Rebecca Nurse Homestead

The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is a historic house museum in Danvers, Massachusetts. The home once belonged to Rebecca Nurse, who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, and it is the only home of a person executed during the trials that is open to the public.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead in the 17th Century:

The property was originally established by Townshend Bishop when he was granted 300 acres of land in Salem Village on January 16, 1636, upon which he built what has been described as a “mansion” sometime around 1638.

In 1641, Bishop sold the property to Henry Chickering. Chickering then sold it to Governor John Endicott in 1648 for one hundred and sixty pounds.

Endicott then gave the property to his son, John, in 1653, but did not hand over the deed until 1662.

John died in 1668 and he left it to his wife, who later married Reverend Samuel Allen of the First Church of Salem.

When she died in 1673, the farm became the property of Allen who sold it to Francis Nurse, Rebecca’s husband, in 1678 for four hundred pounds, according to an article by Winfield S. Nevins in the New England Magazine:

“Nurse was to have twenty-one years in which to pay for the property, paying in the mean time an annual rental of seven pounds a year during the first twelve years and ten pounds for each remaining year.” (Nevins 717).

Rebecca and her husband moved onto the property with a few of their eight children, started a farm and built the Saltbox-style house that still stands today, which originally featured just four rooms: a living area and a great hall with a working cooking hearth downstairs and two bed chambers upstairs.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Mass, circa 2013.
Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Mass, circa 2013.

According to Nevins, shortly after the Nurse family bought the property, they became caught in the middle in a land dispute between Townsend Bishop and Zerubabel Endicott:

“The first trouble appears to have come to this family after the purchase of the Bishop farm. Allen had guaranteed the title. He was soon called upon to defend it against the claims of Zerubabel Endicott, who claimed a boundary line to the Endicott possessions that pushed back the eastern bounds of the Bishop farm. The controversy was a long one, going finally to the General Court for settlement. It was decided against Endicott. Nurse, to be sure, was only indirectly interested in the suit. Allen was the principal, and he kept his promise to defend the title. Thomas Putnam became involved in the suit. Some writers allege that Nurse thus incurred his hostility, and that this was one of the incentives to the subsequent prosecution of Rebecca Nurse. It would seem that Putnam, if anything, was united with Allen and Nurse in fighting Endicott. It is far more likely that the Topsfield controversy engendered ill-feeling between the Village people and the Nurse family.” (Nevins 718).

The Topsfield controversy that Nevins mentions was a dispute that began in 1658 when a portion of land in Topsfield that a number of Topsfield residents had already settled on was made a part of Ipswich by the General Court.

The dispute resulted in John Putnam and members of his family meeting the Eastys and the Townes on the disputed land where they got into a heated argument. Whether this dispute resulted in the Putnam family accusing Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft is debatable, but some historians speculate that it did.

After Rebecca Nurse was accused of witchcraft in March of 1692, she was arrested at the homestead on March 24 and brought to the Salem Village Meetinghouse for her examination that same day.

Nurse was tried in June, found guilty and hanged on July 19, 1692. Family legend states that her son, Benjamin, secretly retrieved her body from the execution site at Proctor’s Ledge and buried her in an unmarked grave in the Nurse family graveyard, which is located at the back of the property.

After Francis Nurse died in 1695, their son Samuel Nurse carried out the remainder of the lease on the property.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead in the 18th Century:

Sometime around 1720, the house was expanded when a lean-to kitchen was added to the back of the building.

"Danvers, Mass, The Old Nurse House," postcard, date unknown
“Danvers, Mass, The Old Nurse House,” postcard, date unknown

The house later developed a connection to the Revolutionary War when Francis Nurse, Rebecca’s great grandson, was living in the home at the time of the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775 and, as an officer in the Danvers militia, marched from the house to respond to the Lexington alarm.

In 1784, Benjamin Nurse, the great grandson of Rebecca Nurse, became the last Nurse to own the house when he sold it to Phinehas Putnam. The house remained in the Putnam family for the next 124 years.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead in the 19th Century:

Around 1820, the lean-to kitchen was extended and was later renovated again in the early 1900s.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Mass, postcard, circa early 1900s
Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Mass, postcard (which incorrectly states the house was built in 1636), circa early 1900s

A Nurse descendant once again lived in the house in 1836, when Phinehas Putnam’s great-grandson, Orin Putnam, married Sally Nurse, a direct descendant of Rebecca Nurse, according to Charles Wentworth Upham in his 1867 book Salem Witchcraft:

“Orin Putnam, the great-grandson of Phinehas, to whom the estate descends, married in 1836 the daughter of Allen Nurse, a direct descendant of Rebecca, and placed her at the head of her old ancestral homestead. The children of that marriage, with their father and grandfather, constitute the family that dwell in and own the venerable mansion. The singular restoration, suggesting such pleasing sentiments, adds another to the remarkable elements of interest belonging to the history of the Townsend-Bishop House” (Upham 295-96).

