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Rebecca Nurse of Salem with Dan Gagnon

Rebecca Nurse of Salem with Dan Gagnon Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

This is the Rebecca Towne Nurse podcast episode that we have all been waiting for. We discuss the monumental story of her life and the Salem Witch Trials with historian and Danvers native Dan Gagnon. Learn about the unique layers of this infamous witch hunt from the author of Rebecca’s biography, A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse. We address the importance of victim memorials and exonerations of innocent accused witches. This discussion communicates End Witch Hunts’ message: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?LinksDan Gagnon Website Order "A Salem Witch" book by Dan GagnonThe Salem Witch Trials: A Day By Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marilynne K. RoachUniversity of VA, Salem Witch Trials Documents and TranscriptionsPlease sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutConnecticut Witch Trial Exoneration ProjectLeo Igwe, AfAWAdvocacy Against Witch Hunts, South AfricaEnd Witch Hunts MovementSupport the showJoin us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordBuzzsproutMailchimpSupport the show

Show Notes

This is the Rebecca Towne Nurse podcast episode that we have all been waiting for. We discuss the monumental story of her life and the Salem witch trials with historian and Danvers native Dan Gagnon. Learn about the unique layers of this infamous witch hunt from the author of Rebecca’s  biography, A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse. We address the importance of victim memorials and exonerations of innocent accused witches. This discussion communicates  End Witch Hunts’ message: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?


Dan Gagnon Website 

Order “A Salem Witch” book by Dan Gagnon

The Salem Witch Trials: A Day By Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marilynne K. Roach

University of VA, Salem Witch Trials Documents and Transcriptions

Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut

Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project

Leo Igwe, AfAW

Advocacy Against Witch Hunts, South Africa

End Witch Hunts Movement

Support the show

Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.










