Witch Caves & Salem End Road

Framingham Massachusetts



Field Investigation: 25 November 2001, 26 May 2007, & 1 June 2007

by Daniel V. Boudillion




Note: this is the full text of the abbreviated version published in the book Weird Massachusetts



Salem was a dangerous and unforgiving village in 1692.  The Witch Hysteria was in full swing and the simple pointing of fingers was all it took for 19 men and women to lose their lives at the end of the hangman’s rope on Gallows Hill. 


The shadow of the rope fell particularly harsh on the daughters of William Towne of Topsfield.  All three sisters were soon accused of witchcraft and jailed.  Only one made it out alive.  She escaped to Framingham and lived in inhospitable caves for a winter – Witch Caves – forming an expatriate community the following spring with other refugees in a place named after them: Salem End Road. 


From Topsfield, to Salem’s Court, to Salem End Road.  The caves are empty and cold now.  Yet the houses they built the following years in Salem End still stand, and their names woven deep into the community as the years passed: Nurse, Easty, Cloyes, and Towne.  It was a dangerous time.  This is their story. 

   Witch Hysteria: A Brief History of the "Sport"

First, a brief outline of the Salem Witch Hysteria will help keep the story in the wider context.  An important initial point to know is that Salem Town and Salem Village were two different, though adjacent, worlds.  One was a small thickly-settled seaport town, busting with commerce, the other a large rural area of farms and woodlots.  The witch hysteria almost exclusively took place in Salem Village (see map & index), renamed the Town of Danvers in 1752.


The Reverend Samuel Parris was the minister of Salem Village.  His household included a West Indian slave named Tituba who was often given the task of overseeing the two young girls.  During the long winter of 1691–1692, she regaled the two girls, Elizabeth Parris, nine, and her cousin Abigail Williams, 11, with tales of her girlhood in the Barbados.  The stories were so entertaining that soon the girls invited their friends to the kitchen hearth to join in.  Soon a regular little group was meeting and as the conversations began to revolve around Tituba’s knowledge of forbidden subjects such as voodoo and fortune telling, it became an exciting adventure. 



Samuel Parris Parsonage: excavated foundation on left, structure in 1892 on right



Elizabeth began having seizures and uttering strange noises early in January of 1692, followed closely in this by the older Abigail.  Alarmed, Parris called Dr. Griggs, who declared in mid-February that the girls were "under the evil hand."  Thus the idea that witches were afoot in Salem Village was introduced for the first time.  After repeated demands by Parris for the girls to name the witches responsible, they named Tituba, and two unpopular women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne.  When questioned, Tituba said Good and Osborne were witches and been one with them until she changed her ways. 


Other Salem Village girls began complaining of being "afflicted" by witches and soon a group of ten girls were actively involved as the primary litmus test of "witchcraft."  If they convulsed in the presence of a person, that person was a witch.  In short order fingers were pointed and the accusations began rolling out in earnest by March 12, 1692, resulting in arrests, trials, and ultimately executions.  "Sport," the girls afterwards said of it, "we must have our sport."


"Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692"

Thomkins Matteson, 1855


Their sport became the highlight of the trials, as did describing invisible events.  This, called "spectral evidence," was the sole evidence that sent their neighbors to slow death in the hangman’s noose. 

   A Grand Conspiracy Unmasked

The Towne sisters story begins in Topsfield.  Let’s commence by painting the witchcraft picture via another Topsfield family, the Hobbs, William, Deliverance, and daughter Abigail.  All three were accused and brought to trial.  Both Deliverance and Abigail confessed. Abigail, an odd girl by all accounts, confessed quite willingly and with obvious relish. 


Deliverance’s confession in particular shook Salem Village to its very roots.  According to her, there were "some three hundred of more witches in the county and that their object was the destruction of Salem Village."  These were frightening words - the worst Puritan fears realized.  Rage, horror, and alarm followed this confession. 


