Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A letter from Robert Pike to Judge Curwin Salem Witch Trials 1692

In 1892 John Nurse, a descendant of Rebecca Nurse who was executed for witchcraft in the Salem Witch Hysteria 1692 gave an address on the Salem Witchcraft Trials to the Nurse Family Association. Rebecca Nurse was the  daughter of William Towne and Joanna Blessing of Topsfield, Massachusetts. Rebecca’s two sisters, Mary Towne Esty/Easty and Sarah Towne Cloyse were also tried for witchcraft in 1692. Mary was executed and Sarah was released. See Three Sovereigns for Sarah Also See Post on Bible of Esty/Easty Family and What Ghost Hunters Found in Topsfield Hangers and Symbolism
Nurse Family Association, dedication of the Rebecca Nurse Memorial, erected July 1885. The tall granite memorial is located in the cemetery of Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Massachusetts. Photograph housed at Danvers Public Library part of the Archive Collection. see also History of Massachusetts


One topic which John Nurse spoke on was the letter written in August of 1692 to Judge Jonathan Curwin (Photo below) singed with the initials “R P” which is agreed by most scholars to be Robert Pike, of Salisbury, Massachusetts. (Some believe this letter was written by Robert Payne).


I was intrigued by this article* published in The Springfield Republican 1879 entitled Our Boston Literary Letter. Puritans, Witches and Quakers The Life of Robert Pike The letter delivered to Judge Curwin was dated in Salisbury, Massachusetts and in the handwriting of Captain Thomas Bradbury, Recorder of old Norfolk County. Bradbury’s wife, Mary Perkins Bradbury, was arrested for witchcraft and was jailed at the time as Rebecca Nurse. Charles Wentworth Upham in his book Salem witchcraft; with an account of Salem Village, and a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects, Volume I and II provides a copy of the letter and is available on line University of Virginia site.

Pike was speaking for the victims, although many examples he refers to are his defense was gearing toward Mary Perkins Bradbury is probably correct. Pike was close with her family and he served in many civil positions with her husband Captain Bradbury.
It is certain that Justice Curwin took great stock in this letter as James Shepherd Pike points out, "the fact that Jonathan Curwin preserved this document, and placed it in the lilies of his family papers, is pretty good proof that he appreciated the weight of its arguments. It is not improbable that he expressed himself to that effect to his brethren on the bench, and perhaps to others.”
What is important to note is that Pike was extremely progressive and was under constant scrutiny despite his high position. (with exception of Rev Dane in Andover and Rev Hale in Beverly) he was a voice of reason and logic. Pike advocated for many including Thomas Macy, James Peaslee, and the three Quaker women of Dover made famous by John Greenleaf Whittier in The Three Women of Dover. Mary Perkins Bradbury was not the only one in the family tree under on the hit list, Lydia Perkins Wardwell was whipped in public for her Quaker belief. More on that below.
In a well written letter Pike brings into question the conduct of the judges, the validity of the hearings, and “controverts and demolishes the principles on which the Court was proceeding in reference to the “spectral evidence,” and the credibility of the “afflicted children” generally.
However, Rebecca Nurse’s case was definitely of interest. Her brother Joseph Towne married Phebe Perkins, daughter of Deacon Thomas Perkins and Pheobe Gould. Thomas Bradbury was the sister of Mary Perkins Bradbury.
One of the motivations to target Rebecca was her connection with Quaker families. Douglas Bowerman, a direct descendant utilized the research Margo Burns compiled to trace his family line. The archival records  from Burns work reveal  that on April 26 1677 “a guardianship decision by the court allowing John Southwick to chose Frances Nurse (husband to Rebecca Nurse) to be guardian of his son Samuel and Thomas Fuller to be Guardian to his son John.” Lawrence Southwick and his wife Cassandra were banished from Salem for their Quaker beliefs
Emerson Baker in A Storm of Witchcraft proposes that, “Suspicion may even have fallen on respected Puritan saint Rebecca Nurse because of Quaker ties,” when she assumed guardianship role for the Southwick children. In his earlier book, The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England, Baker also notes that many scholars have uncovered evidence that several accused of witchcraft in the Salem 1692 Witch trials were associated with Quakers. Bakers asserts, household members, neighbors, , that were Quakers.”
There were connections and definite conflicts with families that were tied to Quakers.  I have published two articles in Genealogy Magazine on the PERKINS line. The first is “The Witchcraft Trial of Mary Perkins Bradbury” and second, her relative Lydia Perkins Wardwell, daughter of Issac Perkins, brother of Jacob Perkin, Mary’s father. Lydia suffered from the Quaker persecutions and was targeted by families who provided testimony that lead to her conviction. Lydia’s story  “Seventeenth Century Quaker Sought Redress by Undressing” describes the ordeal. I plan to publish a third article on how these families lines continue to intertwine. Most of the feuds can be traced back to early settlements all through New England.
Our Boston Literary Letter. Puritans, Witches and Quakers. The Life of Robert Pike - New Hampshire Wednesday, April 23, 1879 Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts)







Documents from The Salem Witch Trial Rebecca Nurse  The Petition Friends of Rebecca Nurse writing a letter on her behalf that all charges be dismissed against her, and Examination Document, 1692



  • The New Puritan: New England Two Hundred Years Ago: Some Account of the Life of Robert Pike, the Puritan who Defended the Quakers James Shepherd Pike
  • “Our Boston Literary Letter. Puritans, Witches and Quakers. The Life of Robert Pike – New Hampshire”  Springfield Republican Massachusetts Wednesday April 23, 1879
  • The Trial of Rebbeca Nurse History of Massachusetts
  • The Corwin genealogy : (Curwin, Curwen, Corwine) in the United States Edward Tanjore Corwin, 1834-1914
  • Letter of Robert Pike, 1692 written at Salisbury, Mass., August 9, 1692 Peabody Essex Museum
  • Full Account with transcribed documents Murder in Salem
  • “Our Boston Literary Letter. Puritans, Witches and Quakers. The Life of Robert Pike” article published
  • “The Broomstick Trail” Sarah Comstock Harper’s Magazine Volume 40
  • The Petition for Rebecca Nurse  History of Massachusetts
  • “Old Nurse House to be Bought by Historical Society ” December 11, 1905
  • A Storm of Witchcraft Emerson Baker

1 comment:

  1. Robert Pike is my Paternal Line 10th Great Grandfather.
    Mary Perkins Bradbury is my Paternal Line 10th Great Grandmother
    Elizabeth Howe is my Maternal Line 10 Great Aunt, dau. of James Howe and Bridget Rich.

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