John Proctor, II (1631 - 1692) MP

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Birthplace: Assington, Suffolk, England
Death: Died in Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
Cause of death: execution by hanging
Occupation: Farmer, tavernkeeper
Managed by: Steven Avery Kelley
Last Updated:

About John Proctor, II

John Proctor (1632–1692) was a farmer and tavernkeeper in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts. During the Salem witch trials he was accused of witchcraft, convicted and hanged. His wife and all of his children were accused as well as many members of his extended family. The son of John Proctor and Martha Harper, he was born 9 October 1631 at Assington, Suffolk, England; he was executed by hanging at the age of 60 on 19 August 1692 at Gallows Hill, Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts. He emigrated to Massachusetts with his parents on the Susan and Ellen in 1635, married three times, and fathered 17 children.

Marriages and Children

  1. Martha Giddons (died 13 June 1659), married about 1652 at Ipswich, Massachusetts. Martha died three days after the birth of Benjamin, no doubt from complications arising from the birth. Benjamin was the only surviving son of this marriage.
    1. John Proctor (born 1653 Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    2. Martha Proctor (born 1655 Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    3. Mary Proctor (born 1 January 1657 Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    4. Benjamin Proctor (born 10 June 1659 Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts)
  2. Elizabeth Thorndike (died 30 August 1672), married December 1662
    1. Elizabeth Proctor Very (born 1663 Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    2. Martha Proctor (born 1 April 1665 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    3. Martha Mary Proctor (born 4 June 1666 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    4. Mary Proctor (born 20 October 1667 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    5. John Proctor (born 28 October 1668 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    6. Mary Proctor (born 30 January 1669 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    7. Thorndike Proctor (born 15 July 1672 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts)
  3. Elizabeth Bassett (died after 1699), daughter of William and Sarah Basset, married 1 April 1674
    1. William (born 6 December 1674/5
    2. Sarah (28 January 1676)
    3. Samuel (11 January 1685 – 16 March 1765)
    4. Elisha (28 April 1687 – 11 September 1688)
    5. Abigail (born 27 January 1689)
    6. John (born 27 January 1692/3

Biographical Sketch

Originally from Ipswich, in 1666 John Proctor moved to Salem Farms, the section of Salem Township just south of Salem Village (now Danvers). He purchased a 15-acre farm and leased one of the largest farms in the area, a 700-acre estate next door, called Groton. Proctor gained his first license to operate a tavern in 1668. His inn was located on the Ipswich Road in Salem, about a mile south of the Salem Village line. The Salem selectmen would only allow Proctor to serve people in his tavern who were not local residents. This made Proctor's tavern a central meeting place for strangers.

An enormous man, very large-framed, with great force and energy, he seems to have been rash in speech, judgment and action. In 1672, Proctor and his brothers Benjamin and Joseph inherited their father’s estate in Ipswich, each share worth 1200 pounds. This made John fairly wealthy, but he was not fully accepted or respected by the townspeople of Salem. He was called "Goodman", which is a title not quite as respectable as "Mister". Proctor attended church in Salem and sat in the fourth row of seats.

In April of 1674 Proctor married for a third time, to Elizabeth Basset, daughter of William and Sarah Basset, with whom he had six children. Elizabeth and her daughter would tended the tavern while John and his sons worked on the farm. In 1678, the Proctors were accused of allowing a customer to pawn property in exchange for drinks, and for selling cider to a drunken Indian.

In November of 1685, an action was filed in the courts in Salem for damages to John Proctor, relating to a land boundary dispute with Anthony Needham. Proctor's claim described "land belonging to the plaintiff as being in possession of, and hiring the said land of the Worshipful Symon Bradstreet, Esq.", the said land being part of a farm "formerly belonging to Mr. Emanuel Downing". Emanuel's daughter was married to Symon Bradstreet. Zachariah Marsch testified at the 1685 trial and again in 1690 when the case was finally settled.

Salem Witch Trials

John Proctor was nearly 60 years old when the Salem Witch Trials began. Throughout the trials, Proctor questioned the credibility of spectral evidence and did not conceal his vehement opposition to the trials themselves. One of the afflicted girls, Mary Warren, was a maidservant in his household. Proctor claimed to have cured her "fits" with a good whipping and maintained that the others could be cured with similar treatment. His wife, Elizabeth, was accused of witchcraft by 12-year-old Abigail Williams on 14 March 1692, although no arrest warrant was issued at that time. On 2 April Proctor kept his servant Mary Warren at home to prevent her from attending the examinations, which later proved to be an important error of judgment. Two days later, an arrest warrent was issued for Elizabeth - and for John. During Elizabeth Bassett's examination on 11 April he disparaged the girls' claims and accused them of lying. He stood with Elizabeth throughout the proceedings and staunchly defended her innocence. This led to him being named as afflicting several girls, primarily Abigail Williams who accused him of pinching her and sending out his spirit to hurt her both during the examination and for several days before their encounter in court. He was immediately arrested and imprisoned.

