Sarah Cloyce

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Sarah Cloyce (later Cloyes) (née Towne) (bap. 3 September 1648 – 1703) was accused of witchcraft but never indicted by a grand jury in the Salem Witch Trials


She was the daughter of William and Joanna Towne, who had emigrated to Salem from Great Yarmouth in England about 1640. Sarah, who was probably the youngest of their eight children, married firstly to Edmund Bridges, by whom she had six children, and secondly to Peter Cloyce (later Cloyes), a widower, by whom she had three more children.[citation needed]

Salem Witch Trials[edit]

Sarah was accused of witchcraft the day after she had defended her sister Rebecca against the same charge by walking out of church, and pointedly slamming the church door (an action seemingly without precedent in New England), when Rebecca was being denounced. A few days later she was named in warrants and arrested, and transferred to Boston prison. The complaint was filed by Jonathan Walcott and Nathaniel Ingersoll, accusing Sarah of having afflicted Abigail Williams, the niece of the Reverend Samuel Parris, as well as tormenting Mary Walcott.[1]

On April 11, 1692, she was brought before an examiner and refused to confess, attacking her accusers, Tituba and her husband John with great spirit: "oh you are grevious liars". She was then sent to jail in Salem, where her sister Rebecca was already being held. Both Sarah and her sister Mary were suspected of bewitching their niece, Rebecca Towne, daughter of their late brother Edmund Towne.[2]

On September 9, 1692, an indictment was made out against Sarah, "for 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...and also for sundry other acts of witchcraft." [3]

Sarah petitioned the court for an opportunity to present evidence which supported her innocence, and to exclude spectral evidence (testimony that the spirit of someone did something).

Last years[edit]

While Sarah waited in jail, her sisters were executed for witchcraft. However, by December, 1692, the indictments against Sarah were marked "ignoramus", literally meaning "we do not know." On January 3, 1693, the Superior Court of Judicature dismissed charges against Sarah, and her husband, Peter Cloyes, paid her fees for release. Subsequently, she and her husband relocated, first to Salem End (West Framingham).[4]

She spent the last ten years of her life trying to clear her sisters' names. After her death, her two sisters were eventually found to be innocent. In 1706 the repentant accuser Ann Putnam Jr. named Rebecca, Mary and Sarah specifically as among those whom she had falsely accused: And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humble for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offense, whose relations were taken away or accused.[5]

In 1712, the Church reversed the sentence of excommunication it had pronounced on Rebecca, as they no longer wished "to reproach her memory nor give grief to her children".[6]

In popular culture[edit]

In the short story, Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne (himself a descendant of one of the Salem witch trial magistrates), a social criticism of Puritan culture, a character named Goody Cloyse addresses the devil, confessing to practicing witchcraft. It is a shock to the protagonist (Brown) as she had taught him his catechism in his youth. She makes a reference to "...that unhanged witch, Goody Cory...", a possible reference to Martha Corey, who actually was hanged as a witch in 1692.[citation needed]

Sarah Cloyce/Cloyes is the protagonist and narrator of the 1985 public television miniseries chronicling the trials American Playhouse: Three Sovereigns for Sarah. She was portrayed by the English actress Vanessa Redgrave.


  1. ^ Witches of Massachusetts - C-2,; accessed October 23, 2015
  2. ^ Witches of Massachusetts - C-2,; accessed October 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Witches of Massachusetts - C-2,; accessed October 23, 2015
  4. ^ Timeline of the Salem Witch Trials,; accessed December 23, 2014.
  5. ^ Upham, Charles W. (2000) [1867], Salem Witchcraft, 2, Dover Publications (pg. 510); ISBN 0-486-40899-X
  6. ^ Witches of Massachusetts - C-2,; accessed October 23, 2015.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Upham, Charles (1980). Salem Witchcraft. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 2 vv, v. 2 pp. 60, 94, 101, 111, 326. ISBN 048640899X