Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Witch Trials and Ancestry ~ Autumn in Danvers and Salem Massachusetts

We all grow up with the weight of history on us.
Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains
as they do in the spiraling chains
of knowledge 
hidden in every cell of our bodies.
~Shirley Abbott

Rebecca Nurse Homestead
Danvers, Massachusetts

My sister got into digging up our ancestry, a few years ago. It got pretty interesting on a several family lines. A lot of my ancestors came here, off the boat, several hundred years ago, including three different family lines that came over on the Mayflower. 

One of the most interesting family members, was Rebecca Nurse, (Her maiden name Rebecca Blessing Towne) was born in England in 1621, and then came to Massachusetts, one of the British Colonies. 

She is my 10th Great Grandmother.

Her home is a museum now, because Rebecca, a grandmother and mother of 8, was wrongly accused and convicted of witchcraft, during the Salem witch trials. 

Hundreds who were accused, were saved and released from prison, because the court started to require actual physical evidence, of all this consorting with the devil. But, after declaring no one could be convicted without it, that was basically the end of the witch trials.

But, it was too late for Rebecca and 23 (or more) others. 19 were hung, one was pressed to death while not confessing, nor denying it, and conflicting numbers of others died in while in prison.

Rebecca's name was cleared later on, but only after she was hung, in 1692. Ten years after her death, her accuser publicly apologized. 

This was her home at the time, with her husband, and my 10th great grandfather, Francis Nurse. Francis also came to colonies, from England. Eventually, he was able to work his way up from indentured servant and tray maker, into being a landowner. (Which would have been impossible with the class system, back in England.) 

The house is in Danvers, not far from Salem. The funny thing is, that I had been to this area back in the late 1990s, but had no idea of my family connection and had only visited the town of Salem, not Danvers, or this house. 

In the winter, they would bring livestock inside, to keep them warm and alive, as well as warming up the house.

My friend Dawn and I were running late, getting to Danvers, and found out that they would be closing at 3:00! I was so bummed because, at best, we would arrive at 2:30. 

Well, the people at the homestead couldn't have been nicer, when we got there. The last tour had already started, but the guide said she would take us back through the house after she was finished with the group tour … so it was like having a private tour of the house!

And yes, I told our guide that Rebecca was my 10th great grandma. There are actually a lot of ancestors that visit, and apparently, some branches of the family even have large reunions. Wouldn't that be kind of a kick?

This area we've been looking at, is the 1st room you walk into.

The candle, below, is a courting candle. You give your daughter a specific amount of time for her visit, by how high you put the candle up. When it burns down to the iron, it's time for the "date" to end.

Then you walk into the larger "living room" area, with spinning wheels ...

And a huge walk-in fireplace, to do your cooking. Apparently, this was dangerous work and sometimes ladies would catch themselves on fire. There is a little "oven" on the upper right of the fireplaces, that looks like a pizza oven. Can you see it? It's toward the middle of the photo.

Up the stairs, to the sleeping quarters … where generally the whole entire family would sleep.

There was another fairly large fireplace in this room, as well. 

The past is not dead.
It isn't even past.
~William Faulkner

This building, below, was not originally on the property. It was built by PBS for the 1985 film "Three Sovereigns for Sarah," a movie about the witch trials, where Rebecca's sister was played by Vanessa Redgrave.

Anyway, they built it to the original plans of the town meeting hall. The original location of the town hall is in the middle of a neighborhood, so they build it here and used the property for filming.

It was in a room like this, that folks would meet on Sundays for town meetings, trials, as well as church services. It was likely the only day they'd see neighbors and people outside of the family, because they'd be working on their land day and night, the rest of the week.

In the photo, below, you can see the balcony, where less well-off members of the town would sit. And you can see the "box seats" below it.

Here's our awesome guide, Candice, showing the stick they would tickle or poke you with, if you fell asleep during church services. 


There was so much fear back then. If they couldn't explain something, like an illness or convulsions, it was the work of God or the Devil. It was a scary and superstitious time.

Looking out from the house, you see the rebuilt barn, which is now used for ticket sales, and sales of books on Rebecca, the witch trials and beautiful little packets of stationery and cards.

Here's Dawn, after we toured the house, and were ready to take the little path, to the family cemetery, across the field.

Monument built to Rebecca Nurse ...

