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5 American 'Witches' Hanged 325 Years Ago Remembered

  • VOA News

Karla Hailer, a fifth-grade teacher from Situate, Massachusetts, makes a video of the Proctor's Ledge Memorial before the noon dedication of the site July 19, 2017, at the site where five women were hanged as witches 325 years ago.

Five women hanged during the 17th-century witch trials in colonial America are being remembered on the 325th anniversary of their deaths.

Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Wildes were hanged on July 19, 1692, at Proctor's Ledge in Salem Village, in what is now the eastern state of Massachusetts. It was the first of three mass hangings at the spot.

In all, 25 people died during the dark period in colonial American history known as the Salem Witch Trials. Proctor's Ledge was where 19 women and men were executed by hanging. Five other accused "witches" died in jail, including two infants. One 80-year-old man was crushed to death in prison.

On Wednesday, dozens of people gathered at the site to help dedicate the new Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a semicircle of stone memorializing the men and women who were killed during the Salem Witch Trials.

'It did not need to happen'

"We should not be here commemorating the heartbreaking and tragic loss of life, it did not need to happen,'' said the Reverend Jeff Barz-Snell, minister at the Unitarian Universalist First Church in Salem. "And so we are here to remember, to resolve, to rededicate.''

The infamous Salem witch trials began in 1692, when a group of young girls in Salem Village (now the town of Danvers) claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. As a wave of hysteria spread throughout colonial towns and villages, a special court convened in Salem to hear the cases; the first convicted witch, Bridget Bishop, was hanged that June.

About 200 men and women were accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which extended into 1693, although the level of hysteria began to decline a few months after the initial executions, and public opinion turned against the process.

Those attending Wednesday's memorial dedication included Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll and Professor Emerson Baker of Salem State University, one of the researchers who confirmed Proctor's Ledge as the location of the hangings, based on 17th-century witnesses' accounts and modern mapping technology.

"The sun casts few shadows this time of day, and yet the shadows from this site extend across our city in ways we cannot see with our eyes,'' Driscoll said at the ceremony.

The memorial was primarily funded through a $174,000 Community Preservation Act government grant, along with small donations, many from descendants of those executed at the site.

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