George Burroughs (c.1650 - 1692) MP

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Nicknames: "Burrough"
Birthplace: Suffolk, England
Death: Died in Salem Village, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts
Cause of death: The only clergyman to be executed as a witch in the Salem Witchtrials.
Managed by: Matthew Zahner
Last Updated:

About George Burroughs

Reverend George Burroughs (c1650 - 1692) - Executed for witchcraft in the infamous Salem witch trials, George Burroughs was born about 1650 in Suffolk County, England, the son of Nathaniel Burroughs (1618 - 1682) and Rebecca Style (1622 - 1684). He was hanged on 19 August 1692 at Gallows Hill, Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts. He married (1) Hannah Fisher, (2) Sarah Ruck, and (3) Mary Hall.

George Burroughs Marriages and Children

  1. Hannah Fisher (died September 1681 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts)
    1. Rebecca Burroughs (born c1673 Salisbury, Essex County, Massachusetts; baptised 12 February 1673 Roxbury, Suffolk County, Massachusetts), married (1) Isaac Fowle 1698 (2) Ebenezer Tolman 18 October 1716
    2. George Burroughs (baptised 25 November 1675 Roxbury, Suffolk County, Massachusetts), died young
    3. Hannah Burroughs (born 27 April 1680 Salisbury), married Jabez Fox 8 March 1705 Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
    4. Elizabeth Burroughs (baptised 4 June 1682 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts - 1718 Boston, Suffolk County, Province of Massachusetts), married Peter Thomas 2 November 1704
  2. Sarah (Ruck) Hathorne (born 12 August 1656), daughter of John Ruck and Hannah Spooner, married 1683
    1. Charles Burroughs (born c1686 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony; baptised June 1693 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts; died 7 January 1757 Charlestown, Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts), married
      1. Elizabeth Marston (died May 1711) 3 Oct. 1706 Salem; two children
      2. Rebecca Townsend 11 Mar. 1711 Marlboro; seven children
    2. George Burroughs (born c1687; baptised April 1691 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts; died 8 April 1713), married at Ipswich Sarah Scales (buried 27 February 1713/14); three children
    3. Jeremiah Burroughs (born 1689 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony; baptised June 1693 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts; probably the same as Jeremy Burroughs died March 1752 at Ipswich, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts)
    4. Josiah Burroughs (born c1690; baptised June 1693 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts; died "aged 15 at his uncle Samuel Ruck's house")
  3. Mary Hall
    1. Mary Burroughs (born c1690), married Joseph Tiffany of Norton 9 June 1735

Biographical Sketch

George Burroughs, a 1670 Harvard graduate, grew up in Roxbury. His first wife was Hannah Fisher; they had nine children. He served as a non-ordained minister in Portland, Maine, for two years, surviving King Philip's War and joining other refugees in moving further south for safety. Mercy Lewis, who lost relatives in an attack on Falmouth, fled to an island on Casco Bay, with a group that included Burroughs and her parents. The Lewis family then moved to Salem for a time, returning to Falmouth when it seemed safe.

George Burroughs took a job as minister of the Salem Village church in 1680. There was no parsonage yet, so George and Hannah Burroughs moved into the home of John Putnam and his wife, Rebecca. Hannah died in childbirth in 1681, leaving George Burroughs with a newborn and two other children. He had to borrow money for his wife's funeral. Not surprisingly, he remarried soon. His second wife was Sarah Ruck Hathorne, and they had four children.

Burroughs ministered in the Village of Salem for only two years. He left as a result of a bitter dispute over his salary. He seems also to have had a more personal and heated dispute over money with John Putnam, the uncle of one of Burroughs' later accusers. As a result of these disputes, Burroughs left the Village abruptly. After leaving Salem, he returned to Casco.

In 1689, George Burroughs and his family survived another raid, but Mercy Lewis' parents were killed, and she went to work as a servant in George Burroughs's home. Mercy Lewis later moved to Salem Village from Maine, joining many other refugees, and became a servant with the Putnams of Salem Village. Also in 1689, Sarah Burroughs died, and Burroughs moved his family to Wells, Maine. He married a third time; with this wife, Mary, he had a daughter.

