Sunday, 29 January 2012

Witches of Connecticut

As I move my discussion away from the Virginia and Maryland colonies and closer to the location of the most famous North American witch trials of Salem, more pre-Salem trials can be uncovered. In Connecticut, Alse Young (sometimes written as Alice Young or Achsah Young) was the first to hang for being a witch in New England. Little else is known about the case, other than she was executed on May 26, 1647. She is believed to have been the wife of a land owner, and their daughter was accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts thirty years after her mother's death.

More is known about Mary Johnson. There are two Mary Johnson's listed in the Connecticut records. One was tried in 1647, and the other in 1648. It's not clear whether they were the same women, but the Mary Johnson of 1648, a servant, left a definite record. Her troubles began in 1646 when she was accused of being a thief. For that crime, she was whipped.

In 1648, she was brought up on charges of witchcraft which she confessed to under duress. Apparently, the devil helped her with household chores and scaring the hogs. She admitted to uncleanness "both with men and Devils."

Mary gave birth to a child in prison, who became an indentured servant to Mary's jailer until he was twenty-one. In June 1650, Mary was hanged.

Little documentation seems to remain about John and Joan Carrington, who were executed for being witches.

In 1651, Thomas Allyn killed Henry Styles when his musket bumped a tree and accidentally fired. Thomas was found guilty of the murder "by misadventure" and fined. Unfortunately for Lydia Gilbert, Styles had roomed at her house, and she owed him some money.

Two years after Styles's death, Lydia was charged with the accident by giving "entertainment to Sathan." With the devil's help, she had "killed... Henry Styles, besides other witchcrafts." No record remains, but it's presumed that she hanged.

Elizabeth Godman's troubles began in 1653. She lived in the home of Stephen Goodyear, the Deputy Governor of New Haven colony. Goodyear had inherited the estate because there were no male heirs in Elizabeth's family. Several neighbors accused her of witchly deeds, such as sickly children, a woman falling into "verey strang fitts," a "dreadful noise" that put another woman "in great feare and trembling," a chicken dying, and other instances of people having fits. Several people said that Elizabeth had lain with the devil and "Hobbamocke" (an Algonquian spirit for the disembodied souls of the dead) was her husband. For these acts, she was arrested but later released.

In August 1655, Elizabeth was again accused of witchcraft. Goodyear told her to find another place to live, so of course the plantation had many disturbances of apparitions, strange lights, and noises. On this occasion, she was released from prison with a warning, but brought before the court again in October. Even though suspicions of her being a witch remained strong, she went to live with the family of Thomas Johnson until her natural death in 1660.

I'll blog more about the Connecticut witches next time.

Kim Murphy

No comments: