| Dorchester Illustration of the Day no. 1380
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Stoughton Tomb in Old Dorchester North Burying Ground
William Stoughton was born in Dorchester and lived here till his death.
William Stoughton, 1631-1701, aged 70. Harvard class of 1650.
From John Langdon Sibley. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvarad University. Cambridge: Charles William Sever, 1873.
Having studied divinity, he went to England, where he preached with much acceptance in Sussex. He received at Oxford the degree of Master of arts, and had a Fellowship, from which he was ejected at the Restoration, as appears by the following extract made by Savage from the New College records: “Gul. Stoughton A. Mr. antehac Acad. Nov. Angliae graduatus, hic positus auth. Parl. Rege reduci discessit 1660.”
In 1662 he returned to New England, and 3 May, 1665, was made freeman of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Stoughton declined two invitations to become the Dorchester minister. In December, 1665, he was again asked to settle in Dorchester, but he replied “that he had some objections within himself against the motion,” and, though the invitation was renewed on the last day of the same month, and was six times repeated, even down to the year 1670, and an appeal was made to the elders of other churches to influence him, he nevertheless remained inflexible.
In 1671 and the three following years he was annually chosen Selectman of Dorchester. In 1671, writes Hull, “Mr. William Stoughton, able preacher and very pious, but not yet persuadable to take any office charge in any church, was chosen into the magistracy, and accepted the same,” an office in which he was continued by annual election till Joseph Dudly, H.U. 1665, became President in 1686.
From 1674 to 1676, and from 1680 to 1686, he was Commissioner for the United Colonies, and for the years 1673 and 1677 he was Commissioner in reserve.
June 1, 1677, he was appointed Captain “to the foot company in Dorchester,” and 3 October, 1680, “Major of” the “regiment” of troops of the Suffolk County towns except Boston.
In 1692 he became Lieutenant Governor. The witchcraft excitement soon began raging. Stoughton was appointed Chief Justice of a special tribunal to try cases of witchcraft, and by virtue of this illegal authority he acted. He went upon the bench with a bigoted zeal akin to animosity, and proceeded with such alacrity that the first victim was executed on the tenth of June, only eight days after the tribunal was constituted; and before the ensuing October there was a series of judicial murders which has no parallel in American history. Notwithstanding the excitement of the time, there can be no doubt, that, if Stoughton had been as zealous to procure the acquittal as he was to bring about the conviction of the accused, this black page in the history of New England and of humanity could never have been written. His conduct during the trials, if conscientious, was heartless, unjust, atrocious.
Upon the reorganizations of the Superior Court, Stoughton was nominated, and unanimously confirmed by the Council, as Chief Justice. His commission, dated 22 December, 1692, was renewed in 1695, and he held the office until a short time before his death.
He also became acting governor of the province when William Phips left in 1694.
In 1698 he “had held the reins four years, and had kept free from controversy with the other branches of the legislature.” He “now stood so well in the esteem of the people, that they chose him, at every election, one of the council; although, at the same time, he was commander in chief. Before the year expired a new governor might arrive, in which case he would take his place as a concellor.”
Stoughton died, a bachelor, 7 July, 1701, at his house, the site of which was on the northeast corner of Pleasant Street and Savin Hill Avenue, in Dorchester. He was entombed on the 15th, “with great honor and solemnity, and with him much of New England’s glory.” The funeral sermon was preached at the lecture in Boston, 17 July, 1701, by Samuel Willard, afterward President of the College.
He was an extensive landholder by inheritance and by purchase, and left an estate which was large for the time. He bequeathed to the church in Dorchester 50 pounds, and two pieces of plate of 6 pounds value each, and to the selectmen of the town 50 pounds, of which the income was to be given to the poor.
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Created: September 7, 2010 Modified: September 7, 2010