William TOWNE (1599 -1673) was Alex’s 10th Great Grandfather; one of 2,048 in this generation of the Miller line.
William Towne was baptized on 18 Mar 1598/99 in St. Nicholas Parish Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfollk, England. His parents were John TOWNE and Elizabeth CLARKE. Others say his parents were Richard TOWNE and Ann DENTON. He married Joanna BLESSING 25 Apr 1620 in St. Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth England. He and his wife remained at Yarmouth, and six children were born to them there, but they emigrated to New England before 1640, perhaps in Apr 1637 on the Rose of Yarmouth, and settled at Salem, Massachusetts. William died about 1673 in Topsfield, Mass.
Joanna Blessing was born in 1594 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. Alternatively, she was born in 1595 in Somerleyton, Suffolk, England. She was daughter of John BLYSSYNGE and Joan PREASTE . Joanna died 22 Jun 1674 in Topsfield, Mass.
Children of William and Joanna:
|1.||Rebecca Towne||13 Feb 1621/22
Great Yarmouth, England
|Francis Nurse 24 Aug 1644
|19 Jun 1692 [age 61] Salem MA Hanged for Witchcraft|
16 Feb 1622 Great Yarmouth England
|3.||Susanna Towne||20 Oct 1625
St Nicholas Great Yarmouth
1632 Bridgewater, Mass
|29 Jul 1672
|4.||Edmund Towne||22 Jun 1628 Great Yarmouth||Mary Browning 1652||before 3 May 1678|
11 Mar 1631/32
26 Jun 1757 Topsfield
|22 Nov 1704 Topsfield|
|6.||Mary TOWNE||bapt. 24 Aug 1634
1655 in Topsfield,, Mass
|22 Sep 1692 [age 58] Salem MA Hanged for Witchcraft|
|7.||Joseph Towne||3 Sep 1639 Salem MA||Phebe Perkins
|21 Feb 1713
1 Jan 1659/60 Topsfield, MA
William lived in Topsfield, Mass which is about 11 miles north of Salem.
At Salem, on October 11, 1640, the town “Graunted to William Townde a little neck of land right over against his howse on the other side of the riuer to be sett out by the towne.” This grant was part of the Division of the North Field – Salem, Mass. Many of our ancestors lived in the same neighborhood. See the link for a map to their original lots.
In June and July, 1640, he had brought an action of debt against John Cook, at Salem. William and Francis Nurse asked the town for a grant of land on March 20, 1647, and it was then ordered that the land be surveyed before a decision should be made as to granting it. In 1652 he removed to Topsfield, Massachusetts, where he purchased forty acres of land, and made further purchases in 1656.
The English had settled within the bounds of modern-day Topsfield by 1643. They originally named their settlement New Meadows. Tradition has long held that the Agawam called the place “Shenewemedy”, meaning “the pleasant place by the flowing waters.” More recent historians believe that “Shenewemedy” was how the Agawam pronounced New Meadows, rather than a word in their own language.
Many Topsfield residents were accused of witchcraft until the hysteria ended in May 1693. While the causes of the 1692 witchcraft episode continue to be the subject of historical and sociological study, there is a consensus view that land disputes and perhaps economic rivalry among factions in Salem, Salem Village and Topsfield fueled animosity and played an underlying role.
In 1652 William he sold his land at Salem. He was listed among those to share in the common lands at Topsfield in 1661. In 1663 he gave his son, Joseph Towne, two-thirds of his property at Topsfield, reserving only a third share for himself. He died at Topsfield in 1673, and administration on his estate was granted to his widow, June 24, 1673. His widow died in or about 1682, and on January 17, 1682, the six children signed a petition for the settlement of her estate.
In 1692, all three Towne sisters lived along the road that traversed through Salem Village, from Salem Town to Topsfield, known as High Street in Topsfield. Rebecca and Mary were in Salem Village, Rebecca near the Salem Town line, and Mary near the Wenham line. Sarah lived in Topsfield near the center of town.
1. Rebecca Towne (Wiki) 19 Jun 1692 [age 61] Salem MA Hanged for Witchcraft
Rebecca’s husband Francis Nurse was born 18 Jan 1618 in Wenhaston, Suffolk, England. His parents were Edward Norris and Elinor [__?__]. Francis died 22 Nov 1695 in Salem, Essex, Mass.
