More About John Proctor House

The structure located at 348 Lowell Street has long been called the “John Proctor House,” even though it is likely not the actual house where John and Elizabeth Proctor and their children lived in 1692. Rather, today it is believed that Proctor’s son Thorndike built the house one sees today on the same footprint where his father’s house originally stood. Dendrochronology tests reveal some of the wood inside dates to the 1720s. There is a possibility that some of the original structure also remains inside. John Proctor descendants purchased the property and remained living there for close to 200 years after his execution. According to a Salem News article in January of 2019, quoting Kelly Daniell, curator of the Peabody Historical Society, “There were four to five Proctor homes, all in that area that is called Proctors Crossing. You can absolutely call that the Proctor house because generations of Proctors lived and died in that house.”

 

John Proctor, his wife Elizabeth, and their children, plus a 20-year-old servant, Mary Warren, lived on this spot in 1692. Its prime location on the Ipswich Road made it a perfect place for a tavern, which Proctor had received a license to run in 1668. While Proctor and his sons manned the farm, the women in the household looked after the house and tavern.

 

When the first witchcraft accusations began in the winter of 1692, Proctor’s reaction was skeptical. From what we can see in the records, he appears to have been a practical and forward-thinking man, successful in business and hard-working. He was 60, had sired seventeen children (not all of whom lived to adulthood) by three different wives, and was outspoken about his feelings against the witchcraft hysteria.

 

Shortly after the first accusations and examinations on March 1, Proctor’s wife Elizabeth was named as a witch by Ann Putnam Jr. It may have been the adults in the Putnam household who suggested Elizabeth’s name. Some neighbors may have been jealous of the Proctors’ success. Elizabeth’s grandmother, a Quaker midwife from Lynn, Massachusetts, had been accused of witchcraft thirty years earlier. Proctor servant Mary Warren would soon be one of the afflicted herself – did she gossip about her employers? It is impossible to know exactly what brought Elizabeth Proctor into the afflicted girls’ sights, but she would be just the first of the Proctor family to be so accused.

 

We know Mary Warren’s family once lived in Salem, near the waterfront, because Mary would soon accuse a Salem neighbor, Alice Parker, of witchcraft. Parker and her husband lived on the edge of Salem Harbor. Years before, when Mary Warren was a child, Alice Parker had asked Warren’s father to help harvest her hay. Perhaps Alice’s fisherman husband was away at sea and couldn’t do the job. When Warren failed to help, Parker angrily stormed to his house and said he “had better he had done it.” Young Mary Warren didn’t forget the altercation, because both her mother and sister became ill shortly thereafter. Goody Warren died, and Mary’s sister became deaf, and eventually stopped speaking. Mary Warren blamed Parker for her family’s losses. The Warren family disappeared from the records, and Mary, who may have been an orphan by 1692, was now a servant for the Proctors.

 

By late March, Mary Warren had attended examinations in Salem Village, despite John Proctor’s efforts to keep her focused on her work. It is speculated that he may have beaten her. Proctor would say publicly that he felt all of the accusers would come to their senses if they were thrashed. His words would come back to haunt him.

 

Elizabeth Proctor was arrested on April 10. Accompanied by her husband, she was examined in the Salem Town meetinghouse on April 11. Many of the afflicted, including Abigail Williams, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, and John Indian, had now accused her of witchcraft. Despite her claims of innocence, the afflicted writhed and twisted and screamed in Elizabeth’s presence. By the end of the examination, which was attended by dignitaries from Boston, including Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, John Proctor was also accused of witchcraft. Both Proctors were held for trial in Boston jail.

 

A convicted person’s possessions were confiscated by the authorities according to the law of the day, ostensibly to help pay for the prisoner’s jails costs and to support their family. Robert Calef’s contemporaneous account in More Wonders of the Invisible World described what happened here at the Proctors’ home: “…the sheriff came to his house and seized all the goods, provisions and cattle that he could come at, and sold some of the cattle at half price, and killed others, and put them up for the West Indies; threw out the beer out of a barrel, and carried away the barrel; emptied a pot of broth, and took away the pot, and left nothing in the house for the support of the children.”

 

Mary Warren, vacillating between accuser and accused, was herself arrested and jailed on April 18. She accused both of her employers of witchcraft by the 20th. John Proctor’s son Benjamin was accused on May 23, his son William and daughter Sarah on May 29.

