Mary Towne Easty, wife of a wealthy Topsfield farmer, was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. She was also the sister of fellow accused witches, Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Cloyce, and the daughter of suspected witch Joanna Blessing Towne.
Mary Towne Easty was born in Yarmouth, England where she was baptized on August 24, 1634. She was the daughter of William Towne and Joanna Blessing, whom were married March 25, 1620 at the church of St. Nicholas.
The couple had eight children, six of whom were born in England: Rebecca Towne (who later married Francis Nurse), John Towne, Susannah Towne, Edmund Towne, Jacob Towne, Mary Towne, Sarah Towne (who later married Peter Cloyce) and Joseph Towne.
The Towne family later came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony sometime between the years 1638 and 1640. They first lived in an area of Salem Village known as Northfields. In 1651, they moved to Topsfield after William Towne purchased some property there.
According to the book Genealogical and Personal Memoirs, the Townes were a reputable family:
“Goodman William Towne was a man of character, substance and social position, but about a quarter of a century after his death three of his daughters were brought under the condemnation of a fanatical court on the charge of witchcraft, and two of them suffered death on the gallows while the third barely escaped a like fate at the hands of an unthinkable and ill-advised judicial body. The name of Rebecca Nurse, who suffered the death of a martyr, will endure with time through the centuries yet to come, and they who are her descendants, and descendants of her martyr sisters, will look back with pleasure to the fact that she and they are their ancestors, for they were good, innocent and unoffending women, the victims of fanaticism as unjust in it accusations as it was cruel and barbarous in meting out its punishment. This unfortunate episode in the history of the Towne family brought no disgrace upon the name, and there lives not one descendant of either Rebecca Towne Nurse or her sister Mary Towne Easty who cannot feel a just pride in the noble characters of those martyr mothers.”
Sometime around 1655, Mary Towne married Isaac Easty, a farmer and barrel maker from Topsfield. The couple had seven children together and owned one of the largest farms in Salem Village.
In 1670, Mary Easty’s mother, who was by then a defenseless widow, was suddenly accused of witchcraft, although she was never tried for the crime, according to an article published in Ancestry Magazine:
“Several years earlier, their mother had been accused of witchcraft, but she was never tried. However, local gossip during the infamous 1692 trials suggested that the witch profession was handed down from mother to daughter.”
Various sources on the subject indicate Joanna was never formally accused of the crime and instead was merely the subject of rumors of witchcraft after she came to the defense of a Topsfield minister, Rev. Thomas Gilbert, who had been brought to court on the charge of intemperance. The charge was the result of rumors and accusations made by the local Gould family.
The Goulds reportedly became angered when Joanna testified on behalf of Gilbert in court and later spread rumors that she was a witch, according to the book Currents of Malice: Mary Towne Easty and Her Family in Salem Witchcraft:
“In 1670 Joanna Towne, then a widow, seventy-five years old, became involved in a ministerial battle in Topsfield. Such battles were endemic in early New England towns, and were to escalate to a terrible climax in neighboring Salem Village, twenty-two years later….The first settled minister in Topsfield, the Reverend William Perkins, had been minister at Gloucester. It is hard to reconcile the complaint of one of his lady parishoners that ‘he was better fitted to be a lady’s chamberman than in the pulpit,’ and those of his supporters who declared he spoke the truth in a manner that would make other ministers hide their faces in shame, and that he could pronounce the word ‘damn’ with greater emphasis than any other man of his time! His detractors on the other hand, did not hesitate to hail him into court on the charge of drunkeness…His replacement (in 1663) was Reverend Thomas Gilbert, a Scotsman. It was not long before he too was in trouble, and for much the same reason. He was presented in court on suspicion of being ‘overtaken with drink’. As all three Towne sisters were imprisoned for being witches “like their mother before them”, and their mother was ‘old Goodwife Towne,’ a little background information about the relationships between the Goulds and the Townes is necessary. These families were on opposite sides of a quarrel involving the Reverend Gilbert….At the time of the court trials in which Goodwife Towne appeared in 1670, she had been a widow for two years. As Joanna was living with her daughter in law Phebe Perkins Towne (a Gould descendant), it was a situation ripe for mother/daughter in law discord. Joanna, as will be shown, was in effect saying that Phebe’s mother, the wife of Deacon Perkins, was ‘uncharitable’ if not downright dishonest. Joanna Towne set herself up against the whole Gould clan in her spirited defense of the Reverend Gilbert. This may well have been the origin of her reputation as a ‘witch’ in Topsfield.”
