John Hathorne was born on August 5 1641 in Salem to William Hathorne and Anne Smith. Hathorne, the son of a successful farmer, became a noted Salem merchant and a politician. Hathorne's political skills won him a position as justice of the peace and county judge. A very religious man, Hathorne served on a committee to find a replacement for Salem minister George Burroughs in 1686. He later sentenced Burroughs to death in the 1692 witch trials. Hathorne believed the devil could use witches to undermine the purpose of the church and do harm to people. Because of this belief, Hathorne and another justice of the peace, Jonathan Corwin, took very seriously complaints about suspected witches. Both immediately issued warrants for Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba when witchcraft accusations were made against them. As justices of the peace, Hathorne and Corwin conducted initial examinations of the suspected witches. Hathorne often appeared to act more as a prosecutor than an impartial inquisitioner. Consider this exchange during the Bridget Bishop examination:
Hathorne died on May 10, 1717 in Salem. Many years later, Hathorne's great-great grandson, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, added a "w" in his name, most likely to distance himself from Hathorne because of the role he played in the Salem trials.