In 1647, 45 years before Salem, Mass., began its orgy of witch trials, witch hysteria took hold in Connecticut.
On May 26, 1647, Connecticut hanged its first citizen for witchcraft, a woman from Windsor named Alse Young. As in all the witchcraft hysteria, she died on the basis of flimsy evidence. She went to the gallows on the site of the Old State House.
Thirty years later, the people of Springfield, Mass., accused her daughter Alse Young Beamon of witchcraft.
Connecticut Witch Hysteria
Connecticut executed nine men and two women as witches between 1647 and 1663. The witch hysteria peaked during the “Hartford Witch Panic” of the early 1660s. It started when a young Hartford girl died after claiming a neighbor tormented her.
Eight-year-old Elizabeth Kelly visited Goodwife Ayres, in March of 1662. The next day Ayres visited her home and shared a bowl of broth with her. Elizabeth then got sick, and for five days suffered intense stomach pains. The delusional girl screamed, "Father! Father! Help me, help me! Goodwife Ayres is upon me."
Elizabeth cried that Goodwife Ayres choked her, kneeled on her belly, pinched her and tried to 'break her bowels.'
A Guilford physician conducted an autopsy on the dead girl in what is believed to be the first postmortem in American history. Unfortunately, the physician knew very little about what he was looking at. He concluded the girl suffered unnatural harm.
Goodwife Ayres and her husband sensibly skipped town, but the Hartford court tried eight more people before the witch hysteria died down.
More accusations followed for the next 50 years in the Connecticut River towns of Hartford, Windsor, Farmington and Wethersfield. Most, however, resulted in acquittals as Connecticut judges came to their senses.
John and Joan Carrington of Wethersfield weren’t among the lucky ones. They were hanged in 1651. Mary Barnes of Farmington was another unfortunate victim. She was hanged in Hartford in 1663 for “having entertained familiarity with Satan, the grand enemy of God and mankind.”
By 1715, the law making witchcraft a capital offense was off the books, and the witchcraft hysteria died down. But unlike Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Virginia, Connecticut did not clear the names of the accused. And the descendants of the Carringtons and Mary Barnes tried to change that.
Should Connecticut Apologize?
Mary Barnes’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, Bernice Telian, spent five years writing a book titled, My Grandmother Mary Was Hanged. She was part of the effort to get Connecticut to clear the names of the 11 people unjustly executed for witchcraft. So was Patricia Borris, the great-granddaughter, 10 generations back, of the Carringtons. She believed the state’s refusal to apologize was a travesty of justice.
The state Legislature introduced bills to express regret in 2008 and 2009, but they died in committee. Then members of the Connecticut Wiccan and Pagan Network joined the cause. They pushed Gov. Dannel Malloy to issue a proclamation apologizing for the witch hysteria.
They then sent postcards to Malloy reading, “I am a Pagan/Witch and I vote. Clear the names of Connecticut's eleven accused and executed witches."
They haven't succeeded. However, in 2018 the people of Windsor held a memorial service for the 11 people executed for witchcraft. They held the event on May 26, the anniversary of Alse Young's death.
This story about the Connecticut witch hysteria was updated in 2018.