• Reverend executed for witchcraft
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Rev. George Burroughs was born circa 1650 in Pettaugh, Debanham, Suffolk, England, United Kingdom to Nathaniel Burroughs (1609-1682) and Rebekah Style (1614-1685) and died 19 August 1692 Salem witch trials of execution by hanging. He married Hannah Fisher (1652-1681) 1673 in Roxbury, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States. He married Sarah Ruck (1656-1689) 1683 in Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. He married Mary Rogers (1668-) 1691 in Wells, York County, Maine, United States.

Rev George Burroughs was the only minister executed for witchcraft during the course of the Salem witch trials. He is best known for reciting the Lord's Prayer during his execution, something it was believed a witch could never do.

Burroughs was described in a reading by Frances Hill: "George Burroughs was confident, strong-willed, and decisive, a man of action as well as a preacher, unusually athletic and clever enough to do well in Harvard. Short of stature, muscular, dark-complexioned, he was highly attractive to women, as is shown by his winning the hand of a rich widow as his second wife when he was a mere village minister."

Early life

George Burroughs may have been born in Suffolk, England, although some sources claim he was born in Scituate sometime in 1650.[1] Another source gives his birth date and place as Virginia, 1652.[2] He was raised by his mother in the town of Roxbury, Massachusetts.[3] As an American Congregational pastor], he graduated from Harvard College in 1670 with distinguished honors, where he was also considered an outstanding athlete.[4]

Casco Bay

After graduation from Harvard (1670), George served in several frontier posts. From 1674-1676 he served at Casco Bay near Falmouth (now Portland, Maine). He then moved to Wells, Maine, believing it would be safer from Indian attacks (King Philip's War). There he was instrumental in helping refugees find shelter at Salisbury, Massachusetts. It was while he was at Salisbury in 1680 that he was first approached to be the minister for Salem Village. [5]

In 1680 George moved to Salem Village, to a new ministry opportunity there. But he returned to Falmouth in 1690 after it had been destroyed by the Wabanaki Confederacy in 1690 (King William's War). [6] [7]

Move to Salem

He became the minister of Salem Village (now Danvers) in 1680 (where he would eventually be convicted of witchcraft and hanged). Burroughs became disillusioned with the community when they failed to pay his wages, and when his wife died suddenly in 1681, he resorted to borrowing money from community member Thomas Putnam (1615-1686) to pay for her funeral. He was unable to repay the debt, and resigned from his post, leaving Salem in 1683.[8]

At Salem, George, with his wife and little children boarded with John Putnam, Sr, until the town could build him a parsonage home (42x24 feet) on land donated by Nathaniel Ingersoll, Joseph Hutton Sr and Joseph Hutchinson. His wife, Hannah Fisher (1652-1681), died shortly after they moved into this home, probably complications from childbirth.

Back to Falmouth

Rev. George Burroughs left his Salem Village post in 1683, preferring life in the Maine wilds with occasional Indian attacks than dealing with the animosity brewing in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1692 he returned to Salem in chains on trumped up charges of being “in confederacy with the Devil.”

Accusation and trial for witchcraft

1876 illustration of the courtroom; the central figure is usually identified as being Mary Walcott

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused, nineteen of whom were found guilty and executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of the United States.

Letters dated to 1691 from the Littlefields, founder of Wells, Maine, and in-laws to Peter Cloyce, and Rev. George Burroughs, signed by Peter's brothers John and Nathaniel, were sent to the Governor and Council to improve the conditions of Wells, Maine. Peter's second wife, Sarah Towne Cloyce, sister of Rebecca Nurse and Mary Towne (1634-1692), relocated to Salem End, (now West Framingham).[9]

Burroughs was arrested on charges of witchcraft on April 30, 1692, based on the accusation of some personal enemies from his former congregation who had sued him for debt. At his trial, which took place in May, he was found guilty based on evidence that included his extraordinary feats of strength, such as lifting a musket by inserting his finger into the barrel (such feats of strength being presumed impossible without diabolical assistance[10]). His failure to baptise his children or to attend communion was also used as evidence of his guilt.[11]

He was also suspected of killing his wives by witchcraft, and although witchcraft may not have been involved, he does seem to have treated them badly.

Execution and aftermath

George Burroughs was hanged at Proctor's Ledge in present-day Salem on August 19, 1692. He was the only minister to have experienced this fate in American history. Although the jury had found no witches' marks on his body, he was nonetheless convicted of witchcraft and a conspiracy with the devil.