Support the show


Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to the latest episode of Thou Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson. 
Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack.
Josh Hutchinson: In this episode, we talk to Dan Gagnon, author of A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse, who happens to be my 10th great-grandaunt.
Sarah Jack: And she is my ninth great-grandmother, a history that I've known since the nineties when I was a high schooler, and this episode was very meaningful to me. Getting to read Dan's [00:01:00] biography on her, and then the conversation that we have about the details of her story is really great. 
Josh Hutchinson: I learned about my connections to the Salem Witch trials on my first ever visit to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, which is one of the places where Dan spends his time as a tour guide, something he first did when he himself was in high school. I was on a high school trip with my family and went to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead and to the replica meeting house. Saw the Rebecca Nurse Memorial and the memorial to those people who signed the petition in defense of her and saw the cemetery where her body's believed to rest and learned that my Hutchinson family was involved in the witch [00:02:00] trials. Later on, I learned that Rebecca Nurse was my grandaunt through her sister, Mary, who also suffered from the Salem Witch Trials and is another of Sarah's grandmothers. 
Sarah Jack: She is. She is my ninth great grandmother also. I learned of that connection more recently, in the last five years. Their grandchildren married. 
Josh Hutchinson: Ah, also in recent years, I've learned that my ancestor, Joseph Hutchinson, was a friend of the Nurse family, a neighbor to them. He went around with them when they were fighting with the minister after the witch-hunt, because the minister insisted that they still go to his church, though he had done them wrong. My ancestor, Joseph, [00:03:00] accompanied them as a witness to the meetings between Nurse's family and Minister Parris.
One of the things that we learn in Dan's book is just how supportive Rebecca's family was. Her children, her sons and daughters-in-law, they all had her back. Even years after the witch-hunt, they never wavered. They never backed down. They knew she was innocent, and they supported her forever.
Sarah Jack: Dan's biography gives so much details on what life was like for them prior to the witch trials, what roles Francis had in the community, how hardworking they were, what it took for those families in that community to build Salem Village.
Josh Hutchinson: [00:04:00] One of the things Dan does well in the book is to clear up a lot of the misconceptions about why Rebecca was accused. So you'll enjoy reading about that and getting a fuller picture of Rebecca's life, from her baptism in Great Yarmouth, England, right up through the trials and her unfortunate execution. Learn about the support of her descendants and how they've been able to keep her memory alive, as well.
Sarah Jack: What has been done for her, as far as her story being known, is remarkable. What Dan has done for her and her descendants, I greatly appreciate it, and I know many people do. One of the things that Rebecca is recorded as saying is that she would like the world [00:05:00] to know of her innocency, and I see that we do, and I think that is a big deal.
Josh Hutchinson: The memory of her innocency has reached so many people. She's one of the best known of the accused. Rebecca's memory is cherished. She's a beloved figure. She's a hero to many. She stood her ground, never confessed to something that she didn't do, that she couldn't have done.
She was an older woman at the time, and she truly wondered what she had done to bring the accusations upon her herself, what sin there was in her life. That's what kind of person she was. She didn't blame the accusers. She looked inward to try and resolve the issue within [00:06:00] herself but couldn't find what transgression she had done to deserve any of that, and she hadn't. Truth is she hadn't done a single thing to merit any of what was brought upon her. 
Sarah Jack: It's quite terrible to read what she went through, starting with the accusations, through the examination and the trial. The biography really gives you an idea of how harmful spectral evidence was to these victims. And with Rebecca's story, it's unbelievable how wild it got, how harmful and evil they portrayed her to be, and she stood there and listened to all of that. 
Josh Hutchinson: She stood up for herself. Her family stood up for her. What happened to her was[00:07:00] grievous, was a terrible miscarriage of justice, but she stood her ground and maintained her innocency and wanted future generations, the world, to know that innocent people were being killed at Salem.
And you learn a lot about her life before the trials from Dan's book, she wasn't perfect, but she was pretty great. In the trials themselves, in many of the cases, there were multiple witnesses coming forward saying that they had had arguments with the accused over this and that. But with Rebecca, you get one single instance, and it's a stretch, that she was angry that somebody's pigs had broken into her yard and damaged her [00:08:00] garden, her crops, and that was apparently the one time that she ever got angry that is recorded.
She was a church member for many years. You'll learn about that from Dan. And she truly was astonished when she was accused. And I know her family's minds must have just been blown. Their whole world must have come collapsing around them. Everything that they thought they knew was suddenly flipped on its head, but they never wavered in their loyalty to her. They never questioned her innocence. They always brought forward in many petitions and letters and through their prolonged struggle with the minister after the trials. Reverend Samuel Parris really wanted her family to come to his church even after he had done them such a terrible wrong[00:09:00] by being one of the leaders of the accusers, in general, in starting the Salem Witch Trials. But that's where I learned that my ancestor had got involved and come along with the Nurse family to witness their encounters with the minister post-witch-hunt.
We really enjoyed our conversation with Dan, and we know you will, too.
Sarah Jack: You will probably listen to it at least twice.
Josh Hutchinson: Maybe three times.
Sarah Jack: Maybe.
I'd like to introduce Dan Gagnon, the author of A Salem Witch: the Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse. 
Josh Hutchinson: What can you tell us about the Towne family?
Dan Gagnon: The Towne family is one of these first families here that settled the North Shore of Massachusetts, are are significant in the witch-hunt and significant in really the settling of Massachusetts as a whole. [00:10:00] And currently they have a big organization of descendants, so they're very, a very proud family.
But originally our one who came from England, and we think around 1635, roughly, we don't have the paperwork that we wish that we had to narrow it down further. And they leave England fleeing persecution, strife, and a lot of disputes having to do with their Puritan religion that they do not see eye-to-eye with the established Church of England, which, on the one hand is a religious issue, but after the Reformation, when the King of England separated from the Catholic Church, he put himself in charge of the Church of England. So if you disagree with them, it's also a political issue, which really leads to this persecution.
Sarah Jack: And what do we need to know about the sisters? 
Dan Gagnon: So in terms of the witch-hunt in [00:11:00] 1692, there's three women from the Towne family who play key roles. The first is Rebecca Towne, Rebecca Nurse. We have Mary Towne, Mary Easty, and Sarah Towne, who becomes Sarah Cloyce, who has married more than once. So we've Edmunds in there, as well.
And with the three of them, they will settle with their parents and their other siblings in the Northfields of Salem. And really what's interesting, I find, is they seem to have reasonably ordinary lives for these first settlers. There's nothing that leaps out as being bizarre, strange, highly unusual, and I think they're interesting cases, therefore. They seem like three regular people, regular settlers here.
But when the witch-hunt breaks out, Rebecca Nurse is going to be accused and later executed. Mary Easty will be accused and later executed, and Sarah Cloyce will be accused. And really the witch-hunt ends, or at least the court stops [00:12:00] sitting before her time comes. But we have one family that has a lot of suffering in these three women. And of course the suffering affects their families too.
Josh Hutchinson: What can you tell us about the notion that their mother was an accused witch? 
Dan Gagnon: That is an interesting point. So in many things that I've read over the years, there's been this reference to their mother, Joanna Blessing, Joanna Towne, being previously accused of witchcraft, as a way to try to explain then the three sisters being accused of witchcraft.
There is no record that has been found from the time she was allegedly accused a couple decades before the witch-hunt saying that she actually was accused a couple decades before the witch-hunt. Where this comes up is in testimony in 1692. It's mentioned by the [00:13:00] accusers, including Ann Putnam and family, that this is somehow an explanation for their accusation.
One of Ann Putnam's family members tells the court that he had repeated a rumor he had heard about the three Towne sisters' mother, and afterwards his young child begins to be unwell, seriously ill, and he thinks this retribution from these three Towne sisters for spreading this, what he claims is information, but I would think is misinformation. But in his record, he never says what the rumor was. He just says he said something that he knew of their mother, and it's Ann Putnam who, in a different document, says he was referencing the fact that their mother was accused of witchcraft. So she's the one who's, to us, putting together, whether or not we believe her, as to what he probably said. [00:14:00] Both no documentation from the time and knowing the wild and crazy things that Ann Putnam Sr will say throughout the witch-hunt, I would not give that more credibility than any of these other wild accusations, and especially because no one else specifically says that accusation happened. It's a one-off, and it's from someone who we would not consider a very reliable source as to the truth.
