Salem Witch Trials & the Towne FamilyI was researching the grandparents of Rebecca Towne (mother of David Towne Petts), and pushed back a couple generations to Ezra Towne (which will be another post). Then I read this in a book:
The Towne family became prominent in the second generation because of the witchcraft hysteria...of 1692…claiming three women from among Ezra Towne’s ancestors.and
The three sisters’ elder brother Edmund Towne…founded the branch of the Ezra Towne family from which Ezra Towne descended.
in 1807, the year of Ezra’s birth, several Towne families still lived in Topsfield, where Ezra’s father, Jacob Towne, was town clerk. His mother, Mary Perkins Towne, also descended from an old Topsfield family. (from My Ever Dear Daughter by Katherine Morgan)Whoa..Salem Witchcraft Trials?
That woke me up.
Yes, indeed, my husband’s 10th gr-grandfather & mother were William Towne and Joanna (Jone) Blessing.
Their sons, Edmund (my husband’s 9th great grandfather), Jacob and Joseph all founded large families in Topsfield, MA.
But their daughters Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyse (Cloyce), of Salem Village (now Danvers) were all eventually tried for witchcraft during the infamous Salem Witchcraft trials:
- Rebecca (Towne) Nurse 1622 – 1692 hanged at 71 years for witchcraft.
- Mary (Towne) Easty abt 1634- 22 Sep 1692 hanged in Salem Village, Essex, MA
- Sarah (Towne) Cloyse /Cloyce – fled with 2nd husband Peter to refuge in Danforth Planation (now Framingham MA)
Let’s walk through it by generation, but only looking at a handful of generations.
**For each generation below, I've bolded the names of the people who my husband descends from**
I’ll gloss over the details here, but detailed Salem Trials notes can be read at the end of the post, at a library or online.
All of my sources are easily accessible from books online or historical research done by universities and made publicly available online, unless otherwise noted. The end of the post has sources used.
(Dates of husband's ancestors are either approximate. If certain, then I took them from Massachusetts Town Records from online access.)
---William Towne, 10th great grandfather
William Towne, Son of settler John Towne (1599-1673)
William Towne was born abt 1599 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England.
Baptism: March 18, 1599, St. Nicholas, Great Yarmouth, England
He died abt. 1672 in Topsfield, Essex Co., Massachusetts.
William Towne & Joanna Blessing
He married Joanna (or Jone) Blessing April 25, 1620 in St. Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. She was born 1594 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England and died 1682 in Topsfield, Essex Co., Massachusetts.
Buried at Pine Hill Cemetery, Topsfield, Massachusetts (no markers)
At Salem, on October 11, 1640, the town
“Graunted to William Townde a little neck of land right over against his howse on the other side of the riuer to be sett out by the towne.”
This grant was part of the Division of the North Field – Salem, Mass. [Now Salem, Northfields]
In June and July, 1640, he brought an action of debt against John Cook, at Salem.
William and Francis Nurse [possibly son-in-law, husband of Rebecca Towne Nurse see notes at end on Rebecca Towne Nurse] asked the town for a grant of land on March 20, 1647, and it was then ordered that the land be surveyed before a decision should be made as to granting it.
* 1 Rebecca (see end for more notes on her) b. Abt. 1622, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England; D July 19, 1692, Salem, Essex, MA.
2. John B. Abt. 1624, Great Yarmouth, England; D. abt. 1672, MA.
3 Susanna 1625-1630, England
4. Sergeant Edmund B. abt. 1628, St Nicholas Parish Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England;
D. 1678, Topsfield, Essex Co., MA (9th gr-grandfather)
5 Ensign Jacob, B. abt. 1632, Great Yarmouth, England; D. November 27, 1704, Topsfield, Essex, MA.
* 6. Mary, (see end for more notes on her) B. abt. 1634, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England; D. September 22, 1692, Salem, Essex, MA
7. Joseph B abt. 1639, Topsfield, Essex Co., MA; D. February 21, 1714, Topsfield, Essex, MA.
* 8 Sarah, (see end for more notes on her) B 1648 Salem, Salem, Essex, MA; D abt. 1703, Framingham, Middlesex Co., MA
William and Joanna Towne Move to Topsfield from Salem Town
In 1652 they moved to Topsfield, Massachusetts, [originally called New Meadows] from North Fields of Salem Town.