It should be noted that the Gould family were actually close friends of the Putnam family, who later became some of the most active accusers in the Salem Witch Trials, and were the main accusers against Mary Easty and her sisters Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Cloyce.
To make matters worse between Mary Easty and the Putnams, Mary’s husband, Isaac, and several of her Towne family members, also drew the ire of the Putnam family in 1686 when they testified against Captain John Putnam for harvesting trees within the Topsfield boundary according to The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society periodical:
“The Putnams were strong-willed men, of high temper and seemingly eager for controversy and even personal conflict. In a suit brought in 1686, Isaac Easty sen., Isaac Easty jr., John Towne, and Joseph Towne jr. testified that they were in the woods within Topsfield bounds on the south side of the river and ‘saw Capt. John Putnam of Salem Farms or Village & his sons & some of his cousins cutting down timber within Topsfield bounds & on Topsfield men’s properties & several of Topsfield men forewarned Capt. John Putnam from cutting timber on their land; the said Capt. Putnam replied, I have faled the timber yet is here cut down on my orders & I will keep cutting & carrying away from this land till next March, & ye said Putnam being asked, what by violence, his answer, ay by violence & further said you may sue me you know where I dwell & then did his company fall on.’ The court again decided in favor of the Topsfield men which of course only served to make the Putnams more bitter.”
According to the book Legal Executions in New England, Easty herself had a good reputation in Salem and had little reason to be accused of witchcraft. Many historians suspect the reason she was accused was most likely due to the bad blood between her and the Putnams and due to the fact that she was directly related to several suspected witches.
Mary Easty was officially accused of witchcraft in April of 1692 and arrested on April 21, just a few weeks after her two sisters had been arrested on the same charge. She was then examined by Judge John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin in Salem Village the next day. During the examination, the judges repeatedly accused her of lying and of working with the Devil and even asked her about her sister’s accusations:
[Magistrate to the afflicted girls]: Doth this woman hurt you?
Many mouths were stopped, & several other fits seized them
Abigail Williams said it was Goody Easty, & she had hurt her, the like said Mary Walcot , & Ann Putnam, John Indian said her saw her with Goody Hobbs.
[Magistrate to Mary Easty]: What do you say, are you guilty?
[Mary Easty]: I can say before Christ Jesus, I am free.
[Magistrate]: You see these accuse you.
There is a God —
[Magistrate to the afflicted girls]: Hath she brought the book to you?
Their mouths were stopped.
[Magistrate to Mary Easty]: What have you done to these children?
[Mary Easty]: I know nothing.
[Magistrate]: How can you say you know nothing, when you see these tormented , & accuse you that you know nothing?
[Mary Easty]: Would you have me accuse my self?
[Magistrate]: Yes if you be guilty. How far have you complied with Satan whereby he takes this
advantage against you?
[Mary Easty]: Sir, I never complied but prayed against him all my days, I
have no compliance with Satan, in this. What would you have me do?
[Magistrate]: Confess if you be guilty.
[Mary Easty]: I will say it, if it was my last time, I am clear of this sin.
[Magistrate]: Of what sin?
[Mary Easty]: Of witchcraft.
[Magistrate to the afflicted girls]: Are you certain this is the woman?
Never a one could speak for fits. By and by Ann Putnam said that was the woman, it was like her, & she told me her name;
[Magistrate to Mary Easty]: It is marvelous to me that you should sometimes think they are bewitched, & sometimes not, when several confess that they have been guilty of bewitching them.
[Mary Easty]: Well Sir would you have me confess that that I never knew?
Her hands were clenched together, & then the hands of Mercy Lewis was clenched
Look now your hands are open, her hands are open.
[Magistrate to the afflicted girls]: Is this the woman?
They made signes but could not speak, but Ann Putnam afterwards Betty Hubbard cried out Oh. Goody Easty, Goody Easty you are the woman, you are the woman
Put up her head, for while her head is bowed the necks of these are broken.
