Friday, August 19, 2011

August 19, 1692 - Salem, Massachusetts


On this date in 1692 five people were executed for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts.  Only one was a woman, contrary to popular belief.  On this particular day George Jacobs, Sr., Martha Carrier, the Reverend George Burroughs, John Proctor, and John Willard were hanged on Gallows Hill.   Five innocent people.  One month earlier the upstanding citizens Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good, and Sarah Wildes were executed.   Two months earlier, on June 10, Bridget Bishop was hanged in Salem as the first official execution of the Salem witch trials.    Over that summer, nineteen innocent lives were lost to gossip, heresy and lies. 

What has been learned since then?  Did anyone change their ways because of this?

In 2011, modern “witches” have taken over Salem, Massachusetts- people like Laurie Cabot, who exploit the deaths of innocent Christian people for their own profits.  My daughter’s AP History Class took a field trip to the “Witch Museum” in Salem after reading Miller’s play The Crucible.  I was shocked to hear myths being re-told during the presentation, and then the narrator invited the school children to the back of the museum to see a display of modern pagan witch artifacts “by the descendants of the original witches!”   I was flabbergasted, as a chaperone, to know that these myths persist.

The truth is that none of the original nineteen people were witches, nor were they practicing witchcraft.  The people of Salem were God fearing Puritans, however they did believe the Devil dwelt amongst them in Massachusetts.  The Devil’s work was truly the gossip, lies and heresy told by neighbors and friends, and not the work of witchcraft.  Over the years these innocent victims have all had their records expunged from the criminal court system. 

If you want to see any actual sites related to the trials of 1692, you are better off going to Danvers, Massachusetts to visit the Archives where some of the original documents can still be read, or the memorial to the victims on the site of the original meeting house, or the well preserved Rebecca Nurse Homestead.   In the city of Salem, there is only a memorial (cenotaphs) to the executed victims, Judge Corwin’s house, and the disputed site of Gallows Hill.  In Salem you will find several museums of dubious quality and inaccurate displays.  You are better off touring the world class Peabody Essex Museum in Salem than any of the other witch attractions, and thank goodness the PEM has removed the display of George Jacob’s finger.

On this date in 1692 two of those five people hung on Gallows Hill were my 9x great grandfathers, George Jacobs and John Proctor.  Bridget Bishop was my 9x great grandmother.  In 1992 the descendants of George Jacobs removed his body from where it had been secretly buried on the Jacobs homestead, because the land was being sold for commercial development.  We had his body re-interred with a very nice headstone at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Massachusetts.   Laurie Cabot, nor any of the merchants profiting from “witchcraft” in modern Salem, did not donate a penny towards the re-internment.  It is the only actual gravesite of a witch trial victim, since the others were buried in a crevice, and not allowed to be buried in the town burial grounds.  Rebecca Nurse was reburied in secret on the grounds of the family farm.  No one knows where she is located exactly, and hopefully she has been at peace ever since 1692.

George Jacobs
"Because I am falsely accused. I never did it."

Bridget Bishop
"I am no witch. I am innocent. I know nothing of it."

Margaret Jacobs
"... They told me if I would not confess I should be put down into the dungeon and would be hanged, but if I would confess I should save my life."  [note:  Margaret was forced to confess and to accuse her own grandfather, George Jacobs, of witchcraft]

Engraved on a cenotaph to Rebecca Nurse, at the Nurse Family Burial Ground in Danvers, Massachusetts:
“O, Christian martyr!  Who for truth could die,
When all about thee owned the hideous lie!
The world, redeemed from superstitions sway
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.”
By John Greenleaf Whittier

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Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

13 comments:

  1. A great article, Heather. I'm a direct descendant of Susannah (North) Martin.

    Martin: "I never hurt man or woman or child."

    Janice

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  2. Again, Heather, thanks so much for the information and insight--please keep me informed about any new revelations. I have always loved history and find it especially interesting when my own "family" has been involved. In this case, too, politics seemed to have had played into this unfortunate scenario. Just tragic from any point of view. Jean Baker Clark

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  3. Thanks for sharing and honoring the real story!

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  4. Wow Heather and Janice -- I never expected as I read along that there was going to be descendants among our group of bloggers. I am so sorry that his had to be a part of your histories -- and I'm even more appalled to hear that some of these stories are still being perpetuated.

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  5. Well said! It's astonishing how often history is misappropriated for modern personal or political agenda.

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  6. What a wonderful story. I am so glad there are people like yourself helping to set this record straight. I remember visiting Salem in, October 1999 after having done a lot of research on the with trials. I recall being disgusted by the consumerism of the scene. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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  7. If you haven't you should read Salem Possessed by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum.

    My ancestress Mary Bradbury was convicted and sentenced to die, but didn't. Thought is, her high social station saved her, although the others convicted on her day were all hanged in September.

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  8. Thanks for all your comments everyone. Kathy, there are many descendants of these unfortunate people. I can also count a judge, the jailor, several witnesses and jurors in my family tree- so all sides are represented. Martin, I read "Salem Possessed" in college, before I knew my own family history. I have Boyer & Nissenbaum's other book on the trials, too. My favorite on the subject is Mary Beth Norton's "In the Devil's Snare". My grandfather told me all about George Jacobs finger at the PEM, and it was only after his death that I found out he was a Jacobs descendant. Perhaps he wouldn't have found it so funny if he knew the truth?

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  9. Could not agree with you more, and will be posting extensively about this topic come Fall. Thanks so much for your mention on Friday! I really appreciate it.

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  10. So who were all the people who executed them?

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  11. I recently read a novel, that mentioned the Bishop genealogy so I read some of the trials docs online. Imagine my surprise, when I see my family name mentioned! I have rather an unusual last birth name, and I knew that part of my family split and emigrated to Massachussets, and have a boatyard there, but had no idea that one of them married Bridget Bishops daughter and gave evidence of the trial.
    What is more unusual, is that unlike my parents or grandparents, I am a modern day witch and it often occurs to me that my leanings towards herbalism and nature might have got me killed back then...

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  12. I am a decendant of Sarah Osborne. The first to die (in jail) I agree with your assessment of salem's consumerism. I hate the place. I also agree with the book recommendations. I will add a movie to that, three sovereigns for Sarah, a fantastic depiction of the real causes, and the effect of the trials. A brutal peice of history.

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