A research team has confirmed the exact site where 19 innocent people were hanged during the Salem witch trials more than three centuries ago.
The site is called Proctor’s Ledge and can be found in a small plot of woods on a tract owned by the city nestled between two residential streets and behind a Walgreens.
Historian Sidney Perley found Proctors’s Ledge a hundred years ago but the discovery was lost to time, misconceptions and conspiracy theories.
A team of researchers using historical documents, ground breaking radar, and 21st century archaeological techniques has uncovered the exact location of the hangings.
The researchers went about their endeavor to correct the record of a grave injustice.
In 1692, twenty people were killed in Salem for suspected witchcraft. The frenzy that led to their deaths began with superstition, fear of disease and strangers, and petty jealousies.
When one Samuel Parris came to town, he began preaching about the devil and making accusations against the people who were not members of the real church. They cut off his income selling wood.
Soon after, Parris’ daughter and niece began experiencing fits and other mysterious maladies. A doctor concluded that the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft, and the young girls corroborated the doctor’s diagnosis. Under compulsion from the doctor and their parents, the girls named those allegedly responsible for their suffering.
His nine-year-old daughter Betty and 11-year-old niece Abigail Williams and other young female accusers alleged that witches were meeting in the field adjacent to his house.
The alleged witches were accused of trying to establish their own counter-church of Satan by holding satanic masses next to the village parsonage.
“Parris has been preaching about the devil, there are emergency meetings of church elders because his salary is cut off, he has to petition the government to force the village to pay him,” Research Professor Ray says.
Only the afflicted accusers and those who confessed could see them.
The accusations grew from this localised dispute over church doctrine to the frenzy that left more than 150 people accused and 19 innocents dead by hanging.
The accusations spread. Most of the accusers were daughters of church members, while most of the accused were outside of the church. Women and children would throw fits during the trials with the suggestion being they were possessed.
Fear of the devil’s presence went viral in Salem, snowballing from a local dispute to a regional crisis.
“There is a kind of fanaticism here that is both of church and state, because of fear,” Professor Ray says. As a hysteria spread throughout Massachusetts, a court convened in Salem to hear the cases.
The first convicted witch, Bridget Bishop, was hanged that June. Bishop, known around town for her dubious moral character, frequented taverns, dressed flamboyantly (by Puritan standards), and was married three times.
Edward Bishop saw his wife hung first, then his son and his daughter-in-law. Sarah Averil Wildes, Sisters Rebecca Nurse and Mary Eastey, a relative, were executed in 1692.
Nineteen were hanged and one man, Giles Corey, was crushed to death by rocks.
Some 150 more men, women and children were accused over the next several months.
Trials continued with until early 1693.
But by that May, the governor of Massachusetts had pardoned and released all those in prison.
They were probably hung from a tree since there was no evidence of a gallows and the ground is too rocky and the soil too shallow for one.
There appears to be no bodies buried there. It is believed all of the victims were retrieved by their families.