Famous Witches: The Salem Sisters

Mary Easty was born in England and moved to Massachusettes when she was just a baby. She came from a large and devout Puritan family. Easty married young, producing 11 children; 8 boys and 2 girls who all lived. In 1692 she stood before the court, accused of witchcraft by Ann Putnam and her squad. Yet, Mary seems the most unlikely candidate. Was she really a witch? Or was she just a grandmother, the victim of childish pandemonium, in a community strangled with religious fervor? Are the Salem witch trials an example of mob mentality at its worst? Fundamentally, Yes/No answers are beyond our reach but there are some interesting family relationships, and a little family history worth exploring.

Mary was not from Salem. She lived a day’s journey away, in Topsfield and was one of three Towne sisters accused of witchcraft. The three sisters, “were women of the most reputable lives and maintained their integrity to the last, going on to the scaffold with a martyr’s spirit” (Towne). These grown sisters were not the typically accused; they were not engaged in prostitution, they exhibited no strange behavior, nor did they hold unusual power when compared to their contemporaries. It is true that the Towne sisters were unusually bright, healthy, and lived longer when compared to the average woman in the colonies, but no record of socially unacceptable behavior exists. Why then, were they accused?

Accusations may have been leveled against the sisters because of their good health or intellect. Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyce and Mary Easty all enjoyed a long life despite the witchhunts. Mary was 58-years-old when she stood accused, but the average Puritan woman only lived 35-40 years (Kent).  The sisters were also well educated. They could all read and write, and they understood the intricacies of the law. They were educated like other puritan children, by their mother, a real-life Mother Goose (GEDCOM).

Famous-Witches-Salem-Sisters

Despite their longevity and education, it was probably a disagreement about city planning that brought forth the accusations from the young and impressionable Ann Putnam. When Mary was a small child her father owned land in Salem but sold it and moved to Topsfield after a property dispute. Later, he was engaged in another property dispute with the Putnam family of Salem. The dispute was not in regard to personal property, but about the town limits between Salem and Topsfield. That disagreement provoked Mary’s elders to charge, Joanna (Mary’s mother), with witchcraft. Although she was accused, Joanna never went to trial.

The following generation inherited the property dispute.  At the time of the trials Mary’s brother-in-law and Rebecca’s husband, Francis Nurse “was called frequently as umpire and arbitrator in cases of dispute over land boundaries” (–). Francis Nurse supported the Putnam family’s position because he held property in Salem, but could do nothing to persuade his in-laws to agree with the Putnams. This might be why Thomas Putnam filed suit against Mary Easty and prompted Ann to concoct a story of persecution by invisible entities. After Ann’s parents died, she was the first of the afflicted girls to apologize for her part in the Salem Witch Trials.

Was Mary Easty a magickal practitioner? We don’t know. Although her descendants are, thankfully, alive and well today, they have not offered proof of Mary’s craft and to be truthful I don’t know what proof would look like!

Knowing one of your ancestors was persecuted for witchcraft is a strange feeling. Does it make you magickal? Does it make you a witch? I don’t think so. Witchcraft is a craft. It is a skill, a trade, a craft developed overtime with diligence and practice. To my way of thinking, if you practice the craft you are a witch. If your great grandmothers or great Aunts were persecuted that doesn’t mean you are automatically a witch. If your ancestors were never persecuted, you can still be a witch. Practice your craft. Use the tools inside of you. Grow carefully, patiently, and never give up on you.

 

 

Sources

— “Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts.” William Richard Cutter, 1908 (Page 1489). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/50647036/francis-nurse. Accessed 6 Nov 2019.

GEDCOM. “Joanne Blessing.” GEDCOM. https://www.geni.com/people/Joanna-Towne/6000000007298099415 Accessed 6 Nov 2019.

Lewis, Jone Johnson. “George Burroughs.” ThoughtCo, Mar. 28, 2019, thoughtco.com/george-burroughs-3529133. Accessed 5 Nov 2019.

Towne, Edwin. The Descendants of William Towne. 1901. https://archive.org/stream/descendantsofwil01town/descendantsofwil01town_djvu.txt. Accessed 6 Nov 2019.

 

 

Further Reading

Mary Easty Biography: https://www.thoughtco.com/mary-easty-biography-3530324

“Mary Easty” essay by Anne Austin: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/

 

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