Early American Witches: Mary Estey, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyse and Elizabeth Hartt
II had been a nurse-midwife for about 5 or 6 years when I became interested in the
sociology of witch hunts. Like my grandfather before me, I had chosen to be a
pioneer when I became one of the first nurse-midwives in Western Colorado. What I
did not know then is that I was following in the foot steps of my distant grand
mothers and aunts, as well. I read the book "Tituba of Salem" with a strange
fascination back then, trying to figure out why I was being demonized by some in the
same small town where most of the community loved and trusted me as a midwife.
The same town my own kin had helped to build years before. Some even labeled me
as "evil". It made no sense to me! The book about Salem helped me to understand
the link to sociology and dynamics behind the witch hunt behavior. I knew being a
divorced, educated woman in a conservative town would be hard enough - but
something about being a midwife came up over and over again.
Over the years, I was able to endure and bring change and healing to the women of
the community. Some thought me a bit nuts to stick it out. I found my strength in
knowing my family had settled the region - it was home - I was serving my own
people. My grandfather was a conservative sheep rancher whose father,
grandfather and great grandfather were all conservative Baptist ministers from New
England. I was hardly the "left winged militant feminist" that some accused me of
being. In fact, I felt such a bond with this geographic region that, at age 15, I
elected to stay "home" (instead of living in California with family) in order to finish
high school in this land of my own rural roots. I always felt such a part of things
there - except when those who saw me only as some sort of threat (as a midwife)
came into my life..
In time, after I moved on from that community and from midwifery, I created the Pearl
Lake History web site. It seemed like an important time to re-connect with my roots.
Through this site, I met some distant kin who have helped me with the genealogy
portions - especially Carole Dick in Canada - my distant cousin. One day, while
reading one of her ever-present history-related emails, chills raced up my spine. My
mouth became parched as I read the transcript from a witch hunt trial of one of my
distant grandmothers. I had been aware there was a "witch" someplace back in the
linage, but did not pay too much attention. Up until that moment, I was more focused
on the Old West history. But I read it again and again because for the first time it hit
me - my grandmother (Elizabeth Hartt) was jailed for witchcraft in the famous Salem
witch hunts I had read so much about during my midwifery years. (You will need to
download a free PDF reader for Elizabeth's link.)
I emailed my cousin to tell her that, as a midwife, I felt some strange connection to
this distant grandmother. She immediately emailed back more transcripts - this time
of Mary Estey. I read them but wondered why she had sent these - my grandmother
was Elizabeth Hartt from the genealogy! I soon found out that I had two
grandmothers who were accused of witchcraft in that generation - Elizabeth Hartt
and Mary (Towne) Estey. As it turns out, their offspring intermarried a few
generations later. I began to realize that I am "family" to these women who were
such a key part of our history. I wondered why I had been so attracted (in years
past) to these very witch hunts that had put one of my grandmothers in her grave.
Was there a deeper connection?
Perhaps the real connection did not hit until I did a web search on Rebecca Nurse,
my distant grandma Estey's sister, who was also hung for witchcraft. She is
depicted in many references as a midwife in Salem! At first I could not believe my
eyes - then it all began to make sense to me. Some sort of connection (that was not
bound by time) existed between my trials and theirs; between my "wrongful
termination" and theirs; between my midwifery years and Rebecca's time as a healer
and possible village midwife. She was more than a sister midwife - she was my
That is the insight that gave "birth" to this page - both for the Pearl Lake History site
(about my Hartt kin's history) and my Empower! newsletter site (about women's and
midwifery issues). I cannot express in words how my soul reaches out to these
brave ancestors - my grandmothers Elizabeth Hartt and Mary Estey. And Mary's two
sisters - Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Cloyse.
There are the archives of articles I wrote for Empower! Newsletter a few years back
about my ancestors. These women were, indeed, devout Christians who served
their community and were loved by their fellow human beings. How sad the
dynamics of the witch hunts. The paranoia that can turn a community against itself.
Never have the words "There is nothing to fear but fear itself" rang so true in our
history as in Salem Village in 1692. It was fear that killed my two ancestors - fear
that I have felt in my own time as a midwife - fear that destroys all trust between
Mary Estey, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah
Cloyse and Elizabeth Hart
Here is a quote I found in a fictionalized history book called "Beyond the Burning Times" that depicts Rebecca as a village midwife
- accused of witchcraft in 1692 in Salem Village:
When Goody Dawson had arrived at the Chase Farm with her two rams, she had been full of the story. "It is not mere pinching
and tweaking this time, Goody Chase." the words had popped out of her mouth like little punching fists. "Oh, no. It is more than
that this time with Rebecca Nurse, they say."
"Says who?" Virginia asked
"Says Ann Putman senior" Goody Dawson had nodded firmly.
"But Goody Dawson, you know how frail of mind Ann Putnam senior is. She has never recovered from loosing her little ones"
"That is just the point," Goody Dawson had said, her small eyes growing round like coins.
"What is the point?"
"They were murdered, those infants!"
"Murdered!" Virginia and Mary had both gasped.
"Yes, indeed. Little children had begun appearing to Ann Putman senior in their winding sheets. Some called her Mother, some
called her Aunt - they were the ones of her sister, and they said the same thing. It was Rebecca Nurse who killed them in cold
Reference: Beyond the Burning Time by Kathryn Lasky (1994), Scholastic, Inc., New York, pp 119.
The image to the left is a Salem Tercentenary memorial
proposed by Salem sculptor Yiannis Stafanakis. It depicts
the three sisters who were my ancestors - Rebecca Nurse,
Sarah Cloyse and Mary Easty. Sarah watched as both her
sisters, Rebecca and Mary, were tried and hung for
witchcraft. Sarah was jailed then released after the trials
ended. The statue has yet to be erected, as some in Salem
believe Nurse and Easty were, indeed, witches.
music: Granny (the Witch Song)
|A portion of Mary Estey's Petition to the court sent shortly before her death by hanging:
They say myself and others have made a league with the Devil; we cannot confess. I know and the
Lord He knows (as will shortly appear) they belie me, and so I question not but they do others. The
Lord alone, who is the searcher of all hearts, knows that I shall never answer it at the Tribunal Seat
that I know not the least thing of witchcraft, therefore I cannot, I durst not belie my own soul . I beg
your honors not to deny this my humble petition from a poor dying innocent person, and I question
not but the Lord will give blessing to your endeavors.
Pearl Lake State Park