Salem Witch Trials FAQs

Q: Did the Salem Witch Trials happen in modern-day Salem or Danvers?
A: The Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692 happened throughout the region, with accused and accusers coming from Salem, Ipswich, Gloucester, Andover, Methuen, and other communities. Salem Village is now the town of Danvers, and some of the sites associated with the trials and hysteria are in Danvers. Salem Town, modern-day Salem, is where the trials actually took place, as well as the hangings and the pressing of Giles Corey.

Q: How was the practice of witchcraft viewed in 17th century New England?
A: Under British law, the basis for Massachusetts Bay Colony legal structure in the 17th century, those who were accused of consorting with the devil were considered felons, having committed a crime against their government. The punishment for such a crime was hanging.

 

Q: What was the difference between the “afflicted” and the “accused”?
A: The “afflicted” were those supposedly “possessed” and “tormented”; it was they who accused or “cried out” the names of those who were supposedly possessing them.

Q: Were only women accused of practicing witchcraft?
A: Men were accused as well. Five men were convicted and hanged, and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to cooperate with the court.

Q: Were the accused “swum” to determine if they were witches?
A: Not in Salem. The practice of swimming a witch was used in Europe, and in Connecticut, but not in Salem.

Q: Were any of the victims burned at the stake?
A: Not in Salem. Burning at the stake was punishment for heresy, a crime against the church, in Europe. Witchcraft was a felony in the colonies, a crime against the government.

Q: Where are the victims buried?
A: This question remains unanswered. It is believed that the bodies were cut down and dropped unceremoniously into a crevice on the side of Gallows Hill. Tradition has it that several families came to Gallows Hill to claim their relatives and buried their bodies privately.

 

Q: Is anyone buried in the Charter Street Cemetery who was connected to the Salem Witch Trials?
A: Magistrate John Hathorne: interrogator and member or the Court of Oyer and Terminer, and great-great-grandfather to Nathaniel Hawthorne (who added the “W” to his last name).

Bartholomew Gedney: a member of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, and physician who was present during several examinations.

Mary Corey: Giles Corey’s second wife who died eight years before the Salem Witch Trials. Giles Corey was pressed to death in 1692 for refusing to stand trial and his third wife, Martha, was hanged three days later.

Reverend Nicholas Noyes: minister of Salem during the Witch Trials, he is likely buried in an unmarked grave. He eventually repented his treatment of the accused, and tradition follows that he suffered an internal hemorrhage and died choking on his own blood in 1717 (fulfilling a 1692 prophecy by Sarah Good that “God will give you blood to drink”).

Q: How is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial designed?
A: The memorial is surrounded on three sides by a handcrafted granite drywall. Inscribed in the stone threshold entering the memorial are the victims’ protests of innocence. These protests are interrupted mid-sentence by the wall, symbolizing society’s indifference to oppression. Five locust trees, the last to flower and the first to lose their leaves, represent the stark injustice of the trials. At the rear of the memorial, visitors view the tombstones of the adjacent cemetery a reminder of all who stood in mute witness to the hysteria.

FAQs courtesy of the Salem Witch Museum and Salem Award Foundation

Salem.org