An American Family History

Rebecca Towne Nurse

O Christian Martyr who for truth could die
When all around thee owned the hideous lie!
The world redeemed from Superstition's sway
Is breathing freer for thy sake today
John Greenleaf Whittier  

Rebecca Nurse's Home

Many factors led to the witchcraft accusations in Salem.

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."

Samuel Parris was a rigid Puritan minister of Salem Village. He married Elizabeth Eldridge, and they had three children including Betty Parris.

Rebecca Towne Nurse was baptized on February 21, 1620/21 in St. Nicholas Parish, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk County, England..  Her parents were William Towne and Joanna Blessing.

She married Francis Nurse on August 24, 1644 in Great Yarmouth. Francis was a tray maker who probably also made other wooden household items. Francis was born in 1618 in England. He was Salem's constable in 1672.

They lived from about 1638 to 1678 near what is now Skerry Street in the city of Salem.

Their children included:
John Nurse (1645),
Rebecca Nurse Preston (1647, married Thomas Preston),
Samuel Nurse (1648/49, married Mary Smith),
Michael Nurse (1651),
Mary Nurse Tarbell (1657, married John Tarbell),
Francis Nurse (1659/60),
Sarah Nurse (1662),
Elizabeth Nurse Russell (1655/56, married William Russell), and
Benjamin Nurse (1664/65).

Rebecca was accused of witchcraft and was executed on July 19, 1692. She may have been targeted because her husband was a prominent citizen in Topsfield involved in the dispute over land along the border of Salem Village. Her husband was also an outspoken leader of a committee that believed the Reverend Samuel Parris should be removed as minister. The Putnams were the leaders faction supporting Reverend Parris.

Francis died on November 22. 1695.

In 1703, 25 pounds was paid to the heirs of Rebecca Nurse. 

Children of William Towne
and Joanna Blessing
  • Rebecca Towne Nurse
  • John Towne
  • Susannah Towne
  • Sergeant Edmund Towne
  • Jacob Towne
  • Mary Towne Estey
  • Joseph Towne
  • Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes
  • 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.
    A constable was an elected official who was responsible for keeping the peace. His duties were more limited than the sheriff's. He apprehended and punished offenders, helped settle estates, and collected taxes.

    Europeans who made the voyage to America faced a difficult journey of several months.


    Learn more about the Towne family.

    The New England Magazine, Volume 5 by Making of America Project

    Rebecca Nurse was born in Yarmouth, England, and baptized there on February 21, 1621. This would make her seventy-one years of age at the time of the witchcraft troubles. She was the daughter of William Towne, and wife of Francis Nurse of Salem Village. Nurse lived from about 1638 to 1678 near what is now Skerry Street in the city of Salem. His occupation was that of tray-maker. In 1678, he purchased the farm in Salem Village then known as the Townsend Bishop farm, now better known as the Nurse farm. . . .

    The Nurses were blessed with eight children, — Samuel, John, Francis, and James, Rebecca, wife of Thomas Preston; Mary, wife of John Tarbell; Elizabeth, wife of William Russell; and Sarah, then unmarried. They dwelt on the farm or near it, and in a short time Nurse divided the larger part among them.

    From all the information that has come down to us, Salem Village contained no more prosperous, happy, and contented family than this. There were others of much greater wealth, but none that promised more enjoyment in old age than that reared and established at Salem Village by Francis Nurse and his wife Rebecca. He had been prominent and honored in the communities where he dwelt. She was an intelligent, pious, devout woman, a veritable "mother in Israel." Against her good name and fair fame no breath of suspicion had yet been uttered. [a description of the land dispute follows]

    Isaac Eastey's wife was sister of Rebecca Nurse. The Townes, John, and Joseph, Jr., were nearly related to her. While most of the inhabitants of the Village took sides against the Topsfield men, the Nurse family supported them. When the Village meeting passed a protest against the Topsfield claim, Samuel Nurse, Rebecca's oldest son, and Thomas Preston, her son-in-law, entered their written dissent. Whether this long and bitter controversy had anything to do with the prosecution of Rebecca Nurse and Mary Eastey is left to conjecture. It is certain that Thomas Preston joined with Thomas and Edward Putnam in signing the complaint against Sarah Good in 1692. Does not this indicate that whatever ill-feelings arose from the Topsfield feud, thirty years before, had been entirely forgotten, or at least forgiven ?

