November 20, 2018

I WANT TO BE LIKE FRANCIS: On this day in 1615, Francis Dane, later to become the Rev. Francis Dane, pastor of the North Parish Church in Andover, Massachusetts, was born. In 1658, he testified for the defense at a witchcraft trial, where he “judged against the probability”—a polite way to say that he though it was a warm pile of horse manure. The defendant was acquitted.

Later, in 1692, when the witchcraft panic in Salem sent shockwaves throughout New England, he spoke against it vociferously, warning that the people were guilty of blood for accepting these unfounded accusations against covenanted members of the church.  He led an effort to petition the governor to put a stop to it all.

Sounds easy, right? Just do the right thing. But it took steel body parts to speak out during the panic. It meant accusations of witchcraft would immediately be made against him and his family members. Being a man of the cloth was not enough to protect him. One minister had already been executed.

In short order, Dane himself, two daughters, a daughter-in-law, and several granddaughters were all accused (though Dane himself was never charged). All survived. One escaped hanging only because she was pregnant.

How do I know about this obscure figure in American history? Ancestry.com told me that he was an ancestor of mine. Does it make me feel proud? You bet it does. Am I aware that it is completely ridiculous for me to feel proud of something in which I had no hand whatsoever just because it involves a 17th century ancestor of mine? Yes … I know that too.

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