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Witch Trial of George Jacobs

Witch Trial of George Jacobs

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George Jacobs (Salem witch trials)

George Jacobs, Sr. (c.1620–1692) was an English colonist in his 70s in the Massachusetts Bay Colony who was accused of witchcraft in 1692 during the Salem witch trials in Salem Village, Massachusetts. He was convicted and hanged on August 19, 1692. His son, George Jacobs, Jr., was also accused but evaded arrest. Jacobs' accusers included his daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Margaret. [1]

Jacobs' body was buried near where he was hanged. In the 1950s bones were found that were believed to be his. At a ceremony in 1992 marking the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials, Jacobs' remains were reinterred at the Nurse Graveyard at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, which is maintained as an historic site. [2]

George Jacobs Sr. Home, Site of

At 81, George Jacobs Sr. was one of the oldest to be accused and executed. Contemporary accounts describe him as tall and toothless, with long white hair. He was crippled, and used two wooden canes to help him walk.

Jacobs had a sizable farm called Northfields, which was to the north of Salem Town, halfway to Salem Village. He started with ten acres in 1658. He and the Jacobs family grew the land holdings substantially over the years. His house stood until 1938, in full view of Route 114 in Danvers, on the right side of the road heading from Salem and Peabody toward Danversport. His property sloped down to the Danvers River.

In 1692, George was married to his second wife Mary and lived with her and his 17-year-old granddaughter Margaret Jacobs at Northfields. His son, George Jacobs Jr. and his wife Rebecca (sister of Salem Village’s Daniel Andrews) were Margaret’s parents. They were nearby neighbors of Daniel Andrews and Peter and Sarah Cloyce in Salem Village.

20 North Shore Avenue, Danvers, MA, USA

20 North Shore Ave. Danvers, MA. Private Residence. Not open to the public.

20 North Shore Avenue, Danvers, MA, USA

More About George Jacobs Sr. Home, Site of

In January of 1692, Jacobs wrote his will. He left his homestead to his wife. In the event of her death, his son George Jr. would inherit, followed by his grandson George, followed by his daughter Ann and her husband, John Andrew. According to the will, granddaughter Margaret would inherit one cow and some valuables from the gun room.

The servant in the household was Sarah Churchill, aged 20, who was the first to accuse Jacobs Sr. of witchcraft. Churchill was a refugee from the Native wars in Maine. In 1692, her mother Eleanor was living in Marblehead with her husband Arthur Churchill. According to historian Marilynne Roach, Sarah “carefully avoided calling him [Arthur] father.” Eleanor had given birth to a bastard in Maine, for which she had been fined in 1667. Perhaps Sarah’s birth details were also unclear?

Sarah Churchill first appears in the records as one of the afflicted, suffering convulsions. When her afflictions stopped (neighbors wondered, did her employer beat the devil out of her with one of his walking sticks?), the judges believed she’d signed the devil’s book herself and threatened her with jail. In her examination at the village meetinghouse on May 9, Sarah, fearing for her life, not only confessed to making a pact with the devil, but named her employer, George Jacobs Sr., his son, George Jacobs Jr., and his granddaughter Margaret, accusing them all of practicing witchcraft.

The possibility that George Jacobs Sr. may have used a walking stick to beat Churchill seems to have become the subject of gossip, particularly among the servant community. Thomas Putnam’s servant Mercy Lewis accused Jacobs Sr.’s specter of beating her with his sticks and Mary Warren, who worked for the Proctors, said she’d witnessed Jacobs Sr.’s specter beating Churchill at Ingersoll’s ordinary. Neighbor Mary Walcott also claimed she’d been beaten by Jacobs’s specter.

On May 10, both George Jacobs Sr. and his granddaughter Margaret were arrested and transported to Salem Town. Jacobs Sr. was examined at Thomas Beadle’s Tavern. He was astonished at the witchcraft accusations. A skeptic of the witchcraft hysteria from the start, he begged the judges to see the situation clearly. “You tax me for a wizard. You may as well tax me for a buzzard! I have done no harm!” In response to Churchill’s accusation that his specter had tormented her, Jacobs replied, “Well, burn me or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ, I know nothing of it.”

Outside the tavern that day, Sarah Churchill confessed that she had lied about signing the devil’s book when she ran into Nathaniel Ingersoll’s niece Sarah, and Jacobs Sr.’s daughter Ann. Sarah Ingersoll’s later testimony about the encounter was ignored.

Examination of Jacobs Sr. continued at Beadle’s Tavern on May 11, where he was accused by Ann Putnam Jr., Abigail Williams, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, and Elizabeth Hubbard. They all testified against Jacobs and his granddaughter Margaret. Margaret, now confessing to witchcraft herself, convinced she could save herself by admitting it, also named her grandfather, Reverend George Burroughs, John Willard, and Alice Parker. Margaret and Jacobs Sr. were both sent to Salem jail.

Eleven accused witches were transported to Boston jail on May 12 to await their trial: George Jacobs Sr., Giles Corey, Bridget Bishop, Edward and Sarah Bishop, Sarah Wildes, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, William Hobbs, Mary English, and Mary Black. Of these, six would eventually be executed.

At their August 5 trials, George Jacobs Sr., John Willard, and Reverend George Burroughs were all found guilty of witchcraft. Jacobs’s servant Sarah Churchill once again testified against him, as did his neighbor John DeRich, who was a nephew of Elizabeth Proctor. Margaret Jacobs did not testify against her grandfather.

Overcome with guilt, Margaret recanted her confession in mid-May. Jacobs Sr., once convicted and about a week before his death, amended his will to reflect his final wishes. Word of Margaret’s recantation had clearly reached him. Jacobs Sr. inserted a line in his will leaving his granddaughter an additional £10 silver. His wife Mary would only inherit the homestead until she remarried. His son George Jr. was removed from the will entirely, as he had fled the country after being accused. Now it would be his grandson George who would inherit once Mary had a new husband. Daughter Ann and her husband John Andrews were also removed from the will. Jacobs Sr. felt they had not been supportive in his time of need.

Five were scheduled to be hanged on August 19: George Jacobs Sr., Reverend George Burroughs, John Proctor, John Willard, and Martha Carrier. The night before the executions, Margaret Jacobs was able to speak to Reverend Burroughs in Salem jail and begged his forgiveness. She admitted her great guilt and shame for accusing him, Willard, and her own grandfather. Burroughs gave his forgiveness and prayed with her.

The hangings at Proctor’s Ledge on Gallows Hill took place as planned on the 19 th . It was quite a crowd who turned out to see the event. After all, the “King of the witches,” Reverend Burroughs, was going to be executed on this day as was the “Queen in Hell,” Martha Carrier. Reverend Cotton Mather even traveled from Boston to witness the hangings.

It was believed witches could not recite the Lord’s Prayer, but Burroughs recited it perfectly, creating a stir in the crowd. Sheriff George Corwin oversaw the executions and the burial of the dead in a shallow grave on the site. Tradition holds that the family members of Jacobs and Proctor collected the bodies of their loved ones later that night and buried them on their own properties.

It was the law of the day that the sheriff could confiscate the personal property of the condemned, which was intended to cover jail costs and help provide for the family. From Jacobs, Sheriff George Corwin took livestock, hay, produce, household goods, and jewelry – even wife Mary’s wedding ring. She was left destitute and relied on the kindness of her neighbors to survive. Mary eventually recovered her ring, but the Jacobs family circumstances were greatly reduced from that point forward.

After his death, George Jacobs Sr.’s amended will was ignored in court. George Jr. returned from hiding in June of 1693 and took over the farm, against his father’s last wishes. John Andrews (who had also been crossed out of the will) settled the estate.

Margaret was ill at the time of her trial and escaped hanging. The last executions took place on September 22 and the Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved in October. Margaret was in jail for seven months until a good Samaritan paid her jail fees to free her. According to historian Frances Hill, he later sued for the money, which Margaret eventually paid.

Additional note: After George Jacobs Sr.’s death, his wife Mary remarried. Her new husband was John Wildes, the widower of Sarah Wildes, who had been hanged for witchcraft on July 19.

Additional note: In 1864, the Fowler family, who had purchased a portion of the Jacobs property, uncovered remains in a grave marked by two old stones. The toothless, tall skeleton was seemingly proof that Jacobs’s family had retrieved his body after his hanging and buried it at Northfields. The skeleton was re-interred. Jacobs was again exhumed in the 1950s by the town of Danvers. Stored for decades, his remains were buried for their final time in 1992 at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead. A stone marks his grave, with a quote from his long-ago examination: “Well, burn me or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ.”

20 North Shore Ave. today. A private residence stands on the site where George Jacobs Sr.’s house once stood, in a housing development built in the 1950s.

Looking down North Shore Ave. from the Jacobs site to the Danvers River off in the distance.

Jacobs Ave., a reminder of the family that once lived on this land.

Another sign of the Jacobs family along the Danvers River.

A Frank Cousins photograph of George Jacobs Sr.’s house, circa 1891.

The Jacobs Sr. house in its last days. Photograph by Arthur C. Haskell for the Historic American Buildings Survey, circa 1935.

George Jacobs Sr.’s grave at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead.

George Jacobs Sr.’s bench at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem.

Vintage postcard of George Jacobs house, with Danvers River visible in the background. Private collection.


While witch trials had begun to fade out across much of Europe by the mid-17th century, they continued on the fringes of Europe and in the American Colonies. The events in 1692/1693 in Salem became a brief outburst of a sort of hysteria in the New World, while the practice was already waning in most of Europe.

In 1668, in Against Modern Sadducism, [11] Joseph Glanvill claimed that he could prove the existence of witches and ghosts of the supernatural realm. Glanvill wrote about the "denial of the bodily resurrection, and the [supernatural] spirits." [12]

In his treatise, Glanvill claimed that ingenious men should believe in witches and apparitions if they doubted the reality of spirits, they not only denied demons but also the almighty God. Glanvill wanted to prove that the supernatural could not be denied those who did deny apparitions were considered heretics, for it also disproved their beliefs in angels. [12] Works by men such as Glanvill and Cotton Mather tried to prove that "demons were alive." [13]


The trials were started after people had been accused of witchcraft, primarily by teenage girls such as Elizabeth Hubbard, 17, as well as some who were younger. [14] Dorothy Good was four or five years old when she was accused of witchcraft. [15]

Recorded witchcraft executions in New England

The earliest recorded witchcraft execution was that of Alse Young in 1647 in Hartford, Connecticut, the start of the Connecticut Witch Trials which lasted until 1663. Historian Clarence F. Jewett included a list of other people executed in New England in his 1881 book. [16]

Political context

New England had been settled by religious dissenters seeking to build a Bible-based society according to their own chosen discipline. [17] The original 1629 Royal Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was vacated in 1684, [18] after which King James II installed Sir Edmund Andros as the governor of the Dominion of New England. Andros was ousted in 1689 after the "Glorious Revolution" in England replaced the Catholic James II with the Protestant co-rulers William and Mary. Simon Bradstreet and Thomas Danforth, the colony's last leaders under the old charter, resumed their posts as governor and deputy governor, but lacked constitutional authority to rule because the old charter had been vacated.