The Salem Witch Trials

On 30 April 1692, several of the girls of Salem leveled accusations of witchcraft at George Burroughs. He was seized, taken from the table while eating, and hauled back to Salem on 4 May to stand trial. He was accused of such acts as lifting weights beyond what would be humanly possible to lift. Some in town thought he might be the "dark man" spoken of in many of the accusations.

While on the return journey from Maine to Salem, Massachusetts, the group found themselves in isolated and unfamiliar territory as a thunderstorm broke out. Sarah Orne Jewett described what happened next, in “The Old Town of Berwick”: the men later claimed that Reverend Burroughs cast a spell upon them. The horses seemed to fly through the air, and the lightning flashed blue, and there were awful gleams around Burroughs’ head as he led them onwards. Of the four men, only Burroughs showed no fear.

The Salem men believed the whole situation to be the work of the devil, as they assumed they were in the presence of a powerful witch. Their terror was worsened as they rode their horses up and down small steep hills in midst of the turmoil of the storm, on a path overhung with huge and wildly waving trees. That path is now called Witchtrot Road.

The arrest and examination of Burroughs "constituted the most dramatic escalation of judicial action during the early phases of the trials." On 9 May George Burroughs was examined by magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne; Sarah Churchill was examined the same day. His treatment of his first two wives was one subject of the interrogation; another was his supposed unnatural strength.

The girls testifying against him said that his first two wives, and the wife and child of his successor at Salem Church, visited as specters and accused Burroughs of killing them. He was accused of not baptizing most of his children. He protested his innocence, but was moved to Boston jail. The next day, Margaret Jacobs was examined, and she also implicated George Burroughs.

On 2 August, the Court of Oyer and Terminer heard the case against Burroughs, as well as cases against John and Elizabeth Proctor, Martha Carrier, George Jacobs Sr. and John Willard. There was no shortage of testimony that Burroughs was not just a witch, but their leader as well. One of his accusers testified that his specter told her that "he was above a witch, he was a conjurer."

During his examination, the suffering of the afflicted girls was so extreme that the magistrates ordered them removed from the court house for their own safety. Abigail Hobbs confessed that magical dolls had been given to her by Burroughs. Nineteen-year-old Mercy Lewis claimed that Burroughs "carried me up to an exceeding high mountain and shewed me all the kingdoms of the earth and tould me that he would give them all to me if I would writ in his book," a temptation not unlike one used by his supposed master on occasion.

Some of the most damaging testimony against Burroughs was by several confessed witches who identified him as Satan's personal representative at Salem Sabbaths. They claimed that meetings were personally organized and presided over by Sorcerer Burroughs. The effect of this testimony was to convince the magistrates that they had finally located one of the central figures in the current diabolical operations. Much of the testimony, however, in addition to focusing on his commissions of acts of witchcraft, focused on his general mistreatment of his wives, and his uncanny physical ability.

Ann Putnam claimed to have been visited by two women in shrouds (the deceased wives of Burroughs) who proclaimed to her the mistreatment they suffered at the hands of their husband. A short man of small build, who supposedly possessed superhuman strength, Burroughs was accused of having carried a whole barrel of molasses or cider a great distance. He responded that an Indian had done the same, and his accusers immediately replied that his Indian companion had to have been the Devil. It was also said that Burroughs could run faster than a horse, and would often go from one location to the next in a shorter time than was possible for a mere mortal. Burroughs again responded that he had a companion on these travels, and it was again alleged that this companion was the Devil.

George Burroughs was indicted by a grand jury; then a trial jury found him and five others guilty of witchcraft. Despite the wealth of testimony against him, records reveal "evidence that he was self-denying, generous, and public spirited, laboring with humility and with zeal." By another account "he was an able, intelligent, true-minded man; ingenuous, sincere, humble in his spirit, faithful and devoted as a minister, and active, generous..." These are hardly the characteristics one would expect to find in a close companion of Satan. Papers in the State house in Maine indicate that he was regarded with confidence by his neighbors and looked up to as a friend and counselor.

