Written By: Anne Sturm
The Salem Witch Trails occurred in colonial Massachusetts started in the spring of 1692, more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft (the Devil’s Magic) and 20 were executed as a result. The Salem Witch Trails is one of the darkest period in American history.
The seeds of the hysteria that afflicted Salem Village, Massachusetts were sown in January 1692 when a group of young girls began to display bizarre behavior. The tight-knit community was at a loss to explain the convulsive seizures, blasphemous screaming, and trance-like states that afflicted the youngsters. The physicians were called in to examine the girls could find no natural cause of the disturbing behavior. If the source of the affliction was not attributable to a physical malady, the community reasoned that it must be the work of Satan. And believed that Witches had invaded Salem.
In February the village began praying and fasting in order to rid itself of the devil’s influence. The girls were pressured to reveal who in the community controlled their behavior. Three women were identified and examined. One, Tituba (a slave), confessed to seeing the devil who appeared to her “sometimes like a hog and sometimes like a great dog.” Even more troubling, Tituba confessed that a conspiracy of witches permeated Salem Village. In March of 1692 mark the being of series of witch trails that lasted for about a year.
My 9th great-grandaunt Elizabeth Proctor, sister of Sarah Bassett, who married Thomas Elwell, played a part in the Salem Witch Trails.
The Proctors were a wealthy family who lived on a large rented farm on the outskirts of Salem Village, in what is now modern day Peabody. Elizabeth, Proctor’s third wife, married Proctor in April of 1674, two years after the death of his second wife, Elizabeth Thorndike.
Elizabeth Proctor’s Early Life:
Elizabeth Proctor, whose maiden name was Bassett, was the daughter of Capt. William Bassett of Lynn and Sarah Burt, she was also the granddaughter of Goody Burt, a folk healer from Lynn who had been tried, but acquitted, on charges of witchcraft over 30 years earlier.
In the spring of 1692, after some of the afflicted girls began having fits and claimed that invisible forces were tormenting them, the Proctor’s servant, Mary Warren, began showing the same symptoms.
John Proctor, who believed the afflicted girls were just pretending to be afflicted, accused Warren of faking her symptoms and threatened to beat her if she continued. Warren’s fits quickly stopped but as soon as John Proctor left on business a few days later, her symptoms returned and she joined the ongoing witch trials as a witness.
Elizabeth Proctor’s Arrest and Trial:
In late March, two of the afflicted girls, Mercy Lewis and Abigail Williams, claimed Elizabeth Proctor visited them at night in spirit form and tormented them.
On April 4, John Walcott and Nathaniel Ingersoll filed an official complaint against Elizabeth Proctor, on behalf of Abigail Williams, John Indian, Mary Walcott, Ann Putnam, Jr., and Mercy Lewis, and a warrant was issued for her arrest.
After she was apprehended, Elizabeth Proctor was brought to the Salem Village meetinghouse on April 11 and examined by Judge Thomas Danforth, according to court records:
Q. Elizabeth Proctor! you understand whereof you are charged, viz. to be guilty of sundry acts of witchcraft; what say you to it? Speak the truth, and so you that are afflicted, you must speak the truth, as you will answer it before God another day. Mary Walcott! doth this woman hurt you?
A. I never saw her so as to be hurt by her.
Q. Mary Lewis! does she hurt you? — Her mouth was stopped.
Q. Ann Putnam, does she hurt you? — She could not speak.
Q. Abigail Williams! does she hurt you? — Her hand was thrust in her own mouth.
Q. John! does she hurt you?
A. This is the woman that came in her shift and choked me.
Q. did she ever bring the book?
A. Yes, Sir.
Q. What to do?
A. to write.
Q. What, this woman?
A. Yes, Sir.
Q. Are you sure of it?
A. Yes, Sir. — Again, Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam were spoke to by the court, but neither of them could make any answer, by reason of dumbness or other fits.
Q. What do you say Goody Proctor to these things?
A. I take God in heaven to be my witness, that I know nothing of it, no more than the child unborn.
As the examination continued, Elizabeth Proctor’s accusers began to shift their attention to Elizabeth’s servant, Mary Warren, and her husband, John Proctor:
Q. Abigail Williams! does this woman hurt you?
A. Yes, Sir, often.
Q. Does she bring the book to you?
Q. What would she have you do with it?
A. To write in it and I shall be well. — Did not you, said Abigail, tell me, that your maid had written?
A.(Proctor) Dear Child, it is not so. There is another judgement, dear child.
Then Abigail and Ann had fits. By and by they cried out, look you there is Goody Proctor upon the beam. By and by, both of them cried out of Goodman Proctor himself, and said he was a wizard. Immediately, many, if not all of the bewitched, had grievous fits.
