Some thought a propensity for witchcraft was hereditary, and Easty too became a target. She railed against the court and proclaimed her innocence. She swung from a rope Sept. 22, with her husband and children in attendance.
There was a third sister.
Sarah Clayes was imprisoned and seemed headed to a similarly grim fate before the courts sobered on the wave of executions that had rocked the colony of Massachusetts.
Clayes went free after nine months. But she did not feel welcome in Salem, where her family suffered a uniquely horrific injustice — out of 20 people executed, two of them were her blood.
She and her husband, Peter, joined a stream of Salem refugees who sought peace miles away, and 50 members of her extended family settled on land along Salem End Road in what became Framingham, west of Boston, Emerson W. Baker said. Baker is a historian who has studied the witch trials and a professor at Salem State University.
Now, a house erected in 1776 on Clayes’s land, somewhere near her original home, has hit the market after a meticulous remodeling — and boosted by legends involving the witch trials to the Underground Railroad.
The Peter and Sarah Clayes House, as it is now known, is listed at $975,000, said Annie Murphy, executive director of the Framingham History Center and a member of a trust that invested to restore the home.
It now stands as a 4,253-square-foot, five-bedroom home on just over an acre, she told The Washington Post.
The remodel is a stunning reversal of a neglected and dilapidated home. It was foreclosed on in 2000 and was often vandalized and tagged by graffiti artists. Weeds towered in the yard. And kids around town dubbed it, simply, the “witch house.”
“Demolition by neglect would be a shame for Framingham, for Massachusetts and for Sarah Clayes,” Murphy said.
The trust formed in 2014, but work in the community started years before, Murphy said. The trust recovered the title after Goldman Sachs donated it to a historical society.
Murphy’s husband, Ned, a contractor, worked on the property for months. The Murphys spent hours yanking weeds and scraping paint, revealing ancient coats that signaled which colors to reapply to restore some of the home’s original charm, Murphy said.
Ned recycled chestnut and other types of wood to repurpose the floors. An intricate plaster stenciling dating from the 1820s was preserved, along with a 150-year-old American elm in danger of being choked by bittersweet.
The revenue from the sale will help pay back the trust investors and pay down about $44,000 in back taxes, Murphy said.
The home has since collided with more history. Some hidden compartments have fueled speculation that the home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, Murphy said. Secret Service agents assigned to protect one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sons also stayed in the home for a period, the Associated Press reported.
Yet the home and the land are reminders of the more complicated legacies that arose from the Salem witch trials. The fever broke in 1693, but the memory of the more than 200 accused had permanence.
The accused were often shunned, and their children would sometimes marry family members of other accused people, Baker wrote in “A Storm of Witchcraft,” suggesting there was a lingering stigma.
“Even after the trials, there’s a history that followed people around,” Baker told The Post. “Imagine on Sunday, sitting in the same pew of someone who accused your sister or mother of being a witch.”
That tension led to the exodus of the Clayes and other families, Baker said. They found help in Thomas Danforth.
The former deputy governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a magistrate during the trials who at one point believed they went too far. He was on a panel of judges who released Clayes in 1693, when the newly formed Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature dismissed the cases.
Politicians were paid in land rather than money at the time, Baker said, and there is evidence Danforth invited the Clayes and her family to take up substantial acreage about 30 miles south of Salem.
Peter Clayes became a township leader after Framingham was established in 1700, Baker said.
His wife, Sarah, did not live long after. She died in 1703, at roughly age 55, Baker said.
Yet she died a free woman untouched by a false admission of guilt. Fifty-five people who confessed to witchcraft were spared by judges so they could implicate others, Baker said.
Clayes, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty doggedly maintained their innocence, with only Clayes escaping the noose.
“If Sarah faced trial at the same time as her sisters, she would’ve been executed,” Baker said.