Biography of Elizabeth Proctor
Elizabeth Proctor was convicted in the 1692 Salem witch trial. While her husband was executed, she escaped execution because she was pregnant at the time she would have been hanged.
- Age at time of Salem witch trials: About 40
- Dates: 1652 to Unknown
- Also known as: Goody Proctor
Before the Salem Witch Trials
Elizabeth Proctor was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. Her parents had both emigrated from England and had married in Lynn. She married John Proctor as his third wife in 1674; he had five (possibly six) children still living with the eldest, Benjamin, about 16 at the marriage. John and Elizabeth Bassett Proctor had six children together; one or two had died as infants or young children before 1692.
Elizabeth Proctor managed the tavern owned by her husband and his eldest son, Benjamin Proctor. He had a license to operate the tavern beginning in 1668. Her younger children, Sarah, Samuel and Abigail, ages 3 to 15, probably helped with tasks around the tavern, while William and his older stepbrothers helped John with the farm, a 700-acre estate south of Salem Village.
Salem Witch Trials
The first time Elizabeth Proctor’s name comes up in the Salem witch accusations is on or after March 6, when Ann Putnam Jr. blamed her for an affliction.
When a relative by marriage, Rebecca Nurse, was accused (the warrant was issued March 23), Elizabeth Proctor’s husband John Proctor made a public statement to the effect that if the afflicted girls were to have their way, all would be “devils and witches.” Rebecca Nurse, a highly respected member of the Salem Village community, was the mother of John Nurse, whose wife’s brother, Thomas Very, was married to John Proctor’s daughter Elizabeth from his second marriage. Rebecca Nurse’s sisters were Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyce.
John Proctor’s speaking out for his relative may have drawn attention to the family. About this same time, a Proctor family servant, Mary Warren, began to have fits similar to those of the girls who had accused Rebecca Nurse. She said she had seen the ghost of Giles Corey. John threatened her with beatings if she had more fits, and ordered her to work harder. He also told her that if she had an accident while in a fit, running into a fire or into the water, he would not help her.
On March 26, Mercy Lewis reported that Elizabeth Proctor’s ghost was afflicting her. William Raimant later reported he’d heard the girls at Nathaniel Ingersoll’s house saying that Elizabeth Proctor would be accused. He said that one of the girls (perhaps Mary Warren) had reported seeing her ghost, but when others said that the Proctors were good people, she said that it had been “sport.” He didn’t name which of the girls said that.
On March 29 and again a few days later, first Mercy Lewis then Abigail Williams accused her of witchcraft. Abigail accused her again and also reported seeing the ghost of John Proctor, Elizabeth’s husband.
Mary Warren’s fits had stopped, and she requested a prayer of thanks at the church, bringing her fits to the attention of Samuel Parris, who read her request to the members on Sunday, April 3, and then questioned her after the church service.
Capt. Jonathan Walcott and Lt. Nathaniel Ingersoll signed a complaint on April 4 against Sarah Cloyce (Rebecca Nurse’s sister) and Elizabeth Proctor for “high suspicion of several acts of witchcraft” done on Abigail Williams, John Indian, Mary Walcott, Ann Putnam Jr, and Mercy Lewis. A warrant was issued on April 4 to bring both Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor into custody for an examination at the town public meeting house for an examination on April 8, and ordering as well that Elizabeth Hubbard and Mary Warren appear to give evidence. On April 11 George Herrick of Essex issued a statement that he had brought Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor to the court and had warned Elizabeth Hubbard to appear as a witness. No mention is made of Mary Warren in his statement.
The examination of Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor took place on April 11. Thomas Danforth, the Deputy Governor, conducted the verbal examination, first interviewing John Indian. He said that Cloyce had hurt him “a great many times” including “yesterday at the meeting.” Abigail Williams testified to seeing a company of about 40 witches at a sacrament at Samuel Parris’ house, including a “white man” who “made all the witches to tremble.” Mary Walcott testified that she had not seen Elizabeth Proctor, so she had not been hurt by her. Mary (Mercy) Lewis and Ann Putnam Jr. were asked questions about Goody Proctor but indicated that they were unable to speak. John Indian testified that Elizabeth Proctor had tried to get him to write in a book. Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam Jr. were asked questions but “neither of them could make any answer, by reason of dumbness or other fits.” When asked for her explanation, Elizabeth Proctor replied that “I take God in heaven to be my witness, that I know nothing of it, no more than the child unborn.” (She was pregnant at the time of her examination.)
Ann Putnam Jr. and Abigail Williams then both told the court that Proctor had tried to get her to sign a book (referring to the devil’s book), and then began to have fits in the court. They accused Goody Proctor of causing them and then accused Goodman Proctor (John Proctor, Elizabeth’s husband) of being a wizard and also causing their fits. John Proctor, when asked his response to the accusations, defended his innocence.
