Early American Witches: Mary Easty
By Cathy Hartt, RN, CNM, MS
She was pinching them - then she was caught trying to strangle innocent teenage
girls! Tormenting them with intent to kill them.  Well, not her exactly.  But, worse yet,
her specter was doing this harm.

Mary Easty was 68 years old the year (1692) she was tried and hung as a witch in
Salem Village.  She was a highly respected community member.  She was a wife and
the mother of seven children, whose dignified manner fit the Puritan mold for
appropriate cultural behavior.  She was baptized on August 24th, 1634.  
Interestingly, this was 283 years (to the exact day) before the birth of her great X 5
granddaughter - that is, the birth of my own mother - Catherine Irene Hartt.  

As history would have it, Mary Easty is my great X 6 grandmother.  My great X 2
grandfather, Reverend Samuel Hartt, Jr. married Mary's great X 3 granddaughter,
Mary Elizabeth Estey. (The spelling of the sir name was changed from Easty to
Estey by the time of Mary Elizabeth's birth.) More interesting than the genealogy,
however, may be the fact that Reverend Samuel Hartt, Jr., his father and his son
were all Free Baptist ministers in New England/Canada just a few generations
following the Salem witch trials.  The theology they preached had to bear a fairly
close resemblance to the theology of the Puritan times in that region, at least as it
relates to women's roles.  This (sometimes titled "zealous") Puritan theology has
been seen as a significant factor in causing the Salem culture to condemn their own
citizens for witchcraft.  They recanted, "we walked in the clouds, and we could not
see our way," just 5 years after 19 innocent people were hung (many others
accused) as witches in Salem Village.  I have often wondered if my "reverend
grandfathers" were aware of this strange paradox that preceded them in history -
and that it involved the execution of two of their own ancestors.  

Let's travel back now to Mary's trial in 1692.  She was accused because her specter
(a witch appearing in her shape) was tormenting the girls.  The witch trials of 1692
can be distinguished from modern day trials largely by the fact that the courts
allowed people to be put to death based solely on spectral evidence.  That is,
someone could testify that they saw someone's specter committing a crime, and the
person (whose specter was seen) was basically accused of allowing a witch (or the
Devil) to possess their soul.  Under Puritan law, the pressure was immense on Mary
Easty to confess - but she held her ground to the very end.  

Then the girls changed their minds and Easty was, indeed, freed to go home to her
family.  A few days later the family awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of
the magistrate coming to take Mary back to jail.  One girl, Mercy Lewis, now testified
that Easty's specter was strangling her.  Mary Easty was noted to be calm and
respectful during her trial, but the girls' cries of being tortured were insistent.  On
September 22, Mary Easty was hung for witchcraft.  

One thing stands out in my mind about my brave and tenacious ancestor's plight -
even after she was clearly condemned to death, she wanted to do the right thing for
those others accused wrongly of witchcraft.  While in jail, she wrote a (now famous)
petition to the judges - not to save herself, but to attempt to enlighten the judges
about their wrong doing.  In the movie, Three Sovereigns for Sarah, Mary's effort is
portrayed as a clearly altruistic one.  She wrote, "I know you are in the wrong way
the Lord in his infinite mercye direct you in this great work if it is his blessed will that
no more innocent blood be shed." She goes on to say that "the Lord above who is
the searcher of all hearts" knows that she, Mary, (like many of the others) is not a
witch and, therefore, cannot confess to witchcraft.  (See excerpt of the petition
below.)   

In our previous issue of
Empower!, we explored the hanging of Mary's sister,
Rebecca Nurse, who is depicted in some historic works as a midwife. (Click here to
view article.) My connection to Rebecca seems obvious through our professional
sisterhood.  My connection to Mary feels equally strong - I fully understand and
respect what it takes to want to shed light (through her written words) on cultural
misjudgments and mistrust in order to spare others from being harmed in the same
way.  Our next issue will focus on Rebecca and Mary's sister, Sarah Cloyce, also
accused of witchcraft in that year.   
Mary Easty: The
Searcher of All Hearts
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