[Magistrate to Mary Easty]: What do you say to this?
[Mary Easty]: Why God will know.
[Magistrate]: Nay God knows now.
[Mary Easty]: I know he does.
[Magistrate]: What did you think of the actions of others before your sisters came out, did you think it was Witchcraft?
[Mary Easty]: I cannot tell.
[Magistrate]: Why do you not think it is Witchcraft?
[Mary Easty]: It is an evil spirit, but wither it be witchcraft I do not know.
Several said she brought them the book & then they fell into fits.
On May 18, Easty was released on her own recognizance but one of her accusers, Mercy Lewis, continued to accuse Easty of tormenting her. As a result, Easty was arrested again only 48 hours later.
There is no record of the original complaint against Easty or her first arrest warrant from April but court records indicate that another complaint was made against her on May 20 by John Putnam, Jr., and Benjamin Hutchinson, on behalf of Mercy Lewis, Abigail Williams and Mary Walcott.
Easty was arrested again, on May 20, and taken to Beadle’s Tavern in Salem town for her pre-trial examination. There is no record of this examination. Easty was indicted on two charges of witchcraft and taken to the jail in Ipswich, and was later moved to the jail in Boston.
The testimony against Easty was mostly stories from the afflicted girls about being afflicted by Mary Easty’s spirit and testimony from the girl’s parents and relatives, such as Edward Putnam and John Putnam, Jr., that the girls appeared to be afflicted.
Other people testified as well, such as Samuel Smith who said five years earlier he had gotten into an argument with Mary Easty at her house and when he was returning home he suffered a blow to his shoulder from an invisible force and heard a nearby stone wall rattle.
Another person, Margaret Reddington, told the court that three years earlier she was visiting Mary Easty and suddenly fell ill. She said Easty’s spirit later appeared to her at night and offered her a piece of fresh meat and after Reddington rejected it, Easty’s spirit vanished.
A few other people actually came to Easty’s defense, such as John and Mary Arnold, Thomas and Elizabeth Fosse, who testified about how well-behaved Easty was while incarcerated.
According to the book More Wonders of the Invisible World, Easty was brought to trial on September 9 and found guilty. During the course of her trial, Easty filed two petitions. One was filed jointly with her sister Sarah Cloyce while the other was filed by herself.
The first petition isn’t dated but appears to be from before Easty’s trial took place and it asks for legal advice, requests that specific witnesses be called to speak on the sister’s behalf and asks that spectral evidence not be allowed in the trials.
The second petition was filed sometime after Easty’s conviction. It’s a remarkable and very moving plea to the magistrates, not on behalf of herself, but on behalf of the other accused witches who had yet to go to trial.
In the petition, Easty accepts that although she is innocent she is to be put to death and asks the magistrates to reconsider their actions to spare any future victims the same injustice. As the book Puritans in America says about the petition: “Hers is an expression of submission without servility. It is a statement of one person’s faith that New England can still be saved from itself.” The petition reads as follows:
“The humble petition of Mary Easty unto his excellencies Sir William Phipps to the honoured Judge and Bench now sitting In Judicature in Salem and the Reverend ministers humbly sheweth that whereas your poor and humble petitioner being condemned to die do humbly beg of you to take it into your judicious and pious considerations that your poor and humble petitioner knowing my own innocency blessed be the Lord for it and seeing plainly the wiles and subtility of my accusers by myself can not but judge charitably of others that are going the same way of myself if the Lord steps not mightily in I was confined a whole month upon the same account that I am condemned now for and then cleared by the afflicted persons as some of your honours know and in two days time I was cried out upon by them and have been confined and now am condemned to die the Lord above knows my innocency then and likewise does now as at the great day will be known to men and angels — I petition to your honours not for my own life for I know I must die and my appointed time is set but the Lord he knows it is that if it be possible no more innocent blood may be shed which undoubtedly cannot be avoid in the way and course you go in I question not but your honours does to the utmost of your powers in the discovery and detecting of witchcraft and witches and would not be guilty of innocent blood for the world but by my own innocency I know you are in the wrong way the Lord in his infinite mercy direct you in this great work if it be his blessed will that no more innocent blood be shed I would humbly beg of you that your honors would be pleased to examine this afflicted persons strictly and keep them apart some time and like-wise to try some of these confessing witches. I being confident there is several of them has belied themselves and others as will appear if not in this world I am sure in the world to come whither I am now agoing and I question not but you’ll see an alteration of these things they say myself and others having made a league with the devil we cannot confess I know and the Lord knows as will shortly appear they belie me and so I question not but they do others the Lord above who is the searcher of all hearts knows that as I shall answer it at the tribunal seat that I know not the least thing of witchcraft therefore I cannot I dare not belie my own soul I beg your honers not to deny this my humble petition from a poor dying innocent person and I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your endeavors
To his Excellency Sir William Phipps: Governor and to the honoured Judge and Magistrates now setting in Judicature in Salem.
