Early American Witches: Sarah Cloyce
By Cathy Hartt, RN, CNM, MS
She stormed out of church services on Sacrament Sunday, most probably outraged
by the meaning of the minister's message. A meaning that implied her sister,
Rebecca Nurse, was a Devil. To stand up for a sister accused of witchcraft (during
Puritan times) was enough to be named as a witch in and of itself, as Sarah Cloyce
would find out in Salem Village in 1692.
A few days before this particular Sunday in history, a well-known Reverend Lawson
had visited Salem Village to assist with the witch crisis. It seems the teen girls of the
village were now seeing more and more witches in their midst - the village was full of
fear. Rev. Lawson's sermon supported the use of spectral evidence in the trials,
feeling it was better to accuse the innocent than to allow a Devil to go free. The
sermon was rushed into print with the endorsement of many of the most prominent
ministers in that time and region.
Then Salem's own minister, Reverend Parris, gave a similar sermon during
Sacrament Sunday on April 3rd - Just after Sarah's sister, Rebecca Nurse, was
accused of witchcraft. The service opened peacefully and the afflicted girls were
present, as usual. The title of the sermon that day was "Christ knows how many
Devils are in his church and who they are." The title would bring to mind Sarah's
sister, as Rebecca was the first active church member accused of witchcraft in the
community. A stunning event for just about everyone because Rebecca had been a
model Puritan citizen during her ~70 year-long life.
Reverend Parris went on to name a Biblical text about Judas that states, "I have
chosen you twelve and one of you is the Devil." At this, Sarah stood up and left the
church - some say she slammed the door and others say the door was slammed
shut by the wind when she left so abruptly. What matters, however, is that she left
the church in defiance just after the text was read.
In such times, it is no wonder that Sarah became the next witch to be cried out upon
by the young girls. In fact - this happened before the service concluded that day -
they soon claimed to see her spector in communion with the Devil. "Oh Goodwife
Cloyce, I did not think to see you here. Is it time to receive the sacrament? You ran
away on the Lord's Day and scorned to receive it in the meeting house, and is this a
time to receive it? I wonder at you!" stated one of the girls in testimony.
Sarah was younger than her sisters, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty: She is only 48
in 1692. The Movie, Three Sovereigns for Sarah, depicts Sarah as the most
rebellious of the three accused sisters. She had time to flee due to a delay in her
arrest warrant. She chose to stay and to fight during the hearings, despite the
urgings of male family members who told her she was only one woman and could
not hope to win. She fought based on her own interpretation of the Bible and
cause of the witch hunts. She could even recite the Lord's Prayer perfectly in court
(something a witch could not do), only to have the girls fly into fits - saying they
could see the Devil whispering the words into her ear on the witness stand. At this
point in the trial, Cloyce nearly fainted. She asked for water, only to have the
afflicted girls accuse her spirit of leaving the court (with the fainting) to visit her
sister, Rebecca, in jail.
After the trial, a Putnam family member (a close friend of Reverend Parris and active
in the witch hunt hysteria) is said to have stated that is was no surprise about
Rebecca and Sarah being witches - for their mother was an accused witch years
before. Shortly after, Putman's eight week old baby died and Putman felt the cause
of the death was that the child had been tortured by Nurse and Cloyce because of
what he had said about them. His testimony about the death of his child is an
example of spectral evidence and was an important part of the convictions against
Unlike her sisters Rebecca and Mary, Sarah lived. Her trial was, for some reason,
delayed (perhaps because of over crowding of the jails during the witch craze) until
after the trials had been stopped. Sarah was imprisoned for nearly a year - and
during a time when accused witches immediately lost all their possessions and had
to pay room and board to their jailors.
One can only imagine what went through Sarah's mind during and after her
imprisonment and the loss of her two sisters. One can only wonder if she struggled
with survivor guilt, post traumatic stress dysorder, or rage during her latter years on
earth. According to some sources, she did everything she could to clear her sisters'
names after the witch hunts came to an end. It seems likely that she fought the
injustice she saw until her dying days - just as she had in church on April 3rd, 1692.
Perhaps the words that the afflicted girls used against her (when she nearly fainted)
were not so far from the truth - that her spirit was imprisoned along side her
sister(s), even when she was physically absent from them.
Sarah, like Rebecca Nurse, is my great X 7 aunt. Mary Easty is my great X 6
grandmother. In our next issue of Empower! we will look at the case of a less
historic accused witch, Elizabeth Hart(t), who is also my great X 6 grandmother.
Empower! will also be investigating the dynamics that feed into witch hunts and how
this relates to modern day witch hunts. Stay tuned to future issues.
Sarah Cloyce: A Spirit
Pearl Lake State Park