George Jacobs, Sr, was a farmer who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Not only was Jacobs, Sr, accused but so was his son, George Jacobs, Jr, daughter-in-law, Rebecca Jacobs and granddaughter, Margaret Jacobs.
Jacobs, Sr, was born in 1620. It is not known when exactly he came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony except that he first bought a house on November 20, 1658 in Salem Village, which is now modern day Danvers, along with ten acres of land from Richard Waters. The house, which was built that same year, was located near the mouth of the Waters River in Danvers. He later purchased four more nearby acres, which were mostly marshland.
Jacobs was married twice. Nothing is known about his first wife except that the couple had three children, George Jacobs, Jr, Ann Jacobs and Mary Jacobs, whom were all born in Salem. He then married his second wife Mary Fecher on January 12, 1673 in Salem.
Like other accused witches, both Jacobs, Sr, and Jr, had previous brushes with the law. Jacobs, Sr, was known for having a violent temper and, according to an article in The New England Magazine, he was fined for striking a man named John Tomkins, Jr, in 1677. Two witnesses, John Waters and Stephen Small, testified that Jacobs landed “one blow and if the latter had not held him by the arms, he would have struck him some more, he being in such a passion.” Jacobs paid a fine for the crime.
Jacobs, Jr, also had some legal trouble when, in 1674, he was sued by Nathaniel Putnam after he chased some of Putnam’s horses into a river where they then drowned.
Jacobs, Jr, defended himself in court by explaining that the horses were trespassing on his property and he was merely trying to round them up, according to the book Salem Witchcraft by Charles W. Upham:
“That I did follow some horses in our enclosure on the Royal Side, where they were trespassing upon us; that then end of my following them was to take them; but, rather than they would be taken, they took to the water, and I did follow them no further; but straightaway they turned ashore, and I did run to take them as they came out of the water, but could not: and I can truly take my oath that since that time I did never follow any horses or mares; and I hope my own oath will clear me.”
Upham states that the incident probably didn’t lead the Putnams to accuse the Jacobs family of witchcraft in 1692 but he does suggest that it may have stained Jacobs, Jr’s, reputation:
“It is not to be supposed, that Nathaniel Putnam harbored sentiments of revenge or resentment for eighteen years, or had any hand in prosecuting Jacobs in 1692. There is every indication that he did not sympathize in the violent passions which raged on that occasion, although he was much under the power of delusion. But the affair of drowning the horses was probably for a long time a topic of gossip, and may have given to the author of the catastrophe a notoriety which nearly cost him his life.”
On May 10, 1692 an arrest warrant was issued by Judge John Hathorne and Judge Jonathan Corwin for both George Jacobs, Sr, and his granddaughter, Margaret Jacobs. Salem constable Joseph Neale made the arrests that same day.
The arrest warrant doesn’t state who accused them but during Jacobs, Sr’s, examination on May 10, the magistrate states that Sarah Churchill, Jacobs’ servant, was the person who accused him.
Upham described Jacobs, Sr, at the time of the Salem Witch Trials as an elderly yet fearless and strong-willed man:
“George Jacobs, Sr, was an aged man. He is represented in the evidence as ‘very gray-headed;’ and he must have been quite infirm, for he walked with two staffs. His hair was in long, thin, white locks; and, as he was uncommonly tall of stature, he must have had a venerable aspect. Perhaps he was the ‘man in a long-crowned white hat,’ referred to by Deliverance Hobbs. The examination shows that his faculties were vigorous, his bearing fearless, and his utterances strong and decided.”
During Jacobs’ examination, he repeatedly declared himself innocent and even asked the judges how they could believe the charges against him:
Magistrate: Here are them that accuse you of acts of witchcraft. Well, let us hear who are they, and what are they.
Abigail Williams: Jacobs laughed
George Jacobs: Because I am falsely accused. — Your worships all of you do you think this is true?
Magistrate: Nay, what do you think?
Jacobs: I never did it.
Magistrate: who did it?
Jacobs: Dont ask me.
Magistrate: Why should we not ask you? Sarah Churchwell accuseth you, there she is.
Jacobs: I am as innocent as the Child born to night, I have lived 33 years here in Salem.
Magistrate: What then?