Mrs. Pope and Mrs. Bibber then also displayed fits and accused John Proctor of causing them. Benjamin Gould testified that Giles and Martha Corey, Sarah Cloyce, Rebecca Nurse and Goody Griggs had appeared in his chamber the previous Thursday. Elizabeth Hubbard, who had been called to testify, had been in a trance state the whole examination.
Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam Jr., during the testimony against Elizabeth Proctor, had reached out as if to strike the accused. Abigail’s hand closed into a fist and touched Elizabeth Proctor only lightly, and then Abigail “cried out, her fingers, her fingers burned” and Ann Putnam Jr. “took on most grievously, of her head, and sunk down.”
Elizabeth Proctor was formally charged on April 11 with “certain detestable arts called witchcraft and sorceries” which she was said to have “wickedly and feloniously” used against Mary Walcott and Mercy Lewis, and for “sundry other acts of witchcraft.” The charges were signed by Mary Walcott, Ann Putnam Jr., and Mercy Lewis.
Out of the examination, charges were placed against John Proctor as well, and the court-ordered John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, Sarah Cloyce, Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey, and Dorcas Good (misidentified as Dorothy) to the Boston jail.
Mary Warren’s Part
Notable by her absence was Mary Warren, the servant who had first brought attention to the Proctor household, who the sheriff had been ordered to have appeared, but who does not seem to have been involved in the formal charges against the Proctors to this point, nor to have been present during the examination. Her answers to Samuel Parris after her initial note to church and her subsequent absence from the proceedings against the Proctors was taken by some to be a statement that the girls had been lying about their fits. She apparently admitted that she had been lying about the accusations. The others began accusing Mary Warren of witchcraft herself, and she was formally accused in court on April 18. On April 19, she recanted her statement that her previous accusations had been lies. After this point, she began to formally accuse the Proctors and others of witchcraft. She testified against the Proctors in their June trial.
Testimony for the Proctors
In April of 1692, 31 men submitted a petition on behalf of the Proctors, testifying to their character. In May, a group of neighbors submitted a petition to the court saying the Proctors “lived Christian life in their family and were ever ready to help such as stood in need of their help,” and that they never heard or understood them to be suspected of witchcraft. Daniel Elliot, a 27-year-old, said he’d heard from one of the accusing girls that she had cried out against Elizabeth Proctor “for sport.”
John Proctor had also been accused during Elizabeth’s examination, and arrested and jailed for suspicion of witchcraft.
Soon other family members were drawn in. On May 21, Elizabeth and John Proctor’s daughter Sarah Proctor and Elizabeth Proctor’s sister-in-law Sarah Bassett were accused of afflicting Abigail Williams, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis and Ann Putnam Jr. The two Sarahs were then arrested. Two days later, Benjamin Proctor, John Proctor’s son and Elizabeth Proctor’s stepson, was accused of afflicting Mary Warren, Abigail Williams, and Elizabeth Hubbard. He was also arrested. John and Elizabeth Proctor’s son William Proctor was accused on May 28 of afflicting Mary Walcott and Susannah Sheldon, and he was then arrested. Thus, three of the children of Elizabeth and John Proctor were also accused and arrested, along with Elizabeth’s sister and sister-in-law.
On June 2, a physical examination of Elizabeth Proctor and some others of the accused found no signs on their bodies that they were witches.
The jurors heard testimony against Elizabeth Proctor and her husband John on June 30.
Depositions were submitted by Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Warren, Abigail Williams, Mercy Lewis, Ann Putnam Jr., and Mary Walcott stating that they had been afflicted by the apparition of Elizabeth Proctor at various times in March and April. Mary Warren had not initially accused Elizabeth Proctor, but she did testify at the trial. Stephen Bittford also submitted a deposition against both Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse. Thomas and Edward Putnam submitted a petition stating that they had seen Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Ann Putnam Jr. being afflicted, and “very believe in our hearts” that it was Elizabeth Proctor who caused the afflictions. Because the depositions of minors by themselves would not stand up in court, Nathaniel Ingersoll, Samuel Parris, and Thomas Putnam attested that they had seen these afflictions and believed them to have been done by Elizabeth Proctor. Samuel Barton and John Houghton also testified that they had been present for some of the afflictions and heard the accusations against Elizabeth Proctor at the time.
