Despite popular conception, none of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials died by fire. The image of a witch tied to a stake to be burned comes to us from medieval Europe’s witch hunts. Learn more about it on our Salem Witch Trials Tour.
The most famous “witch” to be burned is, of course, Joan of Arc. In hundreds of medieval and Renaissance paintings, she’s depicted as being burned alive for claiming to have prophetic visions from the saints. This image has been made famous by art history, but the fire was not the preferred method for execution in 17th century America.
So how do you kill a witch, if not by burning? Mostly by hanging. 19 of the Salem victims were sent to Gallows Hill to be executed.
In one genuinely exceptional case, a farmer named Giles Corey died by being pressed under heavy stones while trying to extract a confession. The torture was intended to make him plead guilty so that he could be punished accordingly. Most people would have accepted the bargain in exchange for a quick death or a chance at a pardon. But Corey refused. Reportedly, he used his last words to dare the court to continue their torture, asking for “More weight.”
As for the rest of the Salem Witch Trial victims? They perished by hunger or cold in the Old Witch Gaol, awaiting their trial before the court.
Salem Witch Trials Tour
That’s just scratching the surface of many horrifying tales to be told about Salem’s witches. To learn about other Salem witch trials victims, listen to Action Tour Guide’s self-guided audio tour. Download the Salem Witch Trials Tour app today from the App Store or Google Play Store.