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Archive for the ‘Dead Men Do Tell Tales’ Category

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In the family cemetery on the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, there is a newer stone in the colonial style for George Jacobs, Sr. In documents regarding the Salem Witch Trials, he is described as an elderly (late 70s/early 80s) English colonist and farmer who used canes for mobility. During the 1692 Salem Witch trials, the afflicted girls, including his servant Sarah Churchill, accused Jacobs, his son George Jr., his daughter-in-law Rebecca, and granddaughter Margaret of being witches. George Jr. managed to evade arrest by leaving the Salem area. Margaret Jacobs confessed to witchcraft while being examined by the magistrates, naming her grandfather as another witch. Though Margaret later recanted her testimony and was in fact acquitted, her grandfather was tried, convicted, and sentences to die by hanging.

The executed witches were barred from burial in sacred ground and probably tossed in a common pit near the gallows, but Salem tradition has long held that some relatives returned under the cover of night to retrieve remains and bury them in secret. The Jacobs descendants claimed to have found George Sr.’s grave on the family farm in 1864. In 1950, developers discovered the grave while building on the property, and the bones were exhumed. While they cannot be verified as belonging to George Jacobs, Sr., the bones were those of an elderly man fitting his description. In 1992, 300 years after the trials, the bones were reinterred in the Nurse family cemetery on the Rebecca Nurse homestead in a 17th century style coffin.

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To the memory of Charles Alston

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When we traveled to Boston and Salem in the fall of 2018, I was of course excited at the opportunities to explore some of the oldest cemeteries in North America. I also realized I needed to brush back up on my cemetery symbolism and language. As I’ve written before, when a woman is described as the consort of her husband on a gravestone, she usually predeceased him. If he predeceased her, the inscription may refer to her as a relict, an old-fashioned word for widow.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts
Old Burying Point, Salem, Massachusetts

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