Jacobs: If you can prove that I am guilty, I will lye under it, Sarah
Sarah Churchill: Last night I was afflicted at Deacon Ingersolls , and Mary Walcot said it was a man with 2 staffs, it was my master.
Jacobs: Pray do not accuse me, I am as clear as your worships; you must do right judgments.
Magistrate: What book did he bring you Sarah?
Churchill: The same that the other woman brought.
Jacobs: The Devill can go in any shape.
Magistrate: Did he not [be] appear on the other side of the river and hurt you, did not you see him.
Churchill: Yes he did.
Magistrate: Look there, she accuseth you to your face, she chargeth you that you hurt her twice. Is it not true?
Jacobs: What would you have me say? I never wronged no man in word nor deed.
Magistrate: Here are 3 evidences.
Jacobs: You tax me for a wizard, you may as well tax me for a buzzard I have done no harm.
Magistrate: Is it no harm to afflict these?
Jacobs: I never did it.
Magistrate: But how comes it to be in your appearance?
Jacobs: The Devil can taken any likeness.
Magistrate: Not without their consent.
Jacobs: Please your worship it is untrue, I never showed the book, I am as silly about these things as the child born last night.
Magistrate: That is your Saying, you argue you have lived so long, but what then Cain might live long before he killed Abel, and you might live long before the Devill had so prevailed on you.
Jacobs: Christ hath suffered 3 times for me.
Magistrate: What three times.
Jacobs: He suffered the Crosse & gall —
Churchill: You had as good confess if you are guilty.
Jacobs: Have you heard that I have any witchcraft?
Churchill: I know you lived a wicked life.
Magistrate: Let her make it out. Doth he ever pray in his family?
Churchill: Not unless by himself.
Magistrate: Why do you not pray in your family?
Jacobs: I cannot read.
Magistrate: Well but you may pray for all that. Can you say the Lords prayer? Let us hear you?
He missed in several parts of it, and could not repeat it right after many trials
Magistrate: Sarah Churchwell when you wrote in the book you was showed your masters name you said.
Churchill: Yes Sir.
Magistrate: If she say so, if you do not know it, what will you say? But she saw you, or your likeness tempt her to write.
Jacobs: one in my likeness, the Devil may present my likeness.
Magistrate: Were you not frighted Sarah Churchwell, when the representation of your master came to you?
Jacobs: Well burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ, I know nothing of it.
It is not clear where Jacobs’ first examination was held but he had a second examination the following day at Beadle’s Tavern in Salem town, during which the afflicted girls had fits and Ann Putnam stated that Jacobs’ spirit had confessed to her that he had been a witch for 40 years.
Jacobs continued to declare his innocence, even though the magistrate made it clear that he considered Jacobs guilty. When the magistrate asked if it was Jacobs who had recently created a disturbance at a lecture in Salem he denied it and asked the judge if he thought he was guilty:
Magistrate: Are not you the man that made disturbance at a lecture in Salem?
Jacobs: No great disturbance. Do you think I use witchcraft?
Magistrate: Yes indeed
Jacobs: No I use none of them.
The lecture is a reference to a town lecture held in Salem town on March 31, 1692 which was a public fast and prayer session in the name of the afflicted girls. It is possible that Jacobs may have spoken out against the afflicted girls at the lecture.
Two counts of witchcraft were brought up against Jacobs but he was only charged with one after the other count was thrown out due to a lack of evidence.
Jacobs, Sr’s, granddaughter, Margaret Jacobs, was also examined on May 11, although her examination has been lost. According to the testimony of Joseph Flint, Margaret actually confessed to being a witch during her examination and also said that her grandfather, George Jacobs, Sr, and Rev. George Burroughs were also witches. Flint stated that when he heard of her confession, he sought out Jacobs, Sr, in the tavern and told him that she had confessed.
Flint testified that Jacobs responded by stating Margaret had been instructed not to confess, which indicates a possible conspiracy between him and his granddaughter. He then stopped and clarified that she was urged not to confess because “if she were innocent and yet confessed she would be accessory to her own death.”
There is no record of Margaret Jacobs confession and it didn’t seem to help her anyway because she was indicted on one charge of witchcraft anyway and brought to the Salem jail.