Sarah Jack: I'm really excited that you covered a lot, all of this stuff in your book, and I feel like we're in a time right now where all of these pieces that have traveled through the decades, the misconceptions, we're starting to sort through them and be more familiar with who said what in the records. And I feel like your book was so timely, and I'm really glad that we get to talk about the stuff with you today.
I'm gonna move to Reverend Parris. I was wondering why did he feel besieged [00:15:00] by Judases and devils before the hunt, and why did it influence his preaching so much?
Dan Gagnon: Reverend Parris is such a key, interesting figure here, and I would also consider him to be one that's been, I don't know if misunderstood is the term, or that many people have understood him differently. When you see programs on television that might be on the more sensational side. He's the easy person to make the, quote, "bad guy," of this story that people will claim things about him as orchestrating this whole thing from the start, which I do not think there is evidence. Oh, and I think it actually really seems to catch him off guard when his daughter and niece begin to be afflicted and apparently unwell, as it appeared then.
With him feeling besieged, we get this from his collection of sermons, which is a wonderful source that kind of gives us a sense on [00:16:00] what, like in terms of mood, like what the temperature is in the community, what they would've heard each Sunday. He tends to preach darker sermons. This new church has been formally established, and he's trying to get other people to join, to baptize their children. Even if they're attending, they might not be joined as part of the congregation. And I think as other historians have looked at this, there's been this assumption that Reverend Parris was immediately controversial that I don't quite see. I see as time goes on, not everyone is up to date on their ministry taxes to support him and things like that. With prior ministers, that does seem like a sign of discontent. With him, it's not as significant in terms of the numbers of people, and other historians have looked into this, such as like Marilynne Roach, and noting that that's not actually as significant, [00:17:00] given that things like that happened in other communities, people not paying their taxes. 
With Reverend Parris, it really appears to be just those last couple months before the witch-hunt when he comes into conflict with the village, really over the ownership of the parsonage is what I saw, reading the documents as the turning point. But prior to that, it does seem as though he's finally brought stability to a congregation that desperately needed some stability after the first few ministers not working out. 
And when I mentioned the parsonage, the issue is the ownership, that something's discovered in the village record book that seems to imply the village voted to give the parsonage to Parris after they had signed a contract with him not doing that. And this confusion, this lack of understanding, of how that got in the book as if a town meeting had decided that, but in a New England town meeting, every voter is invited, and of all these [00:18:00] people had never heard of it. You can't have a secret town meeting. So when they get mad and riled up about this in the fall of 1691, it seems righteously so, and that is really the fracture. It it's more of a short term issue, not long term, since he got there in 1689.
Josh Hutchinson: I got the idea from your book that a lot of what we believe about factionalism in Salem Village wasn't really true, particularly about the role of the different village committees. Could you explain what the village committee was and what the other committees were responsible for?
Dan Gagnon: So this theory of factionalism, as put forward around 1970 by Boyer and Nissenbaum, has the village split among, according to the theory, two factions, one in the west, led by the Putnam family, that's more agrarian, more wanting independence for Salem Village, and one in the east, allegedly led by the Porters, who were more tied to [00:19:00] downtown Salem Town at that time. And then there's a claim that this somehow explains the accusations.
 The village committee is like the selectmen of a town in New England. It's not a town, so you can't call 'em that. And what they do is they're the executive. In a New England town, the selectmen serve in place of a mayor. You have five people instead of one doing that role.
And their job is to call town meetings in the village. They set the agenda, and they're responsible for making sure that the tax is collected as the executive there. With their role, we've seen in the years before the witch-hunt, different village committees elected, and one will admit from the records, it seems interesting that they don't necessarily all seem to last the same amount of time or have the same length of a term, which I quite [00:20:00] honestly cannot entirely explain. It's not like they're elected every January 1st or something like that. But with the committee, it had been thought previously that right before the witch-hunt, in that fall of 1691, a committee that was, quote, "pro-Parris" was replaced by a committee that was, quote, "anti-Parris" and that was evidence of factionalism.
This doesn't really seem to bear out, in that the evidence used to claim that new committee is anti-Parris comes from after the witch-hunt. They only became anti-Parris because of the witch-hunt. They were not anti-Parris before the witch-hunt. So that is not a good way to characterize them. What we do see is the people chosen are those who are involved in examining the village record book, it [00:21:00] appears those who are the leaders of the group that is suddenly very angry about the parsonage public land being given to a private individual. But, for example, Francis Nurse on the Village Committee had been on one of the committees earlier, a special committee that was assigned to negotiate with Reverend Parris, and that he apparently supports Reverend Parris. Rebecca Nurse's son-in-law, John Tarbell, was on another committee that decides to hire Reverend Parris, and so they seem to be his supporters in 1689. I would not label it as an anti-Parris committee, though afterwards some of them end up being anti-Parris, but they were not at that moment in time.
Sarah Jack: Why wouldn't they give him his pay and his wood so much so that he's preaching about it, disgusted about it, it appears? Why did that happen? 
Dan Gagnon: With Parris, once this issue, their dispute about the parsonage land [00:22:00] comes up, we have records in the Village Church record book, and then we have the village, like the village government record book. And the church record book is a better source, in that it's clearly in chronological order, and we understand what develops. But by looking at the two together, as well as a later deposition there, we see Parris being challenged over this alleged vote. Historians have viewed this in different ways, in terms of basically where did it leave off before the witch-hunt started?
I, in my reading of this, by putting documents in the order that logically to me seems to make sense, which is different than how, for example, Boyer and Nissenbaum in about 1970 had looked at this, really shows that [00:23:00] public outcry against Parris leading up to a town meeting in early December 1691. We have a deposition describing this town meeting, and it's signed by all of the people who were on the depositions from years later, but it's signed by the people who are on the Village committee in 1691 except Francis Nurse, because he just had passed away of old age by the time that document was written. So I wouldn't read into that any lack of support. He's simply not there to sign the piece of paper. And what they testified in court years later is that there is this town meeting, Nathaniel Putnam is the moderator, and they're talking about Parris's contract, canceling his contract.
I see that happening that year. It logically fits with the buildup we see at meetings at the church in the Village Church record book, clearly everything escalating and Reverend Parris pointing out he's afraid that the village may be taking a [00:24:00] step like this. We see at that moment, At this town meeting in that early December of 1691, outraged to the point that they invite Reverend Parris to the town meeting. Apparently, he didn't seemingly normally attend town meetings. I He could have, he lived there. But he's not at this town meeting, which is a little interesting. And when this topic of his contract comes up, they send someone to get him, would've been like a couple minutes down the road from the parsonage to the meeting house.
So they get him to come to this town meeting, and with the disputes presented as the moderator of the town meeting, Nathaniel Putnam announces basically that there is no longer a contract between the two, as it had been broken. This is a weird situation to be in, and I've described it before as him being basically like halfway fired.
What it means is his contract's canceled, and he won't get paid. But he still has a job. What [00:25:00] is a job if you're not getting paid? And it's only the core members of the village church that can fire him, and they don't. So he continues as the minister. He continues preaching, but he is outta luck in terms of being compensated that winter.
And here we get in the church book, him writing over and over, "I ask the members for firewood." He's desperate, because in that time, if you suddenly stop getting paid in December, and he doesn't really have a giant farm, he doesn't have a way to support himself, he relied on that salary. That family is in for a pretty horribly tough winter, and without outside help might not have enough food and firewood to make it through. . 
Josh Hutchinson: When the witch trials started, his daughter and niece reported that they were afflicted, and then later on other people became afflicted, allegedly. What caused those afflictions? 
Dan Gagnon: This here is probably like the million dollar question of [00:26:00] the witch trials, I would say, and it is an important one. It is one that we can answer, at least in part, or mostly. In terms of those who will eventually claim to be afflicted or appear to be afflicted, we're gonna end up with a couple dozen, and each of them is unique as to why they would be doing this.
But to start with the two you mentioned, Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, living in the parsonage with Reverend Parris, Betty's nine, Abigail's eleven, and that winter at the beginning of 1692, they have these fits. They're screaming, yelling, crawling under furniture, walking around on all fours, saying they see these specters, these images, weird shapes, colored animals, very bizarre, and to someone who saw this, presumably really frightening and strange.