A deposition by Elizabeth Booth accused Elizabeth Proctor of afflicting her, and in a second deposition, she stated that on June 8 her father’s ghost appeared to her and accused Elizabeth Proctor of killing him because Booth’s mother would not send for Dr. Griggs. In a third deposition, she said that the ghost of Robert Stone Sr. and his son Robert Stone Jr. had appeared to her and said that John Proctor and Elizabeth Proctor killed them over a disagreement. A fourth deposition from Booth attested to four other ghosts that had appeared to her and accused Elizabeth Proctor of killing them, one over some cider Elizabeth Proctor had not been paid for, one for not calling a doctor as recommended by Proctor and Willard, another for not bringing apples to her, and the last for differing in judgment with a doctor; Elizabeth Proctor was accused of killing him and laming his wife.
William Raimant submitted a deposition that he had been present at the house of Nathaniel Ingersoll in late March when “some of the afflicted persons” cried out against Goody Proctor and said “I’ll have her hang,” had been reproved by Mrs. Ingersoll, and then they “seemed to make a jest of it.”
The court decided to formally charge the Proctors with witchcraft, on the basis of the testimony, much of which was spectral evidence.
The Court of Oyer and Terminer met on August 2 to consider the cases of Elizabeth Proctor and her husband John, among others. About this time, apparently, John rewrote his will, excluding Elizabeth probably because he expected them both to be executed.
On August 5, in a trial before jurors, both Elizabeth Proctor and her husband John were found guilty and sentenced to be executed. Elizabeth Proctor was pregnant, and so she was given a temporary stay of execution until after she would give birth. The juries that day also convicted George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, George Jacobs Sr., and John Willard.
After this, the sheriff seized all the property of John and Elizabeth, selling or killing all their cattle and taking all their household goods, leaving their children with no means of support.
John Proctor tried to avoid execution by claiming illness, but he was hanged on August 19, on the same day as the other four condemned on August 5.
Elizabeth Proctor remained in jail, awaiting the birth of her child and, presumably, her own execution soon after that.
Elizabeth Proctor After the Trials
The Court of Oyer and Terminer had stopped meeting in September, and there had been no new executions after September 22 when 8 had been hanged. The Governor, influenced by a group of Boston-area ministers including Increase Mather, had ordered that spectral evidence not be relied on in court from that point on and ordered on October 29 that arrests stop and that the Court of Oyer and Terminer be dissolved. In late November he established a Superior Court of Judicature to handle further trials.
On January 27, 1693, Elizabeth Proctor gave birth in jail to a son, and she named him John Proctor III.
On March 18, a group of residents petitioned on behalf of nine who had been convicted of witchcraft, including John and Elizabeth Proctor, for their exoneration. Only three of the nine were still alive, but all who had been convicted had lost their property rights and so had their heirs. Among those who signed the petition were Thorndike Proctor and Benjamin Proctor, John’s sons and Elizabeth’s stepsons. The petition was not granted.
After the wife of Governor Phipps was accused of witchcraft, he issued a general order freeing all 153 remaining prisoners accused or convicted were released from jail in May 1693, finally freeing Elizabeth Proctor. The family had to pay for her room and board while in jail before she could actually leave the jail.
She was, however, penniless. Her husband had written a new will while in jail and had omitted Elizabeth from it, probably expecting her to be executed. Her dowry and prenuptial contract were ignored by her stepchildren, on the basis of her conviction which made her legally a non-person, even though she had been released from jail. She and her still minor children went to live with Benjamin Proctor, her eldest stepson. The family moved to Lynn, where Benjamin in 1694 married Mary Buckley Witheridge, also imprisoned in the Salem trials.
Sometime before March of 1695, John Proctor’s will was accepted by the court for probate, which means that the court treated his rights as being restored. In April his estate was divided (though we have no record of how) and his children, including those by Elizabeth Proctor, presumably had some settlement. Elizabeth Proctor’s children Abigail and William disappear from the historical record after 1695.
It was not until April of 1697, after her farm had burned, that Elizabeth Proctor’s dowry was restored to her for her use by a probate court, on a petition she filed in June 1696. Her husband’s heirs had held her dowry until that time, as her conviction had made her a legal non-person.
Elizabeth Proctor remarried on September 22, 1699, to Daniel Richards of Lynn, Massachusetts.
In 1702, the Massachusetts General Court declared the 1692 trials to have been unlawful. In 1703, the legislature passed a bill reversing the attainder against John and Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, convicted in the trials, essentially allowing them to be considered legal persons again and file legal claims for the return of their property. The legislature also at this time outlawed the use of spectral evidence in trials. In 1710, Elizabeth Proctor was paid 578 pounds and 12 shillings in restitution for her husband’s death. Another bill was passed in 1711 restoring rights to many of those involved in the trials, including John Proctor. This bill gave the Proctor family 150 pounds in restitution for their incarceration and for John Proctor’s death.
Elizabeth Proctor and her younger children may have moved away from Lynn after her remarriage, as there is no known record of their deaths or where they are buried. Benjamin Proctor died in Salem Village (later renamed Danvers) in 1717.
