Like many married couples, Lynne and Bruce Dyer of, Ashland, Mass., have a dark family secret. And it's a doozy. More than 300 years ago in Salem, one of Bruce's distant relatives helped send his wife's ancestor, Rebecca Nourse, to the gallows as a witch.
Like many married couples, Lynne and Bruce Dyer of, Ashland, Mass., have a dark family secret. And it's a doozy.
More than 300 years ago in Salem, one of Bruce's distant relatives helped send his wife's ancestor, Rebecca Nourse, to the gallows as a witch.
After his and others' testimony, Nourse was hanged on July 19, 1692, with four other women on Gallows Hill in Salem. She was among 19 accused witches hanged in that year during an outbreak of hysteria in Salem Village and neighboring communities.
Married 21 years, Lynne and Bruce, fortunately, don't hold grudges.
"Bruce is the most laid back guy I know," said Lynne Dyer. "He wouldn't hurt a fly."
His very distant relative, Henry Kenney, was not so reluctant. On March 19, 1692, Kenney answered a magistrate's question if Nourse had ever harmed him by saying, "Yes, she beat me this morning."
Court records say he was born in 1624 and described him as a "yeoman," or farmer. Pressed to explain his accusation, Kenney said, "Since this Nourse came into the (meeting) house, I was seized twice with an amaz'd condition."
Richard Trask, archivist at the Danvers (Mass.) Archival Center who has written extensively about the Salem trials, said Kenney was essentially blaming Nourse for giving him seizures, a frequent accusation against witches.
Lynne grew up knowing she was descended from Nourse based on a detailed genealogy written by her great-grandmother in 1927, but Bruce only recently discovered his connection to Kenney, who also testified against Martha Corey. She was also hanged.
Lynne recalled her great-grandmother, Mabel Sperry (Felton) Howe, compiled a 50-page record of her family's genealogy titled "My Ancestors."
On her mother's side, the Felton family has ties through blood and marriage to some of New England's oldest names, all the way back to the Mayflower.
Opening the leather-bound book, considered a family heirloom, Lynne pointed to a passage written in Howe's clear handwriting: "Rebecca (Towne) Nourse was hanged as a witch at Salem July 19, 1692. Also her sister, Mary, wife of Isaac Esty, of Topsfield, was hanged as a witch ..."
"My grandmother read it to us as kids. It was fascinating to think we were related. I felt bad for Rebecca Nourse," she said. "But, still, on Halloween we dressed up in black as witches or Dracula's daughter. It was cool."
Many years ago, Lynne learned Nourse's sister, Sarah Clayes, had also been accused but fled a makeshift jail with her husband to live in what is now a ramshackle house they built on Salem End Road in Framingham, Mass.
Lynne said, "I pass that house all the time. It just makes you think."
On Halloweens past, she used to help her daughter Delanie make a witch costume and has taken her to Salem to see the Rebecca Nourse homestead and the nearby burial ground where she was presumably interred.
Now 62, Bruce Dyer only recently learned about his infamous relative when he began researching his background on www.Myheritage.com.
A Vietnam veteran, he said, "We always knew Lynne was related to a woman who was hanged. Until recently, I didn't know a thing about my relative's role in it."
While his mother's exact heritage couldn't be traced, his father, Walter Dyer, was a Maine resident with ancestral ties to Canada. Following his family tree from an aunt named Ruth Boyer led him back, after many generations, to the Kenney family.
"I was amazed when I found his name popping up in the witchcraft trials," he said. "It's amazing what you can find if you look back far enough."