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Death by Fire: Punishments & Modern Society

During the days of slavery, people were sometimes burned for the crimes that committed or plotted to commit against their masters. It seemed that the practice was mostly reserved for female slaves, as the males were typically hung amongst other things. In this article, you will learn about some instances that took place in the United States.

Slaves Burned at the Stake , Massachusetts

Burning to death was a common sentence of female criminals, while men were typically hung. There are two cases of people being burned at the stake in Massachusetts. First, a female slave attempted to kill her owner by setting his house on fire in 1681. She was eventually convicted of arson and burned at the stake at Roxbury, Massachusetts. She faced a very different fate than a male slave who was charged in a different crime of arson. He was hanged at a nearby gallows, and when he died, his body was tossed into the fire with that of the woman. In 1755, a group of slaves made plans to take the life of their owner. A male servant was hung for his participation, while a female servant was burned at the stake in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Burnings in New York

Burning at the stake was also used as a way to punish slaves and calm any thoughts of revolts against masters. In New York, several burnings took place, especially after people suspected plots of slave revolts. In 1708, one female was burnt. After the New York Slave Revolt of 1712 took place, 20 people were burned for their participation or affiliations. A handful of people were also burned at the stake when a supposed slave conspiracy occurred in 1741.  

The Last Religious Burning in Latin America

The last time the Catholic Church in Latin America used burning as a method of punishment was in 1732. The victim was Mariana de Castro in Lim, Peru.

The Use of Burning by Death in Today’s Society

For the most part, no modern states allow executions by burning to take place. The United States never truly held burnings at the stake on a routine basis. The Supreme Court also ruled that it was a form of cruel and unusual punishment. However, this has not stopped some modern-day burnings from taking place. In South Africa, a method of burning execution known as necklacing has been implemented. The process takes rubber tires and fills them with kerosene or gasoline. The tire is then placed around the neck of someone. The fuel is then ignited and as the rubber melts, the victim burns to death. A similar death using tires has been reported in Rio de Janeiro, where people are placed inside a pile of tires, and then set on fire. This form of murder is associated with punishments linked to drug crime.