 

An interesting accusation was lodged by Joseph Bayley, the brother of Reverend James Bayley (the first minister of Salem Village, from 1672-79). Joseph told of being tormented as he and his wife Priscilla, the daughter of Captain John Putnam Sr., rode by the Proctors’ house as they traveled from Newbury to Boston on May 25. Bayley claimed to see John and Elizabeth in a window and by the door, even though they were both in Boston jail. He experienced pain in his chest, head, and stomach. He was rendered speechless and felt he was followed by something unseen on the return trip.

 

As the date of the trials of John and Elizabeth Proctor approached, John wrote a letter on July 23 to five Boston ministers in which he described jail conditions and the treatment of prisoners. He asked that the trials be moved to Boston. His request was not granted. Two petitions in support of the Proctors, from neighbors in Salem and Ipswich, were also presented. They too had no effect.

 

The trials went on as scheduled on August 2. John and Elizabeth were both convicted of witchcraft, largely on spectral evidence. Elizabeth received a stay of execution because it had been discovered that she was pregnant.

 

John Proctor was hanged, along with Reverend George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, George Jacobs, and John Willard on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill on August 19. Although it is not definitively known where the remains of the deceased were interred, a 2019 Smithsonian Channel documentary revealed that historians speculate that Proctor’s body may have been retrieved from the hanging site by family members. He may have once been buried on the edge of his property, land that belongs to the Peabody High School today.

 

Elizabeth Proctor remained in jail until May of 1693. The last signs of her in the records are an “intent to marry” notice, to a man named Daniel Richards, in 1699, and she is also named in her father’s will as Elizabeth Richards.

 

Mary Warren disappeared into history after the trials were over.

 

John and Elizabeth Proctor were among the people whose names were cleared of the charges of witchcraft in 1711. The Proctor family received £150 in restitution for their sorrow.

 

John Proctor arrived in America from England when he was three years old, settling with his family in Ipswich, MA. He married his first wife Martha (maiden name unclear) circa 1652. The couple had four children, only one of whom, Benjamin, lived to adulthood. Martha died in childbirth in 1659. In 1662, Proctor married Elizabeth Thorndike, with whom he had seven children. At least two died before reaching adulthood. The Proctors moved to the western side of Salem Town, aka Salem Fields or the village of Brooksby, in 1666, first leasing fifteen acres and then the adjoining 300-acre farm from the illustrious Emanuel Downing. (Downing was one of the earliest settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony. His son, Sir George Downing, was in the first graduating class from Harvard College, and would later see Downing Street in England named after him. Emanuel’s daughter Ann was the wife of Governor Simon Bradstreet. She was the first published poet in America.) The property included a house on the Ipswich Road. A tavern license was issued in 1668. Elizabeth died in 1672. Proctor married for the third time, to Elizabeth Bassett, in 1674. Elizabeth’s roots were in Lynn, MA, where her Quaker grandmother was Goody Burt, a midwife and suspected witch. The couple had six children by 1692, one of whom died. Elizabeth was pregnant with their seventh child during the witchcraft trials.

 

Additional note: The hanging place had no name in 1692. The general area is identified as “Gallows Hill” on a map of Salem in 1700 that was based on the research of Sidney Perley in the early 1900s. An X marks the spot labeled “Probable Place of Executions.” The execution place, today named “Proctor’s Ledge,” was purchased by Thorndike Proctor in the early 1700s, according to Kelly Daniell, curator of the Peabody Historical Society.

 

Additional note: John Proctor is a main character in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The CrucibleThe Crucible, a powerful allegory about McCarthyism disguised as the story of the Salem Witchcraft Trials, is fiction. Miller incorporated some real names and facts and created an intimate affair gone wrong as one explanation contributing to the terrible events of 1692. In Miller’s work, Proctor is 30 and is romantically involved with 17-year-old Abigail Williams. In real life, of course, Proctor was 60, Williams was 11, and the two may have not known each other at all before the hysteria escalated. One needs to separate fact from fiction, and try to discover the real man as revealed in the remaining trial records, and not confuse him with the romantic character from Miller’s play.

 

One element of Miller’s play depicts John Proctor and his neighbor to the west, Giles Corey, as friends. The truth seems to be a little less definitive. The two had a litigious relationship, suing each other multiple times. Proctor accused Corey of setting fire to his house (it would turn out one of Proctor’s sons was careless with a lantern). Corey accused Proctor of selling liquor to Natives from his tavern. And yet, the two men also appear to have shared a drink on occasion.