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The 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials resulted in almost two hundred people in jail, and at least twenty-five dead. One of the most significant accusations, and most unlikely, was against a seventy-one-year-old grandmother, Rebecca Nurse.
The accusations against Nurse, a well-respected member in the community, seemed unbelievable. Unflinchingly, this ailing elderly woman insisted on her innocence and refused to falsely confess. Supported by many in Salem, Nurse’s family and neighbors challenged her accusers in court and prepared a thorough defense for her, yet nothing could surmount the fear of witchcraft, and she was sentenced to death. Nurse, seen as a martyr for the truth, later became the first person accused of witchcraft to be memorialized in North America.
Dan Gagnon, author of A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse, will discuss Rebecca’s life, trial and execution on Friday, Mar. 4 at 8 p.m. He’ll discuss how the Nurse family’s role in several disputes prior to the witch hunt was different than previously thought, as well as how Nurse’s case helps answer the important question of whether the accusations of witchcraft were caused by mental illness or malicious intent.