Despite the danger to themselves, thirty-two of the most respectable citizens of the Village signed a petition on behalf on Burroughs' innocence, and even before his execution, one of his accusers recanted her accusation as groundless and made out of fear. It was no use. Burroughs was hanged on August 19 along with three other men and one woman, all supposed witches.

As he stood on the gallows awaiting the noose, Buroughs stunned the crowd by loudly proclaiming his innocence and then reciting the Lord's Prayer without hesitation or error, a feat thought impossible for a wizard. The spectators, deeply impressed, called for his pardon. However, more legal-minded officials overseeing the execution refused, and the convicted man was hanged before the protesting spectators could organize their opposition.

A somewhat disputed account claims that after the hanging his body was cut down, dragged by the halter, thus becoming partially disrobed, thrown in a hole between the rocks, and left, partially buried with two others who had been hanged. It is interesting to note that many of the depositions against Burroughs were obtained after his trial and execution in order to help bolster the verdict.

In 1711, the legislature of the Province of Massachusetts Bay restored all rights to those who had been accused in the 1692 witch trials. The legislature also paid financial compensation to the heirs of 23 of those convicted, includingGeorge Burrough's children.

Sources

  • Henry F. Waters. "Genealogical Gleanings in England", 1:515 f.; Will of John Style of Stebonheath als Stepney, Middlesex.

"26 October 1685, with a codicil referring to a former will bearing date 25 March 1680; proved 30 July 1686 and again 31 August 1686. To Elizabeth Nurse thirty pounds and to Frances Walshall seventy pounds, to be abated to them upon their paying the sum of six hundred pounds, remainder of mortgage chargeable on Glassenbury house in Smithfield. To Mr. Matthew Meade, sometime minister of Stepney, twenty pounds, to Dr. Ainslow of Spittlesfields ten pounds, to Seth Powell of Barnard's Inn, London, gent, ten pounds. To my sister in law Mrs. Elizabeth Short twenty shillings to buy her a ring. To her son Peter Short five pounds. To Mrs. Lisle forty shillings to buy her a ring. To Mrs. Mildmay, daughter to Mrs. Brewster four pounds. To Mrs. Taylor, wife of Mr. Taylor of Barking, ten pounds. To Mr. Graves, sometime minister of Stepney, five pounds. To Henderson, my god daughter, five pounds. To William Burrough of Staple Inn, London, gen 1 ., whom I do make whole and sole executor, forty pounds; and he shall, from time to time, when required, give a true account of the management to the above named Seth Powell, whom I make overseer. To my servant Elizabeth Vere all the household goods."

"Lastly I give to my nephew George Burrough of New England, clerk, all my books and all other my estate whatsoever or wheresoever not before devised, which shall, from time to time and in such manner as he and the said Mr. Powell shall desire, be consigned or remitted to him by my said executor, or else the said legacy of forty pounds to him given shall he void. "

"In the codicil he confirms the devise made in the earlier will to Richard Hoare, citizen and goldsmith, of the capital messuage in West Smithfield known as the Glassenbury house, together with four messuages in Cock Lane, St. Sepulchre's, and gives to Mr. Austin Brewster forty shillings to buy him a ring. Lloyd, 101."

"[George Burrough, named as a nephew in the above will of John Style, was the most prominent victim of the witchcraft fanaticism of 1692." Accounts of him will be found in Sibley's Harvard Graduates, vol. 2, pp. 323-34; and Upham's Salem Witchcraft, vol. 1, pp. 255-68, vol. 2, 140-63, 296-304, 480, 482, 514 ; besides in various other books. Sibley says that he wrote his name Burrough " in Sewall's receipt book for a bill of exchange drawn on his ' cousin-german W m Burrough of London.'" This William Burrough is probably the person whom Mr. Style appoints his executor. The Rev. George Burrough wrote his surname, Burroughs in the latter part of his life, as is shown in the facsimile of his autograph in Upham's Witchcraft, vol. 1, p. 280. In the Roxbury church record it is spelled Burrows. He was admitted to full communion in the church at Roxbury, April 12, 1674, and had a daughter Rebecca baptized there the- same day, and a son George baptized Nov. 25, 1675. It is probable that he was a son of " M rs Rebecca Burrows who," according to the Roxbury church records, " came fro Virginia y l she might enjoy God in his Ordin. in N. E." and who, Nov. 29, 1674, was " recommended & dismissed, she going for England." (Register, vol. 33, p. 239.)"

