Everyone knows about the infamous Salem witch trials, but few people realize that Connecticut has an older and arguably more colorful history when it comes to accusations of—and executions for—witchcraft.
Actually, by 1692, when hysteria was just starting to sweep through Salem, nine (or eleven, reports aren’t exactly clear) unfortunate souls had already been executed for witchcraft in Connecticut, including Alse (or Alice) Young, who was the first woman hanged in New England—and possibly the New World—for purportedly having consorted with Satan. Before it was over, 35 people would stand accused of crimes involving witchcraft.
As hard as it is to conceive now, the idea of The Devil walking the Earth and taking an active role in everyday life was a genuine fear in Colonial Connecticut—it’s not a coincidence that there are over 30 places in the state with names that served as a warning to all that The Evil One might be lurking about, including Devil’s Den (five different places), Devil’s Backbone (four), Satan’s Kingdom (two), Devil’s Island, Hell’s Hollow, Tophet Ravine and even a Devil’s Dripping Pan. The early European settlers here were true believers.
The best-researched record of events is John M. Taylor’s The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut (1647-1697), in which he chronicles the known events as well as delves into the causes for the hysteria, including tracing the entire history of witchcraft.
During those times, what is now Connecticut was then divided into two colonies: Connecticut and New Haven. Witchcraft officially became a crime in Connecticut in 1642: “If any man or woman be a witch—that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit—they shall be put to death.” New Haven enacted its witchcraft law in 1655: “If any person be a witch, he or she shall be put to death according to” Exodus xxii, 18; Leviticus xx, 27; Deuteronomy xviii, 10, 11.
In the book, Taylor also uncovers Connecticut’s official “Grounds for Examination of a Witch,” written in the 17th century. [Note: I’ve updated some spelling for easier reading.]
1. Notorious defamation by ye common report of the people a ground of suspicion.
2. Second ground for strict examination is if a fellow witch gave testimony on his examination or death yet such a person is a witch, but this is not sufficient for conviction or condemnation.
3. If after cursing, there follow death or at least mischief to ye party.
4. If after quarreling or threatening a present mischief doth follow for party’s devilishly disposed after cursing does use threatenings, and yet also is a great presumption against ye.
5. If ye party suspected to be ye son or daughter, the servant of familiar friend, near neighbors or old companion of a known or convicted witch this also is a presumption, for witchcraft is an art yet may be learned and conveyed from man to man and often it falleth out yet a witch dying leaveth some of ye aforced heirs of her witchcraft.
6. If ye party suspected have ye devil’s mark for this thought when ye devil maketh his convent with ye he always leaves his mark behind him to know ye for his own yet is, if not evident reason in can be given for such mark.
7. Lastly if ye party examined be unconstant and contrary to himself in his answers.
Thus much for examination which is usually by question and some times by torture upon strong and great presumption.
For conviction it must be grounded on just and sufficient proofs. The proofs for conviction of two sorts, one. Some be less sufficient, some more sufficient.
It then goes on to talk about how in earlier times, red-hot irons and scalding water were used for tests, as was binding the accused and throwing them into water to see if they sank or not. (If they did, they were proclaimed “innocent,” although there was also a good chance they drowned—not much of a “victory.”) Also discussed are other tell-tale signs of witchcraft, such as a familiar (in the form of a mouse or cat) hanging about, or Devil’s marks on the body.
When it came to means of execution, almost all of alleged witches were hanged—contrary to popular imagery, no witch was ever burned at the stake in Connecticut.
Here is a list of those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut. [Note: This is a work in progress, so there will be additions and modifications as we continue our research. The names with hyperlinks offer more info, and our plan is to eventually have them all. Thanks for understanding]
- Alse (Alice) Young – 1647
- Mary Johnson – 1648
- John & Joan Carrington – 1650
- Goody Bassett – 1651
- Goody Knapp – 1653
- Elizabeth Godman – 1653 & 1655
- Lydia Gilbert – 1654
- Nicholas & Goody Bayley – 1655
- William Meaker – 1657
- Elizabeth Garlick – 1658
- Nicholas & Margaret Jennings – 1661
- Judith Varlett – 1662
- Katherine Palmer – 1662
- Goody Ayres – 1662
- Rebecca & Nathaniel Greensmith – 1662
- Mary Sanford – 1662
- Andrew Sanford – 1662
- Mary Barnes – 1662
- Elizabeth & John Blackleach – 1662
- James Wakeley – 1662
- Ralph & Mary Hall – 1664
- Elizabeth Seager – 1666
- Hannah Griswold – 1667
- William Graves – 1667
- Katherine Harrison – 1669
- Goody Messenger – 1673
- Goody Burr – 1678
- Goody Bowden – 1689
- Mercy Disborough – 1692
- Elizabeth Clawson – 1692
- Mary Staples – 1692
- Mary Harvey – 1692
- Hannah Harvey – 1692
- Goody Miller – 1692
- Winifred Benham – 1692
- Hugh Croasia – 1692
- Winifred Benham, Jr. & Sr. – 1697
- Sarah Spencer – 1724
For the record, in December 2006, the State of Connecticut officially pardoned all those accused of witchcraft, forever clearing their names.