The trial of Rebecca Nurse

After Corey was found guilty accusations began flying anew across Salem Village and taking down other respected people. During Corey's trial, Reverend Lawson paid a visit to the home of Salem Village preacher Samuel Parris (see biography entry), where Parris's neice Abigail Williams was living (see Chapter 3). Lawson witnessed Abigail undergoing a particularly severe fit. During the commotion she repeatedly

Samuel Parris

Once the trials started, so many people wanted to come and watch that the hearings had to be held in the meetinghouse. This is a reproduction of the meetinghouse in Salem Village. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

claimed to see fellow villager Rebecca Nurse standing in front of her and coaxing her to sign the witches' book. Abigail made an elaborate show of refusing to sign the book. She ran to the fireplace and picked up hot embers, which she threw around the room with her bare hands. During the next few days Ann Putnam, Sr., met with the girls at the local tavern. She also began having fits. On March 23 the other girls accused Nurse of practicing witchcraft. This turn of events was even more dramatic than the charges against Corey, for Nurse was a seventy-five-year-old woman renowned throughout the village for her kindness and piety. She was, in other words, a model citizen and one of the least likely candidates for victimization in the witch-hunt craze. Nurse's neighbors Israel and Elizabeth Porter immediately warned her about the charges being brought against her. Responding with typical kindness, Nurse said she was worried about the girls and declared that other accused "witches" were also innocent. The Porters later wrote a formal statement that proclaimed Nurse's innocence, yet it was not enough to protect her.

On March 24, 1692, Edward and Jonathan Putnam (uncle and cousin, respectively, of Ann, Jr.) swore out a formal complaint against Nurse and issued a warrant for her arrest on charges of criminal witchcraft against the entire group of girls. When Nurse was taken to the meetinghouse (the term for a Puritan church) for a pretrial hearing, two factions (opposing groups) immediately formed over the issue of her guilt or innocence. Even Hathorne took a remarkably gentle approach in questioning her, even showing some pity. In the meetinghouse Nurse told the crowd that not only had she been lying in bed gravely ill for the past eighty-nine days, she had never harmed anyone in her entire life. When she was accused of murdering several children, she suggested another possibility, as quoted in Rice's Salem Witch Trials: "I do not know what to think of it. . . . The Devil may appear in any shape." Nurse's response suggested a new theory in the minds of some citizens: perhaps the devil was wandering around taking on the images of respectable people in order to trick them into turning against one another. Nurse was sent to jail to await trial.

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