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John Proctor

Not everyone in Salem supported the witch trials. Wealthy farmer John Proctor sternly denounced the proceedings and warned against listening to the young girls. When his maidservant, Mary Warren, began to have fits, he sat her down at her sewing wheel and threatened to beat her unless she stopped. But as the hysteria grew, Mary’s fits returned.
After the examination of Rebecca Nurse—the pious grandmother accused of witchcraft—Proctor was enraged, saying: “If they [the afflicted girls] were let alone, so we should all be devils and witches.” Such comments were eventually used against him. Some townspeople believed that someone with so little concern for the afflicted girls must be guilty himself.
But Proctor’s wife Elizabeth was accused first. As John staunchly defended her innocence at the trials, the girls suddenly pointed their fingers at him—the first man to be named a wizard. Mary Warren confirmed the accusations against him. The only evidence against them was spectral—the afflicted girls claimed the Proctor’s apparitions, or specters, were tormenting them. Their hysterics proved enough for the court, and both John and Elizabeth were imprisoned.
Proctor wrote an impassioned letter to the Boston clergy, claiming “we are all innocent persons.” He described the unfairness of the court proceedings and how torture was used to extract confessions. His letter may have made an impact on the clergy, but it was not in time to affect the trials. On August 5, both John and Elizabeth were found guilty. Elizabeth’s life would be spared because she was pregnant. But John was hanged on August 19, 1692.

These events eventually brought ruin to the Proctor family. What happened before John and Elizabeth had even stood trial? Read an excerpt from Robert Calef’s 1700 account of the events, More Wonders of the Invisible World.
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