William Barker of Andover confessed that "the Devil’s design was to destroy Salem Village … to begin at the minister’s house … and to destroy the Church of God and set up Satan’s Kingdom."  (Oddly, there actually is a "Satan’s Kingdom" in Massachusetts, two of them in fact: one in Westwood and a second in Northfield.)


A further outrage is that this diabolical conspiracy held its meetings in their minister’s fields.  Deliverance’s daughter Abigail, who had "had sold herself body and soul to the Old Boy," filled in the details to a hushed and anxious audience.  She described a "witch meeting, in the field near Mr. Parris's house," in which Mr. Burroughs, a former Salem Village minister, acted a conspicuous part.


"Witch Grounds" near the Parris Parsonage



She swore that "Mr. Burroughs had a trumpet which he blew to summon the witches to their feasts" and other meetings "near Mr. Parris's house." This trumpet, according to her, had a sound that reached over the country far and wide, sending its blasts to Andover, and wakening its echoes along the Merrimack, to Cape Ann, and the uttermost settlements everywhere.   The witches would hearing this, would mount their brooms and fly to Mr. Parris's orchard, just to the north and west of the parsonage.  Its sound was not heard by any ears other than those who were confederates with Satan.


Ingersoll Ordinary: Where the accused were first brought



Revealed was the Devil’s secret war, the very point and center of it being Salem Village.  The very Colony and Puritanism was at stake in a grand conspiracy against God and man. "The horror, alarm and rage which must have followed such confessions can only indeed be imagined by those who know the religious tendencies and convictions of the Puritans at that day."


Being aghast with these revelations, and in the grips of hysteria, it is no wonder that when the Towne sisters were dragged into court, their pleas were given little heed and their fates sealed from the moment of their arrest.  They had been accused (tantamount to a confession in the strange ways of Puritan courts of the time) and thus were traitors, working destruction against God and God’s community on earth. 


It would prove to be a remarkable and ghastly year.  "Silence, darkness, mystery, diabolism - all brooded over it and lent their aid."

   The Daughters of William Towne

William Towne and his wife Joanna emigrated from Great Yarmouth, England, to the Bay Colony sometime between 1634 and 1639, settling on Main Street in Topsfield, Massachusetts.  They had seven children, four of them daughters.  The eldest daughter married and remained in England, but the two younger, Rebecca and Mary, emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with their parents.  The youngest, Sarah, was born in Topsfield in 1642.  William was a small farmer in a rural frontier town to the northwest of Salem Village.  The sisters were raised in the family house located near the intersection of South Main Street and Salem Street. 


William Towne Homesite, Main Street, Topsfield


William passed away in 1672 and their mother Joanna died in 1682.  Both were buried in Pine Hill Cemetery but no markers remain.  When the estate was settled in 1683, the land was divided equally between the sons, John, Jacob, and Joseph.  The "moveables" were divided equally between the three daughters.


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. 

   Rebecca Nurse

The eldest daughter, Rebecca, or Rebecka as she spelled it, was born in Great Yarmouth, England, in 1622.  She married Francis Nurse, another English immigrant, in 1644, when he was 26 and she was 22 years old.  For the next 30 years they lived in a small way in one of the most thickly settled parts of Salem Town, on the Wooleston River neck near where the old ferry (and now bridge) crosses to Beverly.   (Number 95 on Upham Map)


Francis was a tray maker and artisan by trade, but like most people of the time, he also worked a small farm as well.  At age 60, in an amazing stoke of good fortune and sharp dealing, he managed to acquire the 300-acre Bishop Farm in Salem Village for no money down.  In one fell swoop in 1678 he went from a small farmer and artisan to one of the largest land owners in the area.  The Nurses took proud possession of the lands and the large saltbox house, which still stands today and is known as the Rebecca Nurse house.  


Rebecca Nurse house



The witchcraft hysteria had started in the household of Reverend Samuel Parris, a controversial figure in Salem Village for a number of years, around whom political factions swirled.  The fault lines of the hysteria seemed to revolve around loyalty to Parris or displeasure with him.  One group, became the accusers, the other, the displeased, becoming the accused. 