"George Burrough was graduated at Harvard College in 1670, and was a preacher at Casco, now Portland, Maine, as early as 1674. Here he resided when the place was destroyed by the Indians, Aug. 11, 1676. He preached at Salem Village, now Danvers, from November, 1680, to March, 1683. As early as June, 1685, he returned to Casco, which settlement was again destroyed by the French and Indians, May 20, 1690. He then went to Wells, where he was preaching when the witchcraft excitement broke out. He was apprahended at Wells, May 4, 1692, and carried to Salem, where he was tried for witchcraft and condemned. He was executed on Gallows Hill, August 19, 1692. — Editor.]"

  • Henry F. Waters. "Genealogical Gleanings in England", 1:737; Will of Nathaniel Burrough of Limehouse.

"Nathaniel Burrough of Limehouse in Stepney, Middlesex, merchant, 13 December 1681, proved 23 March, 1682. My body to be interred at the discretion of my executrix. And for my temporal estate, goods and chattels (my debts and funeral charges first paid) I give the same in manner following. I give unto my son George Burrough of New England the sum of twenty pounds of lawful money of England. I give unto Anne Wheeler of Limehouse, widow the sum of ten pounds and also all such debts as are justly due unto me from any person or persons whersoever. And I do nominate and appoint the said Anne Wheeler sole executrix of this my last will. Drax, 32."

  • "Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire" (GDMNH), p. 122:

