Most everyone has read or heard of the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials of 1692 in colonial America, where 20 people (women and a couple men) thought to be ‘witches’ were put on trial and many put to death when found guilty. Yet, mostly unknown there were hundreds more from miles outside of Salem who were accused and spent time in jail before the hysteria ended. One of the most notorious of these “forgotten” witch incidents happened a generation before Salem in Hartford, Connecticut. Colonial Connecticut had a series of witch trials that were held between the 1640’s and 1690’s, though the last witch execution in Connecticut took place in 1662. In fact, of the thirty-five recorded witch trials in Connecticut during this time, eleven resulted in executions, which nearly equaled the Salem numbers.
There were strict laws against witchcraft in the 1600s in the colonies of New England. There could be an accusation and trial without anyone being harmed by the accused ‘witch’. As a general rule, most towns did not go to the expense of a trial without some harm being done first. The general rule in Connecticut was that only one witness was needed for the supposed witchcraft in order to secure a conviction.
With a rough lifestyle for those early Connecticut settlers of the 1600s, they tended to blame witchcraft for their harsh winters, famines, fighting with the Natives, illness epidemics, and famines. In Connecticut, in the 1640s there had been a few witchcraft accusations. However, by 1662, the witchcraft accusations in Connecticut reached their peak with a hysteria in Hartford, not unlike the one that would come to the Salem Colony in the 1690s. In 1662 alone, there were 4 people put on trial and then executed.
One of the cases involved Rebecca Greensmith and her husband Nathaniel Greensmith, both found guilty of witchcraft and executed. After the incidents of 1662, the governor of the colony, John Winthrop, Jr., changed the law to now require two witnesses to any accusation of witchcraft.
Another hysteria broke out in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1692, but none of those convicted met death. Connecticut held its final witch trial in 1697, a half-century after the first execution of Alse (Alice) Young of Windsor, Connecticut at the gallows erected in Hartford’s Meeting House Square on May 26, 1647. Alse Young was the first executed as a witch in all the colonies. During that period, 1647-1697, there were 46 prosecutions and at least 11 executions in the colony of Connecticut.
The last of accusations in Connecticut was for Sarah Spencer and an unknown individual named Norton who were the last accused witches in the history of Connecticut (they were accused in 1724 and 1768, respectively).
The eleven hung were:
Alse Young*, Mary Johnson, John and Joan Carrington (both executed in 1651), Goodwife Bassett and Goodwife Knapp (executed in 1651 and 1653, respectively), Lydia Gilbert (executed in 1654), Rebecca and Nathaniel Greensmith, and Mary Sanford and Mary Barnes (all hanged in 1662).
Check your family tree, see if any of these names appear.
Photos: Salem vs Connecticut; 1647 Connecticut Capital Law, The Matthew Grant diary showing the 1647 date of the Alse Young execution; and Witch trials.
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