With them as the first two, I would think that we have an example of a [00:27:00] psychological cause here, and there's other historians who have written really well on this. I would say that one that I found to be a good, description of this potential would be in Dr. Emerson Baker's book. That to me, I would say, is what I read that got me down this track, as I started to then look into these possibilities, look into these potential instances and disorders that would cause this. That was what first caught my attention. And looking into other examples, cuz there are other examples, even some quite recently, I guess this decade in the 2010s, so almost this decade, within 10 years, we'll say that frightening things like this have happened. And not only have they happened, but they've spread among people, which to me, and I think to most readers, is the part that's scary and confusing. What we see in the Parris household is these two young girls would've seen their parents under a lot of stress, would've [00:28:00] seen the family under stress.
I'm sure that Reverend and Mrs. Parris are constantly talking about," we might not have enough food to last the winter." They're gonna hear this and be worried. And so we could see some sort of manifestation of anxiety that then the two of them in this house in the winter kind of builds and builds. With Abigail Williams being Reverend Parris's, quote "niece," just being some sort of female relative, her background isn't quite as known.
And we will see that with the people who it spreads to next, who live across Salem Village and will be teenage young women, women in their young twenties. Many of them had some sort of traumatic incident in their past that would set them as some prime candidates for post-traumatic stress, which would lead to that maybe next. But Abigail Williams, not really knowing a ton about her background, that could have been the case with her. Why isn't she living with her parents? Why is she living with Reverend Parris? Did something happen to [00:29:00] them? So there's an open-ended possibility, but we don't know. We can't really come to a conclusion there.
With the others, we're gonna see people, some of these young women who had lost parents, had seen them killed, and once they had witnessed, this may have awoken some of that traumatic stress. As it goes on, though, I don't think that explains everything. In part, I said each person is their own case. And I would say as time goes on in Rebecca Nurse's case, as in like the accusations against Nurse, but then especially when we get to that summer, when we get away from the winter into the summer of 1692, there are cases of just fraud, fraud and the way that it's done, it means that somebody has to be lying. 
The example I note that I really think is a key moment is with Ann Putnam Jr. After Rebecca Nurse has been arrested, she, according to her uncle, one of the deacons of the church, he [00:30:00] submits records to the court saying that Ann Putnam had chain marks on her, that she had been like whipped by one of these specters, these ghostly images, and he says that she came from the other room, has like marks on her arm, and that he's seen them and there's someone, another adult there as well. 
That's not all in your mind then. We have two possibilities. He's lying under oath to the court, I don't think we necessarily have evidence to prove that, or he actually did see rings on her arm and he thinks he's telling the truth, which means that either Ann Putnam Jr or somebody else pressed something to her arm to fool him. But either way it's a lie, and it's fraud. And that's relatively early on.
Sarah Jack: I'm gonna ask about Rebecca getting accused. Can you clear up the misconceptions about why?
Dan Gagnon: I'm happy you phrased it that way, in that she [00:31:00] does not fit the typical mold, and by the typical mold or the attributes that would likely get one accused of a witch. When we describe them, you do have to keep in mind this is the Puritan perspective. This is this is not my categorization.
This is what they viewed at the time would likely get you accused of witchcraft, and many historians have gone through demographics of those accused of witchcraft in colonial New England and I'm sure other witch-hunts as well. But with New England, we have cases that are pretty well documented, really just one century period of time, and so it's really ripe for study and it's wonderful what other previous historians have done. One of the best I think is Carol Karlsen's book, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, describing how this is, of course, primarily a story of women, unfortunately being accused of witchcraft, though with Salem we have both. 
Now, Rebecca Nurse is a woman, and that is the only demographic trait about her that would put her in a higher risk [00:32:00] category of being accused of witchcraft. Other things that could do that could be a person who gets into a lot of disputes with their family. We don't have any evidence of this, and out of all the people accused, her family goes the greatest distance to support her. No, that doesn't seem true. 
People in general, but especially women who may have had different views and controversies with the local religious authorities, their minister, their congregation. She's a covenant member of the church in Salem. Very few of the people who show up every Sunday attained that status. It's really the highest status a woman could get in the Puritan congregation. And you had to be voted in by the other members who, in the short version, had to believe that you were probably going to heaven. So this is really like the opposite of having controversy or disputes with your church. She is, seems entirely on board and is a high level member. 
Other things [00:33:00] could be coming to control land. 17th century New England women couldn't own land, and so how they could come to control land was if their husband died, or especially if their husband died and they didn't have any children. That's not true of Rebecca. Francis nurse is alive. She has eight children, not likely. 
Things that Puritans in general look down upon could be those who were less well off, poor. In this point, I really come to Sarah Good, one of the first three women accused, who was not exactly homeless but had lived with various people over the time, had begged for goods and things. She would fall into that category. So we don't really see this fit. 
And with the, when I mentioned the coming into land one, there's other things like financial jealousy that could lead one to be accused, whether they were a woman or a man. And we don't see that with the Nurses. Frequently in debt, behind in their taxes, they have what is [00:34:00] really like the world's sweetest deal of a mortgage and still cannot make those small annual payments on time, so they're not a candidate for financial envy.
Josh Hutchinson: Did Topsfield land dispute or her other land dispute about her property have anything to do with her accusation?
Dan Gagnon: The land dispute or land as an issue overall is seemingly one of the oldest theories, one of one of the longest lived. There's different like varieties or iterations of the theory. Some people will ask me, when I do walking tours of sites in Salem Village, "oh, it was all about taking, right? It was all a scheme. The people were accused to steal their farms." And there is no truth to this.
With Nurse specifically, as you ask, there's an instance where the Nurse family gets into a dispute with the Endicott family. These are the descendants of John Endicott, early governor of [00:35:00] Massachusetts. The Endicotts had a large farm, the Orchard Farm, that John Endicott had established. By this point, it's later generations living there, and this dispute actually predates the nurse family. It's the previous owner, Reverend Allen of Boston, who got into this dispute. He gets into this dispute with Zerubbabel Endicott, who's a doctor. We have his journal of recipes for medicine, I guess. It's some weird stuff like cat blood, and it's, there's weird stuff there. But he's a doctor, in theory.
And what happens is Reverend Allen comes to ownership of the Nurse farm right next door to his through a, there's a marriage. Reverend Allen's wife had inherited this land from an Endicott who she'd been married to at first. Then she marries Allen. Tries to transfer the land to them. As I mentioned previously, women couldn't own land, so it couldn't [00:36:00] pass through her hands to another person.
This is complicated. So in the Endicott family, I guess what I mean is they do think they have a strong claim to this. They will try to sue Allen, but then this happens after his wife passed away and it's left to him. But could it be left to him? This is the legal question, and there'll be a lot of disputes there.
Allen will then lease it to another person, Sanford, for a little while, and Sanford basically gives up after a short amount of time, cuz Endicott thinks he owns the whole farm. He comes into an issue with Nathaniel Putnam, who lives to the north of the Nurse family farm. There's a few acres there, and it's a mess.
Next, the Nurse family comes along into what already seems like a complicated situation, and it's safer for them, though, than what happened to Sanford. Allen has given up [00:37:00] on that land, a couple acres of Nathaniel Putnam. He's out of the picture. This is not a problem anymore. And when he will sell this to the Nurse family, a hundred percent mortgaged, but it is a sale, it's not a lease. When he sells it to the Nurse family, he promises in that agreement to defend title of the land. So for Francis Nurse and Rebecca, this is a good deal, really low annual mortgage payments, big farm. They have adult children to help farm this. It's a great opportunity, and if anybody starts complaining about who owns it, that's Allen's problem. It's not their problem. 
Now, obviously in a practical matter, it is their problem, but at least not legally. And with these disputes there, there's various iterations that really seem like they're drowning in court cases. There's suits, countersuits. Then somebody wins and the other side doesn't like it, so they [00:38:00] appeal.
One that comes in particular is a trespass suit. The important part is Francis Nurse is sued for trespass in a field that he believes to be his. Okay is he trespassing or not? That depends on who owns the land. And so that's really just a venue to try to reopen this land dispute that had already been settled several times.
