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An American Family History

William Towne and Joanna Blessing

 
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts
 
  "Goodman William Towne was a man of character, substance and social position, but about a quarter of a century after his death three of his daughters were brought under the condemnation of a fanatical court on the charge of witchcraft, and two of them suffered death on the gallows while the third barely escaped a like fate at the hands of an unthinking and ill-advised judicial body. The name of Rebecca Nourse, who suffered the death of a martyr, will endure with time through centuries yet to come, and they who are her defendants, and descendants of her martyr sisters, will look back with pleasure to the fact that she and they are their ancestors, for they were good, innocent and unoffending women, the victims of fanaticism as unjust in its accusations as it was cruel and barbarous in meting out its punishments. This unfortunate episode in the history of the Towne family brought no disgrace upon the name, and there lives not one descendant of either Rebecca Towne Nourse or her sister Mary Towne Esty who cannot feel a just pride in the noble characters of those martyr mothers." William Richard Cutter  
Learn more about the Towne family.
Essex County, Massachusetts was created on May 10, 1643 by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when it ordered "that the whole plantation within this jurisdiction be divided into four sheires."

William Towne and Joanna Blessing were married on March 25, 1620 in St. Nicholas Parish, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk County, England. 

Their older children were born in England. Rebecca Towne Nurse was baptized on February 21, 1620/21. John Towne was baptized on February 16, 1623. Susanna Towne was baptized on October 26, 1625. Sergeant Edmund Towne was born in 1628. Jacob Towne was baptized on March 11, 1632/33. Mary Towne Estey was baptized on August 24, 1634. 

The family came to America and settled in Salem about 1635. Joseph Towne was born in 1639 and Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes was born in 1639. 

The first record of the family in America was in the town book of Salem in 1640. William was granted "a little neck of Land right over against his house on the other side of the river." In the same year, he sued John Cook in what seems to have been a boundary dispute and obtained a verdict and costs. 

William moved from Salem to Topsfield in 1651 where they lived in North Fields. William Towne's name appeared on an undated list of land grants in North Fields. He also purchased land in Topsfield from William Paine of Ipswich. This farm contained forty acres "part of which is plow land, another part is meaddow, another part is upland unplowed, all lying together:" He sold his Salem property to Henry Bullock in 1652 and bought additional land at Topsfield in 1656. 

The land south of the river got him involved in land disputes with the Putnams of Salem, which may have had some impact on the accusations of witchcraft which claimed the lives of two of his daughters forty years later.

When his son, Joseph married Phebe Perkins, daughter of Deacon Thomas Perkins, in 1663, William Towne deeded two-thirds of his real property to Joseph. William and Joanna probably lived with them.

William died in 1672 and Joanna followed in 1682.

Old Style Calendar
Before 1752 the year began on Lady Day, March 25th,. Dates between January 1st and March 24th were at the end of the year. Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are used to indicate whether the year has been adjusted. Often both dates are used.

Three daughters of William Towne and Joanna Blessing were wrongly accused of practicing witchcraft in Salem. Rebecca Towne Nurse, Mary Towne Estey, and Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes were persecuted in 1692. The children of people in the line below are all descendants of Mary Estey.

William Towne,
Mary Towne Estey,
Isaac Estey,
Aaron Estey
,
Mary Estey Dwinnell
,
Israel Dwinnell,
Isaac Davis Dwinnell, Sr.,
Isaac Davis Dwinnell, Jr.
,
Victoria Zellena Dwinnell
,
Robert Wilson Miller, Sr
.,
Robert Wilson Miller, Jr.
The Salem witch trials were between February, 1692 and May, 1693.
 

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Estate of William Towne of Topsfield
Essex Probate Docket # 27923
Administration granted 24:4:1673 to Johana Towne on the estate of Wm Towne, her late husband, and she was to bring in an inventory to the next Ipswich court.

Petition for settlement of a small estate left the undersigned by their father, who died ten years ago leaving no will, but left his estate in the hands of their mother who was appointed admininistratrix and the estate remained unsettled until her death, and now they desire that the following division may be allowed: the land to be divided equally to his three sons, Edmund, Jacob, and Joseph and the moveables equally to the three daughters, Rebecka, Mary and Sarah; also the three brothers to pay all debts now due and what charges shall after arise in settlement of the estate to be equally borne by all six. Adted Jan 17, 1682.
Signed by Mary (her mark) Towne relict of Edmond
Jacob Towne
Josep (his mark) Towne
Francis (his mark) Nurs with the consent of Rebeka
Mary (her mark) Esty, formerly Mary Towne
Sarah (her mark) Bridges.
Witness: John How John Pritchet
Allowed by the court at Ipswich April 10, 1683
Source: Ipswich Deeds, vol 4, page 515

When a mark is used for a signature, the person was probably illiterate, but may not have been able to sign because of age or infirmity.

Mary Towne Estey was a victim of the Salem witch delusion on September 22, 1692.
 
 
 

 

 
Cutter's work is available on CD
Europeans who made the voyage to America faced a difficult journey of several months.

Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts edited by William Richard Cutter, published by Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1908

William Towne, immigrant supposed to have been a son of Richard Towne, of Braceby. England, married. March 25, 1620. Joanna Blessing, in the Church of St. Nicholas. Yarmouth, Norfolkshire. England, and in the same edifice their first six children were baptized. He next appears in Salem, Massachusetts, n 8mo. 1640, when he had a grant of lands in the "Northfields", where he lived until 1651 and then removed with his family to Topsfield, where he died about 1672, his wife surviving him.

Goodman William Towne was a man of character, substance and social position, but about a quarter of a century after his death three of his daughters were brought under the condemnation of a fanatical court on the charge of witchcraft, and two of them suffered death on the gallows while the third barely escaped a like fate at the hands of an unthinking and ill-advised judicial body. The name of Rebecca Nourse, who suffered the death of a martyr, will endure with time through centuries yet to come, and they who are her defendants, and descendants of her martyr sisters, will look back with pleasure to the fact that she and they are their ancestors, for they were good, innocent and unoffending women, the victims of fanaticism as unjust in its accusations as it was cruel and barbarous in meting out its punishments. This unfortunate episode in the history of the Towne family brought no disgrace upon the name, and there lives not one descendant of either Rebecca Towne Nourse or her sister Mary Towne Esty who cannot feel a just pride in the noble characters of those martyr mothers.

William and Joanna (Blessing) Towne had eight children, six of whom were born in England:
1. Rebecca, baptized February 21, 1621, married Francis Nourse, of Salem. She was hanged as a witch at Salem, July 16, 1692. Her husband died at Salem, November 22, 1695.
2. John, baptized February 16, 1624, died before his father.
3. Susanna, baptized October 20, 1625, died before her father.
4. Edmund, baptized June 28, 1628.
5. Jacob, baptized March n, 1632.
6. Mary, baptized August 11, 1634, married Isaac Esty. She was hanged as a witch September 19, 1692.
7. Sarah, baptized September 3, 1638, married (first), January 11, 1660, Edmund Bridges, (second) Peter Cloyes. She narrowly escaped the fate of her sisters.
8. Joseph, baptized September 3. 1648.

Goodman was a courtesy title before the surname of a man not of noble and Goodwife or Goody was the courtesy title for a married woman not of noble birth.