Facts and Events
William Stoughton (1631 – July 7, 1701) was a colonial magistrate and administrator in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He was in charge of what have 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. In these trials he controversially accepted spectral evidence (based on supposed demonic visions). Unlike other magistrates, he never admitted to the possibility that his acceptance of such evidence was in error.
After graduating from Harvard College in 1650, he continued religious studies in England, where he also preached. Returning to Massachusetts in 1662, he chose to enter politics instead of the ministry. An adept politician, he served in virtually every government through the period of turmoil in Massachusetts that encompassed the revocation of its first charter in 1684 and the introduction of its second charter in 1692, including the unpopular rule of Sir Edmund Andros in the late 1680s. He served as lieutenant governor of the province from 1692 until his death in 1701, acting as governor (in the absence of an appointed governor) for about six years. He was one of the province's major landowners, partnering with Joseph Dudley and other prominent figures in land purchases, and it was for him that the town of Stoughton, Massachusetts was named.