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Hathorne showed particular interest in the accused witch Reverend George Burroughs. Previously, Reverend Burroughs had been the minister in Salem Village, starting in 1681. Only lasting three years, Burroughs left the village, most likely as the result of the sporadic and inconsistent salary and the factionalism around his ministry. Judge Hathorne wasn’t the only one who focused on George Burroughs – Cotton Mather also believed Reverend Burroughs was the “king of the witches,” working to bring the colony down from within. Hathorne, along with Judges Stoughton, Corwin, and Sewall, examined Burroughs at Beadle’s Tavern after the reverend had been retrieved from Maine.


Hathorne, whose father had been a Salem magistrate, was born in 1641, married at 33 and had six children. Hathorne had experienced several deaths in his family, including those of his three brothers, which left him the sole heir. While not legally trained, Hathorne was a trusted law official and was, like the other judges, a wealthy merchant. He owned a wharf and a liquor license, and was a landowner with property in Maine. Early in his career he became a delegate to the General Court, and ultimately remained in the judiciary for his whole life. Promoted to the Superior Court in 1702, he resigned in 1712.


Never showing remorse for the death sentences he awarded, Hathorne died in 1717 at the age of 76. He is buried in the Old Burying Point/Charter Street Cemetery in downtown Salem.


Additional note: In 1696, the French destroyed the English fishing stations in Newfoundland. In retaliation, a military expedition was sent to Acadia, Maine with the intention of attacking the French bastion on the St. John River. Led by John Hathorne, the expedition was a failure, and was one more event seen as God’s displeasure with Massachusetts, and its failure to atone for the actions of 1692.


Additional note: Hathorne’s great-great grandson was Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose works reveal Hawthorne’s guilt over the sins of his ancestor. It is speculated that Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “w” to the family name as a means of distancing himself from the wrongdoing of his great-great-grandfather. It is equally possible this change was merely the result of a fashion of the period, as many families were altering their names to reflect the original English spelling. It is interesting to note that Hawthorne did hold particular disdain for his ancestor, as Judge Hathorne appears as the antagonist Judge Pyncheon in Hawthorne’s 1851 novel The House of the Seven Gables.