Elizabeth Proctor: The Salem Witch Trials Widow

Elizabeth Proctor, wife of Salem Village farmer John Proctor, was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

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, whose maiden name was Bassett, 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.

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William Dawes: The Forgotten Midnight Rider

William Dawes was a Boston tanner and one of the riders sent by Dr. Joseph Warren to alert John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the approaching British army on the night of April 18th, 1775.

Dawes was born in Boston on April 6, 1745. He was the second of twelve children born to William Dawes and Lydia Boone. He married twice, first to Mehitable May, who died in October of 1793, and then to Lydia Gendall.

On October 28, 1767, Dawes was one of 650 Boston citizens who signed a “nonimportation agreement,” promising not to buy goods imported from Britain, which included furniture, clothes, nails, anchors, gauze, shoe leather, malt liquors, loaf sugar, starch and glue. To further support this cause, the Boston Gazette states that Dawes also wore a suite made entirely in America on his wedding day.

In April of 1768, Dawes joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, a private training organization for militia officers, and was also promoted to second major of the regiment of the Boston militia. Dawes was also a member of the patriotic group the Sons of Liberty and was a Freemason, although it is not clear which Boston lodge he belonged to.

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John Hathorne: The Salem Witch Judge

John Hathorne was a judge during the Salem Witch Trials and the great-great grandfather of author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Hathorne was born in Salem on August 5, 1641 to William Hathorne and Anne Smith. He was the fifth of nine children. His father was a local judge who came to the New World on the “Arabella,” one of John Winthrop’s eleven ships that brought over 800 puritans to the colony in the summer of 1630. William was known for being a “bitter persecutor” of Quakers and was responsible for ordering the public whipping of Ann Coleman in Salem in 1662. William was also in the military, serving as a captain of the Salem military company in 1646, during King Phillip’s War, and was promoted to major in 1656.

A savvy businessman, William used land grants to secure an extensive property, which he turned into farmland, and owned much of Salem Village, which is now Danvers, including the hill upon which the Danvers State Hospital was later built in 1874.

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Mercy Lewis: Orphan and Afflicted Girl

Mercy Lewis was one of the afflicted girls of the Salem Witch Trials and a servant in Thomas Putnam’s home.

Lewis, the daughter of Phillip Lewis, was born in Falmouth, Maine in 1675. On August 11, 1676, three-year-old Mercy Lewis and her parents barely escaped an attack by the nearby Wabanaki Indians that resulted in the death of her grandparents, cousins and many other members of the community.

Seeking refuge, the Lewis family fled to an island in Casco Bay along with the other surviving members of the community, including Reverend George Burroughs. After the attack, the Lewis family moved briefly to Salem, Ma where Lewis’ uncle, Thomas Skilling, died a few months later, possibly from a wound he suffered during the attack. Mercy Lewis and her family then moved back to Casco Bay in 1683.

The Witch, No. 2 lithograph by Joseph E. Baker published by Geo. H. Walker & Co circa 1892

“The Witch, No. 2″ lithograph by Joseph E. Baker published by Geo. H. Walker & Co circa 1892

In the summer or fall of 1689, the Wabanaki attacked again, this time killing both of Mercy Lewis’ parents. After their deaths, Lewis was briefly sent to work as a servant in Reverend George Burroughs home. She later moved to Salem village, where her married sister lived, and became a servant for Thomas Putnam, who is considered to be one of the ringleaders of the witchcraft accusations.

It was in Thomas Putnam’s home that the nineteen-year-old Lewis befriended Ann Putnam, Jr. When Putnam began behaving strangely in the winter of 1692, suffering fits and seizures, Lewis quickly followed suit. By the end of February, a local doctor determined the girls were bewitched. A few days later, Putnam and her cousin, Abigail Williams, began naming women they believed were bewitching them.

Lewis didn’t immediately join the afflicted girls in naming witches. She didn’t officially accuse anyone of witchcraft until she named Elizabeth Proctor on March 26. Proctor wasn’t arrested until the first week of April after Elizabeth Hubbard accused her as well.

Mercy Lewis and the other afflicted girls also turned on one of their own, Mary Warren, on April 18th after she hinted that the girls may have been lying about their afflictions. During Elizabeth Proctor’s trial, the girls accused Warren of helping Proctor’s spirit torment them and Warren soon found herself in jail.

