DANVERS, Mass. — The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is partly a monument to a victim of the Salem witch hysteria of 1692. But the building, believed to be at least 335 years old, is also a time capsule of treasures collected since before the colonies were settled.
Those who maintain the property in Danvers, once known as Salem Village, are exhibiting some of the 5,000 artifacts unearthed on the 26-acre site over several summers by Nate Hamilton, professor at the University of Southern Maine, and students from Phillips Academy in Andover.
Their careful digs have revealed a hodgepodge of plate fragments, pipe stems, buttons, cups, bottles and other items that suggest what life was like over several centuries. Some Native American artifacts date before Columbus’ arrival in the New World, when it appears the area was a popular hunting ground.
“Some of the prized pieces are from the very early settlers that lived here,” said Candice Clemenzi, the homestead's caretaker.
Clay pipe stem fragments have teeth marks from people who bit down upon them. Many artifacts would have been discarded in a trash pit or swept out the door when broken.
“If you dropped a cup or a bowl in the great room and it broke, the average colonial housewife would sweep it out the front door and cover it up,” said Don Perry, president of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead.
Many Colonial pieces trace to times before the house was built - in the late 16th century and early 17th century - having been brought over from Europe. The property was initially part of a 300-acre farm belonging to Townsend Bishop, who settled there with his family in 1636. The Nurse family moved there, at first leasing the property, in 1678.
Clemenzi said early Colonial artifacts probably trace to the area's first settlers - maybe Bishop and his family. Gov. John Endecott, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, once owned the property.
“It’s all about the different generations that have lived here on the farm and some of the pieces that were left behind," Clemenzi said of the exhibit.
Many pieces, such as olive jars and medicine bottles, date from centuries after the Nurse family lived there. The Phillips students also found cuffs links, rings and broken combs that porbably belonged to visitors to the home, which has been continuously lived in to this day. The property has been a museum since 1909.
The home's most famous resident was Rebecca Nurse, who lived there with her husband, Francis Nurse, and had four daughters and four sons. Nurse was widely respected in Salem Village but in 1692 was accused of witchcraft.
At age 71, she stood trial that summer and was initially found not guilty. The jury later reversed its decision. Rebecca Nurse hung on July 19, 1692. She was one of 20 people executed as part of the trials
The homestead is owned by the Danvers Alarm List Co., a living history group that reenacts 17th century events.
Ethan Forman writes for The Salem, Mass., News.