Letter to Boston

Proctor wrote a letter to the authorities in Boston, Massachusetts to alert them to the issues taking place in Salem and asking them to intervene. He claimed that if a woman as well-respected as Rebecca Nurse could be convicted, then no restraint was left in the town, and asked that the trials be moved to Boston, Massachusetts, or that new judges be appointed. His letter brought about a meeting of eight ministers at Cambridge, Massachusetts on 1 August 1692. When the ministers emerged from their meeting, they had reversed their position on spectral evidence, having previously decided that the devil could take on the form of innocent people. Unfortunately for John Proctor, their decision made no practical difference until after his execution.

The Petition of John Proctor

SALEM-PRISON, July 23, 1692.

Mr. Mather, Mr. Allen, Mr. Moody, Mr. Willard, and Mr. Bailey

Reverend Gentlemen.

The innocency of our Case with the Enmity of our Accusers and our Judges, and Jury, whom nothing but our Innocent blood will serve their turn, having Condmened us already before our Tryals, being so much incensed and engaged against us by the Devil, makes us bold to Beg and Implore your Favourable Assistance of this our Humble Petition to his Excellency, That if it be possible our Innocent Blood may be spared, which undoubtedly otherwise will be shed, if the Lord doth not mercifully step in. The Magistrates, Ministers, Jewries, and all the People in general, being so much inraged and incensed against us by the Delusion of the Devil, which we can term no other, by reason we know in our own Consciences, we are all Innocent Persons. here are five Persons who have lately confessed themselves to be Witches, and do accuse some of us, of being along with them at a Sacrament, since we were committed into close Prison, which we know to be Lies. Two of the 5 are (Carriers Sons) Youngmen, who would not confess any thing till they tyed them Neck and Heels till the Blood was ready to come out of their Noses, and 'tis credibly believed and reported this was the occasion of making them confess that they never did, by reason they said one had been a Witch a Month, another five Weeks, and that their Mother had made them so, who has been confined here this nine Weeks. My son William Proctor, when he was examin'd, because he would not confess that he was Guilty, when he was Innocent, they tyed him Neck and Heels till the Blood gushed out of his Nose, and would have kept him so 24 Hours, if one more Merciful than the rest, had not taken pity on him, and caused him to be unbound. These actions are very like the Popish Cruelties. They have already undone us in our Estates, and that will not serve their turns, without our Innocent Bloods. If it cannot be granted that we can have our Trials at Boston, we humbly beg that you would endeavour to have these Magistrates changed, and others in their rooms, begging also and beseeching you would be pleased to be here, if not all, some of you at our Trials, hoping thereby you may be the means of saving the shedding our Innocent Bloods, desiring your Prayers to the Lord in our behalf, we rest your Poor Afflicted Servants,

JOHN PROCTOR, etc.

Accusations and trial

Although Abigail Williams was John Proctor's chief accuser, he was also named by Mary Walcott who stated he tried to choke her and his former servant Mary Warren on 21 April. Warren told magistrates that Proctor had beaten her for putting up a prayer bill before forcing her to touch the Devil's Book. Further allegations of an increasingly salacious nature followed.

John Proctor continued to challenge the veracity of spectral evidence and the validity of the Court of Oyer and Terminer which led to a petition signed by 32 neighbours in his favour. The signatories stated that Proctor had lived a 'Christian life in his family and was ever ready to help such as stood in need...'

John and Elizabeth Proctor were tried on 5 August 1692. They were both found guilty and sentenced to hang. Still maintaining his innocence, Proctor prepared his will to secure the welfare of his sons but left his wife with nothing. He was executed on 19 August 1692 along with George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacobs and Martha Carrier.

Elizabeth was given a stay of execution due to her pregnancy. The baby was born in January but she remained in jail until all those imprisoned on witchcraft charges were released in May 1693.

Accusations of Others in the Proctor Family

In 1692, 141 complaints were filed; twelve were against members of the Proctor family. Only John and Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor were convicted and only John was executed. Accused family members were:

  • John Proctor, husband of Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor and the father of Benjamin, William and Sarah Proctor
  • Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor, second wife of John Proctor
  • Benjamin Proctor, son of John and his first wife
  • William Proctor, son of John and his first wife
  • Sarah Proctor, daughter of John and his first wife
  • Mary (Bassett) DeRich, sister of Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor
  • Sarah Bassett, Elizabeth's sister-in-law (wife of William Bassett, Jr., Elizabeth's brother)
  • Thomas Farrar, Sr., father-in-law of Elizabeth (Hood) Farrar, sister of Sarah (Hood) Bassett
  • Elizabeth Hart, wife of Isaac Hart whose sister, Deborah Hart, was married to Benjamin Proctor, brother of John Proctor
  • Rebecca Nurse, maiden name Towne, was the sister of Sarah (Towne) Cloyce and Mary (Towne) Esty and the wife of Francis Nurse. Elizabeth Proctor, daughter of John Proctor and Elizabeth Proctor, married Thomas Very in 1681. His sister, Elizabeth Very, was the second wife of John Nurse, the eldest son of Rebecca Nurse.
  • Mary (Towne) Easty, sister of Rebecca (Towne) Nurse and Sarah (Towne) Cloyce and the wife of wife of Isaac Esty
  • Sarah (Towne) Cloyce, sister of Rebecca (Towne) Nurse and Mary (Towne) Esty and the wife of Peter Cloyc

Aftermath

In January 1693, while still in jail, Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor gave birth to a son, John Proctor III. Elizabeth remained in jail with her baby until May 1693, when a general release freed all of those prisoners who remained jailed. Unfortunately, even though the general belief of the people was that innocent people had been wrongly convicted, Elizabeth had in fact been convicted and was considered guilty. In the eyes of the law she was considered a "dead woman" and could not claim any of her husband's estate. Although Elizabeth petitioned the court for a reversal of attainder to restore her legal rights, no action was taken for seven years.

