Spooky Season! The Hartford Witch Trials

So when you think of witch trials in America, you instantly think of Salem. How can you not? It was a notably prolific period in Us History, where 19 people were hung on accusation of witchcraft and 1 person crushed . And I know that of course the trials here pale in comparison to the ones through Europe. Still they are worth knowing. And this one I did not even know about! Have you heard about the Hartford witch trials? No? Well…

Let’s fly right in, broom Ho!!!

The Connecticut witch trials also called the Hartford witch trials occurred from 1647 to 1663, they would predate the Salem trials by 30 years! John M Taylor lists 37 total cases and 11 of those would end with execution. So, why is it that not many people know about this? And why is it that this group of trials is not as noteworthy as Salem’s?

I think there are several reasons for this, personally. One being there was over 200 people accused in Salem. 1 person was gruesomely killed by being pressed to death. There was some land disputes and they may have also have had some ergot which is a fungus that can be made into LSD. Yes. Mass hysteria was at play for all of the trials but what makes Salem so profound also is the records that were kept. Connecticut did not keep record of the trials very well. Perhaps they wanted to sweep it under the rug. Out of site out of mind.

Even with shit record keeping there is still enough to prove that the trials did in fact exist in Connecticut. To quote Benjamin Trumbull in his 1818 book History of Connecticut

“It may, possibly, be thought a great neglect or matter of partiality, that no account is given of witchcraft in Connecticut. The only reason that is, after the most careful researches, no indictment of any person for that crime, nor any process relative to that affair, can be found”

There was just evidence based on how witches and witchcraft were viewed back then. Ok, so not good. Mostly women were targets and marginalized people. In the early days of these trials Reverends Samuel Stone of Hartford, Joseph Haynes of Wethersfield, and Samuel Hooker of Farmington served on some sort of “prosecutorial tribunal” . Yeah, this will end well. This whole “tribunal” would contradict the whole skepticism and immune to the wants of the mob. And keeping with the popular beliefs of the time they kept with getting evidence that the devil was trying to inflict harm. How did they get this information you ask? Battering interrogations aka good old fashioned torture!

The noted accused

The first to be accused and executed was Alse Young . It is very possible she was the first to be executed for being a witch in the colonies at that time. She was executed May 26 1647. We know this due to the execution being recorded in the journals of Governor of Massachusetts bay colony John Winthrop and the journal Matthew Grant who was the town clerk . There was no more records on her trial. No specifics on the charges against her. Now it should be noted that around her trial influenza was rolling around wrecking havoc as an epidemic in Mew England. And her being married to or related to John young of Windsor may have put a target on her due to acquiring his property after he died.

Mary Johnson was the first recorded confession of witchcraft. She was a house servant and was accused of theft in 1648 . After the extensive torture and interrogation she confessed to being a witch. As well as having sexual relations with the devil and men. And that she killed children or a child. There was a stay of execution due to her being pregnant. Once the baby was born she was executed in June of 1650.

Katherine Harrison was a former maidservant Captain John Cullick and the widow of Wethersfield’s town crier. She was born in England and came to America in 1651. She became one of the wealthier citizens of Weathersfield , Connecticut after she inherited her husband’s wealth. She was noted to suffer from quite a bit of legal problems, including the death of her livestock and in 1668 she was sued for slander by goody Griswald. Then she was accused of witchcraft around 1668 or 1669. The accusations? Well breaking the Sabbath, fortune telling and appearing in spectral form to people as well as using black magic.

She was also accused of being a swamp witch. Oh yes. Because she was calling to the devil in a swamp. Her account seems to be the most notated on . So, May 11, 1669 she was moved to a local jail while she awaited trial. Apparently,Harrison’s trial faced many complications: the first jury never reached a decision, and the second found her guilty, but the magistrates disagreed as most of the evidence was spectral, which relied solely on the accuser. Something that Salem had no trouble using years later. In May of 1670, Harrison was released from prison, and banished from the Connecticut colony; she and her family relocated to New York, which they were already planning to do. She was lucky, very lucky.

