upham, Charles (1980). Salem Witchcraft. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 2 vv., v. 1 p. 80, v. 2 pp. 56–71, 111, 136, 268, 270–89, 290, 292, 480, 483.
  • Hill, Frances Delusion of Satan-the Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials London Hamish Hamilton Ltd. 1996 p.88
  • "Petitions relating to the trial of Rebecca Nurse for witchcraft". Retrieved Mar 8, 2013.
  • Starkey, Marion L. The Devil in Massachusetts Doubleday edition 1989 p.82
  • The Salem Witchcraft Papers, original volumes edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum (1977) / revised, corrected, and augmented by Benjamin C. Ray and Tara S. Wood (2010).
  • Gagnon, Daniel A. (2021-10-29). A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse. Westholme Publishing. ISBN 978-1-59416-367-8.
  • Howe, Katherine (2009)."The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane", Hyperion, 1401340903.
  • "Celebrating The 400th Birthday Of Salem Witch Trials Victim Rebecca Nurse". Retrieved 2021-06-08.
  • Francis’ last will was dated 4 December 1694. He died on 22 November 1695, and the will was proved on 23 December 1695. His estate to be divided equally among his children and grandchildren: John Nurse, Samuel Nurse, Francis Nurse, Benjamin Nurse, Michael Bowden, Thomas Presson, John Tarbell, William Russell.
  • Reference: WikiTree Genealogy - SmartCopy: Aug 20 2023, 10:50:06 UTC

Rebecca Nurse (Towne)

Salem Witch Trials Defendant. Convicted of practicing witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. In most cases, the bodies of those hanged or pressed were cast off into a shallow ditch, not deserving of a Christian burial due to the charge of witchcraft. However, the family of Rebecca Nurse, according to legend, got to her body, removed it from the ditch in Salem and possibly buried it in secret on the family farm in Salem Village (now Danvers, Massachusetts). Where, exactly, is lost to history. Several years after her execution, it was agreed that she had been innocent of being a witch. She was the daughter of Joanna (Blessing) and William Towne.

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Rebecca Nurse's Timeline

February 21, 1621
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England (United Kingdom)

Unfortunately, birth records are not available for Rebecca Towne, only baptismal records. Her actual birth may have been one or two months before her February 21 baptism. According to descendant Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, she was the eldest of six children born in England (two other siblings were recorded as being born after reaching North America):

February 21, 1621
St Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England (United Kingdom)

Unfortunately, birth records are not available for Rebecca Towne, only baptismal records. Her actual birth may have been one or two months before this date.

(Note on the date: the baptism took place on 21 February 1620/21. In the English calendar, February 21 was the 12th month of the year, and thus was recorded by their calendar as 1620. Because this was recognized as problematic when dealing with just about every other country, all of which used January 1 as New Years Day, these were customarily "double dated," i.e., 1620/21. To prevent confusion in our computerized date system, which inflexibly maintains a change of year at January 1, the second year is used, e.g., for this case, 1621.)

February 21, 1621
St. Nicholas Church
June 5, 1645
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Colonial America

The exact date of birth of eldest child John Nurse to father Francis and mother Rebecca Nurse is unrecorded, as is the date of baptism.

Town of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Colonial America

The exact date of birth of eldest daughter Rebecca Nurse (future Rebecca Preston) to father Francis and mother Rebecca Nurse is unrecorded, as is the date of baptism. The infant has an older brother, a toddler named John (age 2).