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, along with seven other convicted witches, at Proctor’s Ledge in Salem, 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.”
After Easty and the others were executed and their bodies hung on the tree, Reverend Nicholas Noyes remarked “what a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there” (Calef 221).
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 Salem Witch Trials victims and paid restitution to their families. Easty was named in the bill and her family was compensated £20 for her wrongful execution.
In 1992, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial was built in Salem, Mass and a marker was established for Mary Easty.
In 2017, the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial was built in Salem, Mass and a marker was established for Mary Easty.
Mary Easty Historical Sites:
Salem Witch Trials Memorial:
Address: Liberty Street, Salem Mass
Proctor’s Ledge Memorial:
Address: 7 Pope Street, Salem, Mass
Site of the Salem Witch Trials Executions:
Address: Proctor’s Ledge, wooded area between Proctor Street and Pope Street, Salem, Mass
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.
Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. Printed for Nath. Hillar, at the Princess-Arms, in Leaden-Hall-Street, over against St. Mary-Ax, and Joseph Collier, at the Golden Bible,
on London Bridge. 1700.
MacMillen, Persis. Currents of Malice: Mary Towne Easty and Her Family in Salem Witchcraft. P.E. Randall, 1990.
Narratives of the New England Witchcraft Cases. Edited by George Lincoln Burr. Dover Publications, Inc, 2002.
Rosenthal, Bernard. Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Delbanco, Andrew. The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology. Harvard University Press, 2009.
Hubbard. Edwin. The Towne Family Memorial. Fergus Printing Company, 1880.
The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society. Vol. 14, Topsfield Historical Society, 1895.
Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts. Edited by William Richard Cutter, vol. 3, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1908.
Upham, Charles W. Salem Witchcraft: With An Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects. Vol. 1, Wiggin and Lunt, 1867.
Davis, Walter Goodwin. The Ancestry of Lieutenant Amos Towne 1737-1793. The Southworth Press, 1927.
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960. McFarland & Company, Inc, 1999.
“Mary Easty, Executed, September 22, 1692.” The Salem Witchcraft Papers, Volume I: Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692, University of Virginia, salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySal1R?div_id=n45
Just recently stumbled on this blog and have been greatly enjoying the well researched and engaging articles. Thank you and keep them coming!
Thanks so much for the kind comment!
I am a descendant of both May (Towne) Easty and of Thomas Putnam, though a relative rather than the person whose machinations led to her death.
I am a direct descendant of Rebecca Towne Nurse and, ironically, John Putnam, her accuser through a marriage of their grandchildren Elizabeth Nurse and Caleb Putnam, Jr. Thank you so much for posting this information. It looks as though there is a lot of catching up to do. I lived in Portsmouth, NH for 3 years in the early ’80’s but had no knowledge of my ancestry at that time. Now living in my home state of Texas a trip back to the NE seems in order to revisit my roots.
You’re welcome, Billie! I love hearing from Salem Witch Trials descendants. I found through my research that marriage between survivors, widows and accusers of the trials, as well as between their descendants, happened a lot. I guess it’s not that surprising seeing they all lived in a small close-knit community but it’s really interesting nonetheless. I hope you do take a trip back to New England to explore your roots! It’s a very surreal experience walking the same streets your ancestors walked and seeing where they lived. I do it all the time when I walk around all the Massachusetts towns my ancestors lived in and it moves me every time.
My daughter and her dad’s side of the family are direct descendants of Mary Eesty. My daughter is doing a report on her. Very cool to research!
I am a descendant of Mary Easty. We always thought my grandfather’s family came from Canada. My cousin traced back and found that her son had gone to Canada to claim land. My husband and I went to Salem a few years ago after watching Three Sovereigns for Sarah. We went to the museum and then downstairs to wheyre the were kept. I was very moved and put my hand on a beam. My hand immediately became numb, the guide then said ” that beam is the only original beam!” My hand stayed numb for about two hours. I truly believe that Mary was saying thank you for caring. I’m not one who would believe in things like that but I can’t explain what happened!
