The Pouch: The Dark History of the Sanderson Sisters

The Pouch: The Dark History of the Sanderson Sisters

Lexie Root, President of The Pouch

Many know the Sanderson Sisters as the three comical yet powerful witches – with an immense craving for children’s souls – from the classic film Hocus Pocus. While the sisters are portrayed as magical individuals with evil plans to keep themselves young, the reality of the innocent and wrongfully convicted women in which their characters are based is a tragic story.

The paranoia of witches started in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, in which girls “as young as 4 and as old as 72” were put on trial for practicing witchcraft (Bivins). 20 people were executed, including two of the three Towne sisters.

Rebecca Towne Nurse, Mary Towne Easty, and Sarah Towne Cloyce were the original sisters of Salem who inspired the iconic roles of Winifred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson. However, the Towne sisters were almost the opposite of their inspired characters. Rebecca Towne, a 72-year-old grandmother, was a highly respected woman of her community. When first accused, she was originally found not guilty of witchery – until a group of young girls claimed she had inflicted “evil” upon them. With no solid evidence, Rebecca was hung for witchcraft. The next sister to be accused, Mary, was also known to be a kind woman. The same group of young girls that accused Rebecca stated that Mary was using her powers to control them. While praying for her sister, Mary clasped her hands together, asking for her freedom. One of the “afflicted,” Mercy Lewis, imitated her clasped hands, claiming she could not move them until Mary did (Bivins). In addition, when Mary tilted her head, the girls accused her of trying to break their necks, leading to her execution. The third sister, Sarah, was the only Towne sister that escaped with her life. According to Jan Beattie, descendant of Rebecca Towne, Sarah was smuggled out of a private jail by her husband after being convicted, and they spent the frigid winter hiding in a cave (Oklahoma).

In 1692 and 1693, over 200 people were accused of witchcraft, and 20 were executed. The witch hysteria grew so great that two dogs were even executed as familiars. Many believe that there was true witchcraft practiced throughout the 17th century; however, none of the “witches” that are known to have been executed in the trials were proven of their powers.

Those accused were not picked at random, though. In fact, some see it as a result of separation in class. Most accusers were farmers, while those put on trial lived near or operated successful businesses on the main road to Ipswich. Others believe that the group of adolescent girls, with their unusual behavior of convulsing and screaming whenever they were around “witches” had eaten grain contaminated with fungus, causing them to hallucinate, but there were never any definitive answers (Oklahoma).

And as Max Dennison would say, some believe it was all just a bunch of “hocus pocus.”

Bivins, Jill. “The Sanderson Sisters Were Based on Real People!?!” DisneyDining, 8 Oct. 2022, Editors. “Salem Witch Trials.”, A&E Television Networks, 4 Nov. 2011,

Oklahoma, Michelle CharlesCNHI News. “A Tale of Three Sisters: Edmond Genealogist Shares Bewitching Story of Her Ancestors’ Trials in Salem .” Stillwater News Press, 26 Oct. 2019,