A new charter for the enlarged Province of Massachusetts Bay was given final approval in England on October 16, 1691. Increase Mather had been working on obtaining the charter for four years, with William Phips often joining him in London and helping him gain entry to Whitehall. [19] Increase Mather had published a book on witchcraft in 1684 and his son Cotton Mather published one in 1689. Increase Mather brought out a London edition of his son's book in 1690. Increase Mather claimed to have picked all the men to be included in the new government. News of Mather's charter and the appointment of Phips as the new governor had reached Boston by late January, [20] and a copy of the new charter reached Boston on February 8, 1692. [21] Phips arrived in Boston on May 14 [22] and was sworn in as governor two days later, along with Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton. [23] One of the first orders of business for the new governor and council on May 27, 1692, was the formal nomination of county justices of the peace, sheriffs, and the commission of a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer to handle the large numbers of people who were "thronging" the jails. [24]

Local context

Salem Village (present-day Danvers, Massachusetts) was known for its fractious population, who had many internal disputes, and for disputes between the village and Salem Town (present-day Salem). Arguments about property lines, grazing rights, and church privileges were rife, and neighbors considered the population as "quarrelsome." In 1672, the villagers had voted to hire a minister of their own, apart from Salem Town. The first two ministers, James Bayley (1673–79) and George Burroughs (1680–83), stayed only a few years each, departing after the congregation failed to pay their full rate. (Burroughs was subsequently arrested at the height of the witchcraft hysteria and was hanged as a witch in August 1692.)

Despite the ministers' rights being upheld by the General Court and the parish being admonished, each of the two ministers still chose to leave. The third minister, Deodat Lawson (1684–88), stayed for a short time, leaving after the church in Salem refused to ordain him—and therefore not over issues with the congregation. The parish disagreed about Salem Village's choice of Samuel Parris as its first ordained minister. On June 18, 1689, the villagers agreed to hire Parris for £66 annually, "one third part in money and the other two third parts in provisions," and use of the parsonage. [25]

On October 10, 1689, however, they raised his benefits, voting to grant him the deed to the parsonage and two acres (0.8 hectares) of land. [26] This conflicted with a 1681 village resolution which stated that "it shall not be lawful for the inhabitants of this village to convey the houses or lands or any other concerns belonging to the Ministry to any particular persons or person: not for any cause by vote or other ways". [27]

Though the prior ministers' fates and the level of contention in Salem Village were valid reasons for caution in accepting the position, Rev. Parris increased the village's divisions by delaying his acceptance. He did not seem able to settle his new parishioners' disputes: by deliberately seeking out "iniquitous behavior" in his congregation and making church members in good standing suffer public penance for small infractions, he contributed significantly to the tension within the village. Its bickering increased unabated. Historian Marion Starkey suggests that, in this atmosphere, serious conflict may have been inevitable. [28]

Religious context

Prior to the constitutional turmoil of the 1680s, the Massachusetts government had been dominated by conservative Puritan secular leaders. While Puritans and the Church of England both shared a common influence in Calvinism, Puritans had opposed many of the traditions of the Church of England, including use of the Book of Common Prayer, the use of clergy vestments during services, the use of sign of the cross at baptism, and kneeling to receive communion, all of which they believed constituted popery. King Charles I was hostile to this viewpoint, and Anglican church officials tried to repress these dissenting views during the 1620s and 1630s. Some Puritans and other religious minorities had sought refuge in the Netherlands but ultimately many made a major migration to colonial North America to establish their own society. [29]

These immigrants, who were mostly constituted of families, established several of the earliest colonies in New England, of which the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the largest and most economically important. They intended to build a society based on their religious beliefs. Colonial leaders were elected by the freemen of the colony, those individuals who had had their religious experiences formally examined and had been admitted to one of the colony's Puritan congregations. The colonial leadership were prominent members of their congregations and regularly consulted with the local ministers on issues facing the colony. [30]

In the early 1640s, England erupted in civil war. The Puritan-dominated Parliamentarians emerged victorious, and the Crown was supplanted by the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in 1653. Its failure led to restoration of the old order under Charles II. Emigration to New England slowed significantly in these years. In Massachusetts, a successful merchant class began to develop that was less religiously motivated than the colony's early settlers. [31]

Gender context

An overwhelming majority of people accused and convicted of witchcraft were women (about 78%). [32] Overall, the Puritan belief and prevailing New England culture was that women were inherently sinful and more susceptible to damnation than men were. [33] Throughout their daily lives, Puritans, especially Puritan women, actively attempted to thwart attempts by the Devil to overtake them and their souls. Indeed, Puritans held the belief that men and women were equal in the eyes of God, but not in the eyes of the Devil. Women's souls were seen as unprotected in their weak and vulnerable bodies. Several factors may explain why women were more likely to admit guilt of witchcraft than men. Historian Elizabeth Reis asserts that some likely believed they had truly given in to the Devil, and others might have believed they had done so temporarily. However, because those who confessed were reintegrated into society, some women might have confessed in order to spare their own lives. [33]

Quarrels with neighbors often incited witchcraft allegations. One example of this is Abigail Faulkner, who was accused in 1692. Faulkner admitted she was "angry at what folk said," and the Devil may have temporarily overtaken her, causing harm to her neighbors. [34] Women who did not conform to the norms of Puritan society were more likely to be the target of an accusation, especially those who were unmarried or did not have children. [35]

Publicizing witchcraft

Cotton Mather, a minister of Boston's North Church, was a prolific publisher of pamphlets, including some that expressed his belief in witchcraft. In his book Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions (1689), Mather describes his "oracular observations" and how "stupendous witchcraft" had affected the children of Boston mason John Goodwin. [36]

Mather illustrates how the Goodwins' eldest child had been tempted by the devil and had stolen linen from the washerwoman Goody Glover. [37] Glover, of Irish Catholic descent, was characterized as a disagreeable old woman and described by her husband as a witch this may have been why she was accused of casting spells on the Goodwin children. After the event, four out of six Goodwin children began to have strange fits, or what some people referred to as "the disease of astonishment." The manifestations attributed to the disease quickly became associated with witchcraft. Symptoms included neck and back pains, tongues being drawn from their throats, and loud random outcries other symptoms included having no control over their bodies such as becoming limber, flapping their arms like birds, or trying to harm others as well as themselves. These symptoms fuelled the craze of 1692. [36]

Initial events

In Salem Village in February 1692, Betty Parris (age nine) and her cousin Abigail Williams (age 11), the daughter and the niece, respectively, of Reverend Samuel Parris, began to have fits described as "beyond the power of epileptic fits or natural disease to effect" by John Hale, the minister of the nearby town of Beverly. [38] The girls screamed, threw things about the room, uttered strange sounds, crawled under furniture, and contorted themselves into peculiar positions, according to the eyewitness account of Reverend Deodat Lawson, a former minister in Salem Village. [39]