I also dated a Putnam for a summer a long time ago and found out it was his family that was against her.
I think that Mary’s son went to Canada to ESCAPE any further persecution, at least that is what I have read. The family always lived under that shadow, at least the children did. Of course, Sarah and her husband escaped to Framingham, MA. I think no one really felt safe for a long time.
Hello Linda Jackson, I am also Mary Towne Easty’s descendant.
I too am a direct descendant of Mary Towne Estey. Though I have never been to Massachusetts, I and my daughter are traveling to England this summer to see the original areas where the Towne and Estey families lived. I am so proud of my ancestors as they were truly strong, kind and upright citizens, on both sides of my family and helped to build this country. I’m also a descendant of John Webster, 5th colonial governor of Connecticut and Thomas Chittenden, first Governor of Vermont. It is wonderful to know your history.
This is by far the best explanation of the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials. It is an interesting, moving account of the events leading up to the death of Mary Easty. It exposes the people involved, the motivation of the accusers & the outcome. There is a reason we have laws to protect the innocent until proven guilty!
Thank you for this amazing synopsis!
Thank you so much for the kind words, Janice!
I am the 9th generation Granddaughter of Issac Estey Sr. and Mary Towne. My own Grandmother worked tirelessly to research our Estey family line and found many interesting connections from Europe/Bavaria/Italy and into the 1600’s in New England. Thank you for sharing this information! I am currently working on a novel (fictional) with some of the Salem Witch Trial historical information intact throughout! Links like these are so valuable. I want my children to carry on this legacy, and know about family history. It also serves as a lesson of how many privileges kids have nowadays!
Thanks for the kind words, Linda! Your book sounds very interesting. Glad I could be of help.
Marry Estey WAS 8TH Grandmother, I am just so mad,found out from ancestry ,com 2 years ago. I am from Pittsfield Ma. I wound love to know about your novel. John Sheran
My wife, Sheila Esty (McGuire) is 9x Granddaughter of Mary Easty (many different spellings through the centuries). We have a great book written by an Esty Aunt and Grandmother. Traces the roots past Mary all the way to Miles Standish. This site is excellent. Thank you. Would love to communicate to other Esty’s out there as my wife is looking to connect with family.
Mary Estey is my 7th great grandmother. My records show that it was her grandson, Richard Estey son of Isaac Estey, Jr. who moved to New Brunswick. My great grandfather, Charles Aaron Estey, who returned to Boston and fathered my grandfather, James Lee Estey. My mother, Helen Lee Estey was the only child of James and gave birth to me in 1932. Thus, my mother was the end of my direct line to carry the Estey name. I found this information through a site titled: The Esteys of New Brunswick. A great deal of information there.
I am very happy to find this blog and hope to stay connected.
Nancy Reynolds Boyle of Dover, NH.
Mary Towne Easty was my 8th great-grandmother through my maternal side.
She was quite a woman! Very strong in her faith and in her God. That faith has been passed down through the generations.
I know I will see her someday!
Having been fascinated (if that’s the word) and horrified by this chapter in colonial history, i went to teach for a time in Salem. I found to my amazement, that now, as the exact location of the gallows has been identified, there is a small park and memorial at that location . The location of the executions was not at the top of “Gallows Hill” as had once been thought, but well below, at the bottom.of that hill. The Petition of Mary Easty as a possibly contributing factor to the awakening of colonists from this communal nightmare, speaks to the power of the written word.
I am descended from both Mary Easty and the Rev. Nicholas Noyes. Only in close knit, inbred Eastern Massachusetts! Kick over a stone in Newburyport, Salem or any other North Shore town and you will find another relative or two.
My late mother-in-law was adopted, her adoptive father was the 6th great grandson of Mary Towne Easty, his name was William Flowers Estey.