Col. John Hathorne, Salem Witch Judge

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John Hathorne, Esq.

Also Known As: "Hawthorne"
Birthdate: (75)
Birthplace: Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
Death: May 10, 1717 (75)
Salem, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts
Place of Burial: Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Major William Hathorne and Anne Hathorne
Husband of Ruth Hathorne
Father of John Hathorn; Nathaniel Hathorne; William Hathorne; Ruth Putnam; Ebenezer Hathorne and 4 others
Brother of Sarah Coker; Eleazer Hathorne; Nathaniel Hathorne; Capt. William Hathorne; Anna Porter and 3 others

Occupation: Judge in the Salem Witch Trials
Managed by: Mark Charles Woodward
Last Updated:

About Col. John Hathorne, Salem Witch Judge

Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature

An Undergraduate Course, University of Virginia

Spring Semester 2001

On August 5, 1641, John Hathorne was born into a community that could have little suspected his future role in the condemnation and death of so many people. His prominent ancestry in Salem led him to acquire positions of justice of the peace and county judge. As a religious man in a highly religious community, Hathorne, like others, believed that the devil had the power to influence people to do harm in the community and in the church. Hathorne allowed his strong, unexamined, beliefs to influence him during his time as judge in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, thus making him take on an avid prosecutorial style and an assumption of guilt of most of those who answered his questions.

Usually, Hathorne began his questioning in an accusatory tone, and he would then proceed to badger the accused in an attempt to drive out a confession and, better yet, more accusations. Although these methods were a departure from tradition, Hathorne used them throughout the trials. One classic example of Hathorne at work as a judge is the examination of Rebecca Nurse. He begins not by asking Nurse if she is guilty or innocent, but by asking the afflicted if Nurse afflicts them. He then asks Rebecca, "here are two An: Putman the child & Abigail Williams complains of your hurting them What do you say to it" and Nurse replies that she is innocent." Hathorne, of course, does not let it rest at that. He continues, "Here is never a one in the Assembly but desires it, but if you be guilty Pray God discover you" and then allows the people in the room to stand and testify as to how Nurse afflicted each of them, relentlessly asking Rebecca after each how and if she denies them. He persists, asking, "You see these accuse you, is it true?" in response to which Nurse states "No," but, not being the answer that Hathorne desired he asks again, "Are you an innocent person relating to this Witchcraft." Hathorne then continued to allow the accusations of others to be heard until Rebecca Nurse cried, "Oh Lord help me, & spread out her hands, & the afflicted were grievously vexed" to which Hathorne replies in his usual accusatory manner, "Do you not see what a solemn condition these are in? when your hands are loose the persons are afflicted." Frustrated by her continued claim of innocence, Hathorne states, "It is very awful to all to see these agonies & you an old Professor [believer] thus charged with contracting with the Devil by the [a] effects of it & yet to see you stand with dry eyes when there are so many whet" to which Rebecca Nurse courageously asserts "You do not know my heart." It is here that Hathorne slips in his composure and openly states, "You would do well if you are guilty to confess & give Glory to God" - thus showing his already formed opinion as to her guilt and his preference for confessions. The questioning then continues and Hathorne switches into a new mode and attempts to trick Nurse into confessing, "Possibly you [Nurse] may apprehend you are no witch, but have you not been led aside by temptations that way" for, if Nurse confessed to either, she would be confessing at least to the practice of witchcraft still, and could still be punished. Again the badgering by Hathorne continued until finally Nurse asked a revealing question to which she received no answer, "Would you [Hathorne] have me belie my self." This questioned posed to Hathorne shows that Nurse suspected that Hathorne desired her to confess even though she was innocent, and her brave questioning of him ended the examination.

Hathorne's role in the trials leaves room for questioning his motives for participating. Prior to Governor Phip's arrival in Massachusetts, both Hathorne and Corwin had actively jailed many who were suspected of witchcraft, thus setting the scene for each man to be biased toward the guilt of those accused. Hathorne also appeared strangely calm while questioning those accused of acting in the devil's name. Even Bridget Bishop wondered why he did not fear that she would harm him if she was a witch: Hathorne: How can you [Bridget Bishop] know, you are no Witch, & yet not know what a Witch is. Bridget Bishop: I am clear: if I were any such person you should know it. (SWP I: 84, emphasis added)

If Hathorne believed that God protected him or if he knew that those he questioned could be innocent cannot be proven either way. Bernard Rosenthal suggests in Salem Story the possibility that Hathorne might have also stood to have some financial gain from the trials from the seizure of property that took place, and the same with the other judges. Whatever his motives for such aggressive prosecution, however, Hathorne put many innocent people to death and became the shame of his family even down to his great-grandson, Nathaniel Hawthorne.