The girls complained of being pinched and pricked with pins. A doctor, historically assumed to be William Griggs, [14] could find no physical evidence of any ailment. Other young women in the village began to exhibit similar behaviors. When Lawson preached as a guest in the Salem Village meetinghouse, he was interrupted several times by the outbursts of the afflicted. [40]

The first three people accused and arrested for allegedly afflicting Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, 12-year-old Ann Putnam, Jr., and Elizabeth Hubbard, [14] were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba—with Tituba being the first. Some historians believe that the accusation by Ann Putnam, Jr. suggests that a family feud may have been a major cause of the witch trials. At the time, a vicious rivalry was underway between the Putnam and Porter families, one which deeply polarized the people of Salem. Citizens would often have heated debates, which escalated into full-fledged fighting, based solely on their opinion of the feud. [41]

Good was a destitute woman accused of witchcraft because of her reputation. At her trial, she was accused of rejecting Puritan ideals of self-control and discipline when she chose to torment and "scorn [children] instead of leading them towards the path of salvation". [42]

Sarah Osborne rarely attended church meetings. She was accused of witchcraft because the Puritans believed that Osborne had her own self-interests in mind following her remarriage to an indentured servant. The citizens of the town disapproved of her trying to control her son's inheritance from her previous marriage. [43]

Tituba, an enslaved South American Indian woman from the West Indies, likely became a target because of her ethnic differences from most of the other villagers. She was accused of attracting girls like Abigail Williams and Betty Parris with stories of enchantment from Malleus Maleficarum. These tales about sexual encounters with demons, swaying the minds of men, and fortune-telling were said to stimulate the imaginations of girls and made Tituba an obvious target of accusations. [44]

Each of these women was a kind of outcast and exhibited many of the character traits typical of the "usual suspects" for witchcraft accusations they were left to defend themselves. Brought before the local magistrates on the complaint of witchcraft, they were interrogated for several days, starting on March 1, 1692, then sent to jail. [45]

In March, others were accused of witchcraft: Martha Corey, child Dorothy Good, and Rebecca Nurse in Salem Village, and Rachel Clinton in nearby Ipswich. Martha Corey had expressed skepticism about the credibility of the girls' accusations and thus drawn attention. The charges against her and Rebecca Nurse deeply troubled the community because Martha Corey was a full covenanted member of the Church in Salem Village, as was Rebecca Nurse in the Church in Salem Town. If such upstanding people could be witches, the townspeople thought, then anybody could be a witch, and church membership was no protection from accusation. Dorothy Good, the daughter of Sarah Good, was only four years old but was not exempted from questioning by the magistrates her answers were construed as a confession that implicated her mother. In Ipswich, Rachel Clinton was arrested for witchcraft at the end of March on independent charges unrelated to the afflictions of the girls in Salem Village. [46]

Accusations and examinations before local magistrates

When Sarah Cloyce (Nurse's sister) and Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor were arrested in April, they were brought before John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin at a meeting in Salem Town. The men were both local magistrates and also members of the Governor's Council. Present for the examination were Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, and Assistants Samuel Sewall, Samuel Appleton, James Russell and Isaac Addington. During the proceedings, objections by Elizabeth's husband, John Proctor, resulted in his arrest that day. [47]

Within a week, Giles Corey (Martha's husband and a covenanted church member in Salem Town), Abigail Hobbs, Bridget Bishop, Mary Warren (a servant in the Proctor household and sometime accuser), and Deliverance Hobbs (stepmother of Abigail Hobbs), were arrested and examined. Abigail Hobbs, Mary Warren, and Deliverance Hobbs all confessed and began naming additional people as accomplices. More arrests followed: Sarah Wildes, William Hobbs (husband of Deliverance and father of Abigail), Nehemiah Abbott Jr., Mary Eastey (sister of Cloyce and Nurse), Edward Bishop, Jr. and his wife Sarah Bishop, and Mary English.

On April 30, Reverend George Burroughs, Lydia Dustin, Susannah Martin, Dorcas Hoar, Sarah Morey, and Philip English (Mary's husband) were arrested. Nehemiah Abbott, Jr. was released because the accusers agreed he was not the person whose specter had afflicted them. Mary Eastey was released for a few days after her initial arrest because the accusers failed to confirm that it was she who had afflicted them she was arrested again when the accusers reconsidered. In May, accusations continued to pour in, but some of the suspects began to evade apprehension. Multiple warrants were issued before John Willard and Elizabeth Colson were apprehended George Jacobs, Jr. and Daniel Andrews were not caught. Until this point, all the proceedings were investigative, but on May 27, 1692, William Phips ordered the establishment of a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer for Suffolk, Essex and Middlesex counties to prosecute the cases of those in jail. Warrants were issued for more people. Sarah Osborne, one of the first three persons accused, died in jail on May 10, 1692.

Warrants were issued for 36 more people, with examinations continuing to take place in Salem Village: Sarah Dustin (daughter of Lydia Dustin), Ann Sears, Bethiah Carter Sr. and her daughter Bethiah Carter Jr., George Jacobs, Sr. and his granddaughter Margaret Jacobs, John Willard, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Abigail Soames, George Jacobs, Jr. (son of George Jacobs, Sr. and father of Margaret Jacobs), Daniel Andrew, Rebecca Jacobs (wife of George Jacobs, Jr. and sister of Daniel Andrew), Sarah Buckley and her daughter Mary Witheridge. [48]