Mary Easty Petition”
On September 22, 1692, Mary Easty was hanged at a small hill near Gallows Hill after saying goodbye to her family one last time, according Robert Calef in his book More Wonders of the Invisible World:
“Mary Easty, sister also to Rebecca Nurse, when she took her last farewell of her husband, children and friends, was, as is reported by them present, as serious, religious, distinct and affectionate as could well be exprest, drawing tears from the eyes of almost all present.”
It is believed Easty’s body was later buried in an unmarked grave somewhere at the execution site.
The guilt of putting Easty to death seems to have weighed on some of the other colonists because on November 14, 1692, 17-year-old Mary Herrick met with Reverend Joseph Gerrish and Reverend John Hale at Gerrish’s house in Wenham and told them that Hale’s wife and the ghost of Mary Easty both appeared to her on multiple evenings in November. Herrick said that Hale’s wife afflicted her and also claimed that Easty told her she had been wrongfully executed and said if Herrick told Hale and Gerrish that she was innocent then Mrs. Hale would stop afflicting her.
Herrick was neither one of the original accusers in the Salem Witch Trials nor did she give testimony in any of the cases. It seems her involvement in the trials was impromptu and there isn’t enough information about her to determine her motive. It’s not clear why she was accusing Hale’s wife or why she specifically was trying to clear Easty’s name.
Hale’s wife was never arrested or tried but the unfounded accusation is said to have caused Hale to turn against the Salem Witch Trials, even spurring him to write his book, A Modest Inquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft, which heavily criticized the trials.
The Salem Witch Trials eventually came to an end in 1693 and many historians suggest that it was Easty’s petition, which asked the court to be reasonable and think twice about what they were doing, that helped end them. It is not known if this is true but there are a lot of factors that helped bring the witch trials to an end and it is possible that the petition could have been one of them.
In 1711, the colony passed a bill clearing the names of some of the convicted witches and paid restitution to their families. Easty was named in the bill and her family was compensated £20 for her wrongful execution.
Mary Easty’s memorial marker is located at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in Salem, Mass.
Mary Easty Historical Sites:
Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Address: Liberty Street, Salem Mass
Admission Price: Free
Former Site of the Salem Courthouse
Address: Washington Street (about 100 feet south of Lynde Street), opposite the Masonic Temple, Salem, Mass. Memorial plaque located on Masonic Temple.
Site of the Salem Witch Trials Executions
Address: Proctor’s Ledge, wooded area between Proctor Street and Pope Street, Salem, Mass
Currents of Malice: Mary Towne Easty and Her Family in Salem Witchcraft; Persis MacMillen; 1990
Narratives of the New England Witchcraft Cases; George Lincoln Burr; 2002
Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692; Bernard Rosenthal; 1995
The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology; Andrew Delbanco; Alan Heimart; 2009
The Towne Family Memorial; Edwin Hubbard, William Blanchard Towne; 1880
The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society, Volume 14; 1895
Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts, Volume 3; edited by William Richard Cutter; 1908
Salem Witchcraft, Volume 1; Charles Wentworth Upham; 1867
The New England Magazine; Volume 6; 1892
The Ancestry of Lieutenant Amos Towne 1737-1793
Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960 By Daniel Allen Hearn
University of Virginia: Mary Easty Case File: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySal1R?div_id=n45