|Early American Witches: Mary Estey, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyse and Elizabeth Hartt|
|I 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 ancestor.
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.
Over the next several months, I plan to write about these distant kin in Empower! newsletter. 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 human beings.
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 blood."
Reference: Beyond the Burning Time by Kathryn Lasky (1994), Scholastic, Inc., New York, pp 119.
|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.
|LINKS TO NEW EMPOWER! ARTICLES ON SALEM WITCHCRAFT
REBECCA NURSE: Mother of Thousands of Millions
MARY EASTY: The Searcher of All Hearts
SARAH CLOYCE: A Spirit Imprisoned
ELIZABETH HART: A Heart Among the Witches
FUELING THE FIRES: Kindling of the Witch-Hunt
Witch-Hunts: The Impact of Fear
Seized in Salem
The Midwives of Salem
Salem's Narrow Gate to Happiness
MIDWIVES & WITCHES: What is the historical connection?
REFERENCE PAGE: For all Salem witchcraft articles on this site and in Empower! Newsletter
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) www.angelfire.com/ks/tomes2CalontirSongs/granny.htm|