Monday, August 19, 2013

19 August 1692, Five People Hung for Witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts

The gravestone of George Jacobs
Danvers, 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?  Did we see the follies of our ways and become kinder and more forgiving to our neighbors? Did we become accepting of the "different" and less fortunate?

In 2011, modern “witches” have taken over Salem, Massachusetts- people like Laurie Cabot, who exploit the deaths of innocent 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 Puritans, however they did believe the Devil dwelt amongst them in Massachusetts.  They falsely believed that witches lived among them, the cause of their problems and troubles. 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 a memorial (cenotaphs) to the executed victims, Judge Corwin’s house, and the disputed site of Gallows Hill.  In Salem you will also 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 museums, and thank goodness the PEM has removed the display of George Jacob’s finger bones.

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 reproduction 17th century style 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 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo
Originally published on 19 August 2011 at the Nutfield Genealogy Blog

15 comments:

  1. Hi Heather... thanks for posting this. John Proctor was my 10x great-uncle, I'm descended from his sister Mary.

    And Susannah Martin was my 10x great-grandmother-- I like how, when the victims had their fits in front of her at the trial, she laughed. When the magistrate expressed outrage at her reaction, she answered, "Well, I may laugh at such folly." I don't think this helped her case much, however...

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    1. I'm sorry Susannah Martin suffered after her honest reaction. I had an ancestress, Bethshua Folger Pope, who threw her shoe at Martha Corey during her trial. Poor Martha's husband, Giles Corey, was later pressed to death when he refused to testify.

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    2. I descend from Martha and Giles Corey. Unfortunately, there are still times in our modern day where people are persecuted because of their belief, or worse, because of an agenda or bigotry. All we can do as a people is stand up against those the likes of which existed in Salem in 1692.

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    3. Yep, poor Giles... he had some of the best last words ever, though-- when they asked if he had anything to say as he was being pressed (meaning, "are you going to confess to witchcraft"?), he answered, "More weight!"

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  2. I descend from the Towne family. We had three of the accused. Rebecca Towne Nurse and Mary Towne Esty were accused, brought to "trial" and murdered. Their sister Sarah Towne Cloyse was also accused and found "guilty". However Sarah was never murdered. She eventually was released and then after being exonerated, they courts exonerated Rebecca and Mary also. Damages were paid to the family. Rebecca's church reversed their excommunication. Excellent movie made on the hysteria is called Three Sovereigns for Sarah. Script was taken from the court transcripts. I descend from one of the girl's brothers.

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    1. Kathy, we must be cousins. I descend from Edmund Towne, brother of Rebecca, Mary and Sarah. I never saw the movie, but I've read the book "Three Sovereigns for Sarah" many times.

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    2. I, too, am a descendant of Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes. She is my 9th great-grandmother. I discovered this during family research last May and I will admit....I was not joyful or happy to find a "witch" in my family, because I knew she, nor any of the others, were witches. I had educated myself on the trials and I knew the agony Sarah, her sisters, the accused and their families must have felt. I mostly felt sad for them. Three Sovereigns for Sarah is indeed an excellent movie. Vanessa Redgrave gave such dignity to Sarah. From what I have read about her, and her sisters, it is an accurate portrayal.
      So I guess we are all distantly related.
      Shelia (from Tennessee)

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    3. I, too, am a descendant of Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes, through her daughter Hannah Bridges. Sarah is my 9th ggmother. Three Sovereigns for Sarah is indeed an excellent movie. Vanessa Redgrave's portrayal of Sarah was done with so much dignity.
      So, I guess the three of us are distant cousins.
      Shelia from Tennessee

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    4. I, too, am a descendant of Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes, through her daughter Hannah Bridges. Sarah is my 9th ggmother. Three Sovereigns for Sarah is indeed an excellent movie. Vanessa Redgrave's portrayal of Sarah was done with so much dignity.
      So, I guess the three of us are distant cousins.
      Shelia from Tennessee

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  3. One of my ancestors has been reported to have been a juror during the trials. John Batcheller (c. 1638 - 1698), son of Joseph, was listed as one of the jurors who signed a formal apology, asking forgiveness for their decision. I've only seen this mentioned with the Frederick Clifton Pierce authored Batchelder, Batcheller Genealogy listed as the source. I believe there was another, younger, John Batcheller involved with the trails as an accuser. I've always been curious if Pierce's statement is correct, or if he linked the wrong John Batcheller to the event.

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    1. Elroy have you seen the online archive of documents from the trials at this link: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/home.html ? I wonder if you can find your John Batcheller in these documents, and if it will help you to see which John it was who was the juror? Sometimes you just have to look at the real documents, instead of someone else's interpretation. I have that same Batchelder/Batcheller book.

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  4. I noticed while working on my genealogy that many people were in Salem in the 17th century. I was kind of shocked when reading about the witch trials to realize t I was related directly to Samuel Wardwell and a little less directly to John Hathorne.
    It is unnerving to see one line of your ancestors murdering the other

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    1. Chulet, I have ancestors on both sides of this hysteria. Some were witnesses against other ancestors. One was the jailor, another the doctor, and several actually risked their lives testifying FOR their neighbors. If you have extensive Essex County ancestry, I think this is not uncommon.

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  5. I descend from Mary Bradbury of Newbury. She was accused for yelling at boys climbing her trees and then selling bad butter to a ship. She was tried and convicted despite a petition signed by townsfolk. Her family helped her to escape prison and she died at age 80 in seclusion.

    It was indeed, hysteria. I agree with you, Heather that the profiteers of today don't care one iota about telling the truth.

    Thank you for your very thoughtful post.

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  6. My ancestor were also on opposite sides on the Witch trails. Here is a link to the 1672 case of Margaret Scott, and other court trails. The Thomas brothers, Thomas and Philip and Philip's wife, Sarah are all mentioned. There is much to read on the website. It is worth taking the time to read. It gives an insight into the politics of the times. Scapegoats are in use even through the ages. Thank you Heather for a thoughtful blog.

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