Also included were Elizabeth Colson, Elizabeth Hart, Thomas Farrar, Sr., Roger Toothaker, Sarah Proctor (daughter of John and Elizabeth Proctor), Sarah Bassett (sister-in-law of Elizabeth Proctor), Susannah Roots, Mary DeRich (another sister-in-law of Elizabeth Proctor), Sarah Pease, Elizabeth Cary, Martha Carrier, Elizabeth Fosdick, Wilmot Redd, Sarah Rice, Elizabeth Howe, Capt. John Alden (son of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins), William Proctor (son of John and Elizabeth Proctor), John Flood, Mary Toothaker (wife of Roger Toothaker and sister of Martha Carrier) and her daughter Margaret Toothaker, and Arthur Abbott. When the Court of Oyer and Terminer convened at the end of May, the total number of people in custody was 62. [49]

Cotton Mather wrote to one of the judges, John Richards, a member of his congregation, on May 31, 1692, [50] expressing his support of the prosecutions, but cautioning him,

[D]o not lay more stress on pure spectral evidence than it will bear . It is very certain that the Devils have sometimes represented the Shapes of persons not only innocent, but also very virtuous. Though I believe that the just God then ordinarily provides a way for the speedy vindication of the persons thus abused. [51]

Formal prosecution: The Court of Oyer and Terminer

The Court of Oyer and Terminer convened in Salem Town on June 2, 1692, with William Stoughton, the new Lieutenant Governor, as Chief Magistrate, Thomas Newton as the Crown's Attorney prosecuting the cases, and Stephen Sewall as clerk. Bridget Bishop's case was the first brought to the grand jury, who endorsed all the indictments against her. Bishop was described as not living a Puritan lifestyle, for she wore black clothing and odd costumes, which was against the Puritan code. When she was examined before her trial, Bishop was asked about her coat, which had been awkwardly "cut or torn in two ways". [52]

This, along with her "immoral" lifestyle, affirmed to the jury that Bishop was a witch. She went to trial the same day and was convicted. On June 3, the grand jury endorsed indictments against Rebecca Nurse and John Willard, but they did not go to trial immediately, for reasons which are unclear. Bishop was executed by hanging on June 10, 1692.

Immediately following this execution, the court adjourned for 20 days (until June 30) while it sought advice from New England's most influential ministers "upon the state of things as they then stood." [53] [54] Their collective response came back dated June 15 and composed by Cotton Mather:

  1. The afflicted state of our poor neighbours, that are now suffering by molestations from the invisible world, we apprehend so deplorable, that we think their condition calls for the utmost help of all persons in their several capacities.
  2. We cannot but, with all thankfulness, acknowledge the success which the merciful God has given unto the sedulous and assiduous endeavours of our honourable rulers, to detect the abominable witchcrafts which have been committed in the country, humbly praying, that the discovery of those mysterious and mischievous wickednesses may be perfected.
  3. We judge that, in the prosecution of these and all such witchcrafts, there is need of a very critical and exquisite caution, lest by too much credulity for things received only upon the Devil's authority, there be a door opened for a long train of miserable consequences, and Satan get an advantage over us for we should not be ignorant of his devices.
  4. As in complaints upon witchcrafts, there may be matters of inquiry which do not amount unto matters of presumption, and there may be matters of presumption which yet may not be matters of conviction, so it is necessary, that all proceedings thereabout be managed with an exceeding tenderness towards those that may be complained of, especially if they have been persons formerly of an unblemished reputation.
  5. When the first inquiry is made into the circumstances of such as may lie under the just suspicion of witchcrafts, we could wish that there may be admitted as little as is possible of such noise, company and openness as may too hastily expose them that are examined, and that there may no thing be used as a test for the trial of the suspected, the lawfulness whereof may be doubted among the people of God but that the directions given by such judicious writers as Perkins and Bernard [be consulted in such a case].
  6. Presumptions whereupon persons may be committed, and, much more, convictions whereupon persons may be condemned as guilty of witchcrafts, ought certainly to be more considerable than barely the accused person's being represented by a specter unto the afflicted inasmuch as it is an undoubted and notorious thing, that a demon may, by God's permission, appear, even to ill purposes, in the shape of an innocent, yea, and a virtuous man. Nor can we esteem alterations made in the sufferers, by a look or touch of the accused, to be an infallible evidence of guilt, but frequently liable to be abused by the Devil's legerdemains.
  7. We know not whether some remarkable affronts given to the Devils by our disbelieving those testimonies whose whole force and strength is from them alone, may not put a period unto the progress of the dreadful calamity begun upon us, in the accusations of so many persons, whereof some, we hope, are yet clear from the great transgression laid unto their charge.
  8. Nevertheless, we cannot but humbly recommend unto the government, the speedy and vigorous prosecution of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious, according to the direction given in the laws of God, and the wholesome statutes of the English nation, for the detection of witchcrafts.

Hutchinson sums the letter, "The two first and the last sections of this advice took away the force of all the others, and the prosecutions went on with more vigor than before." (Reprinting the letter years later in Magnalia, Cotton Mather left out these "two first and the last" sections.) Major Nathaniel Saltonstall, Esq., resigned from the court on or about June 16, presumably dissatisfied with the letter and that it had not outright barred the admission of spectral evidence. According to Upham, Saltonstall deserves the credit for "being the only public man of his day who had the sense or courage to condemn the proceedings, at the start." (chapt. VII) More people were accused, arrested and examined, but now in Salem Town, by former local magistrates John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, and Bartholomew Gedney, who had become judges of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Suspect Roger Toothaker died in prison on June 16, 1692.

From June 30 through early July, grand juries endorsed indictments against Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Proctor, John Proctor, Martha Carrier, Sarah Wildes and Dorcas Hoar. Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin and Sarah Wildes, along with Rebecca Nurse, went to trial at this time, where they were found guilty. All five women were executed by hanging on July 19, 1692. In mid-July, the constable in Andover invited the afflicted girls from Salem Village to visit with his wife to try to determine who was causing her afflictions. Ann Foster, her daughter Mary Lacey Sr., and granddaughter Mary Lacey Jr. all confessed to being witches. Anthony Checkley was appointed by Governor Phips to replace Thomas Newton as the Crown's Attorney when Newton took an appointment in New Hampshire.

