New England Travel: The Rebecca Nurse Homestead

On a gorgeous summer day in New England, my family and I were lucky enough to visit the Rebecca Nurse Homestead last summer. If the name Rebecca Nurse sounds familiar but you can’t quite place it, it is because Rebecca was one of the most well-known victims of the Salem Witch trials.

   Rebecca was a well respected member of her community. At 71 years old, she was also one of the oldest victims of the hysteria that engulfed the area around Salem, MA. Around the year 1692, many people were accused and more than a dozen killed in an effort to rid the community of ‘witches.’

   The Nurse homestead is located in a bucolic area just outside of the city of Salem, in the city of Danvers. It is the only original home of a Witch Trial victim that is open to the public. Set back in a lush field of countryside and partitioned by a beautiful old stone wall so common in the area, the homestead’s centerpiece is the gorgeous antique red salt box where Rebecca raised her family, tended her chores, said her prayers, and watched grandchildren play.

   Inside the home was simple and gorgeously restored to the late 17th century with items displayed much like those the Nurse family would have used. As a fellow fiber artist, I was enamored with the old spinning wheels and other fiber art equipment that filled the main common room.

   Although Rebecca has achieved her fame for her tragic end, viewing her home and seeing it brought to life in such a lovely way by the volunteers who manage the property makes it clear that she led a rich existence in her 71 years before the trial. She tended the fire and made delicious meals, she sat at her wheel and spun yarn to keep her family warm during the frigid New England winters; She rocked babies, she cared for the sick, she looked out the window and smiled as her children ran by in play. She was an industrious woman and a person of faith. A sister, a wife, a mother, a granny. She was much more than the villain her hysterical neighbors feared her to be, and more than the victim history remembers her as.

   Perhaps it was Rebecca’s death that started to sour her neighbor’s lust for blood and desire to punish. To many in her community, her status as a witch rang false. Even the judges involved— which included the ancestor Nathaniel Hawthorn, who would change his family name’s spelling from Hathorne in shame– had doubts. Her first trial had, indeed, found her not guilty. But her accusers couldn’t let go. It is said that Rebecca’s miss-hearing of a question led to her eventual demise. She was hung and buried in an unmarked, unchristian grave.

   However, it is family lore that once night fell, Rebecca’s husband and son retrieved her body and buried her in a secluded grove of trees on the family land. Later relatives erected a large memorial to her in the family plot, and other members of the family also take their rest there.

   The Nurse family cemetery is located just a short walk from the house, across a peaceful field and enveloped in the shade of an old grove of trees. There the Nurse family find their final rest, and vindication through the wisdom of history.

    Rebecca’s life is a bittersweet tale. But I am so glad I was able to visit her home, and feel more of her life there to ponder than that of her death. I am also so thankful that I was able to take photos within the house, and found the entire homestead site to be beautiful, serene, and well taken care of.

   The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is a completely volunteer run endeavor, and is owned by the Danvers Alarm List Coy in the town of Danvers, MA.
   You can find out more about the homestead at their website, HERE.

     And one last look back at Rebecca’s home….so beautiful sitting there in its lush landscape, as it has done for centuries. It is interesting, isnt it, that it is her memory that lives on, her home that is so beautiful cared for…..when the memory and names of her accusers have faded back into the dusty annals of time. It is my fervent prayer that we always right our course as a nation, no matter how difficult it is to do or admit. That we always find ourselves centered back at mercy, truth and the high ideals on which our nation was founded.

   With that in mind, I leave you now with a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne, famous Salem writer and ancestor of Judge John Hathorne, Salem Witch Trial Judge:

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

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