To us,
the ashes of our ancestors are sacred
and their resting place is hallowed ground.
~Chief Seattle

On the monument

Rebecca Nurse
Yarmouth England
Salem Mass
O Christian Martyr
Who for Truth could die
When all about there
owned the hideous lie!
The world redeemed
from Superstitions sway
Is breathing freer
for thy sake to-day
by John Greenleaf Whittier

on the back of the monument…

Accused of Witchcraft
She declared
"I am innocent and God will 
clear my innocency"

Once acquitted yet falsely
condemned. She suffered 
death July 19, 1692.

In loving memory of her 
Christian character
even then fully attested by 
forty of her neighbors
this monument is erected
July 1885

They believe one of these stones, above, is perhaps were Rebecca is buried. After the trial, those convicted were not aloud to be buried in the consecrated cemetery, since supposedly they were in cahoots with the Devil, so they were buried out somewhere in unmarked graves. It is believed that most family members would go out and retrieve the bodies of their loved ones. 

There is a pretty detailed story of Rebecca's husband, and one of their sons, going to retrieve Rebecca, so it is believed she is buried here in the family cemetery.

Dawn took this of me, below ...

So sad what fear and ignorance can cause, both then and now.

We need to haunt the house of history 
and listen anew
to the ancestors' wisdom.
~Maya Angelou

One more thing …

Dawn and I decided to say a prayer at the house, before leaving. Being that Rebecca was a puritan, we thought the Lord's Prayer would be fitting. We held hands and said the prayer aloud, also touching the house with our other hands. When we got to the end and when we were saying "Amen," a big gust of wind came up, and chills went up through my whole body.

In the doorway to Grandma's house …

We were there for quite a while, and it had started getting pretty chilly. We finally headed out on the road to Salem where the streets were lined with these cute residences ...

Salem, was not how I remembered it. I had been in October, before Halloween, last time, as well. But on this Saturday, there was a festival going on, and it was kind of a zoo!

It was fun to see everyone in their witch hats, but at the same time, we'd just had this peaceful experience and had heard the real story about the witch hysteria and how many people suffered, so this felt a little like kitchy commercializing of something terrible that happened. 

Having said that, Dawn and I still wore our witch hats. ;)

We didn't do the Witch Museum, this time. Instead, we headed off to meet our wonderful old friends, in a little port town called Newburyport. Yet another adorable, charming town!

Ceia Kitchen and Bar

That's Stephen and his wife Jennifer, in the middle, between Dawn and me. We had a beautiful and tasty meal, and squeezed in a lovely, wonderful (if brief!) visit. They drove in and met us from Bedford, New Hampshire. 

(I met Stephen working at the Gap, on Melrose, in 1993!)

Here is a History Channel documentary if you are interested in learning about what happened during the Salem witch hysteria.

For more on the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, click here.
Rebecca Nurse on Wikipedia, click here.
Salem Witch Trials and Museum, click here.

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand,
you will see your parents
and all generations of your ancestors.
All of them are alive 
in this moment.
Each is present in your body.
You are the continuation of each of these people.
~Thich Nhat Hahn

Next up … Cape Cod!
Blessings and light!!!


Joop Zand said...

What a fantastic post lucinda....... You show us a lot nice pictures and information........ Thanks.

Greetings from Holland, Joop

Rick Forrestal said...

This is such a special post.
Your photos, your story and family history,
the detail and warmth of each picture.

I played the wonderful John Boswell piano piece while slowing enjoying each part of this post -- nicely done.

Words cannot express the enjoyment I received this morning from spending time with your words and photos.


cath hy photographie & peinture said...

Magnifique publication! et très belles photos!
Very nice post! nice work.
Thanks & Welcome for your comment and your visit to my blogs.
Have a nice day! Cath

Loree said...

Very interesting, especially since this lady was your ancestor.

Kerry O'Gorman said...

I just watched a movie called "Everything is Illuminated" which tells how sometimes our ancestry searches US out by the clues it leaves. Yours must be reaching for you in the way you have found them and in how your life turned out...as an actress (the film made about Rebecca, which I remember!) the fact that your Grandpas name was Francis (whom which I know you have a fascination with another Francis! ) and that you're such a great story teller as they are, in a way. Lovely post and incredible story.

Cobalt Violet said...

Thanks for the awesome comments!!!

Cobalt Violet said...

Thanks for the awesome comments!!!

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