Long Before Salem Witch Trials, Alse Young Was Hanged

Connecticut considers exonerating all its accused witches centuries later
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 1, 2023 9:07 AM CST
First Colonist Executed for Witchcraft Could Be Exonerated
In this Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023 photo, a brick memorializing Alice 'Alse' Young is placed in a town Heritage Bricks installation in Windsor, Conn.   (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Decades before the infamous Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, Alse Young was killed at the gallows in Connecticut, becoming the first person on record to be executed in the American colonies for witchcraft. The Windsor town clerk registered the death on May 26, 1647, in a diary entry that read: "Alse Young was hanged." Young was the first of nine women and two men executed by the colony of Connecticut for witchcraft over 15 years, a period during which more than 40 people faced trial for having ties to Satan. Now, more than 375 years later, amateur historians, researchers, and descendants of the accused witches and their accusers hope Connecticut lawmakers will finally offer posthumous exonerations, reports the AP.

While such requests aren’t new, they have become louder as many genealogy buffs discover they have distant relatives involved in the lesser-known Connecticut witch trials. "They’re talking about how this has followed their families from generation to generation and that they would love for someone just to say, ‘Hey, this was wrong,'" said Connecticut state Rep. Jane Garibay, who proposed an exoneration resolution after receiving letters from eighth- and ninth-generation relatives of accused witches. "And to me, that’s an easy thing to do if it gives people peace."

Connecticut’s witch trials were held in the mid- to late 1600s. Many historians believe fear and anxiety among the religiously strict English settlers led to the witch trials, noting how life was very difficult, given epidemics, floods, cold winters, and starvation. Often, accusations started as a quarrel, or the death of a child or a cow, or even butter that couldn’t be churned. Many of the people executed as witches were poor, single mothers.

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Beth Caruso, an author, co-founded the CT Witch Trial Exoneration Project in 2005 to clear the names of the accused. The group is encouraging people who discovered through genealogy research that they are descendants of victims to contact Connecticut state legislators and urge them to support exoneration legislation. (Other states and countries have attempted to atone for a history of persecuting people as witches, including Scotland and Massachusetts, whose lawmakers in 2022 formally exonerated Elizabeth Johnson Jr.; she is believed to be the last accused Salem witch to have her conviction set aside by legislators.)

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