It really involves a strip of land with firewood, in particular the border on the Nurse farm and the Endicott farm. But in theory, there's a claim to the whole farm even by the Endicotts. We know that this doesn't lead to the accusation against Nurse, in that Zerubbable, the Endicott who was really getting into this with Allen and Francis Nurse, is not around, that he's died at that point in time. In fact, he had launched an appeal of one of the court cases, and he is too ill to actually make the appeal. And then he had died. So it's a son, Samuel, [00:39:00] who's the Endicott now living next to the nurse family. And when Rebecca Nurse is accused of witchcraft he will defend her. He will sign the petition in support of her. Maybe they weren't best friends, but he believed she was innocent enough that he would look past the fact that maybe their families hadn't been best friends, and he does not accuse her or nobody else. So that, to me, limits that.
It was Nathaniel Putnam. Again, in some strict technical sense, there was still those couple acres at issue that was not Francis's problem, that was Reverend Allen living in Boston. And Nathaniel Putnam also will defend Rebecca Nurse when she's accused of witchcraft. So I can't really see a way that plays in.
Sarah Jack: What effect did the Devil Pact, as a part of the 1604 Witchcraft Act, have on witch-hunting?
Dan Gagnon: Good legal question. I like it. So with the Witchcraft Act of 1604, we get all the way back to England. We get to King James of King James Bible fame, [00:40:00] and oh, as of course, "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" is a quote from the King James Bible. I don't even need to say that. I should know my audience well.
So with this act, there's an idea that the definition of witchcraft has changed at that point. Now, this is before Rebecca Nurse is born. She's not born until 1621. So this is already, will be established by this point in time. This is the law that they appear to be going under in, in 1692.
Previously witchcraft was more difficult to prove. I don't really want to use, I mean that in a legal sense, which we're not actually proving witchcraft here, but legally to prove that one had to have used witchcraft, for example, in an earlier iteration of the law, to actually kill somebody, in order for that to be legally witchcraft. And you had to prove. That's a high bar, and we know it's impossible, but from the beliefs in that day and age, highly unlikely to meet that bar.
And [00:41:00] when King James changes it to making a pact with the Devil, you had to look for kind of secondary evidence. You can't call the Devil to the witness stand. You don't actually have the contract to present to the court. And so they would try to find roundabout, peripheral things that could prove that had happened, which is really loose and not hard evidence. And this change will make it easier to prosecute someone for witchcraft. 
King James was really fascinated with this stuff. He writes his book Demonology. He really thinks this is fascinating and goes to great lengths in Scotland, before he becomes King of England, when he is King of Scotland, to crack down on what he seems to believe is real. Like he seems to really believe in the witchcraft and will be involved in torturing people to get confessions and really horrible things. But that change really does open the door to what we see in Salem. And had it not happened, legally, really, [00:42:00] I'm racking my brain to think of any of the accusations that could have fit under previous versions of the law.
I can't in this moment, think of one that they would've had to have been immediately been a murder, and somebody would've been in to it through witchcraft. It could not have started the way that it does in Salem. It could not have continued, and it could not have spread to 200 people. It would've had to been one very specific accusation.
No, the Salem Witch-Hunt really couldn't have happened without this change.
Josh Hutchinson: Another thing that seemed to change with the Salem Witch-Hunt, they didn't require the accusers to post a bond when they made their complaints. Why did they waive the bond?
Dan Gagnon: So typically if one files a complaint against somebody for a capital crime, basically the colony of Massachusetts didn't want frivolous accusations of any large [00:43:00] crime, and so they made you put your money where your mouth is and put out a bond that you would follow through on this charge as that person would be arrested and sent through the court process.
It's not really clear, and I have never found a good explanation of why, and those from the first accusations on, people in Salem Village would go to Salem, meet with the two local magistrates, the local judges, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, whose house still exists as The Witch House in Salem, which is a wonderful 17th century home, and they weren't asked for money. They just filed the complaints. I cannot explain this. It is very unusual. It doesn't fit with what the law appears to be and definitely doesn't fit with prior precedence. But we see in effect, if you can make an accusation no strings attached, that'll lead to a lot more accusations [00:44:00] than you can only make an accusation if you lay out a certain number of pounds as a like surety here. So that will definitely lead to this increasing, which Salem being unique from other witch-hunts in a lot of ways, is really unique with just the sheer number of people accused.
Prior witchcraft accusations were just one people, two people. I will say I listened the other day to both of you talking to Malcolm Gaskill there, and in that, the Springfield, Massachusetts case and thought that was fascinating. But to use that as an example, there's not 200 people accused. It's small scale. Other New England witch-hunts were one or just a few people. Salem getting us to about 200 probably is because it was easier to make an accusation.
So spectral evidence is not hard evidence that can be produced in court. As was mentioned with the question about the 1604 act, when it changes to somebody being able to be accused for having a pact with the Devil, lowering the [00:45:00] threshold of an accusation, and what can you submit as evidence? If you claimed you saw somebody's specter, which would be like the ghostly image of somebody hurting you, the belief is one can only make a specter if they had signed that pact with the devil.
So this spectral evidence is meant to tie them to having made a pact with the devil. The problem is pretty straightforward in that, okay, if I say that I see the specter of somebody and nobody else can see it, you just have to take my word for it. Do you believe me or not? And so it just becomes one person's word against another. You can't prove it, which back to the number of people accused, really makes it easier to accuse people. 
And it's hard to refute. If somebody says they see their specter, and it seems like people are believing them, how do [00:46:00] you disprove it? You can't. You can say, " I wasn't there. I was at home." Yeah, okay, but the belief is you can send your specter somewhere you aren't. So even if you have an alibi, it doesn't matter. Alibis don't work. With Nurse, for example, she is home sick in bed. She says she's sick in bed for eight or nine days prior to being accused. People said they'd seen her specter. Nurse has an alibi. She's been home sick. Her family can tell you this. Neighbors can tell you this, but it doesn't matter. Because you can't have an alibi with that. And so it's an accusation that can't be disproved or really refuted. Well, from our point of view, because it shouldn't be believed in the first place. But if it is believed you, you can't get out from under it.
Sarah Jack: And I was thinking as you read through Rebecca's experience, that was, she was everywhere causing harm, and so over and over she was hearing them say, yes, she had the Devil pact, and she was causing harm. That's a gut punch. [00:47:00] Every time every new person had spectral evidence against her, it was that.
Josh Hutchinson: On the subject of taking their word for it, a lot of people whose word they were taking were children. Ordinary for them to take the word of children in court?
Dan Gagnon: No. Now, socially, the Puritans had a different view of children than we do. They, for example, I described some of them as being teenagers. That word didn't exist. It doesn't exist until the mid 20th century. It's one of those 1950s words, "those teenagers," and that whole concept of categorizing people didn't really exist.
And so this, I think, is socially hard for us to kind of put ourselves in their shoes or try, because even basic understandings of like stages of human life and social development aren't really at all understood. With children, if one reads things written by like Cotton [00:48:00] Mather and such, there seems to be this belief that children have been, like less corrupted by the world than adults, which would lead one to maybe actually believe they're more likely to speak the truth.
Now, in the 21st century, we would not necessarily think this, that, there might be like, little white lies all the time with kids. I teach teenagers. I understand this well, so our view on that is different. And in terms of their evidence in court, no, you had to be a certain age, you had to be in your late teens or older to be legally admitted as evidence.
And this is not followed in 1692. Just like we noted about requiring posting of a bond in order to make an accusation, we have another irregularity. With the first accusers, we have Betty Parris who's nine, Abigail Williams, who's eleven, Ann Putnam Jr who is just on the cusp of being a preteen and a [00:49:00] teenager, and we'll have other teenagers or people in the early twenties, but they shouldn't have been allowed to really submit and swear to evidence at trial.
And as part of that, what I note as being important in Nurse's case is when not Ann Putnam Jr., who seems to be the first person to have named Rebecca Nurse, but her mother, Ann Putnam Sr., who is, we believe, in her mid thirties, when she joins the accusation, that makes it different, because there's a full-fledged adult now making the same accusations, and legally that's important. That's also why, in terms of paperwork and sources, the complaints with John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin early on against people in Salem Village, it's not written by Betty Parris. It's not written by Abigail Williams. They're all written by adults. An adult [00:50:00] had to make the accusation. Also, they're all written by their male family members, cuz they're the ones more likely to know how to write. So I, there is like a practical aspect of that. But there is an age aspect ,that no, they didn't have children testifying in capital cases regularly.
Sarah Jack: What is, you mentioned Ann Sr, which has me thinking about the fraud again, the possibility of fraud. And did the accused people claim fraud was happening? 