In August, grand juries indicted George Burroughs, Mary Eastey, Martha Corey and George Jacobs, Sr.. Trial juries convicted Martha Carrier, George Jacobs, Sr., George Burroughs, John Willard, Elizabeth Proctor, and John Proctor. Elizabeth Proctor was given a temporary stay of execution because she was pregnant. On August 19, 1692, Martha Carrier, George Jacobs Sr., George Burroughs, John Willard, and John Proctor were executed.

Mr. Burroughs was carried in a Cart with others, through the streets of Salem, to Execution. When he was upon the Ladder, he made a speech for the clearing of his Innocency, with such Solemn and Serious Expressions as were to the Admiration of all present his Prayer (which he concluded by repeating the Lord's Prayer) [as witches were not supposed to be able to recite] was so well worded, and uttered with such composedness as such fervency of spirit, as was very Affecting, and drew Tears from many, so that if seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution. The accusers said the black Man [Devil] stood and dictated to him. As soon as he was turned off [hanged], Mr. Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a Horse, addressed himself to the People, partly to declare that he [Mr. Burroughs] was no ordained Minister, partly to possess the People of his guilt, saying that the devil often had been transformed into the Angel of Light. And this did somewhat appease the People, and the Executions went on when he [Mr. Burroughs] was cut down, he was dragged by a Halter to a Hole, or Grave, between the Rocks, about two feet deep his Shirt and Breeches being pulled off, and an old pair of Trousers of one Executed put on his lower parts: he was so put in, together with Willard and Carrier, that one of his Hands, and his Chin, and a Foot of one of them, was left uncovered.

(Indictment of George Jacobs, Sr., for Afflicting Mercy Lewis, )

Anno Regis et Reginae Willm et Mariae nunc Angliae &c Quarto: Essex: ss

The Jurors for our Sovereigne Lord and Lady the King and Queen prsents. That George Jacobs Sen'r of Salem in the County of Essex the 11th day of May in the fourth Year of the Reigne of our Sovereigne Lord and Lady William and Mary by the Grace of God of England Scottland France and Ireland King and Queen Defend'rs of the faith &c. and Divers other Dayes and times as well before as after certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcrafts and sorceries Wickedly and felloniously hath used Practised and Exercised at and within the Towneship of Salem in the county of Essex, aforesaid in, upon, and ag't: one Marcy Lewis, of Salem village Singlewoman by which said wicked arts the said Marcy Lewis the 11th day of May in the fourth year abovesaid and Divers other Dayes and times as well before as after was and is Tortured Afflicted Pined consumed wasted and Tormented and also for sundry other acts of witchcraft by said George Jacobs Committed and Done before and since that time ag't: the Peace of our Sovereigne Lord and Lady the King and Queen their Crowne and Dignity and ag't the forme of the Statutes in that Case made and provided:

(Reverse) George Jacobs No (2) Indictment Ignoramus

( Essex County Court Archives, Salem -- Witchcraft Vol. 1, no. 222. )

Photo, Print, Drawing Trial of George Jacobs of Salem for witchcraft, Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.

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he word “Puritans” often triggers the instant response of “witch burners“ among both casual and professional historians of American history. Who the Puritans actually were, and the details of the civilization they established in New England, seems to be a blank slate, but for one incident which occurred in the third generation of the English settlers. On September 22, 1692 nine men and women were executed by local government authorities in Salem, Massachusetts for practicing “witchcraft.” Before the accusations and trials came to an end, a hundred people had been accused, twenty were executed and five died in jail. What is the truth behind the “Salem Witch Trials?”

An accused woman defends herself before the judge while a girl — presumed to be Mary Walcott (1675-c.1752), one of the “afflicted” witnesses — falls to the floor in a fit

The tragedy of 1692 did not happen overnight or in isolation to the situation in Europe. Salem had been founded early in the New England Puritan hegira and had become the most important port in Massachusetts. The town people and the church established there exhibited signs of spiritual decline and contention for decades, although the town prospered economically. Factions developed over land-use and politics, creating bitterness and family feuds, which festered. The church could hardly keep a pastor in place and the current one was the worst of the lot. The Rev. Samuel Parris had failed in business and then pursued the Gospel ministry. He rarely seemed happy and complained from the pulpit about the inadequacy and slowness of his pay. Church discipline was all but non-existent.

Examination of a Witch,
by Thompkins H. Matteson (1813-1884)

Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692,
by Thompkins H. Matteson

The slave of the Parris family, a Caribbean women named Tituba, met with a group of adolescent girls from the Parris family and neighboring households, in the pastor’s cellar, teaching them secrets of occultic practices. The girls had visions, saw apparitions and fell down in fits, sometimes in church. They began accusing certain women and men of Salem of bizarre activities and of appearing in weird forms in the girls’ bedrooms, flying around the room, causing them to have fits, etc. Because the Puritans believed that real spiritual warfare could be manifested in the world, the accusations were taken seriously and the accused were arrested and put on trial.

Tituba was said to have been “learned in the practices of sorcery”

Mary Walcott, called to the witness stand, was among the principal accusers

The court cases did not follow the precedents of English common law nor biblical law principles. Because witchcraft and consorting with the devil or demonic forces was a capital crime, two witnesses should have been required for the accused to go to trial. One hysterical twelve-year-old or eighteen-year-old for that matter, regaling the court with outrageous stories resulted in arrests. The judges allowed for “spectral evidence” for which there was no legal precedent, thus elevating subjective experience over objective evidence and reason. A number of the accused were from families in the town who contended with the families of the girls in legal cases of the past or were friendless or isolated elderly single people.

Witch Hill or The Salem Martyr,
by Thomas Satterwhite Noble (1835–1907)

The execution in Boston in 1656 of accused witch Ann Hibbins predated the Salem trials

Eventually the governor of the colony put an end to the trials after prominent men were accused and after protests by respected pastors and colonial leaders. In subsequent years, some of the girls and even Judge Sewell publicly repented of their role in the events of those months. Most of the accused were innocent of practicing the “dark arts.” The number of executions at one small town in New England were dwarfed by the hundreds and thousands who died for “witchcraft” in Germany, France and England in that same era, but the events of Salem have been grasped by the enemies of godly government and Puritan culture to condemn all Christian rule in America as nothing but witch burning and hypocrisy.