Q. Ann Putnam! who hurt you?
A. Goodman Proctor and his wife too. — Afterwards some of the afflicted cried, there is Proctor going to take up Mrs. Pope’s feet. — And her feet were immediately taken up.
Q. What do you say Goodman Proctor to these things?
A. I know not, I am innocent.
Abigail Williams cried out, there is Goodman Proctor going to Mrs. Pope , and immediately, said Pope fell into a fit. — You see the devil will deceive you; the children could see what you was going to do before the woman was hurt. I would advise you to repentance, for the devil is bringing you out. Abigail Williams cried out again, there is Goodman Proctor going to hurt Goody Bibber; and immediately Goody Bibber fell into a fit. There was the like of Mary Walcott , and divers others. Benjamin Gould gave in his testimony, that he had seen Goodman Corey and his wife, Proctor and his wife, Goody Cloyce, Goody Nurse, and Goody Griggs in his chamber last Thursday night. Elizabeth Hubbard was in a trance during the whole examination. During the examination of Elizabeth Proctor, Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam, both made offer to strike at said Proctor; but when Abigail’s hand came near, it opened, whereas it was made up into a fist before, and came done exceeding lightly, as it drew near to said Proctor, and at length with open and extended fingers, touched Proctor’s hood very lightly. Immediately Abigail cried out, her fingers, her fingers, burned, and Ann Putnam took on most grievously, of her head, and sunk down.
It is not known exactly why the afflicted girls targeted Elizabeth Proctor, but in the 1953 play, The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, Abigail Williams is depicted as having an affair with John Proctor and becomes jealous of Elizabeth Proctor, prompting her to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft.
The age difference between Abigail, 11, and John, 60, makes this unlikely and there’s no proof that Abigail Williams even knew Elizabeth or John Proctor before the witch hysteria.
Yet, Miller wrote in an essay in the New Yorker in 1996 that it was a moment during Elizabeth Proctor’s examination, when Abigail raises her hand to strike Elizabeth, that convinced him that John and Abigail had an affair:
“In this remarkably observed gesture of a troubled young girl, I believed, a play became possible. Elizabeth Proctor had been the orphaned Abigail’s mistress, and they had lived together in the same small house until Elizabeth fired the girl. By this time, I was sure, John Proctor had bedded Abigail, who had to be dismissed most likely to appease Elizabeth. There was bad blood between the two women now. That Abigail started, in effect, to condemn Elizabeth to death with her touch, then stopped her hand, then went through with it, was quite suddenly the human center of all this turmoil.”
The following month, three of the Proctor’s children, William, Benjamin and Sarah were also accused and arrested, as was Elizabeth Proctor’s sister, Mary Bassett DeRich, and her sister-in-law Sarah Bassett.
Sarah Proctor and Sarah Bassett were both accused on May 21 by John and Thomas Putnam, on behalf of Abigail Williams, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis and Ann Putnam, Jr., and arrested shortly after.
Benjamin Proctor was accused a few days later on May 23rd, by Nathaniel Ingersoll and Thomas Rayment, on behalf of Mary Warren, Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Hubbard, and arrested by Marshal Deputy John Putnam. William Proctor was accused on May 28th by Mary Walcott and Susannah Sheldon and arrested by constable John Putnam.
Although Mary Warren wasn’t one of Elizabeth’s original accusers, she testified against both Elizabeth and John Proctor during their trials, claiming that their spirits beat, pinched and choked her at night, according to court records:
“The Deposition of Mary Warren aged about 20 years do testefieth and saith I have often seen the apparition of Elizabeth Procter the wife of John proctor among the witches and she hath often tortured me most greviously by biting me and choking me and pinching me and pressing my stomach tell the blood came out of my mouth and also upon the day of her examination I saw her torture Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Abigail Williams and she hath ever since at times tortured me most greviously Mary Warren owned this here testimony to be the truth before the Jurors of Inquest this 30 of June 1692.”
After their arrests, many of the Proctor’s friends banded together and signed a petition declaring them innocent and asked for their release:
“We whose names are under written having several years known John Proctor and his wife do testify that we never heard or understood that they were ever suspected to be guilty of the crime now charged upon them and several of us being their near neighbours do testify that to our apprehension they lived christian life in their family and were ever ready to help such as stood in need of their help
Nathaniel Felton sen: and mary his wife
Samuel Marsh and Prescilla his wife
James Houlton and Ruth his wife
Nathaniel Felton jun
Samuell Frayll and an his wife
Zachriah Marsh and mary his wife
Samuel Endecott and hanah his wife
Samuel Gaskil & provided his wife
Ed Edward: Gaskile”
Neither the petition, nor the letter John Proctor sent to the Boston clergy in July pleading that the trials be moved to Boston, helped their situation.
