Hangings on Gallows Hill

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The hangings took place on Gallows Hill, outside of Salem Town. On July 19, 1692, Good, Nurse, Martin, Howe, and Wildes were carried by cart out of town on Boston road, past the North River, and to the foot of Gallows Hill. There they experienced abusive treatment from the crowd and the executioner. They were followed by an enormous group of spectators who taunted and threw things at them. Upon reaching the base of the hill they were forced to walk up to the top, to the Hanging Tree. The women had been weakened by starvation and illness during their time in jail, and this last walk was especially difficult for the elderly, such as Nurse. Some were actually too weak to walk and they begged for help from the crowd, but to no avail. Nobody wanted to risk being associated with a witch. As the women made their way up the hill the girls took turns jeering at them and further riling the crowd. One by one the women were told to stand on a wooden crate and insert their heads into the noose of the hanging rope. The executioner, Nicholas Noyes, was famous for his departing taunts to the witches and seemed to enjoy his role in the gruesome spectacle. Hanging was a slow and agonizing way to die: once the crate was kicked out of the way, the victim would drop and thrash in agony for several minutes. If a victim's neck did not break during the fall she would be suffocated and remain conscious for several minutes prior to death. In a few cases the hanging was unsuccessful and Noyes had to start the torturous process over again.

Gallows Hill was the site of most of the witchcraft executions.

Reproduced courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Gallows Hill was the site of most of the witchcraft executions.

Reproduced courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Each of the victims went with as much dignity possible, restating their innocence to the crowd. Noyes tried to elicit last-minute confessions, but none of the women budged from a denial of practicing witchcraft. When Good was waiting to be hanged she gave a powerful speech to Noyes as he taunted her for being a witch, as related in The Salem Witch Trials, "I am no more a witch than you are a wizard [magician] and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink." (Noyes died years later when he reportedly choked on his own blood.) Following the hangings the bodies were cut from the ropes then dragged to a shallow grave where they were dumped unceremoniously and covered with dirt. Relatives of the victims were charged for all transportation costs to the hill, as well as executioner's fees and burial charges.

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