Shortly after, Lewis almost suffered the same fate during Deliverance Hobbs examination on April 22, when Hobbs claimed the spirits of Sarah Wilds and Mercy Lewis tormented her:

“[Magistrate]: It is said you were afflicted, how came that about?
[Hobbs]: I have seen sundry sights.
[Magistrate]: What sights?
[Hobbs]: Last Lords day in this meeting house & out of the door, I saw a great many birds cats & dogs, & heard a voice say come away.
[Magistrate]: What have you seen since?
[Hobbs]: The shapes of several persons.
[Magistrate]: What did they say?
[Hobbs]: Nothing.
[Magistrate]: What neither the birds, nor persons?
[Hobbs]: No.
[Magistrate]: What persons did you see?
[Hobbs]: Goody Wilds and the shape of Mercy Lewis.
[Magistrate]: What is that? Did either of them hurt you?
[Hobbs]: None but Goody Wilds, who tore me almost to pieces.
[Magistrate]: Where was you then?
[Hobbs]: In bed.”

Fortunately for Lewis, the examination continued without any further mention of her and she was never accused.

According to court records, Lewis accused a total of nine people of witchcraft and officially testified in 16 cases during the course of the Salem Witch Trials (she was also indirectly involved in other cases, such as the trials of Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty):

John Alden Jr
Bridget Bishop
George Burroughs
Giles Corey
Martha Corey
Elizabeth Colson
Elizabeth Cary
Lydia Dustin
Sarah Dustin
Phillip English
Mary English
Thomas Farrer
Dorcas Good
Abigail Hobbs
Elizabeth Hart
George Jacobs Sr
Elizabeth Johnson
Mary Lacey Sr
Susannah Martin
Sarah Osborne
Elizabeth Proctor
John Willard
Mary Warren

Lewis was particularly instrumental in the accusations of several people she knew from Falmouth, Maine, such as Reverend George Burroughs, Captain John Alden, Jr., and Abigail Hobbs. Since she was one of the only people in Salem who knew anything about their backgrounds, she was the main source of information about them.

Although it is not clear why Lewis accused and testified against Reverend George Burroughs, it was most likely an attempt to get revenge against a former employer. In Lewis’ testimony against Burroughs, she told stories about her time living with him in Maine:

“The deposition of Mercy Lewes who testifieth and saith that one the 7′th of may 1692 at evening I saw the apparition of Mr. George Burroughs whom i very well knew which did greviously torture me and urged me to write in his book and then he brought to me a new fashion book which he did not use to bring and told me I might write in that book: for that was a book that was in his study when I lived with them: but I told him I did not believe him for I had been often in his study but I never saw that book their: but he told me that he had several books in his study which I never saw in his study and he could raise the devil: and now had bewitched Mr. Sheppard’s daughter and I asked him how he could go to be witch here now he was kept at Salem: and he told me that the devil was his servant and he sent him in his shape to do it then he again tortured me most dreadfully and threatened to kill me for he said I should not witness against him also he told me that he had made Abigail Hobbs: a witch and several more then again he did most dreadfully torture me as if he would have racked me all to peaces and urged me to write in his book or else he would kill me but I told him I hoped my life was not in the power of his hand and that I would not write tho he did kill me: the next night he told me I should not see his two wives if he could help it because I should not witness against him this 9′th may Mr Burroughs carried me up to an exceeding high mountain and showed me all the kingdoms of the earth and told me that he would give them all to me if I would write in his book and if I would not he would throw me down and brake my neck: but I told him they were non of his to give and I would not write if he threw me down on 100 pichforks: also on the 9′th may being the time of his examination Mr. George Bur-roughs did most dreadfully torment me: and also several times since. Mercy Lewis upon her oath did own this here testimony to be the truth before the jurers for In quest: august 3: 92.”

Many historians believe that Lewis’ accusation against Captain Alden, Jr., was payback for his alleged sales of powder and ammunition to the Native-Americans in Maine, which may have indirectly resulted in the death of Lewis’ parents. This theory is further supported by the fact that in Alden’s own account of his examination, he writes of one of the girls outright accusing him of selling supplies to the Native-Americans as well as fathering illegitimate children with Indian women:

“Then all were ordered to go down into the street, where a ring was made; and the same accuser cried out, ‘there stands Aldin , a bold fellow with his hat on before the judges, he sells powder and shot to the Indians and French, and lies with the Indian squaes, and has Indian papooses.’”

