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Elizabeth Proctor

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Name  Elizabeth Proctor

Elizabeth Proctor (née Bassett; 1652 – unknown) was convicted of witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. She was the wife of John Proctor, who was also convicted; he was executed.


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Her execution sentence was postponed because she was pregnant. In 1693 the new governor, Sir William Phips, freed 153 prisoners, including Elizabeth. The widow Proctor remarried in 1699, to Daniel Richard. In 1703 she and her late husband John Proctor were granted a reversal of attainder by the Massachusetts legislature, overturning their convictions.

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The Crucible: Elizabeth Proctor

Early life

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Elizabeth was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, and was the daughter of William Bassett and Sarah Burt. As an adult she weighed 155 pounds. She married John Proctor in 1674 in Salem, Massachusetts.

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Elizabeth's grandmother was Ann (Holland) Bassett Burt, a Quaker and a midwife. The Puritans felt there was something "witchlike" about Quakers. Since Ann was not a doctor, but was successful at caring for those who were ill, some felt she could only have these skills if she were a witch. She was charged with witchcraft in 1669. One of those who testified against Ann was Phillip Read, a doctor. These accusations left a taint in the memories of residents and may have contributed to Elizabeth's persecution nearly 30 years later.

Accusations of witchcraft

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In early March 1692, the Proctors' servant, Mary Warren, began to have fits, saying she saw the spectre (ghost) of Giles Corey. John Proctor was dismissive of her claims (as he was of all the accusations) and made her work harder; he felt that witchcraft should be suspected of the bewitched girls themselves and not of the respectable women of the village. His negative reactions to the girls' accusations may have caused Elizabeth to become one of the next to be accused of practicing witchcraft.

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On March 26, 1692, Mercy Lewis made the first accusations that Elizabeth's spectre was tormenting her. William Rayment, of nearby Beverly, Massachusetts, mentioned he had heard a rumor that Elizabeth Proctor would be questioned in court the next day. Appearing to go into a trance, one of the girls cried, "There’s Goody Proctor! Old Witch! I’ll have her hung." When onlookers expressed doubt, claiming that the Proctor family was well regarded in the community, the girl promptly came out of her trance and told them it was all for "sport".

On March 29, 1692, Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis again said they were being tormented by Elizabeth's spectre. A few days later, Abigail complained that Elizabeth was pinching her and tearing at her bowels, and said she saw Elizabeth’s spectre as well as John's. In April 1692, 31 men from Ipswich, Massachusetts, filed a petition attesting to the upstanding character of John and Elizabeth and denying that they had ever seen anything that would indicate either of the couple were witches.

In May 1692, a similar petition was filed on behalf of John and Elizabeth, containing signatures of 20 men and women, including several of the wealthiest landowners of Topsfield, Massachusetts and Salem Village. The petition questioned the validity of spectral evidence, testified to the Christian lives that John and Elizabeth had led, said that they “were ever ready to help such as stood in need of their help,” and that the petitioners had no reason to believe the couple were witches.

On June 2, 1692, a male doctor and several women completed a physical examination of Elizabeth and several of the other accused. They looked for birth defects, moles or other markings, which were widely believed at the time to be a sign that the person was a witch; the examiners found no such marks.

On August 2, 1692, the court met in Salem to discuss the fate of John, Elizabeth and several others. At some point during this time, John wrote his will, but he did not include Elizabeth. Some believe this is because he assumed she would be executed along with him. In spite of the petitions and testimonies from friends, both John and Elizabeth were found guilty, and were sentenced to death on August 5, 1692. Elizabeth, who was pregnant at the time, was granted a stay of execution until after the birth of the baby. John tried to postpone his execution, but failed. On August 19, 1692, John was executed. Elizabeth remained in jail. Action was eventually taken on the petition that John had filed to save his life and that of Elizabeth, but it was too late for him.


In January 1693, several hundred people were still in prison awaiting trial. On January 27, while imprisoned, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, whom she named John after her husband. For some reason, Elizabeth was not executed as the court had ordered.

In May 1693, the girls began to accuse the wife of Governor of Massachusetts Sir William Phips. The Governor, believing that people were being wrongly convicted without hard evidence, ordered 153 people set free. Elizabeth was among this general release of prisoners. Before she was released, her family was required to pay her prison fees. At this time, families were required to pay for their family members' room and board while in jail, as well as the cost of their executions.

Trial aftermath

Though Elizabeth was free, the ordeal was not over for her. As she had been convicted, in the eyes of the law she was a dead person, separated from society. Although the law stated that possessions would be seized when someone was convicted, the Proctors' possessions were confiscated long before their trials. Elizabeth could not claim any of John's property, some of which had been salvaged by this time. She could not regain her dowry, because legally, she no longer existed. Elizabeth petitioned the General Court for reversal of attainder to restore her legal rights. No action was taken by the government for seven years, although it was already widely accepted that innocent people had been wrongly convicted.

On April 19, 1697, the probate court at Salem ordered the Proctor heirs to give Elizabeth her dowry. On September 22, 1699, she married her second husband, Daniel Richards, in Lynn, Massachusetts. The public demanded that the courts apologize, and a written apology was issued on March 18, 1702. In July 1703, an address was made to the General Court requesting the petitions from the families be granted. Finally, action was taken to obtain the reversal of attainder for Elizabeth. The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill that year formally disallowing spectral evidence, but reversing attainder only for those who had filed petitions, which applied only to John and Elizabeth Proctor, and Rebecca Nurse.

In November 2001, more than 300 years after the trials, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill exonerating all the victims of the trials and listing them by name.


Elizabeth Proctor Wikipedia