August 18, 2011

Today’s installment of learning about the Salem witchcraft trials hanging victims of August 19, 1692 addresses the story of George Jacobs, Sr. through the eyes of comtemporary, local historian, David Goss: From The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide, K. David Goss Pages 26-28

Now the afflicted children were not only accusing women, they began to single out and accuse adult males as well.  By May 1692, the girls had targeted some of the more prominent males in the Salem Village community, among them George Jacobs, Sr.  Jacobs was a prosperous farmer who had lived in the Salem Farms area between Salem Town and Salem Village for thirty-five years.  He was arrested on May 10, 1692.  Simultaneously, his son George, Jr., his daughter-in-law Rebecca, and granddaughter Margaret were also accused.  Four days after his arrest, he was brought before magistrate John Hathorne for questioning. Initially Jacobs took the afflicted girls and their accusations too lightly, until he was confronted by his maidservant, Elizabeth Churchill, who testified that he had tempted her to sign the Devil’s Book.  Mary Walcott, one of the afflicted children, also maintained that Jacobs had tempted her to sign the Devil’s Book, and threatened her with physical harm if she refused.  Despite Jacobs’ alleged threats, both girls claimed to have resisted him. In the face of these and other accusations, Jacobs maintained his innocence.  In response to Justice Hathorne’s insistent badgering, he simply responded that concerning witchcraft:  “I know not of it, any more than the child that was born tonight.”  During his pretrial examination, Justice Corwin asked Jacobs to recite “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It was generally believed that no witch could recite it perfectly.  The old man, nervous and unlettered, omitted an entire sentence and made several other recitation errors.  Knowing his mistake, and fearing the worst, he remarked bravely, “Well, burn me or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ.” What makes the case of George Jacobs, Sr., especially tragic is that his granddaughter Margaret Jacobs, herself a confessed witch, named her grandfather as a co-conspirator along with Constable John Willard and Reverend George Burroughs.  When Jacobs Sr. was finally tried for witchcraft in August 1692, Margaret Jacobs was one of nearly a dozen primary witnesses against him.  Only after Jacobs’s death sentence was pronounced in court did Margaret have a change of heart and write to the magistrates to retract her testimony and her own confession as a witch.  The result of this reversal was that Margaret was moved from the cell of the confessed witches and back to the cell of those awaiting trials and executions.  She explained to her grandfather her feelings of regret for the part she had played in condemning him, and he forgave her.

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