Dan Gagnon: Yes, as time goes on. At first with Rebecca Nurse being accused early on, she doesn't openly say that this is a lie. Which is, in a way, is almost probably smart, because it was so believed by the community that probably would've just soured her public hearing against her. She says it's not true, but she doesn't go to the point of saying they're intentionally, [00:51:00] falsely accusing her. Her words as you go through seem to be more along the lines of, "this is a misunderstanding," not, "why are you doing this to me intentionally?"
As time goes on, more and more of the accusers will be called out for intentional acts. Like at Nurse's trial in June, we have an example of Sarah Bibber, a middle-aged woman, a fully-grown adult, again, to differentiate from some of those younger accusers in, and we discussed a moment ago who, at her trial, at Nurse's trial is present, as seemingly all of her accusers are, except maybe Mrs. Ann Putnam, which is interesting, and Sarah Bibber does, is, everyone in the room sees her point at somewhere in the room and say there's Nurse's [00:52:00] specter. Meanwhile, Rebecca Nurse is up front, and everybody could see where she actually is, but point somewhere and see what she claims is her specter, scream, clutch her leg, and pull out a pin. And she's bleeding, and she says, "Nurse's specter just did that. See, here's the pin, here's the blood that I was just attacked by witchcraft." She's gonna be called out. We know that Rebecca Nurse's daughter-in-law is going to write to the court afterwards. It's a document. It's not addressed to one person in particular. We believe it's sent in with the documents to her appeal, saying, "that wasn't true. I was watching Sarah Bibber, and I saw her pull the pin out of her clothing, stab herself, and then point and say there's a specter, and yell, and that, that's obviously fraud."
There's the infamous incident at Sarah Good's trial at about the same time where somebody comes forward with that part of a knife, claiming that they snapped the knife off from a specter stabbing them, and then someone else says, "oh, that's actually mine. [00:53:00] I broke it the other day," and shows the other half. And I mean of calling somebody out for lying, that is really the most public and prime example of this.
With some of Nurse's defense testimony that her family gathers, they do also approach that line of calling out people as having lied in the past and therefore being untrustworthy. We will see, for example, Abigail Williams will have her credibility, I don't even want to say tested, really destroyed, pointing out incidents where she's lied and been unreliable for like basic facts about her day. And if you can't trust her with those, you can't really trust her with an accusation that could lead to the death penalty. And she won't be used as witnesses in court after that. That's why her, really, her credibility is wrecked. 
There'll be others as well [00:54:00] who've been pointed out, as Sarah Bibber and such, as having fits in the past in a way that does make them sound fake and convenient and being really dramatic about things that calls into question, which that example with the pin only builds upon it, and the Nurse family does that well.
That idea that they have defense evidence for Nurse defending her, speaking to her having a good character and being a good person, but also the category of evidence attacking the credibility of her accusers. I mean that this is a modern, like, defense strategy. It's like the textbook example. And they're doing that as, frankly, like amateurs. None of them are lawyers. There are no defense lawyers. So it is impressive how they put this together. And Nurse, because of her family, really has the best defense out of anyone at trial.
Josh Hutchinson: Why did the defense evidence carry less weight than [00:55:00] prosecution evidence?
Dan Gagnon: There's two parts to why the defense evidence carries less weight. The first is, there's just that burden of assumed guilt in the background that by this point, people were convinced, seemingly a majority or a grand part of the locals, that witchcraft was actually happening. And after seeing, like Nurse's first hearing, the behavior of the accusers couldn't be explained another way.
So already you're starting out in a hole, trying to dig yourself out. Second, we have a procedural thing with the prosecution's evidence, according to the rules of trial, at that point in time, Ann Putnam, Jr., I'll just pick as an example, had submitted written evidence. She herself did not write this, her father wrote this. She, we don't think, can write. And was brought forward. Evidence is read in front of the court. She swears an oath saying, yes, those are my words. Yes, this is true. I'm paraphrasing, [00:56:00] but that's the gist of the oath. 
With the defense evidence, it could not be sworn. It's not the same status then. The prosecution evidence, someone swore under oath it's real. The defense evidence, eh, some guy just wrote it down on a piece of paper. It's not the same category and can't be, and it can't be just, you're not allowed to do that with defense evidence. It's strange. It's not something that will really continue too much past here.
As to reasons why, it's, in one way, it's often by like legal historians phrased as a way that kind of allowed you to do more for your defense. Like you didn't actually have to worry if you're telling the truth to defend yourself, written in a way that like implies this helps somebody on trial in their defense, maybe in some instances. But for a jury that's following the strict rules, yeah, you're not gonna hold that defense evidence to the same weight, cuz it's not sworn under oath. There's no penalty of perjury. [00:57:00] There's no penalty. They could be saying whatever, and there's no consequence. So that is really just a system stacked against you.
Sarah Jack: That's really clarifying, because as I've been on my journey of coming to understand more of this, the Salem Witch-Hunt, I remember how puzzled I was. These petitions were getting signed, and these people were standing up and standing for these accused, and I just thought, why was it taking so much? And it still didn't, they had to keep trying a new, someone else to back them up. Another plea. And that really speaks to why.
Dan Gagnon: Because otherwise you'd look at it, and in my look at this, they have some pretty great defense evidence. It looks like it's a lopsided case in favor of the defense, but no. 
Sarah Jack: What drove your project about Rebecca?
Dan Gagnon: My project about Rebecca has really [00:58:00] early starts. My connection to the story of Rebecca Nurse goes back a lot of years. I grew up right down the road. I live in Danvers, there used to be Salem Village. I'm coming to you live from Salem Village, I suppose that could be the the billing, and being around these historic sites and the monuments.
 I played soccer for years at the field behind the Salem Village Witch Trials Memorial. Lost more games than I won, but we played in that field all the time. That's where the Danvers youth soccer plays. So I was just always around these places, and in particular, my first summer job as a teenager was at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, as the guy selling tickets and then eventually the person doing tours as a tour guide. And that kind of is really the start, learning from the wonderful volunteers there. Once I started giving tours, I was trying to read all of these books to make sure I was doing it right, and you never wanted a question that would [00:59:00] stump you as the 15 or 16 year old tour guide that was a wary and happened naturally.
So that was when I first started looking into this, talking with people who came through, hearing the questions that people had. Some who would ask questions that you'd think to yourself, never would've thought of that angle. Also hearing the questions about things that were just debunked myths that somehow lived on.
I know that Margo Burns does such a great talk about why Ergotism doesn't make sense, but if I had a dollar for every time somebody asked me about Ergotism, I would not need to be a public school teacher anymore. That how often that comes up, or the land grab theory, and that showed me that despite this being one of the quintessential events in American history, everybody's heard of the Salem Witch trials, many people through high [01:00:00] school with reading The Crucible, I suppose, is many people's first introduction, but despite this event being so well known, a lot of people actually don't know it. That kind of stuck with me. Another thing that was important, as I went around to other historic sites, visiting other museums on vacation and things like that, is I realized it's really weird that there's no full biography of Rebecca Nurse.
The Nurse Homestead was selling this little pamphlet written by a gentleman, Charles Tapley, a local historian in Danvers, who really just wrote it based on Charles Upham's work in the 19th century, and it's really just about her time in 1692. So it's not a biography. There's nearly nothing about the before, nothing about the after. It's just the actual time of the witch trials. 
And as I went to other historic sites, I realized that every museum related to a person, they do sell a biography of that person. God, if you go to Mount Vernon, think about how many biographies of George Washington you could buy. And that makes [01:01:00] sense. That's good. That should be the norm.
With my then look at the witch-hunt I went to college, I went to graduate school. I studied contemporary Europe. It's the formation of the European Union. Not really relevant to this. When I returned home after I completed graduate school, I then turned to this project, in about 2017, and I realized that a biography also gives us a better view, I think, into how people are affected.
When I go around to museums, historical societies and give talks about the book, I always start out with, maybe in a good, Puritan way, my defense of this project, like a minister writing his book. You start with your defense of why you'd be so bold as to do something like write a book about this. And I start that way, because inevitably people would ask, there's a ton of great books about the witch trials. Why one more? And it is a good question. There are excellent ones, amazing ones, but there was no, at this point in [01:02:00] time, there was no standalone full scholarly biography of a victim of the witch-hunt on the market. That is a category that should have been filled. A biography allows us to get to what a tragedy this is. 