On May 12, Jacobs, Sr, and nine other people: William Hobbs, Edward Bishop, Bridget Bishop, Sarah Wildes, Mary Black, Mary English, Alice Parker and Ann Pudeator, were named in a mittimus, a court order directing the local officer to escort the prisoners to jail, which stated that they had been accused of afflicting Abigail Williams, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon and others.
On May 14, a warrant was issued for Jacobs’ son and daughter-in-law, George Jacobs, Jr, and Rebecca Jacobs, after the afflicted girls accused them of witchcraft. Salem constable Jonathan Putnam was able to apprehend Rebecca Jacobs but George Jacobs, Jr, evaded arrest and reportedly fled the country. As Rebecca Jacobs was hauled off to jail, her young children ran after crying until they lost sight of her on the road, according to an article in The New England Magazine:
“In the meantime, warrants were issued, on May 14, for George Jacobs, Jr., and his wife Rebecca Jacobs escaped. When the constables took Rebecca she had four young children in her home. Some of them followed her on the road, but being too young to continue far, they were left behind, and cared for by the neighbors. Rebecca Jacobs was kept in irons eight months, then indicted and brought to trial on January 3, 1693. She was promptly acquitted. In the mean time touching petitions had been presented to the chief justice by the mother, and to Governor Phips, praying for her release. They were of no avail. The woman was kept in a dungeon, half fed, and uncared for beyond what was necessary to sustain life, through the long winter months. Her treatment was in keeping with that of other victims. In cruelty and barbarity it must be frankly said that it finds parallel only in the acts of the savage of the forests.”
Two counts of witchcraft were brought against Rebecca Jacobs but she was only charged with one after the other count was thrown out due to a lack of evidence.
Rebecca Jacobs was examined by a judge on May 18 but her examination has been lost. The only record of any witnesses testifying against her was the testimony of Elizabeth Hubbard who stated that on the day of Rebecca Jacobs’ examination she saw her afflicted Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam.
Rebecca Jacobs’ mother, Rebecca Fox, later petitioned the court to release her daughter on the grounds that she was mentally ill and had been for at least 12 years and, as a result, needed someone to take care of her. She argued that her daughter wasn’t receiving the care she needed in prison and should be released because she is “a woman crazed, distracted & broken in her mind.”
As the New England Magazine article states, Rebecca Jacobs wasn’t released and languished in jail until her trial and acquittal in January. Her daughter, Margaret Jacobs, was tried in January too and was also acquitted, according to court records, but not before she recanted her confession while in jail, explaining that she only confessed because she was told it would save her life and keep her out of jail:
“The humble declaration of Margaret Jacobs unto the honoured court now sitting at Salem, sheweth That whereas your poor and humble declarant being closely confined here in Salem goal for the crime of witchcraft, which crime thanks be to the Lord I am altogether ignorant of, as will appear at the great day of judgment: May it please the honoured court, I was cried out upon by some of the possessed persons, as afflicting them; whereupon I was brought to my examination, which persons at the sight of me fell down, which did very much startle and affright me. The Lord above knows I knew nothing, in the least measure, how or who afflicted them; they told me, without doubt I did, or else they would not fall down at me; 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 have my life; the which did so affright me, with my own vile wicked heart, to save my life; made me make the like confession I did, which confession, may it please the honoured court, is altogether false and untrue. The very first night after I had made confession, I was in such horror of conscience that I could not sleep for fear the devil should carry me away for telling such horrid lies. I was, may it please the honoured court, sworn to my confession, as I understand since, but then, at that time, was ignorant of it, not knowing what an oath did mean. The Lord, I hope, in whom I trust, out of the abundance of his mercy, will forgive me my false forswearing myself. What I said, was altogether false against my grandfather, and Mr. Burroughs , which I did to save my life and to have my liberty; but the Lord, charging it to my conscience, made me in so much horror, that I could not contain myself before I had denied my confession, which I did though I saw nothing but death before me, chusing rather death with a quiet conscience, than to live in such horror, which I could not suffer. Where, upon my denying my confession, I was committed to close prison, where I have enjoyed more felicity in spirit, a thousand times, than I did before in my enlargement. And now, may it please your honours, your declarant, having, in part, given your honours a description of my condition, do leave it to your honours pious and judicious discretions, to take pity and compassion on my young and tender years, to act and do with me, as the Lord above and your honours shall see good, having no friend, but the Lord, to plead my cause for me; not being guilty in the least measure of the crime of witchcraft, nor any other sin that deserves death from man; and your poor and humble declarant shall for ever pray, as she is bound in duty, for your honours happiness in this life and eternal felicity in the world to come. So prays your honours declarant.
In August, George Jacobs, Sr’s, trial began, and a dozen people testified against him, including Abigail Williams, Sarah Churchill, Sarah Bibber, Mary Warren, Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Walcott, John DeRich, Mercy Lewis, Joseph Flint, Thomas Putnam, John Putnam, Ann Putnam and George Herrick.
On August 4, George Herrick testified that in May he went to the Salem jail and, in the presence of Constable Joseph Neal and the Salem jail keeper, William Dounton, he physically examined Jacobs, Sr’s, body for signs that he was a witch. He explained that he found a suspicious mark, which he described as a teat about a quarter of an inch long with a sharp point drooping downwards, on his right shoulder and said he ran a pin through it but it did not bleed.
Every witness’s testimony against Jacobs was based on spectral evidence, which is the claim that the accused person’s spirit visited the victim and afflicted them, and there wasn’t a single piece of hard evidence or evidence based on a fact.
One reoccurring accusation in the testimony against Jacobs, who suffered from arthritis and used two walking canes to help him get around, was that he often appeared to his victims in spirit form and beat them with his walking canes. In fact, a total of six people made this specific accusation against, including John DeRich, Sarah Churchill, Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, Mary Warren and Sarah Bibber.
John DeRich also testified that on August 3, Jacobs had appeared to him and tried to lead him to water where he then tried to drown him before dragging him out of the water and beating him with his cane, which all sounds eerily similar to Jacobs, Jr’s, horse drowning incident in 1674.
After a short trial, George Jacobs, Sr, was found guilty of witchcraft on August 5 and sentenced to death. On August 19, 1692, George Jacobs, Sr, was brought to Proctor’s Ledge at the base of Gallows Hill and hanged along with John Proctor, Reverend George Burroughs, Martha Carrier and John Willard.
Legend has it Jacobs’ family secretly retrieved his body from the execution site and buried it on the family property. In the 19th century, the remains of an unknown person believed to be Jacobs were discovered on the former Jacobs property, according to Upham:
“The tradition has descended through the family, that the body, after having been obtained at the place of execution, was strapped by a young grandson on the back of a horse, brought home to the farm, and buried beneath the shade of his own trees. Two sunken and weather-worn stones marked the spot. There the remains rested until 1864, when they were exhumed. They were enclosed again, and reverently redeposited in the same place. The skull was in a state of considerable preservation. An examination of the jawbones showed that he was a very old man at the time of his death., and had previously lost all his teeth. The length of some parts of the skeleton showed that he was a very tall man. These circumstances corresponded with the evidence, which was that he was tall of stature; so infirm as to walk with two staffs; with long, flowing white hair. The only article found, except the bones, was a metallic pin, which might have been used as a breastpin, or to hold together his aged locks.”
The body was accidentally uncovered again in 1950 by bulldozers after the Jacobs property had been sold to developers, according to the book A Storm of Witchcraft by Emerson W. Baker:
“In 1992 Danvers also endorsed another modest act of reconciliation. There was a tradition in the Jacobs family that George Jacob’s body had been taken from Gallows Hill after his death and buried on his farm, which is located within the town’s borders. A skeleton exhumed and then reburied on the farm in the mid-nineteenth century was believed to be his, and this skeleton was rediscovered by a bulldozer when the property was developed in the 1950s. Safeguarded for years by Danvers officials, the skeleton was quietly reburied on the Rebecca Nurse farm, complete with replica seventeenth-century coffin and gravestone, in 1992. Although analysis of the remains established that they were those of an old man and generally fit Jacob’s description, it will never know whether they really were those of Jacobs. However, it was still an important and sincere gesture.”
