Site of Salem Witch Executions Finally Found

January 11, 2016

Professor Ben Ray, Director of the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, is part of a group of scholars who have definitively identified the location of infamous Salem witch trial executions. The Gallows Hill Project Team drew on both modern technology and historical court records to locate the site where 19 people were hanged during the 1692 witch trials. Popular belief had held that the executions took place somewhere on Gallows Hill, which covers many acres of land. In the 17th century, Gallows Hill was common land located just outside the boundary of the city of Salem. Many believed that the executions took place on the summit of the hill.

In 2010, Elizabeth Peterson, Director of Salem’s Corwin House, brought together a team of experts to draw on ground-penetrating radar and aerial photography to re-examine the research and to see that the site is marked and properly maintained. Research by Salem historian Sidney Perley in the beginning of the 20th century had identified a rocky ledge, known as Proctor’s Ledge, at the base of Gallows Hill as the execution site, but there was not much historic documentation of the hangings. The project team identified a few lines of eyewitness testimony in the trial court records, which led them to a specific house in Salem. Prof. Ray and Scholars' Lab geographic information specialist Chris Gist analyzed the topography of the site and confirmed that Proctor's Ledge, in what is now a residential area in the city of Salem, was the site of the hangings.

The city of Salem is developing a plan to mark the site, working with residents in the neighborhood to balance the need of contemporary community members with the desire to memorialize victims of a dark time in U.S. history.

Members of the Gallows Hill Project Team include Emerson Baker, Professor of History, Salem State University; Shelby Hypes, Chair, Salem Award Foundation; Elizabeth Peterson, Director, the city of Salem’s Corwin House (The Witch House); Tom Phillips, producer and director of Salem Witch Trials: Examine the Evidence; Benjamin Ray, Professor of Religion, University of Virginia; Marilynne Roach, historian and author; and Peter Sablock, Emeritus Professor of Geology, Salem State University.