Rebecca's Black Cats
(a story by Glenda Moore)
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Francis and Rebecca Nurse's houseAbout 300 years ago, an old woman named Rebecca Nurse lived in a very small town named Danvers. Although bent and aged, she worked long hours, rising with the sun to tend to her garden, mend and sew for others, make candles and soap, and other such work. The last thing she would do each day was to ladle out a bowl of stew or bits of meat from the pot hanging in the fireplace for her long-time companions, two black-as-midnight cats.

One morning Rebecca woke to the sounds of snorts and grunts; looking out her window, she saw the neighbors' pig uprooting vegetables in her garden. She quickly dressed, pulled on a shawl, and took off after the swine with her broom. She chased the pig out of the garden, and it lumbered back to her neighbors' yard.

Putting aside the broom, Rebecca bent down to assess the damage, and discovered that several rows of vegetables - foodstuffs intended to see her through the winter - had been completely destroyed. Angry, she pulled her shawl up tight around her shoulders and set off down the path to her neighbors, Benjamin and Sarah Holten. Her cats, curious, followed behind her.

Benjamin and Sarah Holten's houseWhen she reached their door, she pounded on it furiously until Benjamin answered. Rebecca scolded and berated him for letting his swine run loose. In a few minutes, his wife Sarah came to the door as well, and the three of them became engaged in a loud argument.

One of Rebecca's cats, distressed at the ruckus, hissed - and Benjamin kicked at him with his shoe. Rebecca, angered even further by this attempted cruelty toward her beloved companion, called to her cats, then turned abruptly and walked back to her house, muttering under her breath.

A few days later, Benjamin became very ill with stomach pains and fits; he died within a fortnight. After his burial, his widow went to the town's leaders and accused Rebecca of casting a spell on Benjamin to seek her revenge.

Friends went to Rebecca's house to tell her; Rebecca, who had also been ill for several days, said, "I am innocent as the child unborne." Later, she pleaded with the court, "Oh Lord, help me! It is false. I am clear. For my life now lies in your hands...." Though she was found innocent by the jury, her accusers "fell into such affliction" that the judge asked the jury to reconsider. Rebecca was hanged as a witch. 

After the hanging, people in the small town talked endlessly among themselves about how witch Rebecca had caused Benjamin's death. One of the townsfolk mentioned her black cats, who had since disappeared. Then someone suggested that she had sent her "evil" cats out to cause harm to him. 

Soon, most of the townsfolk agreed with the suggestion, and the word spread to other neighboring towns. Since then, black cats have been associated with witches.

The above is a fictionalization of how black cats came to be associated with witches. It is based on events in 1692 in the town of Danvers, Massachusetts. The events and people were real (see The Salem Witch Museum - 1692 Tour), but there is no documentation about Rebecca Nurse having cats. See The Lore of the Cat for a rich, in-depth article about witches, familiars, and much more.

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