A Genealogical Note
Elizabeth Proctor’s grandmother, Ann Holland Bassett Burt, was married first to Roger Bassett; Elizabeth’s father William Bassett Sr. is their son. Ann Holland Bassett remarried after John Bassett’s death in 1627, to Hugh Burt, apparently as his second wife. John Bassett died in England. Ann and Hugh married in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1628. Two to four years later, a daughter, Sarah Burt, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. Some genealogical sources list her as the daughter of Hugh Burt and Anne Holland Basset Burt and connect her to the Mary or Lexi or Sarah Burt married to William Bassett Sr., born about 1632. If this connection is accurate, Elizabeth Proctor’s parents would have been half-siblings or step-siblings. If Mary/Lexi Burt and Sarah Burt are two different persons and have been confused in some genealogies, they are likely related.
Ann Holland Bassett Burt was accused of witchcraft in 1669.
Elizabeth Proctor’s grandmother, Ann Holland Bassett Burt, was a Quaker, and so the family may have been looked on with suspicion by the Puritan community. She had also been accused of witchcraft in 1669, accused by, among others, a doctor, Philip Read, apparently on the basis of her skill in healing others. Elizabeth Proctor is said in some sources to have been a healer, and some of the accusations relate to her advice on seeing doctors.
The skeptical reception by John Proctor of Mary Warren’s accusation of Giles Corey may have also played a part, and then her subsequent attempt to recover from seeming to call into question the veracity of the other accusers. While Mary Warren did not participate formally in the early accusations against the Proctors, she did make formal accusations against the Proctors and many others after she herself had been accused of witchcraft by the other afflicted girls.
Another likely contributing motive was that Elizabeth’s husband, John Proctor, had publicly denounced the accusers, implying that they were lying about the accusations, after his relative by marriage, Rebecca Nurse, was accused.
The ability to seize the rather extensive property of the Proctors may have added to the motive to convict them.
Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible
John and Elizabeth Proctor and their servant Mary Warren are major characters in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. John is portrayed as a fairly young man, in his thirties, rather than as a man in his sixties, as he was in reality. In the play, Abigail Williams is portrayed as a former servant of the Proctors and as having had an affair with John Proctor; Miller is said to have taken the incident in the transcripts of Abigail Williams trying to strike Elizabeth Proctor during the examination as evidence of this relationship. Abigail Williams, in the play, accuses Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft to gain revenge against John for ending the affair. Abigail Williams was not, in reality, ever a servant of the Proctors and may not have known them or not known them well before she joined in the accusations after Mary Warren had already done so; Miller has Warren joining in after Williams has begun the accusations.
Elizabeth Proctor in Salem, 2014 series
The name of Elizabeth Proctor is not used for any major character in the highly fictionalized WGN America TV Series, airing from 2014, called Salem.
- Mother: Mary Burt or Sarah Burt or Lexi Burt (sources differ) (1632 to 1689)
- Father: Captain William Bassett Sr., of Lynn, Massachusetts (1624 to 1703)
- Grandmother: Ann Holland Bassett Burt, a Quaker
- Mary Bassett DeRich (also accused; her son John DeRich was among the accusers though not of his mother)
- William Bassett Jr. (married to Sarah Hood Bassett, also accused)
- Elisha Bassett
- Sarah Bassett Hood (her husband Henry Hood was accused)
- John Bassett
John Proctor (March 30, 1632 to August 19, 1692), married in 1674; it was her first marriage and his third. He had come from England to Massachusetts at three years old with his parents and had moved to Salem in 1666.
- William Proctor (1675 to after 1695, also accused)
- Sarah Proctor (1677 to 1751, also accused)
- Samuel Proctor (1685 to 1765)
- Elisha Proctor (1687 to 1688)
- Abigail (1689 to after 1695)
- Joseph (?)
- John (1692 to 1745)
Stepchildren: John Proctor also had children by his first two wives.
- His first wife, Martha Giddons, died in childbirth in 1659, the year after their first three children died. The child born in 1659, Benjamin, lived until 1717 and was accused as part of the Salem witch trials.
- John Proctor married his second wife, Elizabeth Thorndike, in 1662. They had seven children, born 1663 to 1672. Three or four of the seven were still living in 1692. Elizabeth Thorndike Proctor died shortly after the birth of their last, Thorndike, who was among the accused in the Salem witch trials. The first child of this second marriage, Elizabeth Proctor, was married to Thomas Very. Thomas Very’s sister, Elizabeth Very, was married to John Nurse, son of Rebecca Nurse, who was among those executed. Rebecca Nurse’s sister Mary Easty was also executed and another of her sisters, Sarah Cloyce, accused at the same time as was Elizabeth Proctor.
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