Boyer, Paul and Steven Nissenbaum, ed. Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692. New York, De Cappo Press, 1977.

Rosenthal, Bernard. Salem Story. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

John Hathorne (August 1641 – May 10, 1717) was an executor (often portrayed as a judge) in the Salem witch trials, and the only one who never repented of his actions. He was also a merchant in Salem, Massachusetts.

Hathorne's father, Major William Hathorne, was among the early settlers of Massachusetts Bay in the 1630s and held a number of political positions for several decades. John was born in Salem in August 1641; his father's surviving record gives the date as August 4, but the Records of the First Church of Salem indicate he was baptized on August 2. John married in Salem, March 22, 1674/5, Ruth Gardner, granddaughter of an "old planter" of Salem.

John was the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of, among other things, The Scarlet Letter, who changed his surname slightly, leading some to believe that he was trying to dissociate himself from his ancestor.

Nathaniel published several works in 1830, however, under the Hathorne name. Others note that he may have reassumed his family's ancestral name from Bray Berks England. There the name was spelled a number of different ways including Hauthorne, Hathorn, Hothorne and Hawthorne.

In fiction

In Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, Hathorne is portrayed as quite sadistic and, quite possibly, the most ignorant, antagonistic character besides Abigail Williams and her posse. Hathorne is the leading judge who continually denies witnesses any chance to redeem their names in court, as if he has predicted the outcome already. He is almost completely cynical and rarely shows emotion, with the exception of the finale, where he is almost joyful that John Proctor is going to confess his crimes.

Hathorne is the judge appointed by Satan at the trial in Stephen Vincent Benet's story "The Devil and Daniel Webster", where he is described as "a tall man, soberly clad in Puritan garb, with the burning gaze of the fanatic."

John Hathorne was the third son and fifth child born to Major William and Anna Hathorne. He became a prosperous merchant in Salem and a judge on the Superior Court. He was also commander-in-chief against the Indians in 1696. He is best known, however, as the "witch judge" as he was a magistrate of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and the chief interrogator of the accused witches in the Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692. John Hathorne is enterred at the Charter Street Burying Point in Salem.


John Hathorne (Hawthorne] served as one of the judges at the infamous witch trials of 1692 in Salem which passed death sentences on nineteen witches. John is buried in the Salem Burying Point cemetary, walking distance from the Seven Gables Historic Site. Nathaniel Hawthorne writes about John Hawthorne and his father, Major William Hathorne, and the cemetary in the preface to "The Scarlet Letter".

Judge John Hathorne's tombstone is encased in granite and reads:

"Here lyes inter'd ye body of Colo. John Hathorne Esq. Aged 76 years who died May 10, 1717" At the top is a winged death's head, symbol of mortality, and on the sides and bottom, three five-petaled rosettes, symbol of the brevity of earthly existence.

Nathanied Hawthorne felt that Justice Hathorne "played a wicked part" in the witchcraft trials and for that reason added the "w" to his name. Supposedly, one of the victims condemned to die as a witch cursed the Jedge and his descendants. A family curse was a major strand of the plot of "The House of the Seven Gables". Hawthorne mentions the curse in the preface to "The Scarlet Letter".

Facts about this person:


Salem Burying Point Cemetery

Source: FTM User Home Page-Charles A Blanchard

Justice John Hathorne (son of Major William Hathorne and Hawthorne's paternal great-great-grandfather; 1641-1717)

John Hathorne was the third son and fifth child born to Major William and Anna Hathorne. He became a prosperous merchant in Salem and a judge on the Superior Court. He was also commander-in-chief against the Indians in 1696. He is best known, however, as the "witch judge" as he was a magistrate of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and the chief interrogator of the accused witches in the Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692. John Hathorne is enterred at the Charter Street Burying Point in Salem.

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Col. John Hathorne, Salem Witch Judge's Timeline

August 4, 1641
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
August 4, 1641
Salem, Essex, MA
September 2, 1641
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
January 10, 1675
Age 33
Salem, Essex, Massachusetts
November 25, 1678
Age 37
August 1686
Age 44
Salem, Massachusetts
Age 48
Age 48
Essex, Salem, Mass
January 10, 1692
Age 50
Salem, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts