Thursday, October 27, 2011

John Proctor: First Male Accused Witch


Depiction of the Salem Witch Trials
John Proctor was a successful farmer and the first male to be named a witch during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

When the hysteria first began in Salem village, Proctor believed the young girls accusing many of the villagers of witchcraft were frauds and liars. He spoke openly against the accusations and scoffed at the idea of witchcraft. When his own young servant, Mary Warren, began having fits and behaving strangely, Proctor beat the girl in an attempt to get her to behave.

It wasn't until Proctor's wife Elizabeth, who was pregnant at the time, was accused of witchcraft and questioned in April that his own witchcraft accusations came out. His accusers, Abigail Williams and Mary Walcott, stated that Proctor's spirit tormented them and pinched them. Mary Warren confirmed the accusations by stating that he beat her and forced her to touch the Devil's book. After Proctor and his wife were jailed, Mary Warren recanted her story and told the court the other girls were lying. When the girls turned on her and accused her of witchcraft, she changed her story again and said she was lying about lying.

Although Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible" depicts Abigail Williams and John Proctor as lovers, it is unlikely this occurred since Proctor was 60 years old and Williams was 11 at the time of the hysteria and there is no evidence that they even knew each other before the trial.

Written testimony of Abigail Williams against John Proctor
Knowing the danger he and his family were in, Proctor wrote a letter to the clergy of Boston pleading with them to appoint different judges or move the trials to Boston where he felt they would get a fair trial. In his letter, he described the torture used against the prisoners and declared that the accused were innocent victims:

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 Condemned 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....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 sheeding our Innocent Bloods, desiring your Prayers to the Lord in our behalf, we rest your Poor Afflicted Servants, JOHN PROCTER , etc.”

John Proctor's Salem Witch Trials Memorial marker
His letter did have an effect on the clergy and changes were made to the types of evidence that could be presented at the trial, but not in time to save Proctor's life. John Proctor and his wife were both convicted of witchcraft on August 5, 1692. The couple were sentenced to the gallows but Elizabeth's sentence was delayed until the birth of her child.

John Proctor was hanged at Gallows hill on August 19 along with George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacobs Sr., Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey, who was the wife of Giles Corey. Elizabeth was eventually released from jail after the hysteria died down in 1693.

Sources:

The Crucible; Arthur Miller; 1952

University of Virginia: The Salem Witch Trials
http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySal2R?div_id=n107

University of Missouri-Kansas City: John Proctor
http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/SAL_BPRO.HTM

Discovery: John Proctor
http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/salemwitchtrials/people/proctor.html

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