With Hocus Pocus 2‘s release, Sanderson Sisters mania has taken hold. Everyone is talking about the sequel and while opinions on the film vary wildly one thing is certain: people love these witches. The story of Winifred, Mary and Sarah Sanderson is a fantastical tale, and 100% fiction, but did you know that the sisters were loosely based on real people?
Witch hysteria struck the town of Salem Massachusetts in 1692. Between February 1692 and May 1693, girls as young as four and as old as 72 were put on trial for practicing witchcraft. The accusations were not limited to females either, 6 men were also convicted. In the end, 19 people were ultimately executed, including all but one of the Towne Sisters.
Rebecca Towne Nurse, Mary Towne Easty, and Sarah Towne Cloyce were accused sisters in Salem and served as the inspiration for Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson. However, the similar names, location, manner of death, and that they were sisters is where the similarities stop. These sisters couldn’t have been more different from the Sandersons.
Rebecca Towne Nurse was a 72 year old grandmother and a pious woman who was largely respected by everyone in the community. When she was accused of witchcraft in the early days of the witchhunts, it sent shockwaves through the community. Initially she was found not guilty. However, a group of young girls leading the charge claimed they were afflicted by her “evil.” The charge against her was eventually upheld and she was hung. Her trial is one of the most documented from the time period where witch hysteria overtook Salem.
Mary Towne Eastey was the next sister to be accused. Like her sister, she was known to her neighbors as a good and upstanding woman. During the trial the young girls responsible for the charge claimed. Mary still had control over them. When Mary clasped her hands together, Mercy Lewis, one of the “afflicted”, imitated the gesture and claimed to be unable to release her hands until Eastey released her own. When Mary tilted her head, the “afflicted” girls accused her of trying to break their necks. At her execution, she used her last words to pray for an end to the witchhunt.
Sarah Towne Cloyce was the last to be accused. Her accusation came from an incident at her church. One Sunday the Pastor announced that the sermon that day would be on John Chapter 6 verse 70, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one is a devil.” Sarah reportedly immediately walked out of the church and allowed the door to slam behind her. Her departure was interpreted by some as an overt act of protest and solidarity with her sisters who had been accused. However, it was interpreted by others as an admission of guilt and unwillingness to hear bad words spoken of “her master Satan.” She was arrested in September of 1692 and held without bail. Luckily, she never stood trial. The witch hunt ended before she had her day in court and she was released.
Our Sanderson Sisters were truly wicked and therefore quite unlike the Towne Sisters. They practiced dark magic and certainly no one would have accused them as pious or upstanding. Nevertheless, the Towne Sisters were very real and serve as the true story behind the film.
You can check out Hocus Pocus and Hocus Pocus 2 on Disney+ now!