With Halloween is fast approaching, it’s a good time to look at one of the darker parts of Connecticut history. Everyone has heard of the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials, which occurred in 1692-1693. Lesser known, however, is Connecticut’s history of witchcraft cases, which occurred earlier in the seventeenth century.
Belief in witchcraft was pervasive and common in the seventeenth century. People of that time firmly believed in Satan and that witchcraft was one way he exerted his power. Witchcraft was included in the list of capital crimes in Connecticut’s Code of 1650, along with murder, adultery, and blasphemy. Witchcraft was treated as a criminal offense, and those accused went through a formal criminal prosecution, including a jury trial.
Alse Young, executed in Wethersfield in 1647, was the first person executed in the colonies for witchcraft, and was one of the 11 people known to have been executed in Connecticut for witchcraft.
Two times, witchcraft accusations evolved into “panics” – in Hartford in 1662 and in Fairfield in 1692.
The Hartford Witchcraft Panic originated with a woman named Ann Cole, who claimed to be suffering from “diabolical possession.” It ultimately resulted in eight people being accused of witchcraft and three, or possibly four, executions.
Witchcraft cases continued throughout the 1600s, but executions became rarer after 1662, when more a more stringent standard of proof was required for conviction. Prior to 1662, it only took the testimony of a single witness to sustain a conviction for witchcraft. Starting in 1662, two or more witnesses must have seen the same incident in order for it to be used as evidence of witchcraft.
The second witchcraft panic in Connecticut, which occurred in Fairfield in 1692, was contemporaneous with the Salem Witch Trials. Unlike in Salem, however, there were no executions resulting from the accusations and convictions in Fairfield.
Witchcraft remained a capital crime in Connecticut into the eighteenth century, but there were very few prosecutions after the Fairfield panic.
For more information:
The State Library’s subject guide to Connecticut’s witchcraft cases.
Table of those tried for witchcraft in Connecticut.
Sandra Norman-Eady & Jennifer Bernier, Office of Legislative Research, Connecticut Witch Trials and Posthumous Pardons, 2006-R-0718, Dec. 18, 2006.
R.G. Tomlinson, Witchcraft Trials of Connecticut (1978).
John M. Taylor, The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, 1647-1697 (1974).
David D. Hall, Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England: A Documentary History, 2d ed. (2008).