In Topsfield he purchased 40 acres of land, and made further purchases in 1656.
He was listed among those to share in the common lands at Topsfield.
Topsfield is about 11 miles northwest of Salem-Town (present-day Salem).
Salem Witchcraft Trials
Many Topsfield residents were accused of witchcraft until the hysteria ended in May 1693.
The causes of the 1692 witchcraft episode continue to be the subject of historical study.
There is a consensus view that land disputes and/or economic rivalry among factions in Salem Town [where the present day Salem is], Salem Village
[renamed Danvers in 1792] and Topsfield fueled animosity and played an underlying role.
|Salem (harbor) Town as it may have been|
|Salem Village Meeting House -reconstruction now Danvers|
However, son Edmund, my husband’s 9th gr-grandfather had already died long before the witch trials had begun.
All of the Towne sons who survived to adulthood, Edmund, Jacob and Joseph, founded large families in Topsfield, MA.
However the Towne women, Rebecca Nurse, Mary Esty (Easty) and Sarah Cloyes/Cloyse each were charged in the Salem witchcraft trials (as mentioned).
William Towne’s Death
William Towne died at Topsfield in 1673, and administration on his estate was granted to his widow in June 24, 1673.
His widow died in or about 1682, and on January 17, 1682, the six children signed a petition for the settlement of her estate.
---Edmund Towne – 9th Great Grandfather
Sergeant Edmund Towne (1628-abt 1717)
Edmund Towne was baptized June 28, 1628, St Nicholas Parish Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England.
It is unclear but believed that by 1637 William and his family, including Edmund were in the colony.
Eventually the Townes family moved to Salem Town (prior to moving to Topsfield).
Edmund married Mary Browning on March 25, 1652 at Topsfield, Mass.
Mary Browning, the daughter of Thomas Browning, was baptized January 7, 1638 and died abt. 1717.
Edmund was a juror in 1655, a commissioner in 1661, and a freeman in 1664.
In June, 1666, he was appointed Corporal of the Topsfield military company.
In 1674, he was part of a committee to petition the Court for permission to form a military guard to protect the settlers.
In 1675 Edmund was part of Topsfield committee that presented a petition to the General Court for permission to form military companies to protect the inhabitants while they worked in the fields from the Indians raids.
He was entered as "Sergeant Towne" in the Topsfield records in 1677.
In 1684 the widow Mary Towne appeared on the list of Topsfield Church members.
Edmund died early in 1678 in Topsfield, MA, dying intestate (without a will).
|Ed. Towne Probate record|
Administration was granted to the widow, Mary Towne, on April 27, 1678.
The inventory was taken by Francis Peabody, Thomas' son-in-law, and Thomas Baker, which included land (excluding land inherited from father-in-law, Thomas Browning) worth 292 pounds.
Mary made her will on February 1, 1710 and it was proved December 16, 1717
Children of Edmund Towne and Mary Browning:
1 Mary B. 1653, Topsfield, Essex, MA; D. 1731; M. John Pri(t)chard March 01, 1681, Topsfield, Essex, MA
2 Thomas B 1655, Topsfield, Essex, MA; D. 1720 M Sarah French
3 Sarah B. April 26, 1657, Topsfield, Essex, MA; M Captain John Howe bef. December 20, 1686, Topsfield, Essex, MA
4. John Towne B April 2, 1658
5 William B March 13, 1659, Topsfield, Essex C, MA; D January 30, 1750. M. Margaret Willard
6 Joseph B September 02, 1661, Topsfield, Essex, MA; D 1717, Topsfield, Essex, MA M. Amy Smith
7. Towne D March 07, 1663; D March 7, 1663?
8 Abigail B August 06, 1664, Topsfield, Essex, MA; D 1712 M 1st Jacob Peabody; M 2nd Thomas Perley
8 Benjamin B May 26, 1666; D before 1678.
9 Rebecca B. Feb. 2, 1668
10 Elizabeth B. November 2, 1669 Topsfield, Essex, MA; M. Thomas Wilkins December 19, 1694.
11 Samuel (1673-1714), M. Elizabeth Knight
12 Rebecca b. February 02, 1668, Topsfield, Essex, MA; M 1st Nicholas Bailey; M 2nd Phillip Knight bef. August 20, 1693, Topsfield, Essex, MA
-- Joseph Towne 8th Great Grandfather
Joseph Towne (1661-1772)
Joseph Towne was born September 2, 1661 in Topsfield, Essex, MA.