The headstone was engraved with Jacob’s defiant words from his examination: “Well burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ”
The day after George Jacobs, Sr’s, execution, Margaret Jacobs wrote a letter to her father, although it is not clear if or how he received it since he was in exile. In the letter she tells him how she was forced to falsely confess to witchcraft by the magistrates:
“The reason of my confinement is this, I having, through the Magistrates threatenings, and my own vile and wretched heart, confessed several things contrary to my conscience and knowledge, though to the wounding of my own soul, the Lord pardon me for it; but Oh! the terrors of a wounded conscience who can bear…”
She also states that her grandfather, had suffered greatly and his estate had been seized for the king. She also admits that she fears she will be put to death and hopes for a reunion in heaven one day with her father and her mother, whom she refers to as “very crazy.”
After Margaret was acquitted in January of 1693 she was released, after having spent about seven months in prison, but only after she borrowed money from a man named Phillip Gammon to pay her jail fees. Her mother, Rebecca Jacobs, remained in jail due to her inability to pay her own jail fees. She was eventually released in April of 1693.
In June of 1693, Gammon had Margaret Jacobs arrested for failure to repay the money she borrowed and brought her to court. Jacobs asked her father, who had returned from exile by then, to pay the debt but he didn’t have the money to do so. He promised Gammon that he would repay it and also tried to get a loan from Daniel Eames to cover it. It is not known if he succeeded.
On June 26, 1693, Jacobs, Sr’s, widow, Mary Jacobs, married John Wildes, the widower of Sarah Wildes, another accused witch who had been executed on July 19, 1692. George Jacobs, Sr, and Sarah Wildes had both been ordered to jail on the same day, May 12, and were later executed one month apart from each other.
In 1710, a bill was in the works to clear the names of the convicted witches and pay restitution to the accused and their families. George Jacobs, Jr, asked for restitution for the money spent on his daughter and wife’s jail fees as well as for a list of items that were seized by Sheriff Corwin after their arrests and asked for restitution for his father’s estate:
five cows fair large cattle 3£ per cow
Eight Loads of english hay taken out of the barn 35s per load
a parcel of apples that made 24 barrels cider to halves Viz 12 barrels cider 8s per barrel
60 bushels of Indian corn 2s-6d per bushel
2 good feather beds and furniture — Rugs blankets sheets boulsters and pillows
2 brass kettles cost
money 12s a Large gold thumb ring 20s
a quantity of pewter which I cannot exactly know worth perhaps
besides abundance of small things meat in the house fowls, chairs and other things took clear a way
Sixty Seven pounds thirteen
Shillings my fathers Estate
The twelve pounds paid for my wife & children
According to the Historic Americans Buildings Survey, the Jacobs house survived many centuries and remained in the Jacobs family until sometime after 1920. By the 20th century, the house had fallen into disrepair and was last photographed in 1935 by the Historic American Buildings Survey, shortly before it finally collapsed in 1938.
George Jacobs., Sr’s, walking canes are now housed as a part of a collection of Salem Witch Trials artifacts at the Essex Institute in Salem although it is not clear if they are on display to the public.
George Jacobs, Sr’s, memorial marker is located at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in Salem, Mass.
George Jacobs Historical Sites:
Former Site of George Jacobs House:
Address: Margin Street, Danvers, Ma
Former Site of the Salem Jail
Address: corner of St. Peter and Federal Street, Salem, Mass. Memorial plaque located at 10 Federal Street, Salem, Mass
Former Site of the Salem Courthouse
Address: Washington Street (about 100 feet south of Lynde Street), opposite the Masonic Temple, Salem, Mass. Memorial plaque located on Masonic Temple.
Site of the Salem Witch Trials Executions
Address: Proctor’s Ledge, wooded area between Proctor Street and Pope Street, Salem, Mass
Site of George Jacobs, Sr’s, Grave and Headstone:
Address: Rebecca Nurse Homestead family cemetery, 149 Pine Street, Danvers, Mass
Salem Witch Museum: George Jacobs Sr https://salemwitchmuseum.com/blog/george-jacobs-sr
HABS: George Jacobs House: http://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/ma/ma0600/ma0615/supp/ma0615supp.pdf
A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience; Emerson Baker; 2014
Salem Witchcraft; Charles W. Upham; 1867
The New England Magazine, Volume 6; Volume 12; 1892
American Biography: A New Cyclopedia, Volume 5; edited by William Richard Cutter; 1919