Many of these other books written about the witch-hunt, especially the more academic ones, the way that I saw it, is they tried to cover too much. This event is too big to actually really understand it, if you try to include all 200 people who are accused. You'll never get to know them. You'll never understand them as a person, understand how an accusation affected them, affected their family. You can't, or at least I can't, keep that many people straight in my mind as I'm reading about it. But if you pick one person, you can tell it as a real narrative of a human life where they start out. In the case of Rebecca Nurse, a life being [01:03:00] fairly ordinary, she lives in a somewhat exceptional time, though, being born in England in chaos, coming to the new world, settling that is an exceptional time. But out of those who make that journey, yeah, the Towne family is reasonably average. It's nothing really exceptional. 
And then have a life utterly wrecked and destroyed in the witch-hunt. And then you see, because it's a story about one human being, of course, their immediate family is key to this story, both before but especially after. How can the Nurse family try to go back to normal after people in their town are responsible for killing their mother, or wife, in the case of Francis Nurse? And we see this as a tragedy. It really should be seen as a tragedy, cuz it is. And I really think a biography is the one way you can actually, like get that true emotional understanding of how this ruins people's lives. 
Sarah Jack: You definitely were able to convey the [01:04:00] lack of respect and the inhumanity that they were receiving, how she had to stand and she wasn't well, all of the ways the experience in the jail was horrible, what they were witnessing, what they were being told, what they were hearing, the conditions. So you definitely that. Thank you for putting that in there.
Josh Hutchinson: You've heard us talk about the case in Springfield, and we really love these intimate portrayals, where you get a close feeling of what happened to a person. Like you said, the big surveys, it's hard to grasp everything that happened, because there's just so much of it, and every subject has to get glossed over, basically, to fit it all in a book. So we really love that you did this book. What do you want people to take away from their reading experience?
Dan Gagnon:   I would start with things that I learned along the way compared to me starting out as a teenager [01:05:00] talking to visitors about the witch-hunt and where I got through this research project to my kind of, new understanding, hopefully better understanding, but new understanding of the event is things start small.
This starts in a very tiny way, and this is true in basically all events in history that what we think of as giant historical events start one thing out of the ordinary, and it goes from there. When I talk about this on my walking tours, that's really how I phrase it. When we're standing at the parsonage site, it's one small thing. One day, two children became unwell, and that's where everything starts. We also see an element of just unfortunate things that happen to people that are not in any way their fault. Like with Nurse, there's nothing that she has done to warrant this. There's nothing that really could have [01:06:00] even set her up for this accusation.
It just happens to her and in a way that you can't anticipate. Maybe it's the history teacher in me, but whenever we study historical events, we already know the ending and we work back from there. But we really need to start at the beginning. That's why the biography narrative, I think, is important, because you need to see how it develops. The causes of things are not necessarily how you'd view it if you start at the end. 
The last thing again is just the the fact that this story is about real people is really the big takeaway. That is something to be considered. And the fact that it's about real people who never did anything that they were accused of doing. They are not witches. They did nothing like that. And that it really is innocent people.
Josh Hutchinson: How does this story compare to other witchcraft cases?
Dan Gagnon: [01:07:00] So we have other witchcraft cases in New England. We have other witchcraft cases in Old England, in continental Europe. And the Salem Witch-Hunt is unique in a lot of ways. Is it the worst example of a witch-hunt ever? No. There's examples in Germany of more people being accused, more people being executed, things that lasted even longer.
Those places aren't Witch City, even though Salem is witch city, rightfully or wrongfully, but that is the way that it is labeled and billed. With the Salem Witch-Hunt. It's unique because of so many people. Out of the New England witch-hunts, at least, it's the biggest, up to about 200 people accused is wildly different than the previous ones.
The aspect of how geographically far and [01:08:00] wide it is is interesting. It's not just one town. It starts in Salem Village, now Danvers, and Salem Village does really remain the focal point throughout, but the accusations are far and wide, as far north as Maine with Reverend George Borroughs, as far south as Charlestown, today part of Boston, as far west as the towns of Billerica, Woburn or around there, it's a broad area. We will see, for example, some towns it's just one person or a handful accused there from people in Salem Village, other towns that it's people from that town accusing people from that town, like Andover that actually has the highest number of people accused. That's almost a little like microcosm of the witch-hunt in itself. It's its own category. Richard Hite's book In the Shadow of Salem does an amazing job of looking at the Andover category, cuz it really is its own category. 
Other [01:09:00] ways that the Salem Witch-Hunt is unique compared to others is the ending. When you only have one or two people accused of witchcraft, you don't usually have a growing public opposition, because it's over swiftly. When you have 200 people accused, it takes a while to put all these people on trial, naturally, and so what we have here is an example of people really opposing and turning against a witch-hunt. You don't see that in every other instance. The opposition comes from families of the accused most naturally, most obviously. We could have guessed that. 
One other thing that I had found that I thought was interesting is really the opposition from the high-level ministers. I think that people's understanding of the witch-hunt doesn't really have them as opponents, but they were opponents of, at least, the process. It's not that they doubted the witches were real. To them, witches were real, but they did not think the court was doing the process the right way. And so they are opponents and critics in that [01:10:00] regard. 
And lastly, with the witch hunt, as I mentioned, Salem allegedly being Witch City, it really captures the American imagination in a way that others don't today. A lot of that is thanks to The Crucible, but it did even before then. With Nurse as an example, the idea that she's the first person in North America accused of witchcraft to get a memorial in 1885. Clearly there's something special and unique about this compared to other accusations and witch hunts.
Sarah Jack: I was gonna ask you what does your book do to authenticate Rebecca's fame? But you've really captured that with your answers today. And so I wanna, as one of her descendants, I really wanna thank you for that. 
Dan Gagnon: I appreciate it, and I'm happy to be talking to a descendant of Rebecca Nurse. I will say that wherever I have gone, [01:11:00] every time that I have talked, anywhere that I've ever talked, whether it's online or in person, there's always people in the room who are descendants of Rebecca Nurse that turn out. And that is an amazing thing, and I think that also shows how it's important for people as yourself, who do have a connection to people involved in the witch-hunt, or as Josh mentioned, a connection to other people in Salem Village. That kind of makes the story closer to the 21st century, and I am always happy when I talk with people who have that connection. 
Josh Hutchinson: Sarah and I are both descendants of Rebecca's sister Mary, so we have that cousin connection between us that we probably wouldn't realize if it was any other great grandparent, we wouldn't have made that connection.
Sarah Jack: When you talked about the double marriage, Elizabeth, she married a Russell, and then the grandchildren of Mary and Rebecca married, and [01:12:00] that's why I connect to both of them. It's the same line that a couple other cousins in the Towne Association connect through, too. So there's a little group of us, maybe a big group.
Dan Gagnon: And there's another example of the significance of the Salem Witch-Hunt, is not just I have met descendants one off, but that there are organizations of descendants, clearly, that there's something really meaningful here, if people are forming organizations. 
Sarah Jack: When it came to the exonerations in Massachusetts, it was because people petitioned for them. It would've stayed as it was without people standing up whatever time in history. They did that, and Massachusetts responded to that. And it just, it makes me think of the other descendants that are coming forward out of Connecticut and other trials. And one of the questions why is this relevant? Why is it important? But it's important for many of the things that you pointed out about the meaningfulness of the [01:13:00] story, the connection to the ancestor, and if, you know, nobody stands up and asks it, it won't happen. So I was, that resonated with me too when I was reading that in your book, how people came forward and asked. 
Dan Gagnon: And with that, I really think of the scene when they dedicate the Rebecca Nurse Monument in the family cemetery, that you have the minister from the Salem Village Church, who comes out and says, "it is right for us to be reevaluating these things. It is right for us to be remembering these people," countering that claim of why does it matter that apparently exists in 1885 too, not just today. And that he really sets out, it's the Reverend Rice, that this is important to do, and it is just to build this monument. To take this day to remember that because it is important and he connects it to, we learn from it and hope to do better in the future.
Josh Hutchinson: How does this [01:14:00] story relate to the present? Do you see any parallels?
Dan Gagnon: I do. There's writers, filmmakers who have made all sorts of connections to the present, whether the present was 1980 or the present is 2022, depending on when they were writing or making their media. And there's some that are timeless. This idea of a community gripped by fear of something they don't understand is, there's millions of ways that could be relevant to basically every community on earth.
There's things about people assuming something they've been told without critically evaluating it. Witchcraft was part of their worldview, and that was something that they very much took for granted. It's not that we actually would've quite found that in 1692, but it's one of those that hopefully we've progressed past.[01:15:00] 
