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Overshadowed and Forgotten: The CT Witch Trials


It is 1647, almost 50 years before the first public trial accusing Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne of practicing witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Alice Young of Windsor, Connecticut is tried and hanged under the conviction of Witchcraft. Over the next 50 years, until the year 1697, there were 46 men and women accused and put on trial in the state of Connecticut for practicing witchcraft. There are numerous documented cases, such as Mary Johnson of Weathersfield, in which there was no trial. She confessed under pressure and was executed without trial in 1648.


So why do we only talk about Salem when we talk about the witch trials of 17th century New England? Personally, I blame Arthur Miller and the popularity of his 1953 play “The Crucible”. You would think Elizabeth George Speare’s 1958 classic “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” based in Weatherfield, would have brought some attention to Connecticut. That all being said, let's dig into a brief history of the accusation of witchcraft and the Connecticut Witch Trials.


The Origin of the Crime of “Witchcraft”


Earliest documentation of laws referencing the crime of witchcraft can be found in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603). The laws originated heavily in the Christian faith, referencing such passages of the King James Bible as Leviticus 20:27 “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them”, and Deuteronomy 18: 10 “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch."


The earliest laws of Connecticut and New Haven colonies made it a capital offense for “any man or woman [to] bee a Witch, that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death.” The accusation did not require harm to the victim, in fact many of the accusations of witchcraft were often the basis for civil suits such as slander.

The Rise and Fall of Accusations


There is truly only speculation among researchers and historians as to why there was a sudden rise and fall of witchcraft accusations in New England in the mid to late 17th Century. In Connecticut, even though there were trials for 50 years, the last documented execution occurred in 1662. Many believe that these accusations were based in fear. According to Yale historian John Demos, “Fear was an elemental part of life in all the new settlements” and created an environment that fostered witchcraft accusations. The world was a scary place, with so many unexplained misfortunes falling upon the colonies: sickness and disease, Natural disasters, Native Americans (who were understandable displeased with the taking of their lands). With their faith so deeply intertwined with law, it is no surprise that when it came to blame, the easiest answer was to blame the Devil. Only a power such as Satan could bring such misery to people of faith, right?


People Accused of Witchcraft in Connecticut

Table 1 From “CONNECTICUT WITCH TRIALS AND POSTHUMOUS PARDONS” by Sandra Norman-Eady


Alice Young, 1647 Windsor, Hanged

Mary Johnson, 1648 Wethersfield, Pressured into a confession and probably executed

John and Joan Carrington, 1651 Wethersfield, Guilty, executed

Goodwife Bassett, 1651 Fairfield, Convicted and hung

Goodwife Knapp, 1653 Fairfield, Convicted and hung

Elizabeth Goodman, 1653 and 1655 New Haven, Charged with Slander in 1653. In 1655, acquitted of witchcraft and released with a reprimand and warning.

Mary Staples, 1654 New Haven, Slander

Lydia Gilbert, 1654 Windsor, Probably executed

Nicholas Bailey & wife, 1655, Acquitted and banished

William Meaker, 1657 New Haven, Slander

Elizabeth Garlick, 1658 Easthampton*, Acquitted

Katherine Palmer, 1660 and 1672, Slander

Nicholas & Margaret Jennings,1661 Saybrook, Acquitted

Judith Varlet, 1662-63 Hartford, Probably acquitted

Goody Ayres, 1662 Hartford, Fled the colony with her husband, who also appears to have been accused

Rebecca Greensmith, 1662 Hartford, Hanged

Nathanial Greensmith, 1662 Hartford, Hanged

Mary Sanford, 1662 Hartford, Probably hanged

Andrew Sanford, 1662 Hartford, Acquitted

Mary Barnes, 1662-3 Farmington, Hanged

Elizabeth and John Blackleach, 1662-3 Wethersfield, Complaint filed

James Wakeley, 1662 and 1665 Hartford, Fled both times

Elizabeth Seager, 1663 Hartford, Tried twice and acquitted both times

Mary Hall, 1664 Setauket*, Indicted

Elizabeth Seager, 1665 Hartford, Convicted, however the governor reversed the verdict

Ralph and Mary Hall, 1664 Setauket*, Acquitted

Hannah Griswold, 1667 Saybrook, Slander

William Graves, 1667 Stamford, Complaint filed, probably indicted

Katherine Harrison, 1669 Wethersfield, Guilty, however verdict was overturned and Harrison left Connecticut

Goody Messenger, 1673 Windsor, Slander

Goody Burr, 1678 Wethersfield, Slander

Goody Bowden, 1689 New Haven, Slander

Mercy Disborough, 1692 Fairfield, Subjected to the water test** and later convicted and sentenced to death, however given a reprieve by the General Assembly

Elizabeth Clawson, 1692 Stamford, Subjected to the water test** and acquitted

Mary Staples, 1692 Fairfield, Indicted

Mary Harvey, 1692 Fairfield, Indicted

Hannah Harvey, 1692 Fairfield, Indicted

Goody Miller, 1692 Fairfield, Accusation

Winifred Benham, 1692 Wallingford, Indicted

Hugh Croasia, 1692 Stratford, Indicted

Winifred Benham, 1697 Wallingford, Acquitted


Legend Vs. Reality


When it comes to the Witch Trials, specifically in Connecticut, there is a very large hurdle to overcome. Documentation of the actual trials is almost nonexistent. Written history from the 17th century is hard to come by. And the documentation that does still exist holds a clear and heavy bias. So discerning reality from fictional legends is often difficult. Most accusations themselves were based in rumor, gossip and hearsay. However, there are some phenomenal articles written about the Connecticut Witch Trials that I highly recommend for further reading (and that I used as a reference in this article) including:


Connecticut’s Witch Trials by Chris Pagliuco


Connecticut Witch Trials And Posthumous Pardons by Sandra Norman-Eady


The Cover-Up of the Connecticut Witch Hysteria of 1647-63


Before Salem, the First American Witch Hunt by Christopher Klein

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