Joseph married Amy Smith (variously spelled Eamy, Amey, etc).
Amy Smith was the daughter of Robert Smith and Mary French.
She was born August 16, 1668 in Rowley, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts, and died February 22, 1756 in Topsfield, Essex, MA.
Joseph was a surveyor of highways in 1691, a selectman in 1694, and a constable in 1697.
Joseph Towne made his will on May 18, 1717, and it was proved on the following December. He died in Topsfield, MA.
To his wife "Emmy" [yet another spelling of Amy] he left his household furniture, a cow and one-third of his real estate.
His son Daniel, who had the homestead, was to allow his mother a living room and a chamber above it during her life.
To his son, Benjamin, he left other real property, while the younger children, Nathan, Jesse, Nathaniel, Amos and Amy received cc30 apiece.
Benjamin and Daniel were appointed executors and the witnesses were William Towne, Jacob Towne and John Curtis.
1 Benjamin Towne Born May 10, 1691 in Topsfield, Essex, MA and died February 11, 1772 in Topsfield, Essex, MA
2 Nathan Towne 1693- D. Abt. 1762, Andover, Essex, MA.
3 Daniel Towne 1695-1712
4 Jesse Towne 1695-1754 Wells, York Co., Maine.
5 Sergeant Nathaniel Towne 1700-?
6 Amy Towne 1703-?; M. William Hobbs, January 10, 1727, Salem, Essex, MA
7 Joseph Towne 1703- bef. 1717
8 Amos Towne 1709-1747 Died en-route to Annapolis, Nova Scotia.
Note: Benjamin Towne and subsequent Townes will appear in post #48
Salem Witch Trials
In early 1692, the controversial minister of Salem Village (now Danvers, MA) Rev Parris's Elizabeth, 12-year-old niece Abigail Williams, as well as other neighborhood girls began to fall into fits.
Their parents tried to discover what was causing their distress, and village doctor William Griggs gave his opinion that the girls were the victims of witchcraft.
Put upon to tell who was causing their afflictions, the girls finally accused three village women, and warrants were sworn out for the arrest of Sarah Osburn, Sarah Good and Parris's slave who had come from Barbadoes with the family, Tituba.
This was the start of the “first wave accusations” located in Salem Village (now Danvers); Salem Town (now Salem); Topsfield, Lynn, Reading.
|Red dots show locations of 1st wave of Accusations|
About Edmund's sisters:
Rebecca, Mary & Sarah, Some of the Accused
REBECCA TOWNE NURSE
Rebecca Towne Nurse (February 21, 1621 – July 19, 1692) was executed for witchcraft by the government of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England in 1692, during the Salem witch trials.
Although there was no credible evidence against her, she was hanged as a witch on July 19, 1692. Massachusetts colony was seized with hysteria over witchcraft and the supposed presence of Satan within the colony.
(Her sisters Mary Eastey and Sarah Cloyce were also accused of witchcraft).
Mary was the daughter of William and Joanna Towne born in 1621.
Around 1644, she married Francis Nurse who was also 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. Nurse and her family lived on a vast homestead which was part of a 300-acre (1.2 km2) grant given to Townsend Bishop in 1636.
Francis originally rented it and then gradually paid it off throughout his lifetime.
Together, the couple bore eight children: four daughters and four sons.
Nurse frequently attended church and her family was well respected in Salem Village; Francis was often asked to be an unofficial judge to help settle matters around the village.
In 1672, Francis served as Salem's Constable.
It was later written that Rebecca had "acquired a reputation for exemplary piety that was virtually unchallenged in the community," making her one of the "unlikely" persons to be accused of witchcraft.
Accusation, trial, release and re-trial
The Nurse family had been involved in a number of acrimonious land disputes with the Putnam family.
On March 23, 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 Nurse, often described as an invalid, said, "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. At age 71, she was one of the oldest accused.
Her ordeal is often credited as the impetus for a shift in the town's opinion about the purpose of the witch trials.
Her trial began on June 30, 1692. In accordance with the procedures at the time, Mrs. Nurse, like others accused of witchcraft, represented herself since she was not allowed to have a lawyer represent her.