And what we also see at the end I think of is even somewhere where there has been some awful incident where people are to blame. And in this case, meaning the accusers that yeah, a community might take a while, it might take a long while, might need some outside help, but they do need to try to go back to normal afterwards, and that I think is really hard to imagine. 
We know it's hard to imagine the idea that people believed in witchcraft. Everybody can think, oh, how could they believe that? But how can you imagine them going back to normal afterwards? And I'm sure around the world there are countless examples of horrible tragedies where somebody is at blame that, through whatever circumstance, have to try to put things back together.
And in Salem Village it takes years. It takes years. [01:16:00] Maybe you could say generations, cuz people weren't really open to talking about this for generations. But it happened. There's a memorial to the victims. There was the memorial to Nurse a while back, and then the memorial in Salem Village in 1992, and then one in, in downtown Salem a couple months later in, in 1992. So it, it's eventually dealt with and recognized, but it really, it can't just be the elephant in the room. It has to be that acknowledged, and the people who are wronged should be remembered. 
Sarah Jack: And it's not just moving forward, it's, as you said, dealing with it to move forward. And I think that's kind of what we're finding in Connecticut. They pushed forward, but some of the stuff is bubbling up. People have questions, they wanna know more, they wanna remember their ancestors. They want to have names made good again. So it, there's lessons to be learned for sure. And it is very relatable [01:17:00] to, like you said, horrible situations where there is bad happened, because people did bad things. 
Josh Hutchinson: And we have some guests coming up that you might find interesting from other nations, where witch-hunts are still happening. And one of the things we want to talk to them about is how does a community move forward after something like that happens?
And that's something that we can learn a little from Salem and other trials. 
Sarah Jack: Modernly this happens, and then you see it in some other cases in New England, where a stigma sticks with a family, and then maybe some new accusations on the new generation come up. In Salem it was that they were able to move on without a new thing erupting. Why is that?
Dan Gagnon: So I think that's another way of getting back to the Salem trials as being unique in that no, there really[01:18:00] couldn't have been future accusations in that community after this, because it was done, and it was really recognized by the majority, not every soul, but the majority of having been wrong and misguided right when it ended.
It doesn't really take time for people to realize it was wrong. They discovered it was wrong, and that's why they put pressure to get the court stopped. That realization comes first. With some of these other witchcraft accusations in New England with only one person, they are in some instances, found guilty and executed, and only later do people begin to think back, maybe that wasn't quite right. Whereas with Salem, it's the belief that wasn't quite right comes first, before the end of the event. And it's interesting in that one would think that there would've been much more immediate sort of coming to [01:19:00] terms with the whole event right away.
It doesn't happen it, there are a couple reasons that the government of Massachusetts really didn't want to get into this. I always roll my eyes when I read the act that eventually clears names and they will go on, and they'll eventually compensate, not as reparations, cuz the government doesn't admit doing anything wrong, but a level of compensation. And in these laws, they're very clear to say, you can't sue us, you can't sue the Commonwealth of Massachusetts over this. And I think that kind of stops, in a way, drags out the coming to terms with it, because that's a shifting of guilt. And so that, that lengthens it.
Sarah Jack: I was just gonna ask you, Dan, if you wanted to say anything else or share anything else before we wrap up.
Dan Gagnon: I think that I would. I would say that one thing about the witch-hunt that I also think is important, and not just with [01:20:00] my prior involvement with the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, but is the idea that so many people also come and visit the actual places where this is involved.
The people I know have gone, they go to the memorials in Salem at Proctor's Ledge in Salem, the one in Salem Village, the Salem Village Memorial in Danvers. They go to the parsonage site where Reverend Parris had lived. That's now an archeological dig. They try to go to these places and try to get a connection that way to the history of the event. And people will even do this, going to places where there isn't necessarily a house. There's people who go up to Topsfield, where some of those people who were accused lived, and some of it's still farmland and just kinda walk around to try to get a feel for the place, a connection to the event, try to remember. If there is a family connection, then trying to make a family connection.
But in the sense that these places can be visited, and I think that is a good way to learn about history. It's going to [01:21:00] those places, I'm a big proponent of you can really get a sense of a place just in a like walk around it. I think of people who walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, which has wonderful historic sites. Yeah. When you're walking along skyscrapers, lose the historic sense, though, as you're going through downtown Boston. Whereas some of the Salem Village sites, you can still feel it. The Nurse Homestead 30-acre farm. It feels like a farm. There's an accurate feel. The parsonage site isolated enough you can kind of get a feel of this place. And of course there are the memorials in downtown Salem that are busier. I would encourage people to do that or really do that with any historical event that interests them, not just this one, but by going to places I think you can learn even more than just reading.
Josh Hutchinson: And now here's Sarah with another edition of End Witch Hunts News. 
Sarah Jack: Here is End Witch Hunts [01:22:00] World Advocacy News. This week, you listened in on some informative conversation about the memorial projects for Rebecca Towne Nurse and the other executed accused witches of the Salem Witch trials that were organized by their descendants and community. If you have listened through the episode catalog of our podcast, you are now familiar with the enacted exonerations, requested exonerations, memorializations of those accused and executed witches. Descendants, historians, and advocates are telling the stories of the innocent victims from 330 years ago or more. Some victims now have monuments, and all are remembered because we are writing, filming, and talking about what happened. Doesn't it feel like some enduring wrongs are being righted? 
The layers of circumstances that created these past witch trial situations are pulling apart under examination. We are pointing out how indoctrination of witch fear and misfortune-blaming were part of the consistent contributors that led to historical [01:23:00] witch-hunts. In many world communities, witch-hunts are past, but as much as this is to be celebrated, we have to stay focused on the witch-hunt dangers many women and children find themselves in today.
This week, Nigerian advocate and activist, Dr. Leo Igwe , wrote an article speaking about the fear and illusion of witchcraft meetings and witchphobia in his community. He's telling us that witchphobia is being perpetuated and disruptive to the end of witch-hunts in Nigeria. This is not a historical reflection.
This thriving fear of harmful witchcraft is the cause of substantial abuse and murder against children and elderly women now. Just like in early modern witch trial history, the educated and powerful are often not intervening, but today, according to the established law, they should intervene to protect the vulnerable alleged witches.
He writes, "like people in western countries, Africans should abandon the illusion that supernatural witchcraft meetings and other occult nocturnal gatherings [01:24:00] take place. They should discard this notion that supposed witches embark on magical flights to a coven where they engage in cannibalism or initiate children and other adults into the witchcraft world. These illusions drive irrational fears and horrific abuses of alleged witches in Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and other African countries."
 Does this not sound like an echo of all witch-hunt history? An echo of the Salem Witch trial accusations and charges? Leo states that through socialization or indoctrination, the belief that witches metaphysically convene is pervasive. Remember you just heard in today's episode that alleged witches in Salem were found guilty of magically convening to cause harm. 
The witch-hunt mentality is alive, and humanity is still gripped by illusions. Please follow Leo Igwe and read his updates. Hear what he says must be addressed. Stop believing in these illusions. Please reflect and consider his message. Share his message now. [01:25:00] These strongly held fears must be addressed so that they can be stopped immediately.
While we watch and wait, let's support the victims across the world. Use your social power to help them. Support them by acknowledging and sharing their stories. Please use all your communication channels to be an intervener and stand with them. The world must stop hunting witches. Please follow our End Witch Hunts movement on Twitter @_endwitchhunts. And visit our website at 
End Witch Hunts movement and Thou Shalt Not Suffer podcast support the worldwide movement to recognize and address historical wrongs.
Josh Hutchinson: Thank you, Sarah, for that critical information. We need to learn more about what's going on in the world around us with these ongoing tragedies.
Sarah Jack: You're welcome. 
Josh Hutchinson: And thank you for listening to Thou Shult Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. 
Sarah Jack: Join us next week for a very important guest from across the [01:26:00] ocean. Damon Leff of South Africa will be talking to us about his years of advocacy and what it's like for the victims experiencing witch-hunts in his country.
Josh Hutchinson: Like, subscribe, or follow wherever you get your podcasts. 
Sarah Jack: Visit us at 
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell everybody you know and everybody you meet about the show.
Sarah Jack: Please support our efforts to end witch-hunts. Visit to learn more. 
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow. 
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