In June 1696, Elizabeth filed an appeal to contest her husband's will. At the time John wrote his will, he had assumed that Elizabeth would be executed and had left her nothing. On 22 September 1696 Elizabeth married Daniel Richards.

In July 1703, several more people filed petitions before any action was taken on Elizabeth’s appeal for reversal of attainder. The Massachusetts House of Representatives finally passed a bill disallowing spectral evidence. However, they only gave reversal of attainder to those who had filed petitions, Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse.

In 1705, another petition was filed requesting a more equitable settlement for those wrongly accused. In May 1709, twenty-two people who had been convicted of witchcraft, or whose parents had been convicted of witchcraft, presented the government with a petition in which they demanded both a reversal of attainder and compensation for financial losses.

On 17 October 1711, the General Court passed a bill reversing the judgment against the 22 people listed in the 1709 petition. There were still an additional seven people who had been convicted, but had not signed the petition. There was no reversal of attainder for them.

On 11 December 1711, monetary compensation was finally awarded to the 22 people in the 1709 petition. The sum of £578 and 12 shillings was authorized to be divided among the survivors and relatives of those accused. Most of the accounts were settled within a year. The award to the Proctor family for Elizabeth was £150, much more money from the Massachusetts General Court than most families of accused witches.

Some of the condemned still had not been exonerated by 1957. Descendants of those falsely accused demanded the General Court clear the names of their family members. In 1957 an act was passed pronouncing the innocence of those accused, however, it only listed Ann Pudeator by name and the others as "certain other persons", still failing to include all names of those convicted.

In 1992, the Danvers Tercentennial Committee persuaded the Massachusetts House of Representatives to issue a resolution honoring those who had died. After much hard work by a group including Salem teacher Paula Keene, and Representatives J. Michael Ruane and Paul Tirone, the names of all those not previously listed were added to this resolution. When it was finally signed on 31 October 2001 by Governor Jane Swift, more than 300 years later, all were finally proclaimed guiltless.

The Crucible

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, a fictionalized version of the trials, casts John Proctor as one of the main characters in the play. Proctor is portrayed as being in his thirties and Abigail Williams is 17 years old, while the real John Proctor and Abigail Williams were respectively about sixty and eleven years old at the time of the witch trials. In the play, they had an affair, as a result of which Abigail accused Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft. In reality, Elizabeth Proctor was initially named by Ann Putnam on 6 March 1692, alleging that Proctor's spectre attacked the girl. She was accused by Abigail on 14 March and further accusations were made by Mercy Lewis. Miller has Mary Warren accusing Proctor of afflicting her but this followed his initial accusation by Abigail in early April 1692. There is no historical evidence to suggest that Abigail even knew John Proctor before she accused him of witchcraft. In the 1957 screen adaptation of Miller's piece, Proctor was depicted by Yves Montand. In the 1996 film based on the play, Proctor was played by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Sources

  • Perley, Sidney. "The History of Salem Massachusetts", pgs. 22-25, Volume 2, 1639-1670
  • Proctor, A. Carlton: "Proctor Genealogy circa 1546 to 1982",self published 1982
  • Roach, Marilynne K.: "The Salem Witch Trials, A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege", copyright 2002, Cooper Square Press, New York, NY
  • Robinson, Enders A: "The Devil Discovered: Salem Witchcraft 1692", Waveland Press, 2001
  • Upham, William P.: "House of John Proctor, Witchcraft Martyr, 1692" 1904, Press of C.H. Shephard, Peabody, Massachusetts
  • Immigrant Ships, Transcribers Guild: Ship Suzan And Ellen;
    • Procter, John, Husbandman, 40
    • Proctor, Martha, 28
    • Proctor, John, 3
    • Proctor, Marie [Mary], 1
  • Wiki Profile
  • Proctor Family Genealogy
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John Proctor, Salem Witch Trials's Timeline

1631
October 9, 1631
Assington, Suffolk, England
October 9, 1631
Suffolk, England
October 1631
Assington, Suffolk, England
1653
1653
Age 21
Ipswich, Essex Co, Massachusetts
1655
1655
Age 23
Ipswich, Essex Co., MA, USA
1655
Age 23
Ipswich, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
1657
January 1, 1657
Age 25
Ipswich, Essex Co., MA, USA
1659
June 10, 1659
Age 27
Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts
1662
December 1662
Age 31
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
1663
1663
Age 31
Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts