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The Wrong Side of History

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

We all hope that our ancestors were on the right side of history. This "right side" may be arguable and subjective, but most would agree it includes abolitionists in pre-Civil War America, the German resistance to Nazism, and suffragettes who fought for the rights of women, to name a few.

Excluding concepts such as endogamy and pedigree collapse, did you know that we each have the potential for 1,024 direct ancestors in just 10 generations?! This is just 10 generations of parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. This number doesn't account for extended family members like aunts, uncles, and cousins. That is an awful lot of people to hope were all fighting the good fight.

The Salem Witch Trials

I recently discovered that my 1st cousin 10x removed testified against Bridget Bishop. While Bridget was not the first person accused, she was the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials on 10 June 1692 by hanging on what is now known as Gallows Hill.

There is a lot written about Bridget, and I wouldn't do her justice, trying to retell her story, but I encourage you to look her up. You can start here or here or even here. She sounds amazing in her independence, and up until the end, her resilience.

My 1st cousin 10x removed was John Cook. He was the son of John Cook and Mary Buxton. John Cook Sr. was the son of Henry Cook and Judith Birdsall. Henry and Judith were my 10th great grandparents and my immigrant ancestors on this particular lineage. Henry, specifically, is well documented to have arrived in Salem, just 18 years after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth. My direct ancestor, Samuel Cook (John Sr.'s brother) had removed to New Haven Colony in or before 1667. While it was never lost on me that other extended family members likely stayed in Salem, it was never a research priority and any possible connections to the witch trials were casually dismissed.

John was just 18 years old when he testified against the roughly 60 year old Bridget. His testimony accused Bridget of physically striking him and causing an apple to fly from his hand to his mother's lap. As I continued to delve into the records, I quickly learned that my 1st cousin 10x removed also played a role in the cases of Elizabeth Howe and John Proctor who were also subsequently executed.

John's position in these later cases is not yet clear. This 17th Century, colonial, early modern English is not just difficult to read (the records are over 300 years old!), but even harder to interpret. It at least appears, in one instance, that John participated in an invasive medical examination of the accused's body, searching for evidence of "witches' marks." These marks are commonly believed to have included birthmarks, moles, skin tags, or other similar, insignificant imperfections.

There were at least three other Cooks involved in the Salem Witch Trials: Elisha, Elizabeth, and Isaac. I'm likely related to them all, although due to naming patterns and fewer available identifying details, it is difficult to figure out who is who within my greater family tree. While I have my suspicions, additional research is definitely necessary.

My 1st cousin 10x removed remained in Salem and lived nearly three additional decades beyond the end of the witch trials. I read somewhere that he attended Harvard, although this is entirely unsubstantiated at this point. Regardless of what he may have accomplished, I hope the weight of his role and his actions during the witch trials was heavy until the end of his days. I know I now feel the burden of that weight.


Disclaimer: Each blog post is created and presented for marketing and entertainment purposes only but are based on larger research which adheres to the standards of The Board of Certification of Genealogists® as set forth in Genealogical Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014).

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