Actor Daniel Day Lewis as "John Proctor"
John Proctor (circa 1632–August 19, 1692) was a tavern keeper in 17th century Massachusetts. During the Salem witch trials he was accused of witchcraft, convicted and hanged.
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 April 21. 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 neighbors in his favor. 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 August 5, 1692. They were both found guilty and sentenced to hang. Still maintaining his innocence, Proctor prepared his will but left his wife with nothing. Some[who?] assume that he did this as he assumed his wife would be executed as well. Proctor was executed on August 19, 1692 along with George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacobs, Sr. and Martha Carrier.
Elizabeth, who was then pregnant, was given a reprieve until she gave birth.
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 and a half 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 March 6, alleging that Proctor's spectre attacked the girl. She was accused by Abigail on March 14 and further accusations were made by Mercy Lewis. Miller has Mary Warren accuse 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.
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before local magistrates followed by county court of trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex counties of colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693. The episode has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of religious extremism, false accusations, lapses in due process, and governmental intrusion on individual liberties.
Despite being generally known as the Salem witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in a variety of towns across the province: Salem Village, Ipswich, Andover and Salem Town. The best-known trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused but not formally pursued by the authorities. At least five more of the accused died in prison. All twenty-six who went to trial before this court were convicted. The four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Village, but also in Ipswich, Boston and Charlestown, produced only three convictions in the thirty-one witchcraft trials it conducted. The two courts convicted twenty-nine people of the capital felony of witchcraft. Nineteen of the accused, fourteen women and five men, were hanged. One man (Giles Corey) who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so.
The Court of Oyer and Terminer convened in Salem Town on June 2, 1692, with William Stoughton, the new Lieutenant Governor, as Chief Magistrate, Thomas Newton as the Crown's Attorney prosecuting the cases, and Stephen Sewall as clerk. Bridget Bishop's case was the first brought to the grand jury, who endorsed all the indictments against her. She went to trial the same day and was found guilty. On June 3, the grand jury endorsed indictments against Rebecca Nurse and John Willard, but it is not clear why they did not go to trial immediately as well. Bridget Bishop was executed by hanging on June 10, 1692.
In June, more people were accused, arrested and examined, but now in Salem Town, by former local magistrates John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, and Bartholomew Gedney who had become judges of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Roger Toothaker died in prison on June 16, 1692.
At the end of June and beginning of July, grand juries endorsed indictments against Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Procter, John Procter, Martha Carrier, Sarah Wilds, and Dorcas Hoar. Only Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin and Sarah Wildes, along with Rebecca Nurse, went on to trial at this time, where they were found guilty, and executed on July 19, 1692. In mid-July as well, the primary source of accusations moved from Salem Village to Andover, when the constable there asked to have some of the afflicted girls in Salem Village visit with his wife to try to determine who caused her afflictions. Ann Foster, her daughter Mary Lacey Sr., and granddaughter Mary Lacey Jr. all confessed to being witches. Anthony Checkley was appointed by Governor Phips to replace Thomas Newton as the Crown's Attorney when Newton took an appointment in New Hampshire.
In the beginning of August, grand juries indicted George Burroughs, Mary Eastey, Martha Corey, and George Jacobs, Sr., and trial juries convicted Martha Carrier, George Jacobs, Sr., George Burroughs, John Willard, Elizabeth Procter, and John Procter. Elizabeth Procter was given a temporary stay of execution because she was pregnant. Before being executed, George Burroughs recited the Lord's Prayer perfectly, supposedly something that was impossible for a witch, but Cotton Mather was present and reminded the crowd that the man had been convicted before a jury. On August 19, 1692, Martha Carrier, George Jacobs Sr., George Burroughs, John Willard, and John Procter were hanged.
In September, grand juries indicted eighteen more people. The grand jury failed to indict William Procter, who was re-arrested on new charges. On September 19, 1692, Giles Corey refused to plead at arraignment, and was subjected to peine forte et dure, a form of torture in which the subject is pressed beneath an increasingly heavy load of stones, in an attempt to make him enter a plea. Four pleaded guilty and eleven others were tried and found guilty. On September 22, 1692, eight of those convicted were hanged, reportedly called the "Eight firebrands of Hell" by Salem minister Nicholas Noyes. One of the convicted, Dorcas Hoar, was given a temporary reprieve, with the support of several ministers, to make her confession before God. Aged Mary Bradbury escaped. Abigail Faulkner Sr. was pregnant and given a temporary reprieve (some reports from that era say that Abigail's reprieve later became a stay of charges, when the courts realized that sentencing Abigail to death would also kill her unborn child, which had committed no crime).
Mather was asked by Governor Phips in September to write about the trials, and obtained access to the official records of the Salem trials from his friend Stephen Sewall, clerk of the court, upon which his account of the affair, Wonders of the Invisible World, was based.
This court was dismissed in October by Governor Phips, although this was not the end of the trials.