William Stoughton Leads the Trials

Salem Witch Trials 1692

Who was William Stoughton?


William Stoughton was a 61-year-old from Dorchester. He was a magistrate, or judge, in Salem Village, 1692. He was a committed puritan who was unbending about his beliefs in witchcraft. Stoughton used to be the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts but was then appointed to be Chief Justice of the court Oyer and Terminer, which means to hear and determine. Stoughton was a Harvard graduate educated to be a politician.

In the Trials

Reports say that William made accusations final by believing all witches accused were guilty no matter what they said. Not everyone believes this story. Stoughton was persecuting the so-called witches left and right, say some sources. When a new superior court was created, Stoughton was still included. There was talk that he wrote a warrant allowing the property of executed people to be captured and discarded. In the conclusion of the trials, it was said that Stoughton stopped accusing people because Cotton Mather announced that Stoughton couldn’t use spectral evidence. Others said that every other judge apologized, but William Stoughton never apologized because he thought what he did was right. He thought he did a great job ridding the land of witches. Before he died, Stoughton quit his job as a judge but that didn’t affect his career because he became acting Governor of Massachusetts. Stoughton died a prosperous land owner in Dorchester. Some people don’t think that was fair because of what he did. His grave has the Oyer and Terminer crest on one side. The other side had skulls and crossbones because of what he did in Salem. William Stoughton was important to the Salem Witch Trials because he was the main persecutor and got away with it.