By dint of her respectability, many members of the community testified on her behalf including her family members. However the young Ann Putnam Jr. and the other children would break into fits and claim Nurse was tormenting them.
Such so-called "spectral evidence" was allowed into the trial to show that Satan was afflicting others in the community at the behest of the accused. 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.
In the end, the jury ruled Nurse not guilty.
Due to public outcry and renewed fits and spasms by the girls, the jury asked the magistrate that the verdict be reconsidered.
The jury changed their verdict, sentencing Nurse to death on July 19, 1692.
Death and aftermath
Many people labeled Nurse "the woman of self-dignity", due to her dignified behavior on the gallows.
As was the custom, after Rebecca Nurse was hanged, her body was buried in a shallow grave near the gallows along with other convicted witches, who were considered unfit for a Christian burial.
Nurse's family secretly returned after dark and dug up her body, which they interred properly on their family homestead.
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 on the monument reads:
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.
(From the poem "Christian Martyr," by John Greenleaf Whittier)
In 1892 a second monument was erected nearby recognizing the 40 neighbors, led by Israel and Elizabeth (Hathorne) Porter, who took the risk of publicly supporting Nurse by signing a petition to the court in 1692. One signer was General Israel Putnam's father.
Her accuser, Ann Putnam, Jr., publicly apologized to the Nurse family for accusing innocent people.
In 1711, the government compensated the Nurse family for Rebecca's wrongful death. The Nurse family homestead fell into the hands of Putnam family descendant Phineas Putnam in 1784.
The Putnam family maintained control of the property until 1908.
Today, it is a tourist attraction that includes the original house and cemetery, on 27 of the original 300 acres.
MARY TOWNE EASTEY
Mary Towne Eastey (also spelled Esty, Easty, Estey, Eastick, Eastie, or Estye)
(bap. August 24, 1634) Hanged September 22, 1692.
Mary Towne was convicted of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials of 1692 in colonial Massachusetts. She was executed by hanging in Salem.
Mary Estey was born Mary Towne to William Towne and Joanna Towne (née Blessing) in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England.
Mary Towne married Isaac Estey in 1655 in Topsfield, Massachusetts Bay Colony; Isaac, a farmer, was born in England on November 27, 1627.
Together the couple had eleven children.
Like her sister Rebecca Nurse, Eastey was a pious and respected member of Salem, and her accusation came as a surprise.
During the examination on April 22, 1692, when Eastey clasped her hands together, Mercy Lewis, one of the afflicted, imitated the gesture and claimed to be unable to release her hands until Eastey released her own. Again, when Eastey inclined her head, the afflicted girls accused her of trying to break their necks. Mercy claimed that Eastey's specter had climbed into her bed and laid her hand upon her breasts. When asked by magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin how far she had complied with Satan, she replied, "Sir, I never complyed but prayed against him all my dayes, I have no complyance with Satan, in this ... I am clear of this sin."
For reasons unknown, Eastey was released from prison on May 18 after two months.
However, on May 20, Mercy Lewis claimed that Eastey's specter was afflicting her, a claim which other girls supported.
A second warrant was issued that night for Eastey's arrest. She was taken from her bed and returned to the prison; Lewis ceased her fits after Eastey was chained.
Eastey was tried and condemned to death on September 9. Robert Calef described Eastey's parting words to her family "as serious, religious, distinct, and affectionate as could be expressed, drawing tears from the eyes of almost all present."
She was hanged on September 22, along with Martha Corey, Ann Pudeator, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Wilmot Redd, Margaret Scott, and Samuel Wardwell.
Death and Aftermath
On the gallows she prayed for an end to the witch hunt. Of her two sisters likewise charged with witchcraft, Rebecca Nurse was hanged on July 19, 1692.
In November, after Eastey had been put to death, Mary Herrick gave testimony about Eastey. Herrick testified that she was visited by Eastey who told her she had been put to death wrongfully and was innocent of witchcraft, and that she had come to vindicate her cause.
Eastey's family was compensated with 20 pounds from the government in 1711 for her wrongful execution. Her husband Isaac lived until June 11, 1712.
Mary Eastey's grandson Daniel Eastey fled the country and changed his name during his grandmother's trial, and then moved to Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada.
SARAH TOWNE CLOYSE
Sarah Cloyce/Cloyse (née Towne) (bap. 3 September 1648 – 1703) was accused of witchcraft but never indicted by a grand jury in the Salem Witch Trials.