Francis was a “tray maker” by trade, who likely made many other wooden household items. Due to the rarity of such household goods, artisans of that medium were esteemed. Nurse and her family lived on a vast homestead which was part of a 300-acre grant given to Townsend Bishop in 1636. Francis originally rented it and then gradually paid it off throughout his lifetime. Together, the couple bore eight children: four daughters and four sons. Their names were Rebecca Nurse (born 1642), Sarah Nurse (born 1644), John Nurse (born 1645), Samuel Nurse (born 1649), Mary Nurse (1653 – June 28, 1749), Elizabeth Nurse (born 1656), Francis Nurse (born 1660/1661), and Benjamin Nurse (born in 1665/1666). Nurse frequently attended church and her family was well respected in Salem Village; Francis was often asked to be an unofficial judge to help settle matters around the village. In 1672, Francis served as Salem’s Constable. It was later written that Rebecca had “acquired a reputation for exemplary piety that was virtually unchallenged in the community,” making her one of the “unlikely” persons to be accused of witchcraft.
Rebecca is a central character in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible as well as many other dramatic treatments of the Salem Witch Trials
The Nurse family had been involved in a number of acrimonious land disputes with the Putnam family. On March 23, 1692, a warrant was issued for Rebecca’s arrest based upon accusations made by Edward and John Putnam. Upon hearing of the accusations the frail 70 year old Nurse, often described as an invalid, said,
“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 on me in my old age.”
There was a public outcry over the accusations made against Rebecca, as she was considered to be of very pious character. Thirty-nine of the most prominent members of the community signed a petition on Nurse’s behalf. At age 71, she was one of the oldest accused. Her ordeal is often credited as the impetus for a shift in public opinion about the validity of the witch trials.
Rebecca’s trial began on June 30, 1692. By dint of her respectability, some testified on her behalf including her family members. However the young Ann Putnam and her siblings would break into fits and claim Nurse was tormenting them. [See my post Witch Trials – Accusers for more about Ann Putnam] In response to their outbursts Nurse stated, “I have got nobody to look to but God.” Many of the other afflicted girls were hesitant to accuse Nurse.
In the end, the jury ruled Nurse not guilty. Due to public outcry and renewed fits and spasms by the girls, the magistrate asked that the verdict be reconsidered. At issue was the statement of another prisoner “[she] was one of us” to which Nurse did not reply, probably because of her loss of hearing. The jury took this as a sign of guilt and changed their verdict, sentencing Nurse to death on July 19 1692.
Many people labeled Nurse “the woman of self dignity”, due to her dignified behavior on the gallows. As was the custom, after hanging Nurse’s body was buried in a shallow grave near the gallows, along with other convicted witches, who were considered unfit for a Christian burial. Nurse’s family secretly returned after dark and dug up her body which they interred properly on their family homestead.
In July 1885, her descendants erected a granite memorial over her grave in what is now called the Rebecca Nurse Homestead cemetery in Danvers (formerly Salem Village), Massachusetts.
Her accuser, Ann Putnam, Jr., publicly apologized to the Nurse family for accusing innocent people. In 1711, the government compensated the Nurse family for Rebecca’s wrongful death. The Nurse family homestead fell into the hands of Putnam family descendant Phineas Putnam in 1784. The Putnam family maintained control of the property until 1908. Today, it is a tourist attraction that includes the original house and cemetery, on 27 of the original 300 acres
2. John Towne
John’s wife Phebe Lawson was born 1625 in England. Her parents were William Lamson and Sarah Ayers Phebe died in 1645.
In a sad turn of events, John’s granddaughter Rebecca Towne, who was 24 at the time, became one the “afflicted girls” who testified against her great aunt Mary Estey in court. Rebecca Towne also testified against her other grandaunt, Sarah Cloyes as well. Both Rebecca’s father and grandfather had passed away well before the trials; her father died when she was only 10 years old. Perhaps this shameful act would not have occurred had either men been alive.
3. Suzanna Towne
Susannah’s husband Thomas Hayward was born 1 Jan 1601 in Aylesford, Essex, England. His parents were Thomas Hayward and Agnes Beaumon. Thomas died 15 Apr 1686 in Bridgewater, Plymouth, Mass.
4. Edmund Towne
Edmund’s wife Mary Browning was born 7 Nov 1637 in Salem, Mass. Her parents were Thomas Browning and Mary Hindes. Mary died 16 Dec 1717 in Topsfield, Mass.
5. Jacob Towne
Jacob’s wife Catherine Symonds was born 18 Apr 1630 in Salem, Essex, Mass. Her parents were John Symonds and Ruth Fox. Catherine died 1704 in Topsfield, Essex, Mass.
6. Mary TOWNE (See Isaac ESTEY‘s page)
7. Joseph Towne
Joseph’s wife Phebe Perkins was born 1644 in Salisbury, Essex, Mass. Her parents were Thomas Perkins and Phebe Gould. Her grandparents were our ancestors John PERKINS and Judith GATER. Phebe died in 1680
8. Sarah Towne
Sarah’s first husband Edmund Bridges was born 1637 in Topsfield, Essex, Mass. His parents were Edmund Bridges and Alice [__?__]. Edmund died 24 Jun 1682 in Salem, Essex, Mass
Sarah’s second Peter Cloyes was born in 1667 in Wells Maine or Framingham, Mass. Peter died 18 Jul 1708. Peter had been an Indian fighter in the 1675-76 King Philip’s war and lived in Wells, Maine, and was likely a rough and tumble woodsman of necessity.
Edmund, a lawyer, was part owner of a wharf on the Salem waterfront and had also procured a license to sell alcohol. According to McMillen, “Sarah became involved with running the waterfront tavern while her husband carried on with his legal practice, often appearing in Salem quarterly courts as attorney, arbitrator and witness.” The Bridges lived in Salem Town and had 7 or 8 children, but Edmund died 1682 at the disappointing age of 45. This was a difficult year for Sarah as both her mother and husband died.
Even worse, three months after her husband’s death, “The widow of Edmund Bridges and her children were ordered out of Topsfield by the constable, September 12, 1682.” We don’t know why they were ordered out of Topsfield but it is reasonable to assume that in an impoverished condition she had returned to her family there after the death of her husband in Salem Town.
Sarah quickly remarried to Peter Cloyes in 1682, at the age of 40, a second marriage for them both. Although records differ, it is believed they had either no children, or none who survived to adulthood. They lived on Peter Cloyes’s farm in Salem Village near Wenham.
In 1692, Sarah was 50 or 53 years old. The Cloyes were members of the Salem Village congregation of Rev. Parris. Like the Nurse family, the Cloyes were also displeased with issues revolving around the Parris ministry and by 1692 were also “absenting” themselves from Sabbath. On April 3rd, Sarah walked out of a sermon by Parris when he announced his text as, “Have not I chosen you Twelve, and one of you is a Devil.” She felt he was maligning her sisters. The wind caught the door as she left, slamming it.
The following day a complaint of Witchcraft was brought against Sarah, and she was arrested on April 8th. She was examined and refused to confess. She was fitted with hand and leg irons and placed in Salem jail with her sister Rebecca. Later she was removed to a Boston prison, and then with her sister Mary to Ipswich, and then back to Salem again.
Two weeks after Rebecca’s execution in July, a charge of 20 pounds sterling was presented by the blacksmith “for making fouer payer of iron ffetters and tow payer of hand Cuffs and putting them on to ye legs and hands of Goodwife Cloys.”
Sarah’s grandniece Rebecca Towne testified against her, just as she testified against Mary, and an indictment followed.
“On the following day an indictment was made out against Sarah Cloyes, wife of Peter Cloyes of Salem, in the County of Essex, husbandman, that ‘in and upon the ninth day of September — in the year aforesaid and divers other days and times as well before as after, certain detestable arts called witchcraft and sorceries, wickedly, maliciously and feloniously hath used practiced and exercised… in, upon and against one Rebecca Towne of Topsfield in the County of Essex aforesaid Rebecca Towne… was and is tortured, afflicted, consumed, pined, wasted, tormented, and also for sundry other acts of witchcraft by the said Sarah Cloyes.”
Mary was executed in September two weeks following Sarah’s indictment, as the wheels of injustice remorselessly ground away.
However, unlike her elder sisters Rebecca and Mary, Sarah’s husband did more then just gape at their “witch” wives in amazement at the trials. Peter was truly devoted and toiled diligently for her release. Danvers Church records note his devotion to her that summer: “……Brother Cloyse hard to be found at home being often with his wife in Prison in Ipswich for Witchcraft….”