On August 5, both Elizabeth and John Proctor were found guilty and sentenced to death. Since Elizabeth was pregnant at the time of her conviction, her execution was postponed until after she gave birth. John Proctor pleaded for more time as well, claiming he was too ill for the execution, but was hanged on August 19th.
On January 27, 1693, Elizabeth Proctor gave birth to a boy and named him John Proctor III, after his father. Although she had given birth, Elizabeth was not immediately executed, for reasons unknown.
In May of that same year, after the witch hysteria had died down and most of the prisoners had been released due to a lack of evidence, Governor Phipps released the remaining prisoners, which included Elizabeth Proctor.
Elizabeth Proctor After the Salem Witch Trials:
Although she was free from jail, as a convicted witch Elizabeth was still guilty in the eyes of the law and therefore had no legal rights. To make matters worse, John Proctor’s will made no mention of Elizabeth, most likely because he expected she would be executed along with him.
As a result, Elizabeth was penniless, according to the book The Salem Witch Trials: A Day By Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege:
“Elizabeth Proctor, condemned but freed with her newborn (if he survived), found her late husband’s farm picked clean. John Proctor’s will made no mention of his widow, so Elizabeth had not a penny from it, neither her widow’s third nor the dowry that she had brought to the marriage. When she protested, her stepchildren ignored even her prenuptial contract and replied that she could not inherit, for, being condemned to hang, she was dead in the law.”
Even if Elizabeth were able to inherit John’s estate, there wasn’t much left of it since most of it had been confiscated while John and Elizabeth were in prison, according to Robert Calef in his book More Wonders of the Invisible World:
“John Procter and his wife being in prison, 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: No part of the said goods are known to be returned.”
Elizabeth’s luck finally began to improve in March of 1694-5, when court records indicate that the will of John Proctor was admitted to probate in the Probate Court of Essex County under the complaint of Thomas and Elizabeth Very (John Proctor’s eldest daughter from his marriage to Elizabeth Thorndike).
On April 15, 1695, the committee reported a division of the estate according to the will. There is no record confirming it, but it can only be assumed by this event that John Proctor’s legal rights, which had been stripped when he was convicted, had at some point been restored and therefore his family finally had access to what was left of his estate.
It was shortly after this event, in May of 1696, when Elizabeth Proctor petitioned the General Court to restore her own legal rights. In doing so, she asked for the rights to her husband’s estate or at the very least, the dowry she brought to the marriage:
“To the Honourable General Court Assembled at Boston May twenty
the Humble petition of Elizabeth Proctor widow and relict of John Proctor of Salem deceased humbly sheweth that in the year of our Lord 1692 when many persons in Salem and in other towns there about were accused by some evil disposed or strangely influenced persons as being witches or for being guilty of acting witch-craft my sd husband John Proctor and myself were accused as such and we both: my sd husband and myself were so far proceeded against that we were condemned but in that sad time of darkness before my said husband was executed it is evident somebody had contrived a will and brought it to him to sign where in his whole estate is disposed of not having regard to a contract in writing made with me before marriage with him; but so it pleased god to order by his providence that although the sentence was executed on my dear husband yet through gods great goodness to your petitioner I am yet alive; since my husbands death the said will is proved and approved by the Judge of probate and by that kind of disposal the whole estate is disposed of; and although god hath Granted my life yet those that claim my said husbands estate by that which they call a will will not suffer me to have one penny of the estate neither upon the account of my husbands contract with me before marriage nor yet upon the account of the dowry which as I humbly conceive doth belong or ought to belong to me by the law for they say that I am dead in the law and therefore my humble request and petition to this honoured General Court is that by an act of this honoured court as god hath content renewed my life and through gods goodness without fear of being put to death upon that sentence you would be pleased to put me into a capacity to make use of the law to recover that which of right by law I ought to have for my necessary suple and support that as I your petitioner am one of his majesties subjects I may have the benefit of his laws so humbly praying that god would direct your honours in all things to do that which may be most pleasing to him I subscribe
your honours humble petitioner
Read. 10 th June. 1696. in Council”
According to the court records, on April 19, 1697, the court restored Elizabeth’s legal rights and returned her dowry to her.
Not much is known about Elizabeth Proctor after this time period except that on September 22, 1699, Elizabeth married her second husband, Daniel Richards, in Lynn, Massachusetts.
In 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill restoring some of the names of the accused and awarded the Proctor family £150 in restitution for their imprisonments and John Proctor’s death.
There are no death records for Elizabeth, nor records of her youngest children, in Lynn, indicating that the family may have moved to another town. Her death date and location of her grave are unknown.
The Genealogy of Elizabeth Proctor (nee Bassett)
* Also see the genealogy and family
The Immediate Family Members of John Proctor and Elizabeth Bassett