On May 28, 1847, Orin Putnam’s father, Matthew Putnam, granted Aaron Nurse, a descendant of Rebecca Nurse, the deed to the land that the Nurse family graveyard sits on so the Nurses could continue to use it as a family cemetery (Essex Institute Historical Collections 217).

On December 17, 1875, the Nourse Monument Association was formed in Boston by a group of Nurse descendants (who all went by the alternative spelling “Nourse”) in order to raise money to erect a monument in honor of Rebecca Nurse.

Rebecca Nurse House, Danvers, Mass, photo published in Witchcraft Illustrated by Henrietta D. Kimball in 1892
Rebecca Nurse House, Danvers, Mass, photo published in Witchcraft Illustrated by Henrietta D. Kimball in 1892

Orin Putnam allowed the association to begin holding a series of fundraising events on the homestead, in order to raise the $500 needed for the project, including a picnic on July 18, 1883, which over 200 people attended. Sadly, Orin never got to see the project come to fruition because he died on June 10, 1885.

On June 15, 1885, Orin’s son, Charles Orin Putnam, signed a written agreement defining the boundaries of the Nurse family graveyard so that a fence could be built around the lot. The agreement read:

“Whereas there is a certain parcel of land in Danvers in the County of Essex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts which was conveyed by Matthew Putnam to Aaron Nurse by deed dated May 28, 1847, and recorded in Essex Registry So. Dist. B. 385 L. 282, to be used as a burying place as set forth in said deed; and whereas it is desirable that the same should by surrounded by a suitable fence; Now, Therefore, it is agreed by us the undersigned Aaron Nourse of Salem in said county, as representing the family of the abovementioned Aaron Nourse the grantee in said deed, and Charles O. Putnam of said Danvers, as representing the family of said Matthew Putnam the grantor in said deed, that the bounds of said parcel of land to be used as a burying place and the location of the intended fence shall be as this day staked out by mutual consent, the front line on the northerly side next to the roadway being about eighty feet in length with the right of way as to heretofore used to and from said burying place.

In witness whereof we hereto set our hands and seals this fifteenth of June A.D. 1885

Aaron Nourse,

C.O. Putnam

Essex ss. June 15, 1885

Then personally appeared the abovenamed Aaron Nourse and Charles O. Putnam and acknowledged the above to be their free act and deed. Before me.

Wm. P. Upham

Justice of the Peace” (Essex Institute Historical Collections 217)

In July of 1885, the Nourse Monument Association finally erected the monument to Rebecca Nurse. The monument was a granite obelisk, designed by Nurse descendant Walter B. Nourse, made from Quincy and Rockport granite.

Rebecca Nurse Monument, Danvers, Mass
Rebecca Nurse Monument, Danvers, Mass

The front of the obelisk was inscribed with the words:

“Rebecca Nurse

Yarmouth, England

1621

Salem, Mass

1692.”

Below that was inscribed a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, which read:

“Oh, Christian Martyr! who for truth could die,

When all about thee owned the hideous lie,

The world redeemed by Superstition’s sway

Is breathing freer for thy sake today.”

On the back of the obelisk was inscribed the words:

“Accused of Witchcraft

She declared

‘I am innocent and

God will clear my innoceny.’

Once acquitted yet falsely condemned

she suffered death

July 19, 1692.

In loving memory

of her

Christian character

even then attested

by forty of her neighbors,

This monument

is erected

July, 1885.”

Rebecca Nurse Monument, back, Danvers, Mass
Rebecca Nurse Monument, back, Danvers, Mass

The memorial was erected in the Nurse family graveyard and the occasion was marked by a memorial ceremony, which was the first ever memorial ceremony for a Salem Witch Trials victim, according to an article in the Danvers Mirror:

“The ceremonies and exercises of the day were without a single unpleasant feature anyway, and were quiet, modest and deeply impressive. The descendants of Rebecca Nurse have a great reason for gratification and joy that they have accomplished so successfully, appropriately and beautifully the privilege and duty of establishing and honoring the character and memory of their martyred ancestor. This is the greater honor also to those descendants, in view of the fact, it is believed, that this is the first service of the kind ever rendered to any person (certainly in this country) who was put to death for alleged witchcraft. And Rev. Mr. Israel did well to suggest that it would be a fitting service for the state, to do for the nineteen others who suffered death with Mrs. Nurse, a similar honor by the erection of a monument at the place of their execution on Gallows Hill.” (Essex Institute Historical Collections 225)

Memorial ceremony with the Nourse Monument Association at the Nurse family cemetery, Danvers, Mass, circa 1885
Memorial ceremony with the Nourse Monument Association at the Nurse family cemetery, Danvers, Mass, circa 1885

After the ceremony, the homestead was opened to the crowd of more than 600 people in attendance, which included a reporter for the Salem Observer who described the house as follows:

“A large number improved the opportunity to visit the old Nurse homestead, which, through the courtesy of the present occupants, was thrown open to the visitors. The old house remains substantially the same as in 1692, with the exception of course, such changes as are wrought by paint and paper on the rooms. The kitchen is but a trifle over six feet stud, and the ceilings of other rooms in the house are quite low.” (Essex Institute Historical Collections 226).

Rebecca Nurse Homestead in the 20th Century:

On April 29, 1908, the Rebecca Nurse Memorial Association was incorporated with the purpose to preserve “the Rebecca Nurse estate in Danvers; the collection and preservation of the literature relating to the history of demonology and witchcraft, and the early history of New England, particularly of ‘Salem Village,’ the promotion of the study of the psychological phenomena of witchcraft and for other literary and scientific purposes.” (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts 400).

That same year, the Putnam family sold the homestead to the Rebecca Nurse Memorial Association, along with 27 acres of the surrounding land.

The house underwent restoration in 1909 by Joseph Everett Chandler, the same architect who also restored the Paul Revere House and the House of Seven Gables. Two chimneys were built, 17th century casement windows were added to the front, an old sentry box entry was removed and a heavy oak front door with hand wrought nails was installed.

Rebecca Nurse House, photo published in the book Chronicles of Danvers 1632-1923, circa 1923

The house was then opened to the public as a historic house museum that same year, making it Danver’s first historic house museum.

The Association continued to operate the house museum until 1926, when it donated the house to SPNEA, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (Now known as Historic New England).

Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Mass, circa 1950s-1960s
Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Mass, circa 1950s-1960s

In 1977, the Danvers Historical Commission erected a historical marker at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, which reads:

“In 1636 Francis Weston was granted this land upon which he laid out a farm. This property was purchased by Governor John Endicott in 1648, and in 1678 Francis and Rebecca Nurse moved here and built a house. In March, 1692, 71-year-old Rebecca was accused by children of Salem Village of practicing witchcraft. Nurse, upon hearing of the accusation, exclaimed, ‘I am innocent as the child unborn, but surely what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of that He should lay such an affliction upon me in my old age?.’ Despite the aid of her relatives and friends, Nurse was tried, found guilty, and hanged on June 19, 1692, and her body was secretly brought back to the homestead for burial. On April 19, 1775, Rebecca’s great grandson, Francis Nurse, marched from here to the Lexington Alarm, which began the American Revolution.”

Then in 1981, the Danvers Alarm List Company, a volunteer group of 18th century living history reenactors that portray the militia, purchased the Rebecca Nurse Homestead and began slowing restoring the property by removing modern fixtures, building period fencing and re-establishing a kitchen garden and orchard.

In 1992, the body of what is believed to be George Jacobs Sr was buried in the Nurse family graveyard, after the property where it had been originally discovered in 1950 was sold. The body was buried in the Nurse family cemetery and marked with a headstone that reads:

“Here Lyes Buried Ye Body of George Jacobs Sr

Dec August 19 year 1692

‘Well burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ’”

The cemetery is now the only known burial site of anyone convicted of witchcraft during the Salem trials.

In addition to the homestead and cemetery, the property also currently features the ruins of Dr. Zerubabel Endicott’s home, which was built in 1681 and demolished in 1973, a reconstruction of the Salem Village Meetinghouse, which was built in 1984 for the filming of the movie Three Sovereigns for Sarah, a dairy shed and a shoemaker’s shed.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead
Address: 149 Pine Street, Danvers, Mass
Website: www.rebeccanurse.org

Sources:
Trask, Richard B. Danvers. Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts: Transactions 1915-1916. Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1917.
Upham, WM. P. “The Account of the Rebecca Nurse Monument.” Essex Institute Historical Collections. Vol. XXIII, Salem: Essex Institute, 1886.
Nevins, Winfield S. “Stories of Salem Witchcraft.” New England Magazine, September 1891 – February 1892, New England Magazine Corporation, pp: 717
“Rebecca Nurse Homestead.” The Historical Marker Database, www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=48724
“Rebecca Nurse Homestead.” Essex National Heritage Area, essexheritage.org/attractions/rebecca-nurse-homestead
Upham, Wm. P. “Account of the Rebecca Nurse Monument.” Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. XXIII, Essex Institute, 1886, pp. 151-228.
“Rebecca Nurse Homestead: Home to Family of Victim of Salem Witch Trials.” The Vintage News, 16 June. 2017, www.thevintagenews.com/2017/06/16/rebecca-nurse-homestead-home-to-family-of-victim-of-salem-witch-trials/
Upham, Charles W. Salem Witchcraft: With an Account of Salem Village, and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects. Vol II, Wiggin and Lunt, 1867.
“Rebecca Nurse Homestead.” Salem Witch Museum, salemwitchmuseum.com/locations/rebecca-nurse-homestead/
Forman, Ethan. “House Reveals Centuries-Old Clues About Life in the Colonies.” CNHI News Service, 31 May. 2013, www.cnhi.com/featured_stories/house-reveals-centuries-old-clues-about-life-in-the-colonies/article_dfa713e9-7828-5f87-b7c7-f6b673cc23a9.html
“Timeline.” Rebecca Nurse Homestead, www.rebeccanurse.org/timeline/

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Rebecca Nurse Homestead circa 1892

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the writer and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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