DANVERS — At age 71, Rebecca Nurse was hanged 325 years ago to the day on Wednesday in Salem. She was one of 19 innocent victims of the 1692 witch hysteria, and one of five women hanged that day.
To her neighbors and family, Nurse was known as a proud and pious woman, who lived from from 1621 to 1692. But it was because she proclaimed her innocence after she was accused by her neighbors and others of being a witch that she was hanged.
Her memory, spirit and legacy live on today in Danvers today, in her descendants and at her well-preserved homestead at 149 Pine St.. There, her house, which received a new roof this year, a movie production replica of the famous Meeting House where many of the witch examinations took place and her family burial ground have been preserved.
On Wednesday, on the 325th anniversary of her execution, the Danvers Alarm List Company, the owners and stewards of the property since the mid-1980s, held a commemoration for Nurse, whose story has been memorialized in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, “The Crucible.”
The Alarm List did so on a day proclaimed by Gov. Charlie Baker as Rebecca Nurse Day in the commonwealth. About 150 people gathered to commemorate her life and senseless death last night.
The evening coincided with the dedication of a new memorial at Proctor’s Ledge in Salem, the site of Nurse’s execution.
The outpouring from residents, officials including state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Salem, state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, Selectmen Dan Bennett and Selectman Diane Langlais, and others from across the nation stunned Danvers Alarm List President Jackson Tingle.
“This is the right thing to do, on this day, on this year, and we are just so thankful that all of you could come and join us, to be part of that vibe,” Tingle said.
People jammed into the sweltering Meeting House, and heard a concert of colonial music by the group Essex Harmony. The Meeting House itself is a replica of the 1672 Meeting House that used to sit on Hobart Street and was the scene of many of the hearings during the witch trial.
The authentic replica was built in the mid-1980s on the grounds of the homestead for the production of “Three Sovereigns for Sarah,” a television production based on the true story of the sister of Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyce, who had also been accused but escaped being executed.
Danvers Town Archivist Richard Trask, one of the leading authorities on the witch trials, gave a somber account of the five Puritan women and their journey to Salem to be hanged at Proctor’s Ledge, of which Nurse was one. The other women were Sarah Wildes, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, with Nurse being the oldest of them all.
“Yet she, and the other occupants of the execution cart, whatever they weaknesses and flaws, all shared one common, precious, and in 1692, rare commodity: the belief in standing up and and proclaiming truth,” Trask said. “This was a simple and yet for them deadly truth, that they were not witches.”
Trask noted that confessed witches were allowed to remain in jail, without fear of a trial.
“Those who claimed innocence were tried, found guilty and condemned. These five cart mates were now on their way to the reward for telling the truth and not being believed,” Trask said.
“Rebecca probably spent a fleeting moment thinking of this homestead where we meet today and where she had lived for 14 years, the sight of which she had not seen since late March,” Trask said.
He also recounted the hanging of the five women, saying the order of their deaths is unknown.
“It is recorded that at the place of execution a self-righteous Rev. Nicholas Noyes of Salem urged Sarah Good to confess, told her she was a witch and that she knew it,” Trask said. “His parsimonious comments brought a vile but understandable rebuke by the sad, yet strong-willed woman: ‘I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take my life away, God will give you blood to drink!’”
Trask said the sufferings of these victims has been echoed throughout history including in the dehumanizing genocides of the past century, “which make the Salem witch hunt jokingly pale in comparison.” He urged people to make a change how they perceive others to avoid such a witch hysteria from happening again.
After Trask spoke, everyone gathered outside to hear Baker’s proclamation read by Dan Gagnon. People then walked, to the beat of a drum played by a Revolutionary re-enactor, to the Nurse family cemetery, where descendants put a wreath at her memorial and heard a prayer service by the Rev. Bert White, the chaplain of the Alarm List Company.
“God of love,” White said, “We thank you for all which has blessed us, even to this day and particularly to Rebecca, for the gift of joy in the days of health and strength, for the gifts of abiding peace and promise in the days of pain and grief.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
Nurse lived from 1621 to 1692, and was the wife of Francis Nurse.
Her homestead has been preserved at 149 Pine St. by the Danvers Alarm List Company
She was one of five women hanged during the Salem Village witchcraft hysteria of 1692.
She was one of the earliest inhabitants of Essex County, having come her from England as her family escaped persecution.
She was arrested in March 23, 1692 on charges of witchcraft. Despite this, 40 of her neighbors signed a petition attesting to her good character.
The 325th anniversary of her execution was on Wednesday, July 19.