Burroughs, George (d. 1692) Minister accused of
witchcraft and executed in the Salem Witches hysteria
in Massachusetts in 1692 to 1693.
George Burroughs served as minister of Salem Village
from 1680 to 1682. He was a man of good reputation,
having graduated from Harvard in 1670. He had distinguished
himself as a preacher in Maine, especially in the
face of hostilities from Indians. Invited to Salem Village,
he had no idea of the hornet’s nest of social and political
infighting that awaited him. Not everyone was pleased to
have him.
After moving, Burroughs and his wife lived for a time
with Thomas and Rebecca Putnam. Later, when the witch
42 burning times
hysteria broke out, the Putnams alleged that Burroughs
had treated his wife cruelly.
Burroughs’ wife died in September 1681. By then, Burroughs
had not been paid his salary for some time, a casualty
of the local infighting. He went into debt to pay
for his wife’s funeral. Perhaps it was the combination of
grief over his loss and frustration at the sentiments raging
in the village, but Burroughs decided not to pursue the
monies owed him and quit his job. He returned to Maine,
where he became a pastor in Wells.
In 1683, a suit was brought against Burroughs for the
unpaid debt for funeral expenses. The suit was dropped
when Burroughs demonstrated that the village owed him
back salary, which could be applied to the debt. The situation
fomented ill will against the minister.
Burroughs was long gone from Salem Village when
the witchcraft hysteria erupted in 1692. Burroughs was
decried as a witch. Twelve-year-old Ann Putnam said
that on April 20 the specter of a minister appeared and
tortured and choked her, urging her to write in his devil’s
book. She identified the specter as Burroughs. She
said he told her he had three wives and that he had bewitched
the first two to death. He also said he had killed
Mrs. Lawson and her daughter Ann; he had bewitched
many soldiers to death; and he had turned Abigail Hobbs
into a witch. He claimed to be a conjurer, which was
above a witch.
On May 4, Burroughs was arrested at his home in
Wells, Maine—while he sat at his dinner table with his
family, according to lore—and brought immediately to
Salem. In his examination on May 9, he was accused of
witchcraft, of not attending communion on some occasions
and of not baptizing all but his eldest child. These
were grave sins for a minister. Like others who had been
cried out against, Burroughs was simply astounded both
at the accusations and the girls falling into fits claiming
that he was tormenting and biting them.
Putnam said that on May 8, the apparition of Burroughs
appeared to her again and told her that she would
soon see his dead two wives, who would tell her lies. She
saw two ghosts of women in burial shrouds. They said
that Burroughs had been cruel to them and had killed
them. The first wife said she had been stabbed beneath
the armpit and the wound covered with sealing wax.
She pulled aside her burial shroud to show Putnam the
wound. Putnam also said that the ghosts of Lawson and
her child appeared and said they, too, had been murdered
by Burroughs. Later, Putnam saw the ghost of Goody
Fuller, who said Burroughs had killed her over a dispute
with her husband.
Others, including eight confessed witches, came forward
against him. Burroughs was a man of small stature
but had exceptional strength for his size. It was alleged
that his unusual strength came from the Devil, and that
he reveled in letting others know of his occult powers,
also granted by the Devil. By the time the testimonies
were done, Burroughs was the ringleader of all the witches,
tempting and seducing them, giving them poppets for
evil spells.
Burroughs was tried on August 5. Found guilty, he
was condemned to death by hanging. On August 19, he
and four others were driven to Gallows Hill in an open
cart. He mounted the gallows and then preached a sermon,
ending with the Lord’s Prayer. His flawless recitation
of the prayer upset the onlookers, for it was strongly
believed that a witch could not say the prayer without
stumbling. Cotton Mather, watching astride his white
horse, kept the execution on track by telling the crowd
that Burroughs was not an ordained minister and, thus,
the Devil could help him recite the prayer. The executions
proceeded.
Burroughs and the others were cut down and dragged
by halters to a shallow hole about two feet deep. Burroughs’
shirt and pants were pulled off, and an old pair of
pants belonging to one of the executed were put on him.
The bodies were barely covered with dirt. Burroughs’
chin and one hand stuck out from the ground, along with
a foot of one of the others.
After his execution, more stories of his dealings with
the Devil circulated through Salem. The citizens seemed
to need a sense of justification at having killed the man
who once led their church. Mather made special effort to
spread disparaging stories. Filled with loathing of Burroughs,
Mathers said he could hardly speak his name and
would not have done so except that the state of Massachusetts
asked for accounts of the Salem trials to be included
in Mather’s book, On Witchcraft: Being the Wonders of the
Invisible World.