When all the legal maneuvers failed, with Sarah’s sisters having been hung as witches, Peter did the only intelligent thing as the shadow of the hangman’s rope drew near in the new round of trials of January 1693. He broke Sarah out of jail and fled south.
Framingham historian Stephen Herring adds in 1999 that “it’s known that she somehow escaped from a makeshift ‘jail’ in Ipswich – probably a farmer’s shed – and made her way with her husband towards Danforth’s property,” a safe area in what is now Framingham.
Certainly Peter had been petitioning for a recognizance for his wife and it is always possible they simply skipped bail.
However they managed Sarah’s escape, it was deep in a New England winter that they made their way southwest to Framingham, then known as the Danforth Plantation, and marked in old records of the times as “the wilderness.” This is full 40 miles as the crow flies, but they did not undertake such an unlikely journey on speculation. They knew somehow they had a safe (albeit cold) haven waiting at Danforth Plantation in the wilderness. Perhaps the friends that helped smuggle Sarah out were part of a wider but fledgling “underground railway” out of Salem.
The only cross-country roads in 1693 were the early bridal paths which followed the old Indian trails. The only such path going southwest towards Framingham was the Old Connecticut Path. This wound its way from Watertown southwesterly through the wilderness lands until eventually reaching the shores of the Connecticut River near Hartford. Peter knew Old Connecticut Path, having grown up in Watertown. It was the main path southwest. In fact, it was the only path southwest. He had probably walked the eastern end extensively as young man.
The Cloyes would have carefully picked their way to Boston by night, avoiding encounters. It is unlikely they would have been able to manage this portion of the trek without the assistance of the friends who helped smuggle Sarah out of Ipswich jail. For one thing, Sarah wasn’t well.
Having reached Boston safely, they would have gone west to Watertown and picked up the trailhead of the Old Connecticut Path. The Cloyes traveled this path southwesterly for about ten miles, entering the eastern side of the new Town of Sudbury (now Wayland), following the lower contour of Reeve’s Hill, well above the icy wet river meadows, and then crossing the frozen Cochituate Brook at the ancient wading place. Shortly thereafter they would have entered what is now the northeast corner of Framingham, crossing the Sudbury River at an ancient fordway, and then preceding southwest, a five mile journey as the crow flies from Wayland and arrived at Danforth Plantation.
Danforth Plantation where the Cloyes sought asylum was owned by one of the early Judges at the Salem Witch Trials. Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth had sat on the early Tribunal. But he had left the tribunal in May, several months before the hangings began, harboring a secret disgust and ill-ease with the proceedings. In fact, Judge Sewall, a prominent witch trial judge, wrote in his diary that Danforth had done much to put an end “to the troubles under which the country groaned in 1692.”
Danforth had acquired at least 16,000 acres of land in Colonial government grants between 1660 and 1662. This was originally known as Danforth Farm or Plantation, and later renamed Framingham. Danforth may have been the secret “guardian angel” who helped the Cloyes, and more than a dozen other escaping Salem area families who were “all related by blood or marriage,” to find refuge on his Plantation.
Danforth subsequently turned over more than 800 acres to Salem families seeking asylum and safety, including the Towne, Nurse, Bridges, Easty, and Cloyes families. The new settlement quickly became known as Salem End Road. They came fearing for their lives, seeking a safe haven, and found it on Danforth’s Plantation, living in safety on his land as a reparation for their treatment in Salem.
Danforth seems to have been one of those and afterwards made it his business to take in and see to the welfare and reparations of the surviving Towne sister’s families, starting with Sarah (Towne) Cloyes herself. Ironically, in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, Danforth was unflatteringly portrayed as a “Black-robed paragon of Puritan rectitude.”
It is unknown exactly where the Cloyes spent that first bitter winter in Danforth Plantation. But local legend has always claimed it was in a network of small boulder caves in a steep cliff face (Witch Cliffs) on the Framingham-Ashland line. These caves have always been called Witch Caves. (GPS coordinates: 42.27630N, 71.46930W.)
Sarah was hardly in good health when she escaped Ipswich. She was over 50 years old, and had spent nine months in various jails routinely shackled in irons, in unheated quarters, subsiding only on what her family was able to provide her. She emerged from jail that cold winter night a sick and fragile woman. She was very lucky to have survived the ensuing winter in the caves.
