People accused of being witches were burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials.
The claim has existed for centuries. It went viral on social media once more in summer 2021, likely because Senator Diana DiZoglio introduced legislation to exonerate the last accused witch from the Salem Witch Trials to remain uncleared.
In June 1692, a special court sat to hear cases of witchcraft in what would become the Salem Witch Trials. Witchcraft was legally considered a felony, and thus punishable by death, in the early American colonies. Around 150 people were accused of being witches during the trials; 19 were sentenced to death. Documentation from the time indicates that accused witches were hanged – or, in the case of Giles Corey, crushed with stones (interestingly, Corey was accused of witchcraft after he accused his wife of the same. He refused to speak at his own trial and so was punished by “peine forte et dure,” which killed him. Since he died before the trial ended, he was never convicted).
However, there is no evidence that anyone accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials was burned, at the stake or otherwise.
The myth that accused witches were burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials likely derives from 15th-century European witch hunts, during which accused witches were burned to death. Joan of Arc was also famously burned at the stake after being accused of heresy and sorcery, which has likely added to the cultural belief that accused witches were burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials.