Where is John Proctor’s Grave?

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John Proctor was the first male accused in the Salem Witch Trials and one of the 19 victims hanged during the trial but the location of his grave site remains a mystery.

Proctor was hanged on August 19, 1692 at Proctor’s Ledge alongside four other victims: Reverend George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacob’s Sr and Martha Carrier.

Due to the fact that Proctor was a convicted witch, town officials did not allow him or the other victims to have a Christian burial.

After being hanged, the bodies were cut down and temporarily placed in a nearby rocky crevice. What happened to their bodies after that is a bit of a mystery.

Fortunately, a few clues exist that point to the possible location of John Proctor’s grave.

On such clue was revealed in the early 1900s when historian William P. Upham rediscovered the location of small 15-acre farm in Peabody that John Proctor once owned.

Map of Peabody and John Proctor's land, illustrated by William P. Upham, circa 1904
Map of Peabody and John Proctor’s land, illustrated by William P. Upham, circa 1904

It was well known that at the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the Proctors had been leasing a larger farm next door, the Downing Farm, but Upham discovered that Proctor actually owned the nearby 15-acre lot and even had a house on the property as early as 1682.

According to Upham, it appears from the records that Proctor leased the small farm and the house out to another colonist and most likely did not live there himself.

Upham had long heard rumors that Proctor was buried near that lot but the discovery that Proctor actually owned it led Upham to suspect that the rumors were true, according to a paper Upham wrote, titled House of Proctor, Witchcraft Martyr, 1692, for the Peabody Historical Society in 1903:

“The discovery that this was John Procter’s land called to mind a conversation I had with Mrs. Jacobs, an aged lady who lived in the old Jacobs house, now the Wyman place, and of which I made the following memorandum about thirty years ago:—

‘Mrs. Jacobs (Munroe) says that it was always said that Procters were buried near the bars as you go into the Philip H. Saunders place. Mr. James Marsh says he always heard that John Procter, of witch time, was buried there.’

Upon inquiring lately of Mrs. Osborn, the librarian of the Peabody Historical Society, as to what was the family tradition, I learned that it was said by Mrs. Hannah B. Mansfield, of Danvers, that John Procter was buried ‘opposite to the Colcord’ (now the Wyman) ‘pasture, amongst the rocks.’ In answer to an inquiry by Mrs. Osborn, Mrs. Mansfield wrote to her as follows:—’A great aunt took me, when a little girl, with her to a spot in a rocky hill where she picked blackberries, and said there was the place ‘among birch trees and rocks where our ancestor of witchcraft notoriety was buried.’ It was on the north side of Lowell Street in what was then called the Marsh pasture nearly opposite the Jacobs farm which is on the south side of Lowell Street.’

The Marsh pasture from which Mrs. Mansfield’s aunt pointed out the ‘birch trees and rocks’ near by where John Procter was buried was, no doubt, the pasture conveyed by James Marsh to Philip H. Saunders, 11 June, 1863, and then described as ‘thirteen acres known by the name of Bates Pasture.’ I do not know of any other place near there that would be called the Marsh pasture at the time Mrs. Mansfield mentions. This thirteen acre pasture was conveyed by Ezekiel Marsh to John Marsh, 15 Oct., 1819, having been devised to him by his father Ezekiel Marsh. It had a way leading to it from Lowell Street over the eastern end of the John Procter lot as shown on my map. This way is still used as well as the bars opening into it on Lowell Street a few rods east of the westerly way leading southerly to the Jacobs, or Wyman, place. These are the ‘bars as you go into the Philip H. Saunders place’ mentioned by Mrs. Jacobs as stated above, unless we suppose the expression to mean bars leading from the John Procter lot where the way enters the Philip H. Saunders place, or Marsh pasture, as Mrs. Mansfield calls it. Perhaps the latter locality is the most probable since it is high rocky ground; but which bars were meant is uncertain.

Mr. Daniel H. Felton, who has an intimate knowledge of the history of all the lands about Felton’s Hill, and is himself a descendant of John Procter, informs me that Mrs. Hannah B. Mansfield some years since related to him ‘that she went berrying at the Jacobs farm when she was a child and that older persons said that John Procter was buried on the opposite side of the way (among the rocks) from where they turned off from Lowell Street to go to the Jacobs farm.’ Mrs. Mansfield lived when a child on the Newburyport Turnpike opposite the Needham homestead. It was, I understand, her ‘aunt Betsey Gardner’ who, when picking blackberries ‘on a rocky hill’ pointed out to her the place ‘among birch trees and rocks’ where John Procter was buried.”

Local historian and archaeologist Timothy Kendall also believes this is the most likely location for John Proctor’s grave, according to a 2012 interview with him in the Salem News:

“I found the secret burial place of John Proctor. He was one of the people accused and sentenced to death. There’s a stone called the Proctor tomb opposite 310 Lowell St. at the Lowell Street on-ramp to 128. It’s a granite block marked with a sign indicating it was set up in 1821. The probable actual burial site of John Proctor, where his sons took his body after his execution on Aug. 19, 1692, and buried it in an unmarked grave, was recalled — by family tradition in the 19th century — to be 1.4 miles further down Lowell Street, at or behind 479 Lowell St. where there was once a gate to a cow pasture. This was the only property actually owned at the time by the Proctor family. An old stone wall is still visible beside a paved entrance to the parking lot of the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.”

