Alse (or Alice) Young of Windsor CT, born c 1600. was the first person known to have been executed for witchcraft in the thirteen American colonies. Her crime was reportedly nothing more serious than preparing herbal remedies for neighbors. This event marked the start of the terrible saga of persecution, torture, and death culminating in the Salem trails 45 years later. Young was hanged May 26, 1647 in the meetinghouse square in Hartford, the site of the present Old State House.
The next year (1648) Massachusetts employed witch finders who were trained to ferret out supposed witches. These ruthless men were adept at prying confessions out of their victims after examining them for suspicious witch marks such as the notorious dead nip *…and probing them with witch pins **.
The Connecticut State Library notes; “Twenty people were accused of witchcraft in Connecticut during the seventeenth century, thirteen in the Hartford witchcraft outbreak of 1662-1663 and seven during the Fairfield outbreak of 1692-1693. Seven of those were tried and four were executed. The Samuel Wyllys Papers at the Connecticut State Library contains documents from these trials. The Matthew Grant Diary established the identity of the first person executed as a witch in New England.”
Is there history of witches accused in Rocky Hill? You will recall that during these times, and until 1843, Rocky Hill was a part of Wethersfield known as Stepney Parish. The year after Alse Young’s execution Mary Johnson of Wethersfield was convicted and likely hanged. In 1651 John and Joan Carrington of Wethersfield were found guilty and executed. In other cases from Wethersfield in 1662 and 1669 two women and one man were convicted yet they were spared death. No accused were executed after 1662. “A single witness was all it took to support a witchcraft conviction prior to 1662. Beginning that year, Connecticut required simultaneous witnessing of the same incident by two or more people.” However, witchcraft remained a crime punishable by death in Connecticut until the capital laws were rewritten in 1750. Source
Suggestions for further reading:Walking the Berkshires
* dead-nip or devil’s mark: a blue mark on the body not caused by injury or blow or from any known cause
** witch pins: There was numerous means of testing a witch. Several areas of the body where pins could be struck where no pain would be felt. The accused were stripped in a belief that they possessed a third nipple from which the devil and his imps could suckle. It was also thought that water, being a life source, would help to detect a witch. A witch placed in water would always float. Source
The crime of witchcraft was included in laws enacted by the parliament of England during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603). Witchcraft and its penalty were thought to be the express law of God as stated in Exodus 22: 18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”), 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” (quotes from the Holy Bible, King James Version).
In each of the New England colonies, witchcraft was a capital crime that involved having some type of relationship with or entertaining Satan. The earliest laws of Connecticut and New Haven colonies, the Blue Laws, make it a capital offense for “any man or woman [to] bee a Witch, that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall bee put to death. ” Although the witchcraft crimes did not require any harm to result from this relationship or entertainment, in practice there had to be harm that warranted the effort and expense of a formal proceeding. In addition to a formal witchcraft charge, allegations of witchcraft were often the bases for civil suits for slander.