The Salem Journal: The People

Witches' Remise

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The Man Who Changed Salem's Future

By Alice H

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John Proctor changed Salem's future. He saved the lives of hundreds of people, his neighbors, friends, and family.

Proctor was born to a family of farmers in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1632. In 1666, he moved to Salem Village, where he would stay for the rest of his life. In Salem, Proctor leased Groton, one of the largest farms in the area, and helped his wife and daughter run a local tavern. The farm was 700 acres. Proctor's neighbors often envied him because he was fortunate enough to have a farm and a tavern, as well as a family. However, many people in Salem Town respected him greatly.

In 1692, Proctor was 60 years old. At the time, Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and a few others, began accusing people in Salem of witchcraft. Proctor did not agree with the accusations the girls were making, especially when his sister-in-law, Rebecca Nurse, was accused, too.

Rebecca Nurse was a respected member of the Salem Village community. She was born in Yarmouth, England, but her family moved to Topsfield, Massachusetts, during her childhood. She eventually married Francis Nurse, and rented 300 acres of land near Salem Village where her family would live. Rebecca and Francis had eight children, four boys, and four girls.

In March 1692, Nurse was 71 years old, and a great-grandmother. Several girls including Betty Parris and Abigail Williams accused Nurse of witchcraft. Many of her friends, neighbors, and family members wrote letters to prove Nurse's innocence, but she was still tried for witchcraft in June. Nurse was found guilty and was hanged on July 19, 1692.

Many people began to lose their trust in the court after Nurse's execution, because they thought she was the least likely person in their community to be a witch. However, they did not have the courage to stand up to the court, whereas Proctor, did. He not only challenged the court by questioning the reliability of spectral evidence, but he also resisted and refused to confess to the court that he was practicing witchcraft. Spectral evidence was taken from a witness" claim that the accused person's specter was tormenting him/her. Proctor, as well as Nathan Saltonstall, and Samuel Sewell, did not believe in spectral evidence. Before the witch hunts started to spread, the court only used circumstantial evidence, but it later allowed spectral evidence to be given too. Proctor's self-evident resistance to the court would eventually make him, and his wife, Elizabeth, easy targets for Betty Parris, and Abigail Williams.

The Proctors were accused in August. The main accuser was Mary Warren, Proctor's maidservant. She was one of the most relentless accusers, but she also confessed after the trials were discontinued, that she had been faking the fits with the other girls. When Proctor learned that Warren was participating in the accusations, he threatened "to whip her until she came back to her senses." However, Warren continued accusing John and Elizabeth along with the other girls.

John and Elizabeth were put into jail, and their children were tortured until they confessed that their parents were witches. Before his trial, Proctor wrote a letter to Increase and Cotton Mather, His letter continued to question spectral evidence, and the court's illegal use of it. Increase and Cotton were respected ministers and considered "experts on identifying witches." However, Proctor did not receive a response to his letter.

The witch hunts had become massive by the middle of August. Friends and neighbors were accusing each other, and a few respected members of the community were accused too. Many people including Martha Carrier and George Jacobs, as well as John Proctor, were hanged on August 19, 1692.

In the spring of 1693, the hysteria that had been spreading through Massachusetts finally died down. Elizabeth Proctor was released from prison and left to raise six children as a poor widow.

Proctor led many people to believe that the accusations the girls were making were false by standing up to the court and writing a letter to Increase and Cotton Mather. Before the Court of Oyer and Terminer was shut down, people knew that many innocent individuals were being executed, but no one had the authority to stop the trials. It was not until the authority was accused, that the individuals with power took control and stopped the witch hunts. Many people in the community felt badly that they had not stood up for the innocent people who were put on trial, and perhaps executed. A few people, including Ann Putnam Jr., one of the girls who had accused people, apologized, and Mary Warren, Proctor's servant, confessed that she had been faking the fits, just for fun.

The hysteria that had been spreading through Massachusetts and infecting hundreds of people, had finally died down. Proctor was one of the few who stood up to the court, and defended the people in Salem. In prison, he wrote a letter to Increase and Cotton Mather, further explaining and questioning spectral evidence. The letter later influenced people to end the trials. John Proctor killed the hysteria that would have taken the lives of hundreds of more innocent people from Salem.

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