Having survived the winter in the caves, the spring of 1693 brought new hope and a new start for the Cloyes. Danforth gave them permission to build a house on his land and that year they constructed a new house for themselves on Plantation property. (See below for efforts to save the house)
She pressed charges for her unlawful arrest and the killing of her sisters. She received three gold sovereigns for each of them. The 1985 PBS American Playhouse movie, Three Sovereigns For Sister Sarah is about this event. Vanessa Redgrave plays Sarah. Kim Hunter plays Mary ESTEY.
After the court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved, and all the witchcraft cases cycled through by May of 1693, the processes of petitioning for compensation and overturning the earlier verdicts began. It took almost 20 years, but on October 17, 1710, the General Court passed an act that, “the several convictions, judgments, and attainders be, and hereby are, reversed, and declared to be null and void.” Sarah received 3 gold Sovereigns, each worth ¼ of a pound. Sarah retrieved them herself, in her first and only return to Salem.
The initial trickle of escapees intensified to a migration, and by 1700 when Peter signed the township petition for Framingham, at least 50 people related to the Towne sisters had re-settled from the Salem Village area to the Salem End Road district, with more than 800 acres given away to them by Danforth. Among the new arrivals included the families of Sarah’s two sons from her first marriage, Caleb and Benjamin, Benjamin arriving in the spring of 1693, with Caleb following shortly thereafter.
Rebecca’s youngest son Benjamin Nurse also relocated with his family in 1693, as did Mary’s son John’s Easty and his family a few years later.
The Towne family was also represented early in the migration. Lt. John Towne and his son Israel Towne both relocated their families by 1698 and built on Danforth-gifted land. Lt. John, one of Framingham’s original selectmen, was the son of the Towne sister’s brother. Needless to say, grandniece Rebecca (Towne) Knight did not join them in Salem End Road.
The Nurses changed the spelling of their name to Nourse to distance themselves from Salem, and if you examine Framingham’s Old Burying ground, you will find many Towne, Nourse, Bridges, Easty, and Cloyes names represented throughout the years.
Cloyse House Framingham, Mass.
The house Sarah and her husband built in Framingham a year later remains, but it is damaged and deteriorating, and has an unknown future. Its windows are boarded up, there are holes in the wall and water is seeping in. Ownership belongs to a bank.
“It’s in deplorable shape. But it’s salvageable,” said Annie Murphy, director of the Framingham History Center which held a history roundtable at Edgell Memorial Library in January 2010. The roundtable topic, the Sarah Clayes House, drew about 40 people – from this area to as far away as Connecticut – to discuss the house’s significance and the story of its earliest inhabitants.
“It’s here in Framingham where the healing began,” said Glenn Mairo, trustee and educator of the Danvers Historical Society. Mairo was drawn to the roundtable because of the Clayes’ story, (they changed their name from Cloyce after leaving Salem Village), which begins in his town and ends at the house in Framingham, at 657 Salem End Road.
Today water is infiltrating the historic structure, now the property of a bank. “When I first saw it and walked through it, it was in bad shape, but it’s in really bad shape now,” says Janice Thompson, who lives in nearby Ashland, Mass., and attended the Jan. 14 meeting. “It’s not only the weather but it’s vandalism. … It’s just a crime to let the house go.”
With the help of a lawyer, Thompson and others plan to approach the bank and perhaps form a nonprofit. They hope to raise $2 million to buy and restore the Clayes House, and then raise another $2 million to establish an endowment that would support a house museum.
Saving the Clayes House has been a challenge because it was previously owned by a couple who divorced. “Unclear title chain makes purchase and restoration extremely difficult,” says Erin Kelly, assistant director of Preservation Massachusetts, which placed the Clayes House on its 2006 list of the state’s most endangered historic places. “The unique history and wonderful architecture of this property are an incredible local resource.”
Click here for the Sarah Cloyes House Facebook Page
Wikipedia – Rebecca Nurse
Wikipedia – Sarah Cloyce
The ancestry of Lieut. Amos Towne, 1737-1793, of Arundel (Kennebunkport), Maine. Portland, Me. by Davis, Walter Goodwin, Southworth Press, 1927.