Indeed, so bitter had the ministerial issues become that in 1691 the Nurse family began "absenting" themselves from Sabbath meetings in protest.  This was a move that did not reflect well on them in the following year. 


In 1692, at the time of the accusations, Rebecca was 71 years old, a respectable and even saintly grandmother who had raised eight children.  However, on March 23, a warrant for her arrest for practicing witchcraft was issued and on the following day she was arrested and dragged form her sickbed to the cold stone prison in Salem.  She was then transferred to a similar prison in Boston.  Petitions were signed on her behalf to no avail, and she was transferred back to Salem for trial in May.  She was found not guilty by a jury, but so unhappy was the Chief Judge that he asked the jury to reconsider.  Abigail Hobbs, the self-proclaimed young witch, remarked upon the not guilty verdict, "What?  She is one of us."  The next verdict came in guilty. 

   Rebecka Nurse Death Warrant


Rebecca in 1692, was excommunicated and sentenced to death.  A reprieve was granted, then denied.  On July 19, she was publicly hauled in a cart from Prison Lane in Salem (now St. Peter’s Street), down Essex and Boston streets, and over Town Bridge.  There on a low rocky hill, she was hanged by the neck until dead. 


Gallows Hill, Salem


There were no gallows.  She was simply stood on the back of the cart, the rope slung over a tree limb and around her neck, and the cart driven out from under her.  It is recorded that the Salem witch hangings were slow agonizing deaths of asphyxiation.  Friends and family members would pull on the victims legs to help bring about a speedy end. 



Crane Creek & Nurse Farm Cemetery, Danvers


Denied a proper burial, she and the others hung that day were dumped in a crevasse on the side of the little hill.  That night, her youngest son Benjamin, who was living at the Nurse homestead with his pregnant wife, retrieved his mother’s body by boat and rowed her back to the Nurse farm via Crane Creek where she was buried that night in a secret grave.  Back then, the North River was a wide bay, and the water extended to the ledge behind the present day location of Walgreen’s near where the hangings took place.  


Gallows Hill: Where Were the Witches Really Hung?  by D. V. Boudillion


The story of 18 people accused as witches in the 1692 Salem Witch Hysteria ends as victims at the end of a hangman’s rope on Gallows Hill, otherwise known as Witch Hill or Witchcraft Hill.  You would think such a public and awful event at that spot would have made such a huge impression on people that the location would live forever if only in infamy.  Yet today, the exact location of the hangings, and even which hill is Gallows Hill, is not precisely known. 


The town of Salem did set aside a public park but there is still historical debate about the location of the site and the clues lead elsewhere.  Let us see where those clues lead. . .


To read the entire article, click here


To add insult to injury, the families of the executed were billed for all the prison and execution costs, including leg irons and the hangman’s fees.  No food or bedding was given to the prisoners other than what their friends and families could provide them. 

   Mary Easty

The middle  sister, Mary Easty (also recorded as Esty) was born in Great Yarmouth, England, in 1634.  She married Issac Easty of Topsfield in 1655 at the age of 21.  They had nine children and lived across the street from her parents in Topsfield near the center of town.  Issac was a well known figure in town and had served as Selectman.  (Number 2 on Upham Map)


Issac & Mary Easty Homestead site, Topsfield


In 1692 Mary was 58 years old.   Within a few days of her eldest sister Rebecca’s arrest on March 23, her younger sister Sarah was arrested as well.  It was only a matter of time before the fingers started pointing at the third Towne sister.  On April, 22 Mary was arrested in her Topsfield home and held for trial in Salem Town.  There was uncertainly about her guilt and she was released on May 18th and returned home, however, her homecoming was brief.  She was arrested again on May 20th from her son’s house in Topsfield on what was thenceforth known as Witch Hill and was dragged off in irons in the middle of the night. 


Witch Hill in Topsfield


In a sad turn of events, her grandniece Rebecca Towne, who was 24 at the time, became one the "afflicted girls" who testified against her in court.  Rebecca was Mary’s brother John’s granddaughter.  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. 


Like her elder sister, Mary Easty was convicted.  She was hung to death on the low rocky hill on September 22, in what is recorded as a "chill and rainy" day.

   Sarah Bridges Cloyes

The youngest Towne sister, Sarah Bridges Cloyes (also recorded as Clayes) was born in Topsfield in 1642.  She married Sargeant Edmund Bridges of Topsfield in 1659 at age 17.  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.  (Number 43 on Upham Map)


In 1692, Sarah was 50 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.”  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." 

Arresting a Witch, by Howard Pyle, 1883                   


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 trails.  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...." 


Old Witch Jail Dungeon

Weeping Stone in Right Corner

Salem Massachusetts


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.

   Escape & Flight

First, we have to acknowledge that the Daily News Record in 1993 claims that in early January of 1693, that the Superior Court dismissed the charges against Sarah; Peter simply paid the prison fees and she was released.  Following this they moved to Marlborough, according to the paper. 


But tradition and earlier reliable sources tell us otherwise.  According to the book Framingham Historical Reflections, "Clayes was imprisoned in Ipswich and smuggled out along with friends who had come to visit her," and thence, according to the History of Framingham, "conveyed by night to Framingham."


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.

Old Connecticut Path, Westborough, Massachusetts


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. 


Old Connecticut Path

Trailhead just Northeast of Boston at Watertown, Danforth Plantation is marked in Green

click to enlarge


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. 


Pout Rock & ford on the Old Connecticut Path

Sudbury River, Ashland


Up to about 1690 the earliest settlers of the Danforth Plantation built on or near the Old Connecticut Path, so not long after fording the Sudbury River, the Cloyes would have seen the welcoming lights of several existing homesteads.  Or perhaps not so welcome.  Sarah was a condemned witch from a proven witch family – a notorious consort of the devil - and her husband an accomplice in her escape.  Criminals both, they probably swung clear through the cold of the harsh winter night.  Better to wait until spring and official grace from Danforth himself before showing themselves. 

   Refuge at the Danforth Plantation

It’s a strange thing, but 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." 


It may also be that Danforth’s departure from the tribunal in May might have to do with the fact that he was Deputy Governor under Governor Bradstreet, and the Governorship changed hands to Sir William Phips on May 14, 1692.  He may simply no longer have had the position or authority to sit on the tribunal.  Judging by his later actions, this may have been a disastrous loss for the accused. 



Sir William Phips & Governor Simon Bradstreet


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.  In a 1999 newspaper article, Herring is quoted as saying he believes that Danforth was 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. 


The Cloyes’ escape and deliberate journey to the Plantation, the subsequent steady arrival of Salem Witch Trial refugees and the awaiting farmland, all smacks of a shadowy hand moving behind the scenes, and a loose network of helpful friends.  In short, there are glimmers of a primitive "underground railway" in operation, quietly moving Towne sisters and related families out of Salem Village to a more hospitable locale. 


Danforth had been on the Tribunal through May, long enough to have observed the character of all three Towne sisters.  Records show that the three sisters repeatedly behaved with dignity, piety, firmness and good character to such an extent that the magistrates hesitated repeatedly with their cases.  Rebecca was brought in Not Guilty, only to be re-deliberated until Guilty.  She was reprieved, only to have it denied.  Petitions were signed on her behalf.  Mary was cleared only to be re-accused and rearrested.  The minister of Topsfield vouched for both Mary and Sarah, but to no avail.  Sarah wrote elegant appeals that were ignored. 


It seemed the fates were blindly determined that they should die regardless of the laws of man and god.  Many were rightfully impressed with the Towne sisters and deeply distressed with the proceedings.  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."


However it was that the Danforth haven become known to those fleeing the accusations and executions, a large boulder on Salem End Road was said to be the official landmark that that signaled escaping families that they were on the Plantation and safe at last. 


Boulder marking Danforth Plantation

Salem End Road


   A Cold Winter in the Rocks

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.)


I have explored these caves twice; once in 2001 and more recently in 2007.  One thing I can assure above anything else is that these caves are small, cold, drafty, and hard.  Little improvement over the stone cell of Salem Town Prison.  Of course, I am sure they would have blocked the holes tight with snow, stuffed the place full of leaves, made spruce-bough beds, built a lean-to of logs in front of the entrance, and made a door flap with birch bark. That’s pretty much what any outdoorsman would do faced with such a situation. Add a fire under the lean-to, and it’s a slight much better, and warmer, than you might expect.  Peter Cloyes 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.  I don’t think he would have had much trouble turning the caves into a snug burrow for the winter. 



Witch Caves in Witch Cliffs ~ Looking out of a Witch Cave across the ravine.




Ed Cornish on Witch Cliffs November 2001 ~ looking down from top of Witch Cliffs June 2007.




The Author at Witch Caves & Cliffs November 2001


Sarah was hardly in good health when she escaped Ipswich.  She was 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. 



Interior of Witch Caves in Witch Cliffs


In the 1985 PBS mini-series Three Sovereigns for Sarah, it is argued that she only survived her imprisoning because five months of her term was in Ipswich, a makeshift private affair in an old barn, not the ghastly Colonial stone cells of Salem and Boston.

   Other Escapees: Nahant and Rockport

The Cloyes weren’t the only ones that thought to get of Salem Village fast and caves seem to have been a popular hideout.  For example, in Nahant there is a low boulder-stone cave, more like a chamber really, locally known as the Witch Cave.  Robert Ellis Cahill, the former Sheriff of Salem, reports in Ancient Mysteries that it is where a woman accused of witchcraft supposedly hid with her daughter in 1692.  The name of the woman is not recorded. 


Another mystery escapee – this one recounted in Skinner’s Tales of Puritan Land in 1896 – is the "blue-eyed maid of Wenham, whose lover aided her to break the wooden jail and carried her safely beyond the Merrimac, finding a home for her among the Quakers."  I have searched the records and am unaware of any woman from Wenham who was accused of witchcraft let alone jailed.  But it’s a nice story nonetheless. 


Skinner also tells us of "Miss Wheeler, of Salem, who had fallen under suspicion, and whose brothers hurried her into a boat, rowed around Cape Ann, and safely bestowed her in the "the witch house" at Pigeon Cove." 



"The Witch House, Pigeon Cove, Rockport, Mass."

circa 1912


This seems to have more credence (although I am not able to find any Wheelers involved in the hysteria) for the simple fact that the Witch House still stands.  It was also a popular subject of postcards as early as 1905 under that name.  The folk memory of the event remains attached to the place, and adds weight to the story.  Also, just around the corner in Pigeon cove is a Devil’s Den, a small boulder cave on the shore.  Coincidence? 


"Surf near the Devil's Den, Pigeon Cove in Rockport, Mass."


The most famous escapees were Phillip English and his wife.  English was a well-to-do Salem Town merchant.  When the finger of accusation was pointed at him and his wife, he didn’t bother to wait to see how it would all turn out in court but simply skipped town to Boston until the hysteria had died down and been buried. 


In a sense, it was a turning point in the whole affair.  It was all well and fine if the lower ranks of society, and a handful farmers and their wives were executed, but when the fingers started turning towards the elite classes (for instance when Governor Phips’s wife was accused), the whole thing started grinding to a halt.  Phips, for one, was not amused, and the hangings were over. 


Governor Phips, an ill-educated fellow with "the manners of a 17th century sea captain," appointed upon arrival in May the special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) to hear the witchcraft cases.  Considered unfit for his position, he did nothing to stop the witchcraft mania and executions and only suspended the court in October after his own wife had been accused. 

   Salem End Road: Building a Community

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. 


Peter & Sarah Cloyes Homestead


Herring comments on the location, "There was the Cowasock Brook** nearby and a relatively friendly Indian village.  Just across what must’ve been a trail then (now Salem End Road), there’s an enormous glacial boulder you can see today that probably served as a good landmark."  This boulder is the one that escaping families looked for.


** Cowasock Brook was probably named after the Indians of the nearby Praying Indian Village of Magunkaquog, the "place of great trees" near Magunco Hill in Ashland.  It is possible this tribe still exists, as there is a Pennacook Abenaki band in New Hampshire called the Cowasuck, the "People of the White Pines."   (Click for the Cowasuck website.)  The white pines are the tallest trees in New England. 


Danforth Plantation Boulder, Salem End Road


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. 

Map of Salem End Road Area



Red Dot #1: Peter & Sarah Cloyes house

Red Dot #2: Caleb Bridges house

Red Dot #3: Benjamin Nurse house

Red Dot #4: Israel Towne house

Red Dot #5: John Towne house


Green Square #A: Witch Caves

Green Square #B: Danforth Boulder, signals entering Danforth save zone

Green Square #C: Framingham Old Burying Ground


Blue Dot Road: Salem End Road






Click on map for large scale view

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.  (One Cloyes, John, was struck down by lightening in 1777.)



Cloyes graves, and Nourse (Nurse) family marker

Old burying Ground, Framingham


The Townes did not stay long in the area, but the other "witch" names became part of the founding fabric and ongoing life of the town, and descendents still live there.  The earliest existing grave marker left of the original émigrés is that of Benjamin Bridges who died in 1723.  This marker, a rough field stone with the crudely cut epitaph, reads, "When he served his generation, by the will of God he fell asleep."


Benjamin Bridges, 3rd stone from left

click for close-up


   The Five Witch Houses of Framingham

Of the original escapees who built in the Salem End Road community, a surprising five of these houses still remain, representing 4 of the 5 families involved.  Sarah and Peter Cloyes’s 1693 house stands on Salem End Road.  Caleb Bridges’ house is on Gates Street.  The 1694 Benjamin Nurse homestead is on Salem End Road.  John Towne’s 1698 home is on Maple Street, and his son Israel’s pre-1709 home stands on Salem End Road.  Only the home of John Easty is no longer standing. 



Israel Towne house - Nurse Homestead - Peter & Sarah Cloyes house

Salem End Road ~ Framingham & Ashland



John Towne house, Maple Street & Caleb Bridges house, Gates Street



Yet the Eastys were definitely in Salem End early on.  According to Hurd’s 1888 History of Essex County, "The larger part of the [Easty] family moved to Framingham after the execution of the wife and mother, hoping they had escaped the laws of Massachusetts, but subsequently found that they were still in the hated State; but they had cleared away too many fields to take up stakes again, and have remained, some of them to this present day."

   Three Sovereigns For Sarah

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.   At the fore of this effort was Mary’s husband, Issac Easty.  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."  Further, on December 17, 1711, Governor Dudley issued a warrant awarding Issac 20 pounds sterling in compensation for the injustice of the 1692 verdict against Mary.  Mary’s sister Sarah received 3 gold Sovereigns, each worth ¼ of a pound.  Sarah retrieved them herself, in her first and only return to Salem. 


Gold Sovereign 1643 Charles I

60 shilling piece


   Abigail Hobbs, Again

Having started with Abigail Hobbs, the self confessed teen-witch of Topsfield, let’s finish with her.  In a strange and perverse twist, the damages paid in 1711 went not only to the victims, but also to the accusers.  Abigail, whose obsession with being a witch and whose testimony was a nail in the coffins of so many innocent people, was awarded 10 pounds sterling as "restitution." 


Restitution for what? 



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Copyright © 2007, 2009 by Daniel V. Boudillion