While standing on a ladder before the crowd, waiting to be hanged, he successfully recited the Lord's Prayer, something that was generally considered by the Court of Oyer and Terminer to be impossible for a witch to do. After he was killed, Cotton Mather, a minister from Boston, reminded the crowd from atop his horse that Burroughs had been convicted in a court of law, and spoke convincingly enough that four more were executed after Burroughs.

Below is the original account as first compiled and published in 1700 by Robert Calef in More Wonders of The Invisible World, and later reprinted or relied upon by others including Charles Wentworth Upham and George Lincoln Burr:

Mr. Burroughs was carried in a cart with others, through the streets of Salem, to execution. When he was upon the ladder, he made a speech for the clearing of his innocency, with such solemn and serious expressions as were to the admiration of all present; his prayer (which he concluded by repeating the Lord's Prayer) was so well worded, and uttered with such composedness as such fervency of spirit, as was very Affecting, and drew tears from many, so that it seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution. The accusers said the black man [Devil] stood and dictated to him. As soon as he was turned off [hung], Mr. Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a horse, addressed himself to the people, partly to declare that he [Mr. Burroughs] was no ordained Minister, partly to possess the people of his guilt, saying that the devil often had been transformed into the Angel of Light. And this did somewhat appease the people, and the executions went on; when he [Mr. Burroughs] was cut down, he was dragged by a Halter to a hole, or grave, between the rocks, about two feet deep; his shirt and breeches being pulled off, and an old pair of trousers of one executed put on his lower parts: he was so put in, together with Willard and Carrier, that one of his hands, and his chin, and a foot of one of them, was left uncovered.
—Robert Calef

Later, the government of the Massachusetts colony recognized Burroughs' innocence and awarded 50 pounds damages to his widow and children, though this led to disputes over the division of the award among his heirs.[12] The gun said to have been used at his trial was for a time located at Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, having been taken there in 1808 for display in the Academy museum, but is believed to have since been destroyed in the Academy fire of 1850.[13]


Offspring of Rev. George Burroughs and Hannah Fisher (1652-1681)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Rebecca Burroughs (1674-1730)
George Burroughs (1675-1713)
Hannah Burroughs (1680-1746)
Elizabeth Burroughs (1681-)

Offspring of Rev. George Burroughs and Sarah Ruck (1656-1689)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Charles Burroughs (1683-)
Jeremiah Burroughs (1685-)
Josiah Burroughs (1689-1705)

Offspring of Rev. George Burroughs and Mary Rogers (1668-)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Mary Burroughs (1691-)

See Also


  1. ^ Genealogy of the Burroughs Family, 1894. Compiled by L.A.Burroughs, p.4
  2. ^ Wilcox, Clifton (2012). Witch-hunt: The Assignment Of Blame. p. 27. 
  3. ^ "Reverend George Burroughs". 
  4. ^ Wilcox, Clifton. Witch-Hunt: The Assignment of Blame. p. 27. 
  5. ^ Wikipedia Treaty of Casco (1678)
  6. ^ [The Salem Witch Trials, A day-by-day chronicle of a community under siege, bby Marilynne K. Roach., pg 34]
  7. ^ Wikipedia Battle of Falmouth (1690)
  8. ^ Wilcox, Clifton (2012). Witch-Hunt: The Assignment of Blame. p. 28-29. 
  9. ^ The Baxter Manuscripts, Volume 5 ed by James Phinney Baxter. Letter from Fancis Littlefield and others to Governor and Councils. 1691 p. 274. Letter from Rev. Geo. Burrough to Governor and Council. Wells: Sept: 28th 1691 p 294.
  10. ^ Godbeer, Richard (2018). The Salem Witch Hunt (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins. p. 140. 
  11. ^ (2016) "The Opinion of the Cambridge Association, 1 August 1692: A Neglected Text of the Salem Witch Trials". New England Quarterly: A Historical Review of New England Life and Letters 89 (4). 
  12. ^ "Reverend George Burroughs: Ringleader of the Salem Witches?". 9 April 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2018. 
  13. ^ The Centennial Celebration of the Settlement of Fryeburg, by Rev. Samuel Souther. Printed by Tyler & Seagrave. 1864. Retrieved 5 February 2019. 


Footnotes (including sources)

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