"Rev. George,H. C. 1670, first ment. as a student there. Wm. Burrough of Staple Inn, London, in 1685, gent., was his own cousin. Altho rememb. in two Eng. wills by his f., Nathaniel, of Limehouse in Stepney, Middlesex, merchant, 13 Dec. 1681, and his uncle, John Style, of Stepney, 26 Oct. 1685, yet his antec. are not clear. It can hardly be quest. that his mo. was Mrs. Rebecca, who joined the ch. in Roxbury 19 July 1657, having been converted by the N. E. missionaries in Virginia; perh. his father was not, or perh. he was a travelling merchant until late in life, and when he settled down in Limehouse she went to him. She was given letters by the Roxbury ch. 29 Nov. 1674, ‘going for England.’ On leaving college he may have gone to Eng. and there m. Apr. 12, 1674 he joined the ch. and had a ch. bap. He named his first dau. Rebecca, two sons for himself, and none (unless he d.y.) Nathaniel. He was soon preaching at Portland, where his spirit of service, -sans- avarice, is of record. In Philip's War he went to Salis., was preaching there in May 1680, and from Nov. 1680 to Mar. 1683 preached in Danvers. By June 1683 he was back in Portland, preaching also in Scarb. In 1686 ‘Mr. Burrows minister at Black Point’ was notified to preach before the General Assembly at York. List 226. York Deeds xi. 248. Doc. Hist. iv. 456, v. 275, 294, 316. In 1690, when the Eng. frontier was forced back to Wells, there he held, doing a hero's work until arrested for witchcraft, taken to Salem, tried and hanged. May 28, 1692, there was no chaplain in Wells. Doc. Hist. v. 342. One of nature's noblemen, standing head and shoulders above the spiritual leaders (Indian medicine men in white garb) of the benumbed, ghost-stricken mob, off and on the bench, who had this crime to answer to high Heaven for, he was the only real man then in evidence. Judge Sewall, a pitiful object on the bench that sentenced him, knew him well. ‘Nov. 18, 1685 Mr. G. Boroughs dined with us.’ ‘Jan. 21, 1690-1. Sermon by Mr. Burroughs on the Beatitudes.’ ‘Aug. 19, 1692. George Burrough executed at Salem. Mr. Burrough by his Speech, Prayer, protestation of his Innocence, did much move unthinking persons, which occasions their speaking hardly concerning his being executed.’ Possibly his physical fitness turned the scales against him. Like all professional men kept in condition by horseback travel, his ministry in the straggling eastern settlements may have devel. unbeliev. strength. The name of his first wife occurs only as the mo., Hannah, of his child born in Salisbury. She d. in Danvers in Sep. 1681. He m. 2d by 1683 Sarah (Ruck, b. 12. Aug. 1656), wid. of Capt. Wm. Hathorne, d. of John and Hannah (Spooner), who m. 3d in Boston 21 Apr. 1698 Mr. John Brown of Salem, as Sewall commented. Ch: Rebecca, bp. Roxbury 12 Feb. 1673-4, m. 1st 1698 Isaac Fowle, 2d 18 Oct. 1716 Ebenezer Tolman. George, bp. Roxbury 25 Nov. 1675, d.y. Hannah, b. Salis, 27 Apr. 1680, m. at Boston 8 Mar. 1705 Jabez Fox (2 jr.). Elizabeth, bp. Salem 4 June 1682, m. at Boston 2 Nov. 1704 Peter Thomas. By 2d w: Charles, bp. at Salem with Jeremiah and Josiah June 1693; m. 1st at Salem 3 Oct. 1706 Elizabeth Marston, who d. May 1711; 2d in Marlboro 11 Mar. 1711-2 Rebecca Townsend. 2+7 ch. George, bp. Salem Apr. 1691, m. at Ipsw. (int. 27 Feb. 1713-4) Sarah Scales, whose bros. came to Me. 3 ch. bp. In 1732 had rem. with w. and fam. to Glouc. Jeremiah. One Jeremy d. at Ipsw. Mar. 1752. Josiah, d. at 15 at his uncle Samuel Ruck's house. Mary, at Attleboro in 1713, m. by 1735 Joseph Tiffany of Norton. For the heirs in 1735 see Y. D. xvii. 311. Phineas Jones's list of them, ab. 1730, calls Jeremiah distracted, ‘Widow Hannah Fox near Bantom Point,’ ‘Rebecca Tolman near the drawer bridge,’ ‘Peter Thomas, m. one, merchant by the swing bridge,’ ‘Mary married at Attleboro.’ In 1713 the Province granted money to the father's ch., and as late as 1750 the next gen. was asking for more."

  • Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts", 9:48
  • Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, eds., "The Salem Witchcraft Papers: Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692" [New York 1977], 1:16. "His only crime was that although of small stature, he had remarkable physical strength."
  • David L. Greene, Ph.D. "The Third Wife of the Rev. George Burroughs". TAG: January 1980.

"GDMNH, p122 indicates that she [Sarah Ruck Hathorne Burroughs] became [the widow of ] George Burroughs as well, and married thirdly, Boston, 21 April 16998, Mr. John Brown of Salem, a statement corrected in part in "Additions and Corrections", p. 783: "Cancel 3rd marriage to Mr. John Brown, who m. Sarah, dau. of Mr. Francis Burroughs of Boston..." This article shows that Sarah (Ruck) (Hathorne) Burroughs died several years before her husband's execution, since he was survived by a widow named Mary, who had time to present him with a daughter... That George Burroughs was married three times is stated implicitly or explicitly in testimony against him in the preliminary testimony and hearings that ultimately charged him with witchcraft..."

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Rev. George Burroughs's Timeline

1650
1650
Suffolk, England
1670
1670
Age 20
Massachusetts Bay Colony
1670
Age 20
Harvard College, Cambridge, MA
1674
August 12, 1674
Age 24
Roxbury, Suffolk County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
1680
April 27, 1680
Age 30
Salisbury, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, (Present USA)
1682
June 4, 1682
Age 32
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
1683
1683
Age 33
1686
1686
Age 36
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
1687
1687
Age 37
1689
1689
Age 39
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony