|of the most vile|
|William Stoughton (1631 - 1701)|
Born in England on September 30, 1631, and educated at Oxford, Stoughton moved to the colonies in 1662, where he became a preacher in Massachusetts. He entered political life in the 1670’s and served as Deputy President of the temporary government of the colonies. He was later appointed Chief Justice of Massachusetts, which he remained until his death.
|When accusations of witchcraft emerged in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, a special court was appointed to hear the cases and Stoughton was appointed Chief Justice by Governor Phips. Stoughton and the court allowed coerced confessions, spectral evidence (testimony that a victim had been visited by a person’s spirit), gossip and hearsay to be admitted into evidence. In one case where a jury returned a not guilty verdict, Stoughton instructed them to reconsider the evidence again. The jury came back with a guilty verdict. From June to September of 1692, nineteen women were hanged as witches and one man was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to stand trial for witchcraft.
After the hysteria died down and the other accused witches were released, many people involved in the prosecutions expressed sorrow or guilt for their part in them. But Stoughton never admitted any wrongdoing and even said that the governor’s halting of the trials prevented them from the chance to “clear the land” of witches. The publicity of the trials did no damage to his reputation. In 1694, he even served for a time as acting governor of Massachusetts. He died July 7, 1701.
After the escape, Stoughton returned to Salem where he tried to complete his task of clearing the land of witches, though he slowly worked his way back to New York, which he came to believe was the center of the modern world. He often mistook prostitutes, homeless people and other poor unfortunates as witches. He would lure them into isolated spots, imprison them and then put on his judicial robes to interrogate them. Those that confessed were promptly hanged. Those that protested their innocence were “tested” – although any test that would exonerate them completely inevitably left them dead anyway. The sole exception was when he found a trio of mentally challenged women who had become separated from
their driver on the way to the Special Olympics. Even after intense interrogation he could see that they had the minds of innocent children. He left them unharmed in the back of a nearby church where they were quickly found and returned to their families.