25 Executions of People Who Were Later Exonerated

There have been many causes of the Salem Witch Trials cited over the years, but chief among them has been religious hysteria. Wikimedia

2. The victims of religious hysteria at Salem, Massachusetts

Common sense, a notoriously uncommon virtue, would dictate that the victims executed by judicial fiat as the result of the Salem Witch Trials (they were hanged, rather than burned at the stake) were innocent of the crime of witchcraft. Or were they? One can practice witchcraft to one’s hearts content; whether such practice actually harms alleged victims is immaterial. Subsequent historical study has revealed that none of the several victims of the Salem Witch Trials were practicing the so-called Dark Arts however, and whether one is prone to believe in witches, curses, and so forth doesn’t change the fact that Massachusetts eventually recognized its mistake, which claimed at least twenty lives.

Massachusetts did not exonerate its victims, at least not at first, instead granting them pardons in 1711, as well as financial compensation to their families. Because the victims of the anti-religious hysteria were “guilty” of consorting with Satan they were not afforded Christian burial by the Christians who screamed for their heads. Eventually, following the issuance of pardons by the colony, some of the bodies of the executed were exhumed and reinterred in holy ground, to the satisfaction of their families. The Puritans established a day of fasting and prayer in admission of their error (January 15, 1697), and two and a half centuries later the Commonwealth issued a formal apology.