Places of intrigue

Weathersfield

In the 1650’s many people were accused of witchcraft here. Accused and put on trial. Joan and John Carrington were executed in 1651. They were prominent members of the Wethersfield community before being accused of witchcraft. Kind of like a certain Rebecca Nurse was in Salem. Weathersfield was home to Mary Johnson, the first open confessor of witchcraft; and Katherine Harrison. This resulted in the coining of the term “Wethersfield Witches” by historians later.

Hartford

In 1662 and 1663, the town of Hartford saw a massive influx of the whole witch hysteria bs. A series of accusations were made among the towns people. The first accusation was by a woman named Anne Cole, who accused Rebecca Greensmith and Elizabeth Seager of tormenting her through magic. The parents of Elizabeth Kelly accused Goody Ayres of using black magic to kill their daughter. Other claims of black magic from Hartford were more unusual: one person claimed Satan caused her to speak with an accent. Yeah an accent. Hahahaha. Ahem

Another said her neighbors transformed into animals at night. Why not be accused of vampire stuff at this point. Katherine Branch, servant to the Wescot family, suffered from a series of fits and other instances that Daniel Wescot described as being “beyond nature”, like elevating above her bed. She needed an exorcism or some epilepsy treatment. There was also a minister from a neighboring village that claimed Branch’s afflictions were the result of her declining to join a witch coven.From Hartford, four people were executed for the crime of witchcraft. Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith, Mary Sanford, and Mary Barnes were hung in 1662. And there was Elizabeth Seager was accused of witchcraft, but the charges were dropped due to weak evidence.she was a lucky one.

End of the trials

By 1663, the witchcraft trials in Hartford were starting to simmer down, due to the return of the governor of the Connecticut colony, John Winthrop Jr. good. Gov. Winthrop was generally regarded as “New England’s quintessential adjudicator of witchcraft cases”,due not only to him being the son of the governor of Massachusetts, but also to his “first-hand knowledge of natural magical practices… associated with alchemy, a mystical form of chemical experimentation.” Because of his experience with alchemy, and having seen John Dee and Robert Fludd – two major influences in Winthrop’s studies to stand against false accusations of witchcraft, Winthrop often involved himself in witchcraft cases to ensure that the accused were not executed.which you know side not here for someone who practiced alchemy I am sure that had something to do with it. Let’s face it those who dabbled in alchemy were often viewed as witches too. So, personal protection for a man of science. Anyways his return was a good thing for the folks of Connecticut. The return ushered in skepticism and more fairness. In 1669 his court was court that established that multiple witnesses needed to bear witness to the same act of witchcraft simultaneously. Again Good! This would help the accusations fizzle out and no more “witches” were executed after the release of Katherine Harrison in 1670. Despite even the shit in Salem years later.

What happens next?

On October 6, 2012, descendants of the executed petitioned the Connecticut government to posthumously pardon the victims,however it didn’t pass. Good job…. Addie Avery, in 2007, communicated with the British government in an attempt to acquit the convicted witches.she was the descendant of Mary Sanford, who was executed for “dancing around a tree while drinking liquor”. Sounds like a fun lady, Mary Sanford.

On February 6, 2017, the town of Windsor unanimously passed a resolution to symbolically clear the names of the town’s two victims, Alice Young and Lydia Gilbert. Good for them. And a documentary about the passage of this resolution entitled Delayed Justice: Windsor Atones For Its Witch Trial History produced through Windsor Community Television can be accessed through Internet Archive. Then There were several individuals that arranged a memorial service for the victims of the witch trials in Windsor in June 2017. The “Memorial For Connecticut’s Witch Trial Victims” marked the 370th anniversary of Alse Young’s execution.

So here it is the bit of American history that doesn’t get talked about much. A witch trial that was going out of control before that of Salem. And while there were not hundreds accused still the number here is still high. May their souls Rest In Peace.

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