Before it was known that poisonous rye was the cause of hallucinations and convulsions in some of the local townsfolk, hysterical teenagers and vicious rumors caused widespread panic in the town of Salem. Teenage girls were thought to be possessed by Satan after ergotism in rye crops caused “devil-like” convulsions, and they subsequently accused older women in the town of witchcraft.
Unfortunately, in 1692, all someone had to do to be accused of being a witch was deny that witches were real. Instead of the due process that’s seen in many US trials today, the Salem witch trials afforded the accused no such luxury; people who confessed to being witches or wizards were usually spared, while those who claimed to be innocent were killed in a slow, torturous manner.
A total of 19 people were hanged during the trials, while five others died in custody. On September 22, 1692, the last eight accused witches were hanged: Mary Eastey, Ann Pudeator, Margaret Scott, Mary Parker, Samuel Wardwell, Alice Parker, Willmott Redd and Martha Corey.
Mrs. Corey’s husband, Giles, was also executed for coming to his wife’s defense. After being labeled a “dreadful wizard” by the townsfolk, Giles Corey proclaimed his innocence and subsequently paid dearly for it. Mr. Corey’s sentencing? Being pressed to death under a pile of stones. It’s reported that whenever a new layer of stones was heaped on top of him, and he was asked to confess his guilt, he simply yelled back, “More weight!” It took two days of slow suffering before Giles finally died.
After this last group of deaths, the people of Salem realized that the trials had no real merit and ultimately decided to do away with them.