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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 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.
Note: These facts appear to be in line with Arthur Miller's novel 'The Crucible', In actual fact Elizabeth and John Proctor were both in their late 60's at the time which would suggest that Elizabeth being pregnant was somewhat unlikely. In addition to this Proctor would have no reason to leave a will for all his assets became the states to sell off when he was executed for the crime of witchery.
In 1692 14 complaints were filed; twelve were against relatives of the Proctor family. Only John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, and Rebecca Towne aka Rebecca Nurse were convicted, and only John and Rebecca were executed.
1. John Proctor, husband of Elizabeth Bassett aka Elizabeth Proctor and the father of Benjamin, William and Sarah Proctor. 2. Elizabeth Bassett aka Elizabeth Proctor, third wife of John Proctor 3. Benjamin Proctor, son of John Proctor and his first wife Martha Giddons 4. William Proctor, son of John Proctor and his third wife, Elizabeth Bassett aka Elizabeth Proctor 5. Sarah Proctor, daughter of John Proctor and Elizabeth Bassett aka Elizabeth Proctor 6. Mary Bassett aka Mary DeRich was the sister of Elizabeth Bassett aka Elizabeth Proctor 7. Sarah Hood aka Sarah Bassett was the wife of William Bassett, Jr., Elizabeth's brother.
|John Proctor||Martha Harper||William Bassett Sr.||Mary Burt|
|Benjamin Proctor||Martha (Giddons) Proctor||John Proctor||Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor||Mary (Bassett) DeRich||William Bassett, Jr.||Sarah (Hood) Bassett|
|Benjamin Proctor||William Proctor||Sarah Proctor||John Proctor, III|
There was also one family member among the accusers; John DeRich, son of Mary Bassett and her husband, Michael DeRich.
The Sun (London) has reported that Tom Felton is a distant relation. Hannah Felton (widow of Samuel Endecott) married Thorndike Proctor, son of John Proctor and his second wife, Elizabeth Proctor. This is probably where the connection comes in.
In January 1693, while still in jail, Elizabeth (Bassett) Proctor gave birth to a son, John Proctor III. Elizabeth and John III remained in jail 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. 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 September 22, 1696 Elizabeth married again to 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 for those who had filed petitions. This primarily applied to Elizabeth Proctor.
In 1705, another petition was filed requesting a more equitable settlement for those wrongly accused. In 1709, the General Court received a request to take action on this proposal. In May 1709, 22 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 October 17, 1711, the General Shop passed a bill reversing the judgment against the 104 people listed in the 1709 petition. There were still an additional 7 people who had been convicted, but had not signed the petition. There was no reversal of attainder for them.
On December 11, 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 $1500, much more money from the Massachusetts General Court than most families of accused witches.
Thorndike Proctor purchased the Groton Farm from the Downings of London, following the hanging of his father. The farm was renamed Downing Farm. Eight generations of Proctors resided, until 1851. Thorndike subsequently sold nearly half of the Downing Farm to his half-brother Benjamin.
By 1957, not all the condemned had been exonerated. 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 convincing and hard work by Salem school teacher Paula Keene, Representatives J. Michael Ruane and Paul Tirone and a few others, the names of all those not previously listed were added to this resolution. When it was finally signed on October 31, 2001 by Governor Jane Swift, more than 300 years later, all were finally proclaimed innocent.
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.
In the 1996 film based on the play, Proctor was played by Daniel Day-Lewis.
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