Jacobs, Sarah Sprague

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JACOBS, Sarah Sprague

Born 1813, Pawtuxet, Rhode Island; died death date unknown

Daughter of Bela and Sarah Sprague Jacobs

Born while her father was minister to a Baptist congregation in Pawtuxet, Sarah Sprague Jacobs grew up in Massachusetts, where her father became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Cambridge. One of the reasons for the move seems to have been the parents' concern for the children's education, Pawtuxet having no adequate schools. A few remaining details of Jacobs' life are gleaned from a careful reading of her father's letters and journals, which she edited with decorously impersonal commentary in 1837, the year after his death.

The Reverend Bela Jacobs was apparently a demanding yet indulgent father in the Congregational New England tradition. Frequently ill, deeply concerned with providential matters and his own spiritual estate, he evidently expected reflection, control, personal and social responsibility, and intellectual achievement from his daughter; she seems not to have disappointed him.

Throughout what is finally a traditional spiritual biography of her father—the Memoir of Rev. Bela Jacobs, A.M. (1837)—Jacobs agrees with his judgements and thus suggests her own personality. She notes, for example, his disapproval of Letters of Charlotte, the Beloved of Werther : He "was always decidedly opposed to the reading, even occasionally [of] novels of this class, on account of the absolute waste not only of the time employed in their perusal, but of the sensibilities they so uselessly excite." He approved of Jacobs' religious work, however, and praised her lengthy trips (in 1832-34) to the South, where she attended Bible classes and became in her father's eyes "completely Southernized."

Jacobs was certainly aware of religion's role in mid-19th-century America, and her biography reveals a restrained and pious New England mind in its elegant formality. The precise, concrete, anecdotal but factual work is Latinate and discreet in style and suggests the caring duty of a minister's daughter. Nonantum and Natick (1853), reissued as The White Oak and Its Neighbors in 1869, is an informal, nostalgic, and occasionally conjectural history of the Massachusetts Native American tribes. The work's intimate tone suggests the author is directing her remarks to children. The account is divided into three parts: the first focuses on Nonantum, the Christian Native American settlement near Newton; the second section focuses on Natick, a settlement 18 miles southwest of Boston, to which the Christian Native Americans moved in 1651; the final part includes details of King Philip's War (1675-76) and concludes in the present as Jacobs notes the few Native American names still extant in Massachusetts.

Despite some sentimental phrasing, Nonantum and Natick reveals scholarly and disciplined erudition as Jacobs details the life of the Puritan minister John Eliot (1601-90), a successful missionary to the Native Americans and the first translator of the Bible into their tongues. She draws heavily and explicitly on primary sources, quoting for example Roger Williams, John Winthrop, John Endicot, Thomas Shepard, Cotton Mather, John Wilson, and Eliot himself. The work ranges from history to biography to anthropology as Jacobs amasses and organizes with apparent ease a great deal of disparate material and ends each chapter with an evidently original if standard poem. It is finally Jacobs' good mind that impresses the modern reader and that places her firmly in the tradition of reflective New England scholars.


Reference works:

CAL. Daughters of America (1882). FPA. Woman's Record (1853).