Witch Trial of George Jacobs - History

An extremely dramatic depiction of the 1692 Salem trial of George Jacobs for witchcraft. Presumably there was considerably more order in the court when Rebecca Fowler was tried in Maryland seven years earlier, but she and George shared the same fate. (Image source: Library of Congress)

When you think of witch trials, Salem, Massachusetts usually comes to mind, as the site of a rash of accusations and mass hysteria that ended with hundreds accused and twenty people executed for witchcraft in a span of a few weeks. The DMV was never gripped by a panic of Salem’s scope for one thing, the District was founded in a significantly less witch-paranoid century. [1] However, the area was not quite a stranger to witch trials. In 1635, the Maryland Assembly adopted England’s Witchcraft Act of 1604, declaring witchcraft to be a felony, punishable by death in some instances. Before, witches were the province of the church now both church and state would punish witches. While this law was seldom used, a few witches were actually put to trial, including Rebecca Fowler, the unfortunate Marylander who was the only person to be executed for witchcraft in the state’s history. [2]

The number of witch trials in Maryland’s history are in the single digits. The few accusations of witchcraft that were brought to court mostly ended in the discrediting of the accuser and lawsuits for defamation. [3] Executions for witchcraft were not common outside of New England (even trials were almost unheard of outside of Massachusetts and Connecticut), but a few occurred elsewhere, including on ships heading to bound for America (in one instance, the captain of a Maryland-bound vessel blamed an old woman on board for causing a storm, and hung her from the mast). [4] [5] Most judgements on witchcraft were focused on cracking down on false accusations, which were considered more serious by judges because they could lead to violence (e.g.: Salem). [6] The more southern Chesapeake colonies were less Puritanical than their northern countrymen, and so, as researcher William H. Cooke speculates,”they may have been less inclined to look around every corner for a witch.” [7]

Nevertheless, seven years before the Salem Witch Trials, Rebecca Fowler was accused of witchcraft in Calvert County. Probably in her forties or fifties at the time she was accused, Rebecca lived in the area known as Mount Calvert Hundred, having sailed from England in 1656. [8] She and her husband John met while indentured servants to the same landowner they had worked their way out of indenture, and her husband had managed to finally purchase some land in 1683. Her accuser was an indentured servant himself, named Francis Sandsbury, who worked on her husband’s plantation, Fowler’s Delight. [9] The details of the incident are unclear, but from what we can infer from court documents, Francis suffered some kind of injury or illness which he blamed on Rebecca. Possibly she cursed at him, or the two had some sort of altercation prior to this injury either way, he reported Rebecca for witchcraft, and she was seized by the authorities.

The modern-day reconstruction of the Maryland State House in St. Mary's City, where the Provincial Court met and where Rebecca would have been tried. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Maryland Provincial Court was the only one in the state allowed to try capital cases, so Rebecca was arrested and taken to trial at the then-state capital of St. Mary’s City, on September 30, 1685. [10] The court brought forward the accusations that she had been “led by the instigation of the Divell” to practice “certaine evil & dyabolicall artes called witchcrafts.” [11] Her indictment declares her to have made Francis’ body “very much the worse, consumed, pined & lamed,” as well as the vague accusation of repeating these offenses on “severall other persons” at “severall other dayes & times.” [11] [12] Rebecca pled not guilty to the charges, and requested a jury trial, which she was granted. [13] We have no record of the evidence put forth against her, but the jury must have found it convincing the twelve jurors found her guilty of the charges against her, and left it up to the court to determine if this meant she met the legal definition of witchcraft. (It’s telling of how few witch trials there were that the court was so unfamiliar with the specifics of the laws on witchcraft that they had to take a recess of a few days to bone up on the particulars.) [14] She was sentenced on October 3, when the justices ordered that she “be hanged by the neck untill she be dead.” [14]

It's unclear what evidence was brought against Rebecca, although weighing the same as a duck certainly didn't help her case. (Image source: Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

This was an extremely unusual decision. Other trials of similar character occurred, but none of them led to such a harsh sentence. Another woman from Mount Calvert Hundred, Hannah Edwards, tried in 1686 in similar circumstances, was acquitted and set free. [15] (The fact that she probably knew two of the jurors may have had something to do with this, but her case’s result was the general rule rather than the exception.)

So why was Rebecca punished so harshly? One modern scholar, Dr. Rebecca Logan, speculates that the court’s decision may have been linked to a recent scandal that made the court look bad, making them want to appear “tough on crime” and regain their authority in the public eye. [16] Whatever the reason, Rebecca suffered the full punishment of the law for an impossible crime of which she was unquestionably innocent.

The only other time that the Maryland Provincial Court handed down a conviction for witchcraft (John Cowman, convicted in 1674), the putative witch was saved by a last-minute decree of the Maryland Assembly. [17] If Rebecca hoped for a pardon, however, she hoped in vain: the Assembly was out of session during her trial and sentencing. [18] Rebecca Fowler was executed on October 9, 1685, with no chance for appeal.

No other Marylanders shared Rebecca’s fate. The last witch trial in the Chesapeake area was in 1712, when Virtue Violl was acquitted of making Elinor Moore’s tongue “lame and speechless.” [19] Witch trials became much less frequent in 18th-century America, although a handful still occurred sporadically until mid-century executions for witchcraft in the United States ended with the panic in Salem. [20] In 1736, England repealed the Witchcraft Act the era of the witch trial was over, but not soon enough to save Rebecca Fowler. [21] [22]

3g. Witchcraft in Salem

Thomkins H. Matteson, 1855'>
George Jacobs Sr. and his granddaughter Margaret were both accused of witchcraft, but Margaret managed to escape harm by claiming that Grandpa was indeed a witch. He was convicted and hanged in August 1692.

