John Proctor and Salem Village

John Proctor was born in England, and at an early age he emigrated to Ipswich, Massachusetts, with his family. In 1666 he moved to the outskirts of Salem Village, settling on a large tract of land he inherited (received ownership of) from his father and becoming one of the wealthiest property owners in the village. He and his wife Elizabeth also ran a tavern in Salem Town (the Salem community consisted of the larger, more urban Salem Town and the smaller, more rural Salem Village). As a successful farmer and businessman Proctor was envied by his village neigh-

Dorcas Good, Five-Year-Old Witch

In the early phase of the Salem trials, when young girls began accusing respected townspeople of being witches, many villagers were skeptical of their claims and rushed to defend the suspects. Yet within only a few weeks the testimony of a few witnesses swayed public opinion.

A particularly compelling witness was Dorcas Good, the five-year-old daughter of Sarah Good, one of the first three women accused of practicing witchcraft. Soon after her mother's arrest Dorcas confessed to being a witch herself. In court she spoke at length about having her own "familiar" (an animal that has been inhabited by a witch), a small snake that she claimed to nurse between her fingers. Upon examining her hands, court officials found a deep red spot on her forefinger—a sign that she was a witch. Although the spot could have been caused by a number of factors, the spectators needed no other evidence to convince them that Dorcas was telling the truth. When pressed to reveal who had given her the snake as a familiar, Dorcas shocked the audience by condemning her own mother. Her confession came only days after the controversial arrest of Rebecca Nurse, a beloved and respected member of the community. Fears of a widespread witches' conspiracy had been gaining momentum daily, so when the child revealed that she and her mother were witches, the community's worst suspicions were confirmed. Those who dared to question the arrests of suspected witches were immediately silenced.

bors and respected by the people of Salem Town. Although he was never directly involved in Salem Village politics (see Chapter 4), his tavern was located in the town and he therefore remained a target of suspicion in the divided community.

Proctor's troubles began when his sister-in-law Rebecca Nurse was arrested on March 19, 1693. His maidservant Mary Warren was one of several young girls who had recently joined Elizabeth (Betty) Parris, daughter of minister Samuel Parris (see biography entry), and Abigail Williams, Betty's cousin, in having fits (see Chapters 3 and 4). As the main accusers in the Salem trials, they had testified against Nurse in court (see primary source entry). The day after the arrest, Proctor went to the village to find Warren. According to Witchcraft at Salem, Proctor was enraged by her behavior, and he publicly denounced all of the girls, charging that they were faking their fits: "If they were let alone we should all be Devils and witches quickly," Proctor exclaimed. "They should rather be had to the whipping post. . . . Hang them! Hang them!" According to witnesses he took Warren home and beat her until she regained her composure, then as she had more fits he beat her again. Villagers were shocked by his actions, which they considered brutal treatment of a defenseless, afflicted girl. Proctor had also endangered his own position in the village by making an untimely outburst early in the witch-hunt, when public opinion was shifting toward support of the accusers.

Witches were thought to own strange, evil animals, or "familiars," that could help them bring harm to others.

Reproduced by permission of Pennsylvania State University.

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