    The Salem witch trials were between February, 1692 and May, 1693.

    In 1688, during the Glorious Revolution, the Protestant king and queen,William and Mary, took the English throne from Catholic King James II. The bloodless revolution profoundly impacted the American colonies.

    from The New England Historical and Genealogical Register

    John Tarbell (Thomas) was probably born at Watertown about 1654, although there is no record of his birth. He married at Salem, Oct. 25, 1678, Mary Nurse, daughter of Francis and that unfortunate Rebecca Nurse who was hanged for witchcraft in 1692.

    They lived at Salem Village, now Danvers, in which parish the Salem Witchcraft delusion first appeared. As a result of the persecutions, John Tarbell and his wife and a few others, mostly relatives of the accused, withdrew from communion and attendance at the Salem Village church. This was the beginning of the remonstrance of the people against Rev. Samuel Parris as their minister, which resulted in his dismissal from that church in 1697. In this movement, John Tarbell bore a prominent part.

    Before his marriage, and while living in Charlestown, John enlisted as a soldier in King Philip's war. For his services his heirs, represented by his son Cornelius, received in 1728 a grant of land in Narragansett No. 3, now Amherst, N. H. John was styled "Ensign." He died at Salem Village, Mar. 25, 1715, in his 62 year.

    His will, made two days before his death, names his wife Mary and all of his children, his three daughters being then unmarried; also he left a small sum to Mary, wife of James Smith. Her maiden name being Tarbell, she may have been his niece, daughter of Thomas Tarbell, although no relationship is expressed in the will.

    Mary, widow of John, lived to a good old age, and died June 28, 1749, in her 90th year.

    Children, recorded at Salem, and baptized at Salem Village:
    John, b. Aug. 9, 1680; bapt. Apr. 27, 1690.
    Mary, b Apr. 3, 1688; bapt. Apr. 27, 1690; m. as his second wife, June 23, 1725, Abraham Goodale of Salem.
    Cornelius, b. Mar. 25, 1690; bapt.-Apr. 27, 1690.
    Jonathan, b. Feb. 21, 1691; bapt. Oct. 30, 1692; d. unmarried, between May 18, 1715, and June 18, 1718. He gave one half of his estate to his mother, thence to revert to his brothers and sisters, the other half to Elizabeth Mitchell, provided she remained unmarried,
    Elizabeth, b. Mar. 22, 1693-4; d. at Bedford, May 29, 1752; m. Feb. 1, (prob. 1721-2;, Obed Abbott of Bedford.
    Sarah, b. Oct. 2. 1696; d. Apr. 12, 1767, at Bedford; m. Feb. 7, 171516, Benjamin Hutchinson of Bedford.

    King Philip’s War was a bloody and costly series of raids and skirmishes in 1675 and 1676 between the Native American people and the colonials. King Philip was the Native American leader Metacom.

    from A History of the Putnam Family in England and America, Volume 1
    by Eben Putnam

    Thomas Preston, m. 15 Apr., 1669, Rebecca, daughter of Francis and Rebecca Nurse. He died 1697.

    Rebecca, b. 12 May, 1670; m. Ezekiel Upton of Reading.
    Mary, b. 1671; m. Peter Cloyse, of Framingham.
    John, b. 20 Nov , 1673.
    Martha, b. 21 Oct., 1676; m. 7 Dec, 1705, David Judd.
    Thomas, m. Anna Leach.
    Elizabeth, b. 1680; d. 21 Nov., 1693.

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    ©Roberta Tuller 2023
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