Mary Easty was one of three women living in the Topsfield area in 1692 who was executed for witchcraft.
More About Mary and Isaac Easty Home, Site of
Near the intersection of South Main Street and Salem Road, where the Essex County Co-Op is located today, was the homestead of Mary Easty (alternate spellings Esty, Estey, Eastey) and her husband Isaac in 1692.
When Mary, was arrested on April 21, just short of her 58th birthday, it meant all three of the living daughters of Topsfield’s William and Joanna Towne had been accused of witchcraft. Mary’s older sister Rebecca Nurse, 71, was already in jail by that time, accused and examined in March. Younger sister Sarah Cloyce, 53, was arrested in mid-April, shortly after reportedly slamming the meetinghouse door as she left a Sunday meeting, angered by Reverend Parris’ intimations about her sister Rebecca. Both Rebecca and Sarah lived in Salem Village (Danvers today).
Like her sister Rebecca’s imprisonment before her, Mary’s arrest was surprising to her neighbors. She was not a “usual suspect” – someone who was aggressive or argumentative, or suspected of making livestock and neighbors fall ill. Instead, she was a respected member of the community who raised a good family, worked hard, and attended church regularly. At the time, though, it was believed that witchcraft was passed on in families, particularly through the matriarchal line, and this seems to be one of the main reasons Mary Easty was accused. Both her sisters were in jail, and their mother, Joanna Towne, had been accused of witchcraft herself years before.
The other likely reason Mary was accused was ongoing border and property disputes (generally resolved in the Towne’s favor) between the extended Towne family, living in Topsfield and Salem Village, and the Putnam family of Salem Village. Thomas Putnam and his family, in particular, were the principal accusers during the hysteria and they accused Towne, Easty, Nurse, and Cloyce family members with such vehemence, one can’t help suspecting underlying feelings of envy and revenge.
In her April 22 examination, Mary maintained her innocence, despite the presence of the afflicted girls who displayed dramatic torments. When Magistrate John Hathorne pressed her for a confession, Mary replied, “I am clear of this sin. Would you have me confess that I never knew?”
During the time, almost a month, that Mary Easty was held in jail, some of her accusers began to have doubts about her guilt, and eventually cleared her when the judges reviewed her case. She also had the support of many members of the Topsfield community, including her minister, Parson Joseph Capen. Only Mercy Lewis, Thomas Putnam family servant, remained certain of her guilt. Mary Easty obtained her release on May 18. It is believed that when she was released, Mary stayed with her son Isaac in his home on Peirce Farm Hill, today also known as Witch Hill.
Mary’s freedom was short-lived. Mercy Lewis, who was by this time living with Putnam’s cousin Captain John Putnam, experienced afflictions so severe that those who observed her thought she might die. Lewis claimed it was the specter of Mary Easty who tormented her.
And so, after only two days of freedom, Mary was re-arrested and examined once more. At this time, the other afflicted girls re-joined Mercy Lewis in confirming their accusations. Mary Easty was jailed until she was executed, with seven others, on September 22. Her sister Rebecca Nurse had been hanged two months earlier, on July 19. Her sister Sarah Cloyce escaped the hangman’s noose and moved with her family to Danforth’s Farms, becoming one of the earliest settlers of Framingham, MA.
Today, Mary Easty is one of the most admired figures of the Salem witch trials, due largely to two eloquent and courageous September petitions she authored. The first was on behalf of herself and her sister, Sarah Cloyce, written before Easty’s September 9 trial. The petition advised the judges that the two women were not allowed to defend themselves and they were not allowed to have their own council, and added there were people who would testify on their behalf, including, “Mr. Capen the pastour and those of the Towne & Church of Topsfield, who are ready to say something which we hope may be looked upon as very considerable in this matter …”
In her second petition, written after she received her death sentence on September 9, Mary asks the governor, the court, and the ministers that “no more Innocent blood may be shed.” She wisely suggested that afflicted accusers should be separated from each other before they were questioned, and that confessing “witches” should also be tried. “I petition to your honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set,” she said, continuing, “I know not the least thing of witchcraft, therefore I cannot, I durst not, belie my own soul. I beg your honors not to deny this my humble petition, from a poor, dying, innocent person.”
Mary Easty’s remarkable appeal led Charles Upham, whose 1867 book Salem Witchcraft was the first major work on the events of 1692, to say, “It would be hard to find, in all the records of human suffering and of Christian deportment under them, a more affecting production. It is a most beautiful specimen of strong good-sense, pious fortitude and faith, genuine dignity of soul, noble benevolence, and the true eloquence of a pure heart; and was evidently composed by her own hand. It may be said of her – and there can be no hire eulogium – that she felt for others more than for herself.”
Mary’s eloquence did not save her life. She was hanged, along with Martha Corey, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, Margaret Scott, and Samuel Wardwell on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill on September 22.
The names of Mary Easty and her sister Rebecca Nurse, among others, were cleared in 1711, by “An Act to Reverse the Attainders of George Burroughs and others for witchcraft.” Mary’s husband Isaac was allotted the sum of £20 in reparations.
William and Joanna (Blessing) Towne married in 1620 in Norfolk, England, where they had six children, including their last before leaving England, Mary, born in 1634. The family moved to Salem circa 1635, where they had two more children. The records reveal that William Towne was granted land in Salem from 1640-51 (“a small neck of Land right over against his house on the other side of the river”), located on what is now the Danvers River, where he was a neighbor to George Jacobs (who would be hanged for witchcraft in 1692).
The Towne family moved to Topsfield around 1652, and joined the Topsfield church in 1665. Mary married Isaac Easty before 1656. Isaac may have been the first cooper (a maker of wooden casks and barrels) in Topsfield, and was for four years a town selectman. He was also one of the highway and fence surveyors in 1675/6. The Eastys, who had seven children, lived on property that abutted that of the Townes, near the intersection of South Main Street and Salem Road, where the Essex County Co-op is today.
During the time Mary was in jail, Isaac visited her twice each week. “Her husband, while speaking of it nearly twenty years afterward, called it a hellish molestation,” said George Francis Dow in his History of Topsfield, Massachusetts. When Isaac died in 1712, he left his homestead to his son Jacob.
146 South Main Street
The Easty home stood somewhere on this property. View is looking across the street to what was once the Towne homestead.
The Essex County Co-op driveway, looking across to Salem Road.
Looking at the Essex County Co-op property, from South Main Street.
Mary Easty bench at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, MA.
The Topsfield memorial to three women executed for witchcraft in 1692 was dedicated in 1992.
Mary Easty's petition to the court, on exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum.