The daughter of William and Joanna Towne (née Blessing), Nurse was born in Great Yarmouth, England in 1621. Her family settled in Salem Village, which is now known as Danvers, Massachusetts, in 1640. She had one older sister, Susan (baptized 26 Oct 1625 – died 29 Jul 1630) and two younger sisters, Mary Easty (baptized 24 Aug 1634) and Sarah Cloyce ), Edmund (baptized Jun 1628), Jacob (baptized 11 Mar 1631/32) and Joseph (born abt 1639).
Rebecca was hung on July 19th as a witch in the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692.
What made her accusation and hanging most unusual is 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.
There was a public outcry over the accusations made against her, 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 the town's opinion about the purpose of the witch trials.
Rebecca Nurse is a central character in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible as well as many other dramatic treatments of the Salem Witch Trials. The PBS film Three Sovereigns For Sarah features Vanessa Redgrave as one of Rebecca Nurse's sisters, Sarah Cloyce, who, although accused, escaped execution. (However, another of Nurse's sisters, Mary Eastey, was also executed.) The film depicts Nurse and her family members as main characters.
In July 1885, her descendants erected a tall granite memorial over her grave in what is now called the Rebecca Nurse Homestead cemetery in Danvers (formerly Salem Village), Massachusetts. The inscription on the monument reads:
Rebecca Nurse, Yarmouth, England 1621. Salem, Mass., 1692
"Oh, Christian martyr, who for truth could die, when all about thee owned the hideous lie, the world redeemed by superstition's sway is breathing freer for thy sake today." John Greenleaf Whittier
The Rebecca Nurse Homestead at 149 Pine Street, Danvers is open to the public from June 15th to Labor Day. See link below for details.
She was portrayed by actress Shirley MacLaine in the 2002 CBS miniseries "Salem Witch Trials". In the 1957 and 1996 film adaptations of Miller's play, she was depicted by Marguerite Coutan-Lambert and Elizabeth Lawrence, respectively.
Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village) Massachusetts 1632-1932 Harriet Tapley, p. 27-8
Rebecca Nurse Homestead Open to the public June through Labor Day