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|Justice of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer|
May 1692 – December 1692
|Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature|
|Born||baptized August 2, 1641
Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony
|Died||May 10, 1717
John Hathorne (August 1641 – May 10, 1717) was a merchant and magistrate of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He is best known for his role as one of the leading judges in the Salem witch trials, and the only one who never repented of his actions. He was also a merchant in Salem, Massachusetts, and the patrilineal ancestor of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hathorne's father, Major William Hathorne, was among the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s and held a number of military and political positions for several decades. John was born in Salem in August 1641; his father's surviving records give the date as August 4, but the records of the First Church of Salem indicate he was baptized on August 2. John married in Salem, March 22, 1674/5, Ruth Gardner, granddaughter of "Old Planter" Thomas Gardner, a settler of Salem who arrived as part of colonization efforts funded by the Dorchester Company in 1625.
Hathorne expanded on the successes of his father in building a small empire based on land and merchant trade to England and the West Indies. In addition to lands in the Salem area he also had interests in the lands of what is now Maine. He assumed positions of authority in the town, and was appointed a justice of the peace of Essex County, and served as a member of the colony's council of assistants (a combination of legislative upper house and high court). In this role he was called on to mediate disputes in the county's towns, including Salem Village (present-day Danvers).
Later in the 1690s Hathorne followed in his father's military footsteps and became more involved in the colonial military activities of King William's War, leading forces in the 1696 Siege of Fort Nashwaak (present-day Fredericton, New Brunswick). He continued to be active in the colonial militia, and was promoted to colonel in 1711. He was also finally appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Joseph Dudley, a seat he held until 1711. He died in Salem in 1717, and is interred in the Burying Point Cemetery along with a number of his descendants.
John was the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne (born "Hathorne"), author of many works, including The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. The latter work, set in Salem, contains allusions to the witch trials in its history of the house. Hawthorne was somewhat distressed at his ancestor's lack of remorse over the trials; he may have adopted the "Hawthorne" spelling in an effort to dissociate himself from the judge. He did publish several works in 1830 under the Hathorne name, and his assumption of the modified spelling may have been an echo of the family's ancestral name from Bray, Berkshire, England. Historical documents from England contain a variety of spellings of the name, including Hauthorne, Hathorn, Hothorne and Hawthorne.
In Arthur Miller's play The Crucible (and its film adaptations), Hathorne is portrayed as quite sadistic and, quite possibly, the most ignorant, antagonistic character besides Abigail Williams and her posse. Hathorne is the leading judge who continually denies witnesses any chance to redeem their names in court, as if he has already determined the outcome. He is cynical and rarely shows emotion, with the exception of the finale, where he is almost joyful that John Proctor is going to confess his crimes.
Hathorne is the judge appointed by Satan at the trial in Stephen Vincent Benet's story "The Devil and Daniel Webster", where he is described as "a tall man, soberly clad in Puritan garb, with the burning gaze of the fanatic." In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's play Giles Corey of the Salem Farms, Hathorne is shown debating Cotton Mather on the nature of witchcraft and presiding over hearings in which Giles Corey refuses to enter a plea. (In both the real trial and Longfellow's work, Corey was crushed to death for this refusal.)
The horror film The Lords of Salem features a witchhunting reverend named John Hawthorne.
- Brief biography of John Hathorne
- Photograph of John Hathorne's tombstone
- Anderson, Robert (1999). The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society. Entry for William Hathorne.
|Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature