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William Stoughton

In office
December 4, 1694 – May 26, 1699
July 22, 1700 – July 7, 1701
Preceded by William Phips (1694)
Richard Coote (1700)
Succeeded by Richard Coote (1699)
Massachusetts Governor's Council (1701)

Born September 30, 1631
Kingdom of England
Died July 7, 1701,
Massachusetts Bay Colony

William Stoughton (30 September 1631 – 7 July 1701) was in charge of what has come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials, first as the Chief Justice of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692, and then as the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693.



Born in the Kingdom of England, Stoughton was the son of Israel Stoughton and Elizabeth Knight. Soon after the birth of William they moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where they had a plentiful amount of land. His parents were among the founders of Dorchester, Massachusetts. His paternal grandparents were Thomas and Katherine Stoughton.[1]

Life account

Stoughton graduated from Harvard College in 1650 with a degree in theology. He intended to become a religious minister and continued his studies in New College, Oxford, graduating with an M.A. in Theology in 1652. The Kingdom of England had by then been replaced by the Commonwealth of England.

Stoughton was a pious man who believed that the “Lord’s promises… have singled out New England… above any nation or people in the world.”[2]

Stoughton received a Master's degree in June 1653. The same year the Commonwealth was replaced by The Protectorate of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Stoughton's personal seal, as it appeared on the warrant for the execution of Bridget Bishop

Stoughton served as a curate in Sussex during the English Restoration of 1660. He was a Puritan at a time when this denomination was strongly connected to the recently deceased Cromwell. They fell out of favor with the Restoration of Charles II of England to the throne. Stoughton would not hold his position for long.

Having lost his position as a curate and having little chance to gain another, Stoughton returned to Massachusetts in 1662. He served in various positions in the colonial government, including as Joseph Dudley's deputy in 1686. By the early 1690s he was colonial chief magistrate, the first Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In 1692 he acted as judge and prosecutor during the Salem Witch Trials, notoriously allowing spectral evidence and denying the accused defense counsel.

Stoughton was acting Governor of Massachusetts from 1694 to 1699, while still serving as Chief Justice, and again from 1700 to 1701. He was an adroit politician who managed the factions of the Colony's politics using the power of his governorship and judgeship and appointments to both his council and to lower courts.


In 1726 the town of Stoughton, Massachusetts was named in his honor.

One of the Harvard College dormitories in Harvard Yard is named after Stoughton.


His sister, Rebecca Stoughton, was married to William Tailer. Their namesake son, William Tailer, would serve as acting Governor of Massachusetts from 1715 to 1716 and again in 1730. Their daughter Elizabeth married John Nelson (c. 1654 - 1734) who served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts.


  1. ^ Anderson, Robert Charles, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts, 1995, p. 1766
  2. ^ As cited in Spencer, Benjamin T. , The Quest for Nationality; and American Literary Campaign, Syracuse University Press, 1957, p 1


External links


Political offices
Preceded by
William Phips
Acting Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
December 4, 1694 - May 26, 1699
Succeeded by
Richard Coote
Preceded by
Richard Coote
Acting Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
July 22, 1700 - July 7, 1701
Succeeded by
Massachusetts Governor's Council


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