Punishments for the Accused

When citizens were being accused, there were only two directions for them to take; they could plead guilty or innocent. The majority of the people under questioning went with pleading guilty, because that usually only ended with being jailed. If they pleaded innocent, then the complications began to emerge.

Some of the more common methods of interrogation or torture were things such as the ducking stool. With a set-up similar to a teeter totter, the accused was on one end which would hang above the local pond, whereas the other end was occupied by the accusers. They would dunk their victim under the water. If they floated, they were a witch using magic to stay afloat. If they drowned, they were innocent.

The true torture began after one was proven to be a witch. They used several different types of penalties, but they were very likely to end with death. One of the most common sentences for a witch would be hanged at Gallows Hill. Although the Salem Witch Trials are well-known for having their victims being burned at the stake, that was actually less common than being hanged. Another rather odd punishment was called the witch’s cradle. The victim was put into a sack and tied upside down from a tree, where the accusers would proceed to swing them back and forth. This caused hallucinations in some cases, but they used whatever they said to add some zest to their story.

Most of the witch trials were very common to others, but there was one story that was unlike the rest. Giles Corey was an 81-year-old man who had been accused of witchcraft. When he was confronted about it, he did not plead guilty or innocent. He stood mute whenever he was asked how he wished to plead. The interrogation for a response was different than any other Salem or surrounding communities had seen. They stripped him down and made him lay naked on the concrete floor. They continued on by placing heavy weights and rocks on his body, adding more and more each day. They fed him an alternating diet between three morsels of the worst bread one day, and placing three pails of water as close to the prison door as possible. This continued on until Corey died, but he never pleaded guilty or innocent throughout the entire process.

Although there are only a few punishments listed above, these are some of the more humane ones that were apart of the Salem Witch Trials.