GaspeeVirtual Archives
Justin Jacobs (c1755-1784?)

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the
1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating Justin Jacobs

Judge Staples writes that p108:

Mr. John Howland says, that on the morning after the affair, Justin Jacobs, a young man, was parading himself on "the great bridge," then the usual place of resort, with Lieutenant Dudingston's gold laced beaver on his head, detailing to a circle around him the particulars of the transaction, and the manner in which he obtained the hat from the cabin of the Gaspee. It required sharp words to induce him to retire and hold his peace. There were others, probably, equally indiscreet; and yet not an individual could be found who knew anything about the affair.
John Howland, the original director of the Rhode Island Historical Society, was a few years younger than Jacobs, but was there when the boats set off to attack the Gaspee, and apparently was there when they returned. Justin Jacobs is not directly referenced by any other source. Given the 1772 time frame, Howland's description, and the age of other young Gaspee raiders we can estimate Jacob's age at being about 17, which would make his birth year c1755.

Curiously, it is this same Justin Jacobs that author James Otis Kale used for personating the first-person telling of the fictionalized story of the Gaspee incident in his 1901 When We Destroyed the Gaspee.

Biographical and Genealogical Information:

As of August 2002-

  • LDS search is negative
  • Gendex search is negative
  • USGenWeb searches are negative for both RI and MA
  • searches are negative.  Their Jacobs file only go back to 1781.
  • RI Historical Cemeteries Database search is negative
  • Deep 275 hit search of for "Justin Jacobs" is negative for any possibility of a Justin Jacobs of the eighteenth century.
  • search was initially negative.  The closest hint camea from a Justin Jacobs b1783 in Deighton, MA, not too far away, and whose grandmother was from Rehoboth, MA, as were many other Gaspee raiders.  It's possible that our Justin was a lost uncle to this Justin Jacobs of 1783, but the trail not connected. The family line however has OLNEY  marriages.
  • In 2010, Jeff Alexander discovered on the names of Justin Jacobs and a Wilson Jacobs as privates in the Independent Company of Light Infantry of Providence County headed by a Colonel John Mathewson in January 1777.  It is found in subfolder 41 of the better known Col. Crary's Regiment. The irregularity of the Company name gives one pause to suggest that this was a more informal training and drilling unit of the early Revolution.
  • There are no RevWar pension records on him from HeritageQuest.
The only other hints that Justin Jacobs did exist at all is from USGenWeb files that there were about 5 heads of household with the last name of Jacobs listed in the 1790 Federal census for Rhode Island, two specifically from Providence.  Given the tendency of the day for large families, it is probable that our young Justin Jacobs c1755 was one of their offspring.  There is also a 1775 record from Historical Catalog of the Members of the First Baptist Church Providence, RI  found through NEHGS that lists Justin Jacobs as a member of that church.

We also discover a William Jacobs as Master of a Providence-based privateer, Happy Return, owned by John Brown in 1779, (Field, Edward, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century:  A History.  Boston, Mason Publishing Co. 1902, Vol II, pp424-430) .  The Fall 2011 edition of the RIHS Updates, Rhode Island Historical Society presents a newly acquired painting of Wilson Jacobs (c1748-10Aug1805) painted in 1779.  The brief article states that Wilson Jacobs was probably born in Massachusetts but by 1774 had settled down in Providence with his wife Marcy and several children.  He was a member of the local militia, Independent Company of Light Artillery of Providence County and was later a commissioned privateer, commanding the Reprisal in March 1782.  William and Wilson Jacobs could be the same man, but Wilson Jacobs is too young to have been the father of our Justin Jacobs, and is likely a relative.

In the Hampshire (MA) Federalist of 14Sep1809 is the death notice of a Justin Jacobs, age 31, who drowned in the Cambridge River on 2Sept1809

From the 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers, we get the name of three properties held by the Jacobs clan, all across the Great Bridge on the West Side of Providence. Two are listed for Nathaniel Jacobs, one being a Still House, and one for the Widow of Nathaniel Jacobs (not shown on map). This is all VERY interesting, since those who owned still houses were likely involved in illegal, untaxed shipping of rum, and would likely have had an ax or two grind with the Gaspee.  Per files we do find a Nathaniel Jacobs (1721-1807) that married a Sarah Cooke in Bristol, RI in 1744.  And the RI Historical Cemeteries database does tell us that this Nathaniel was buried with his wife in the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence:

JACOBS         NATHANIEL                         1720c - 24 AUG 1807   PV003
JACOBS         SARAH    (COOK*)              1731c - 2 OCT 1807     PV003
USGenWeb tells us that during the 1790 Federal Census, the Nathaniel Jacobs in Providence was 2-1-4-*-*, that is two males over 16, one less than 16, 4 females, and no slaves or other persons.  This gives us a hint that, at very least, there was some extended family in the Nathaniel Jacobs household at the time, perhaps harboring a Justin Jacobs of the right age. Unfortunately, none of the genealogical databases cite any offspring from the marriage.
In April 2004 we received the following e-mail from Rich Houghton from Washington, DC, a descendant of the Jacobs clan that possibly fills in all the holes in our knowledge of Justin Jacobs. Besides family sources, the other source for his info is:   (stale link 2009)
I stumbled across your website tonight as I was trying to solve a puzzle about the first marriage of my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary (Bradford)(Jacobs) Houghton, and in doing so may have helped you solve yours.
Mary "Polly" Bradford was born in October, 1755, probably in Attleborough, Bristol County, Massachusetts (became Cumberland, Providence County, Rhode Island in 1746).  She was the daughter of Perez-5 Bradford (1728/9 -- 1763) and Mary-4 Jackson (1732--?) of Cumberland, Providence County, Rhode Island.
In March 1791, she married Asa-4 Houghton in Hampden County, Massachusetts  Their intent to marry was published on 6 February 1791 in Wales, Hamden County; the same intention had been announced the day before -- 5 February -- in  Sturbridge, Worcester County, where Mary was apparently living at the time.
It was Mary's second marriage, however.  When she married Asa, she is listed in the records as "Polly Jacobs, a widow."  And this is where your organization comes in.  She had previously married a man named Justin or Justis (depending on which of the very few sources you consult) JACOBS.  Polly and Justis/n had one child, Justis/Justin Jr.; it is unknown what became of the boy.  Justis/Justis Sr. died "at sea" sometime before 1791 ).  Mary's granddaughter Carrie Houghton said in an 1885 letter: "We have no record of Uncle Justin Jacobs' [Jr.] marriage or death, nor of his father [Sr.].  His father was lost at sea, it was supposed, as the vessel [he was sailing on] was lost & he never returned.  Grandma waited seven years before she married Granpa."
Who this Justis/n was seems to be a complete mystery, even to his relatives.  In 14 years of searching I have found no birth, marriage, death, war service or other record for him.  The mention in the 1885 letter is about all there is, and that I stumbled across accidentally.
So I read with growing interest your page on Justin Jacobs.  The coincidences are striking.
1) The first and surname combination itself seems sufficiently rare to warrant by itself the conclusion that these are the same person.
2)  Working backwards, Mary married Asa in 1791.  If we take her granddaughter at her word in 1885 that Mary had waited seven years since the disappearance of Jacobs to marry, that would mean he disappeared somewhere around 1784.  Subtract a year for having their son, and a year of marriage before that, and we have 1782.  Throw in another year or two to be safe, and we're at 1780.  If we assume the norm for a male to marry at this time as between 22-25, we have an approximate date of birth for Mary's first husband between 1753 and 1755.  You estimate your Jacobs' year of birth as around 1755.
3) Mary's family was from the Cumberland/Attleborough area of Bristol/Providence County; so, I assume during this period, was her J. Jacobs' family.  This seems to be the same area you were searching for Jacobs' family.
4) Mary's husband was "lost at sea;" while it is unclear whether he was at sea in a civilian or military capacity, I was struck my the naval connection in both their lives.
5)  While Mary's J. Jacobs was of the right age, there is no Massachusetts record of him having served in the War for that commonwealth.  Given Mary's family's geographic roots,  I assumed therefore that this probably meant if he did serve, it was in Rhode Island.
In any event, the number of similarities seems to me to be striking.  I would be interested to know what you make of it all.
One more item of interest.  I note on your J. Jacobs page you searched the Whipple Family Organization and Rehoboth records for information on Jacobs.  Another coincidence: Mary (Bradford) Jacobs' mother, Mary Jackson, was the granddaughter of Benjamin Tower and Deborah Whipple of Rehoboth and Providence through their daughter Zipporah.

