On what charge(s) was Rebecca Nurse arrested?

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price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The godly Rebecca Nurse, an upstanding member of the Puritan community, was known for her service and altruistic compassion in Salem.  She was the resident midwife and had been at the bedside of Mrs. Ann Putnam during her many childbirths.  Unfortunately, Ann Putnam only had one child who survived, Ruth.  This time in history was a perilous time for children, and the Puritan religion needed children not only to keep their religion alive, but to also help families work the fields in order to survive the new world.  The infant mortality rate was very high due to the lack of knowledge and medicines for women giving birth. 

Because Rebecca Nurse assisted in the birth of Ann Putnam’s children, she became a likely scapegoat when Rebecca’s children did not survive.  The accusation that Rebecca Nurse was a witch was sealed when Ann Putnam pointed out that none of Rebecca’s children had died.  It was all the judges needed to prove her guilt. 

In addition, Rebecca Nurse never buckled under the pressure to confess she was a witch.  In the Puritan community, if you admitted you were a witch, you could be forgiven and accepted back into the fold.  However, for Rebecca Nurse, this would be lying to God and would go against her religious beliefs.  She remained steadfast in her claims of innocence and eventually died by hanging. 

Ann Putnam’s madness caused by the loss of her children condemned Rebecca Nurse to death.


mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The charge of a woman like Rebecca Nurse, is so scary to think of, in life today. She was such a kind woman and to think that someone could make such an accusation, and make it stick, is frightening. 

Rebecca Nurse is one of the most noble and well respected citizens in Salem, at the time. She is an elderly woman and she is very kind. She serves as a midwife to Mrs. Putnam. Since Mrs. Putnam has lost a number of children, Rebecca Nurse is therefore charged with the supernatural murders of these children. Each of these children were stillborn. She is without a doubt the purest character in the play. She is honest and very good to people. She is eventually hanged for witchery.

Mr. Putnam was one of the wealthiest landowners in Salem, so he was very powerful. He and his wife were devastated over the deaths of their babies. Mr. Putnam wanted someone to blame, and Rebecca Nurse was that person. It is heartbreaking that a woman of this caliber, would be accused of such a heinous crime. What is even sadder is that people actually believed the accusations. To have someone who is so well loved and trusted, to only have her neighbor's turn against her, must have been heart wrenching. Rebecca Nurse was with so many people as they brought life into the world. She was then accused of having the power to kill all of Mrs. Putnam's babies, is just ridiculous. It is a true tragedy in the history of this country. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rebecca Nurse is arrested on the grounds that she "murdered Goody Putnam's babies."  This is motivated by Ann Putnam's irrational envy of Rebecca Nurse having given birth to so many babies while so many of Ann's have died.  Using her daughter, Ruth as her conduit, Ann is able to levy the charge against Rebecca Nurse.  The charges themselves are significant because it is the first time that Reverend Hale is aware of how there might something wrong in the way charges are being administered.  Hale does not know much of anything about Salem.  Yet, he knows that Rebecca Nurse is a good woman, one whose charitable acts and reputation for intrinsic goodness precedes her.  If she is being accused of witchcraft and killing babies, Hale recognizes that there is something amiss in how people are being accused and jailed.  

The charges levied against Rebecca Nurse are the exact opposite of what she represents.  They are not consistent with who she is and Hale understands this.  In the charges, the first signs of fraudulence in the trials begins to emerge.