The daughter of William Towne and his wife, née Joanna Blessing, she was the sister of Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty who were executed as witches at Salem in 1692.
Her first husband was Edmund Bridges, Jr. of Topsfield and Salem, who she married in 1659/60. They had at least five children; he died in 1682.
Her second husband was Peter Cloyce; he was the father of six when they married, and they had three additional children together.
She was accused of witchcraft the day after she had defended her sister Rebecca against the same charge.
A few days later she was named in warrants and arrested, and was transferred to Boston prison. She petitioned the court for an opportunity to present evidence which supported her innocence, and to exclude spectral evidence (which is testimony that the spirit of someone did something).
Jail-break or Release?
When all the legal maneuvers failed, with Sarah’s sisters having been hung as witches, Peter did the only intelligent thing as the shadow of the hangman’s rope drew near in the new round of trials of January 1693. He broke Sarah out of jail and fled south (Thought it’s reported that Superior Court dismissed the charges against Sarah in January 1693 and Peter simply paid the prison fees and she was released. But tradition and earlier reliable sources tell us otherwise.
"Clayes was imprisoned in Ipswich and smuggled out along with friends who had come to visit her," and thence, according to the History of Framingham, "conveyed by night to Framingham."
… she somehow escaped from a makeshift ‘jail’ in Ipswich – probably a farmer’s shed – and made her way with her husband towards Danforth’s property," a safe area in what is now Framingham.
Certainly Peter had been petitioning for a recognizance for his wife and it is always possible they simply skipped bail.
Heading Southwest on Foot and the Danforth Difference
However they managed Sarah’s escape, it was deep in a New England winter that they made their way southwest to Framingham, then known as the Danforth Plantation, and marked in old records of the times as "the wilderness."
Ironically the Danforth Plantation where the Cloyes sought asylum was owned by one of the early judges at the Salem Witch Trials.
Thomas Danforth & Safety
Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth had sat on the early Tribunal. But he had left the tribunal in May, several months before the hangings began, harboring a secret disgust and ill-ease with the proceedings.
This was originally known as Danforth Farm or Plantation, and later renamed Framingham.
Danforth had been on the Tribunal through May, long enough to have observed the character of all three Towne sisters.
Records show that the three sisters repeatedly behaved with dignity, piety, firmness and good character to such an extent that the magistrates hesitated repeatedly with their cases.
Rebecca was brought in Not Guilty, only to be re-deliberated until Guilty. She was reprieved, only to have it denied.
Petitions were signed on her behalf.
Mary was cleared only to be re-accused and rearrested.
The minister of Topsfield vouched for both Mary and Sarah, but to no avail.
Sarah wrote elegant appeals that were ignored.
Many were rightfully impressed with the Towne sisters and deeply distressed with the proceedings.
Danforth seems to have been one of those and afterwards made it his business to take in and see to the welfare and reparations of the surviving Towne sister’s families, starting with Sarah (Towne) Cloyes herself.
Salem End Road, At Last
It was that the Danforth haven become known to those fleeing the accusations and executions, a large boulder on Salem End Road was said to be the official landmark that that signaled escaping families that they were on the Plantation and safe at last.
Danforth subsequently turned over more than 800 acres to Salem families seeking asylum and safety, including the Towne, Nurse, Bridges, Easty, and Cloyes families.
The new settlement quickly became known as Salem End Road.
They came fearing for their lives, seeking a safe haven, and found it on Danforth’s Plantation, living in safety on his land as reparation for their treatment in Salem.
Much has been written about the trials and Salem at the time. Anything that is not pulled strictly from a town record (witchcraft trial is part of the town record), I owe a great debt to researches who preceded me.
Some of the sources include:
1 Wikipedia - 3 articles on the Towne girls
2 Towne Family Association-professional genealogists
3 Ancestry. com (especially Mass town records)
4 Smithsonian site:
5 Witchcraft Trials in Salem: A Commentary by Douglas Linder
6 Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692
By Emerson W. Baker and James Kences, from Maine History, volume 40, number 3, Fall 2001 (pp. 159-189)
7 Witch Caves & Salem End Road-Framingham Massachusetts (** Most of the information on Sarah Towne is from this site**)
by Daniel V. Boudillion
Webpage is an abbreviated version published in the book Weird Massachusetts