In reviewing all this, this Justin Jacob's death at sea c1784 certainly explains why we have never been able to find much about him or his burial site.  We know of two or three other Gaspee raiders (Benjamin Lindsey, Joseph Bucklin) who went on to die at sea during the period between General Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown in 1781 and the Treaty of Ghent in 1783 that ended the Revolutionary War.  Although the land war was over in 1781, during this interim period until 1783, fierce naval fighting continued between the British, the French, and the Americans.  Some of these men probably served in action on privateers in the American cause, but for which there would not be any record of military service.  Many of these privateers sailed out of Bristol, RI under the auspices of John Brown, Simeon Potter, Abraham Whipple, and possibly other Gaspee Raiders.

We may even believe that the Justin Jacobs born in Deighton in 1783 was perhaps the son of our Justin Jacobs and Mary "Polly" Bradford. Rich Houghton writes further that he found a
Justin Jacobs who could be the Justin Jr. who was the son of Justin Sr.   On 11 October 1811, a Justin Jacobs married Polly Sargent.  Born on 2 October 1793, Polly was the daughter of Moses-5 Sargent (1757-1839) and Sarah Cram.  Justin was a clergyman "of Warren."  They eventually resided in Chester, Adams County, Wisconsin.  Among their children was another Justin Jacobs, born 1815.   Again, the similarity of the rare name combination is striking.  In addition, the Justin who married Polly Sargent was the right age to have been the son of Polly Bradford and Justin Jacobs Sr.

From Cochrane, W. R. History of Francestown, N.H. : from its earliest settlement April, 1758, to January 1, 1891 : with a brief genealogical record of all the Francestown families (Francestown, N.H.: The town, 1895, 1076 pg). p598 is the Cram family genealogy indicating that Polly Sergeant, b 2Oct1793, (daughter of Moses Sergeant and Sarah Cram) married a Justin Jacobs.  From similar sources, Child, Hamilton Gazetteer of Washington County, Vt., 1783-1889  (Syracuse, N.Y.: H. Child, 1889, 842 pgs) p486 "Town of Warren" Among the soldiers of the town that served in the War of 1812 was Justin Jacobs.  Francestown is in south-central New Hampshire while Warren is in mid-central Vermont. We also note here that large segments of the Easterbrooks/Cole/and Luther families whose members were fellow Gaspee raiders from Warren/Bristol, RI also migrated to the Vermont/Upstate New York area early in the Revolutionary War.

 In October, 2004, we received the following communication from genealogist, Betsey Patterson:
I live out in Wellfleet, MA on Cape Cod.  I am doing some genealogy for a friend who has a Jacobs line.  Her ancestor is a Justin Bradford Jacobs b. MA, who married Lydia Young in Wellfleet in 1803.  He was either born in Scituate, MA or Boston.  He died in 1846 at age 68, making him born ca 1778, about the time frame of the missing  son Justin.   Justin and Lydia had at least 2 children, John Young Jacobs b. 1806 Wellfleet, and a Mary "Polly" Bradford Jacobs b. 1804 Wellfleet.  The wife of Justin Jacobs, b. ca 1755,  of the Gaspee incident, was a Mary "Polly" Bradford b. ca 1755.   Thought these coincidences were enough to send you an email. 
In  August 2005 we received communication from Jeff Alexander who found testimony given by a Justin Jacobs in November 1776 relating an incident where John Paul Jones and the crew of the Continental Navy ship Alfred pressed the entire crew of the privateer schooner Eagle out of Providence.  Jacobs was prize-master on board the Eagle, so this incident lends weight to the above argument that Justin Jacobs went onto a maritime career, and ultimately died at sea.

In August 2009, Jeff Alexander came across two additional snippets regarding a Justin Jacobs. From: Naval Officers of the American Revolution: a concise biographical dictionary, Claghorn, Charles E., NJ, 1988, pg 164:

JACOBS, Justin, RI Continental Navy Mar 7, 1777 Midshipman on the ship Columbus commanded by Hoysted Hacker.

Also from Naval Documents of the American Revolution.Vol 8, pg 118 the name of Justin Jacobs appears as a midshipman entered 7 March 1777 aboard the Columbus.  Alexander notes that Hacker was the Captain of the Providence (travelling with the Alfred and J.P. Jones) when Justin and his crew was pressed into service. It looks like Justin signed up for a follow-on cruise with Hacker.  Justin Jacobs name being on the roster of the Independent Company of Light Infantry of Providence Counnty in January of 1777 is consistent with his later signing on with the naval forces. 
The Gaspee Days Committee recognizes Justin Jacobs as a true American patriot for his participation in the attack on the HMS Gaspee in 1772 and later Revolution.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 8/2002    Last Revised 10/2011    JustinJacobs.htm