Surely the Devil had come to Salem in 1692. Young girls screaming and barking like a dog? Strange dances in the woods? This was behavior hardly becoming of virtuous teenage maidens. The town doctor was called onto the scene. After a thorough examination, he concluded quite simply &mdash the girls were bewitched. Now the task was clear. Whomever was responsible for this outrage must be brought to justice.

The ordeal originated in the home of Salem's Reverend Samuel Parris . Parris had a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba . Several of the town's teenage girls began to gather in the kitchen with Tituba early in 1692. As winter turned to spring the townspeople were aghast at the behaviors exhibited by Tituba's young followers. They were believed to have danced a black magic dance in the nearby woods. Several of the girls would fall to the floor and scream hysterically. Soon this behavior began to spread across Salem. Ministers from nearby communities came to Salem to lend their sage advice. The talk turned to identifying the parties responsible for this mess.

"There's no place like Salem. There's no place like Salem. "

Puritans believed that to become bewitched a witch must draw an individual under a spell. The girls could not have possibly brought this condition onto themselves. Soon they were questioned and forced to name their tormentors. Three townspeople, including Tituba, were named as witches. The famous Salem witchcraft trials began as the girls began to name more and more community members.

Evidence admitted in such trials was of five types. First, the accused might be asked to pass a test, like reciting the Lord's Prayer. This seems simple enough. But the young girls who attended the trial were known to scream and writhe on the floor in the middle of the test. It is easy to understand why some could not pass.

Second, physical evidence was considered. Any birthmarks, warts, moles, or other blemishes were seen as possible portals through which Satan could enter a body.

Witness testimony was a third consideration. Anyone who could attribute their misfortune to the sorcery of an accused person might help get a conviction.

Fourth was spectral evidence. Puritans believed that Satan could not take the form of any unwilling person. Therefore, if anyone saw a ghost or spirit in the form of the accused, the person in question must be a witch.

The Trial of Rebecca Nurse

Last was the confession . Confession seems foolhardy to a defendant who is certain of his or her innocence. In many cases, it was the only way out. A confessor would tearfully throw himself or herself on the mercy of the town and court and promise repentance. None of the confessors were executed. Part of repentance might of course include helping to convict others.

As 1692 passed into 1693, the hysteria began to lose steam. The governor of the colony, upon hearing that his own wife was accused of witchcraft ordered an end to the trials. However, 20 people and 2 dogs were executed for the crime of witchcraft in Salem. One person was pressed to death under a pile of stones for refusing to testify.

No one knows the truth behind what happened in Salem. Once witchcraft is ruled out, other important factors come to light. Salem had suffered greatly in recent years from Indian attacks. As the town became more populated, land became harder and harder to acquire. A smallpox epidemic had broken out at the beginning of the decade. Massachusetts was experiencing some of the worst winters in memory. The motives of the young girls themselves can be questioned. In a society where women had no power, particularly young women, is it not understandable how a few adolescent girls, drunk with unforeseen attention, allowed their imaginations to run wild? Historians make educated guesses, but the real answers lie with the ages.

What can we learn from the Salem Witch Trials?

24th September 2020 21:14 BST

Disinformation and paranoia, made worse by religious politics and fear-mongering: an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum traces the history of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, which led to executions of innocent people, predominantly women, and established a morbid fascination around the development of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And while some of the manuscripts, paintings, and household items included in the show date back to the 15th century, the historic lessons for visitors are all too applicable today.

The exhibition breaks with traditional folklore and places the murders of the so-called “witches” within the context of social and economic crisis, humanising the people involved and drawing parallels to our current conspiracy-driven political climate. Starting with the European origins of witch-hunting, the show explores how Puritans brought theocratic anxiety to the colonies and shaped their criminal justice system around religious supremacy.

The Salem trials took place in the aftermath of a smallpox outbreak, and its consequences helped bring down a Puritan regime hellbent on “purifying” New England. Dan Lipcan, a co-curator of the show and the museum’s head librarian, believes these insecurities are evergreen.

“Prejudice, injustice, and intolerance are on everybody’s minds now,” Lipcan said. “The trials were driven by fear, harsh weather, disease, supply shortages, and war—which altogether created the conditions for invented crimes and persecution for no good reason.”

Despite Salem’s reputation in the popular imagination, executions for witchcraft charges were commonplace in early modern Europe. More than 50,000 Europeans were burned at the stake between 1560 and 1630 during the Counter-Reformation, when Catholic and Protestant churches competed for market dominance. The exhibition sets Salem’s trials against this historical backdrop, displaying a 1494 copy of the German witch-hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum alongside British diagnostic texts.

In Salem, many accused witches were teenagers, refugees fleeing French occupation, or household workers (most famously Tituba, a slave of the disgraced minister Samuel Parris). Judges would convict them using “spectral evidence”, often based on memories from only one witness. Tompkins H. Matteson’s 1855 painting of the George Jacobs trial appears with examination records and the two canes Jacobs used to walk, which accusers said he used in his spectural form to beat them. Another Matteson painting, Examination of a Witch, shows a group of men and women disrobing Mary Fisher in pursuit of identifying the Devil’s mark on her body. Examination records of Elizabeth Proctor and Bridget Bishop are displayed alongside Mary Esty’s petition of innocence and a gold sundial owned by John Proctor all were convicted of witchcraft, but only Elizabeth avoided execution, because she was pregnant.

The exhibition also includes texts questioning the ethics of the trials, from Cotton Mather’s hardline defense to dissenting opinions by Thomas Maule and Robert Calef, which had to be published outside of Massachusetts, as Governor William Phips banned any texts contradicting Mather’s. Considering the final pardon clearing the names of five people convicted of witchcraft was only issued in 2001, this exhibition is a timely portrayal of how governments can sanction disinformation, and why these events have compelled so many generations since.

• The Salem Witch Trials 1692, Peabody-Essex Museum, 26 September-4 April 2021

Watch the video: George Jacobs House: Pictures u0026 Images (August 2022).