In addition, an article by Sidney Perley in the Essex Institute Historical Collections from 1915 also states that Proctor was buried on the corner of this lot:

“John Proctor House. This was two-thirds of a lot of twenty-three acres of land which was early the property of John Herod. It belonged to Joseph Proctor of Ipswich in 1681; and to John Proctor of Salem, yeoman, Jan. 10, 1688-89, when the latter gave a deed of it, with his house thereon, to his wife and children. Soon after the execution of Mr. Proctor, for alleged witchcraft, Aug. 19, 1692, his body was brought home and buried on the northeast corner of this lot. The house and lot were subsequently owned by Mr. Proctor’s son John. The house was probably gone soon after 1700” (Essex Institute 267.)

According to Upham, after Proctor’s execution, this small Proctor farm was passed down to the Proctor’s son, Benjamin, and it remained in the family until the 1800s:

“It appears from various deeds and other records that the title descended from John Procter to his son Benjamin, and then to his son John, the grandson of the first named John Procter. From him it passed to his son Benjamin, and then to this Benjamin’s sons, James and Francis Procter. Francis gave a deed of it to James April 19, 1802. Desire Procter, widow and administratrix of James Procter, conveyed it to Zachariah King Aug. 9, 1811…From Desire Procter the title descended to Rebecca P. Osborne, her granddaughter, and others who, in 1889, conveyed the lot to Harriet A. Walcott, wife of John G. Walcott…John G. Walcott and Harriet A. Walcott, wife, conveyed the same to Mary E. Collins, wife of William F. M. Collins, by deed dated June 27, 1898.”

As Kendall states, if John Proctor was in fact buried in this location, that land is now owned by the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.

Yet, it must be noted that since Proctor was leasing this small lot out to another colonist, there is also the possibility that Proctor’s family did not bury him on the property at all out of fear that the tenant would discover the secret grave.

Another location where Proctor may have been buried instead is on the Downing farm. At 310 Lowell Street in Peabody, on a small corner of what used to be the Downing farm, is a small rectangular granite block that does not have anything engraved on it but is accompanied by a sign that says “Proctor Tomb 1821.” It is unclear who established this granite block or why but some speculate that Proctor may have been secretly buried there in 1692.

Yet, Upham discounts this idea, explaining that the Proctor family were merely leasing the land at the time of Proctor’s execution and it would be unusual to bury him on land they didn’t own:

“What is now known as the Procter Tomb on the north side of Lowell Street at the southeastern corner of the Downing Farm is of modern origin. We cannot believe that John Procter’s family would have deposited his body in ground to which they then had no title except as tenants. At the time of the imprisonment of John Procter and his wife Elizabeth the family was no doubt broken up and the house stripped of everything that could be taken away to pay the fees of arrest and imprisonment. The great farm was no longer their home and they were not again in a position to return to and occupy it as their own until nearly a decade had passed, when, through the efforts of Thorndike, one of the sons of John Procter, the Downing Farm in its entirety was purchased from Charles, the grandson of Emanuel Downing and son of Sir George Downing, then deceased.”

It is entirely possible the Proctor Tomb is merely the burial place of John Proctor’s descendants, especially since the Proctor family lived on the farm well into the 19th century.

Others speculate that Proctor may have been buried near what is now known as the John Proctor House, which was a wood-frame house the Proctor family lived in on the Downing Farm. Dendrochronology tests indicate the house wasn’t built until the early 18th century but it is possible that it was built on the spot where an earlier house may have existed.

It is interesting to note that although another colonist, Thomas Preston, leased the Downing farm after Proctor’s death, Proctor’s son Benjamin leased it after him and then his brother, Thorndike Proctor, purchased the farm in its entirety from the Downing family on September 13, 1700 (Essex Institute 259.)

It makes one wonder why Proctor’s sons went to such great lengths to occupy and buy the land. Perhaps it was just a good investment, seeing that farmland was so valuable at the time, or maybe it was so the family could continue to farm the land they had worked on for so long.

Historian Sarah Sprague Saunders Smith explains, in her book Founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, that when John Proctor leased the Downing farm in 1666 it “was considered the most desirable property in the township, having also houses and buildings, stock, etc” so it’s very likely it was just a valuable piece of property and Thorndike wanted to get it back (Smith 172.)

It is also entirely possible though that the reason Thorndike wanted the land was because Proctor was in fact secretly buried somewhere on the Downing farm and Thorndike wanted to keep that secret grave from being discovered.

In 2018, the John Proctor house went up for sale and was purchased by a family from California who plan to possibly open it to the public in the future. It is not known if the family has plans to look for a possible unmarked grave on the property.

Sources:
Essex Institute Historical Collections. Vol LI – 1915, Essex Institute 1915.
Smith, Sarah Sprague Saunders. The Founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Sun Printing Company, 1897.
Broaddus, Will. “Witch Trials Calendar Gives Daily Perspective.” Salem News, 1 Aug. 2012, salemnews.com/news/business/witch-trials-calendar-gives-daily-perspective/article_16f2a6b2-a08f-5595-ac2f-bdffd618e823.html
Benton, Nelson. “Benton: Bonfanti Focuses on Proctor Farm.” Salem News, 11 Oct. 2018, salemnews.com/opinion/columns/benton-bonfanti-focuses-on-proctor-farm/article_dd45756d-bddb-5831-8049-9976d3e4ddef.html
Upham, William P. House of John Proctor: Witchcraft Martyr, 1692.  Peabody Historical Society, 1904., www.gutenberg.org/files/27386/27386-h/27386-h.htm

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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