Alden’s trial abruptly ended when, with the help of some friends, he escaped from jail after 10 weeks of imprisonment and fled to New York to wait for the hysteria to die down. He later returned to Salem and was cleared of all charges.

Yet, there were some people Lewis knew personally that she didn’t accuse of witchcraft, most likely because she was related to them. One such person was Sarah Cloyce. Despite the fact that Lewis was involved in the cases against both of Sarah’s sisters, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty, she spared Sarah, according to the book “In The Devil’s Snare”:

“Thomas Cloyce’s wife Susanna was the sister of Phillip Lewis, Mercy’s father. In other words, Sarah Cloyce and Mercy Lewis were closely related by marriage: Sarah was the sister-in-law of Mercy’s paternal aunt. Probably for that reason, Mercy Lewis did not take an active role in accusing Sarah Cloyce, although she did participate in the prosecution of Rebecca Nurse and a third Towne sister, Mary Easty, who was accused later in April. Testimony about Sarah Cloyce having afflicted Mercy came not from her but from Ann Jr. Indeed, on the once occasion Mercy evidently named Sarah Cloyce, she quickly recanted. Ephraim Sheldon attested on April 10 that he had earlier witnessed one of Lewis’s fits at Ingersoll’s tavern. ‘I heard her cry out of Goodwife Cloyce and when she came to herself she was asked who she saw, she answered she saw no body they demanded of her whether or noe she did not see Goodwife Nurse or Goodwife Cloyce or Goodwife Gory [sic]. She answered she saw no body.’”

Of the numerous people Lewis accused and testified against, six were executed, one was tortured to death, one died in jail, three escaped from jail, and the rest were either pardoned, found not guilty or were never indicted.

Not much is known about Lewis’ life after the Salem Witch Trials. She gave birth to an illegitimate child and in 1701, at the age of 28, she married a man named Allen from her hometown of Falmouth. Lewis later moved to Boston with her husband and child. Her date and place of death is unknown.

Mercy Lewis later appeared as a character in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play “The Crucible.” In the play, Lewis is depicted as Abigail Williams’ closest friend and the two run away together at the end of the play.


“The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England”; Carol F. Karlsen; 1998

“In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692″; Mary Beth Norton; 2003

“The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide”; K. David Goss; 2007


HBO Producing a New Drama About the Salem Witch Trials

Jenji Kohan, the creator of the shows “Weeds” and “Orange is the New Black,” is currently developing a new drama about the Salem Witch Trials for HBO, according to an article on the Hollywood Reporter website:

“The untitled Salem period drama explores the circumstances surrounding one of the most compelling chapters in American history, when intolerance and repression set neighbor against neighbor and led a town to mass hysteria.

Kohan will pen the script with Bruce Miller (Alphas, Eureka) and Tracy Miller. Kohan and Bruce Miller will also executive produce, while Tracy Miller will receive a supervising producer credit. The drama hails from Lionsgate TV, where Kohan is under an overall deal.”

The new show does not have a title yet and it is not known if it will film in Salem, Massachusetts.

The HBO drama is one of two new shows about the Salem Witch Trials currently in development. WGN is producing a similar show titled “Salem” which is set to air in the spring of 2014. “Salem” is a fictionalized account of John Alden Jr.’s role in the witchcraft hysteria. Shane West has been cast to play Alden, who is portrayed as a war veteran who returns to Salem to find it in the middle of the witchcraft hysteria. The cast also includes Janet Montgomery, as sorceress Mary Sibley, Seth Gabel as Cotton Mather,  Ashley Madekwe as Sibley’s cohort and Tamzin Merchant as Anne Hale, an artist who finds herself attracted to Alden.


Hollywood Reporter; Jenji Kohan Prepping Provocative Period Drama at HBO; Dec 4 2013: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/jenji-kohan-prepping-provocative-period-662120

Boston Globe; HBO Inks Deal for Salem Witch Trials Drama; Dec 6 2013: http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/names/2013/12/06/hbo-inks-deal-for-salem-witch-trials-drama/af7t9X21eKU7gw85jIveKM/story.html

TV Line; Nikita’s Shane West Joins WGN America’s Witchy Original Drama Salem as Male Lead; Nov 1 2013: http://tvline.com/2013/11/01/shane-west-salem-tv-series-wgn-america/