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New England's Other Witch-Hunt: The Hartford Witch-Hunt of the 1660s and Changing Patterns in Witchcraft

Prosecution Author(s): Walter W. Woodward Source: Magazine of History, Vol. 17, No. 4, Witchcraft (Jul., 2003), pp. 16-20 Published by: Organization of American Historians Stable URL: Accessed: 05/10/2009 16:30
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Walter W. Woodward

New The 1660s

England's Hartford and Witchcraft

Other Witch-hunt Changing

Witch-hunt: of Patterns the in

Salem represented an anomaly inNew England witchcraft prosecu tion. At Salem, magistrates dispensed with their customary skepti
cism regarding This witchcraft change charges, in magisterial becoming perspective witch-hunters. aggressive was an essen

Although many teachers focus on the Salem witch-hunt of inNew England provides 1692, the history of witchcraft
.other perennially important perspectives topic. Salem, from which as the most to examine expansive this and interesting

gland, decade, video hundred

single episode
merits, than at more thirty least and

of witch-hunting
and gets, scholarly major significant works, internet

in colonial New
attention. a dozen websites, In the educational and curriculum



projects, primary


over re




tial ingredient in the deaths ofthe nineteen Salem victims. But was magisterial prosecution that unprecedented? Examination of the in early New England suggests pattern of witchcraft executions were two different. There periods of intense danger for something accused witches in seventeenth-century New England. The first occurred between 1647, when New England hanged its first witch, and the 1663 execution ofMary Barnes, who was the last person to die in the Hartford witch-hunt. During this period, Puritan elites
prosecuted witches zealously. Thirty-four people were tried for

sources have been produced, all focusing on the Salem witch hunt. As useful asmuch of thismaterial is,concentrating exclusively on the events at Salem masks critical features of the cultural and
historic England's an were importance of witchcraft many England as a continuous students from are the presence surprised early to in New learn, Witches, history. in New active force


century until well into the nineteenth century. Had the Salem witch-hunt never happened, colonial New En gland would still have a long and complicated history of witchcraft
allegations, trials, and executions. New England Puritans accused at

witchcraft and nearly half of them were convicted and hanged. Connecticut assumed a leadership role in witch killing, executing each of the first seven witch suspects it brought to trial and eleven of the fifteen witches hanged inNew England in this first wave of
executions (1). Magistrates and ministers were as active in convict

least one hundred people of witchcraft
Salem. Fourteen of those people, and

in the half-century
perhaps as many as


answered those charges with their lives. Fear of witches and belief in their magical powers was not an isolated episode in the colonial experience; itwas deeply woven into early New England's culture. Considering witchcraft as a presence during the decades before Salem enables teachers and students to analyze aspects of witchcraft history that are lost or obscured when the study is limited to Salem alone. Questions about the cultural force of witchcraft beliefs, the impact of witchcraft on community stability, the consistency of
magistrates' attitudes toward witchcraft suspects, and the relation

ing witches during this period as they were in 1692. From 1663 until 1688, however, a surprising turnabout oc curred. New England enjoyed a twenty-five year period without a which had been New single witchcraft execution. Connecticut,
England's ant?it most never aggressive executed witch-hunter, another person became for witchcraft. the most toler Massachu

setts ended this period of forbearance in 1688 with the execution of the confessed witch, Mary Glover, which set the stage for the events of 1692. The period that historians characterize as typify ing all New England witchcraft prosecution prior to Salem actu
ally What represented accounts a period this of calm unusual between pattern? two The very intense lies storms. in an for answer

ship between witchcraft
observed in the long

and other colonial
view. Some questions,

crises are perhaps best
in fact, cannot be

the understudied analysis of New England's other witch-hunt, 1660's. witch-hunt ofthe Hartford pivotally important


answered without
Consider, patterns for in witchcraft

looking carefully from the longer perspective.
example, the question of whether have there noted were that prosecution. Historians

16 OAH Magazine

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July 2003

"Goody Ayres torments me, she pricks me with pins, she will kill me." InMarch 1662, eight-year-old Elizabeth Kelly of Hartford died in agony. Days before, she had been stricken with excruciating stomach pains. Kelly was certain that Goody Ayres, a local woman known for spreading stories of encounters with the devil, was the source of her torment, and begged her father repeatedly to call the magistrates to apprehend Ayres. When Kelly died, saying with her last breath, "Goody Ayres chokes me!" the magistrates were sent for, and the killings of the Hartford witch-hunt began (2). To determine the cause of Kelly's death, the magistrates to turned Bray physician
Rossiter, who conducted an au

this ordeal was that since witches had rejected their baptisms by covenanting with the devil, the water would reject them, and they would float. If the water accepted the bound suspects by letting them sink, then the suspects were innocent. Although the ministers and magistrates did not accept the test as a proof of guilt, itwas used to provide support to the other evidence against the accused. Within the year, Rebecca Greensmith and her husband Nathaniel went to the gallows as witches, as did Mary Sanford and in expectation of a Mary Barnes of Farmington. Goody Ayres, everything, similar fate, fled the colony with her husband, leaving behind son. Three more potential including an eight-year-old of victims, James Wakeley Wethersfield and Katherine Palmer and her husband Henry, are also believed to have fled Hartford to
escape execution. In an act of co

topsy. His finding that Kelly had died not of natural, but of preter
natural rent of causes, witchcraft unleashed a tor accusations.



Hartford began a year of panic that produced eight trials in as many months. New witchcraft victims screamed their presence;
one young woman, "or rather . .

erced political diplomacy, yet an other accused witch, Judith Varlet, sister-in-law of New Netherlands^
governor Peter Stuyvesant, was al

making use of her lips," according toHartford Rev erend John Whiting, spoke in a "very awful and amazing" Dutch
accent accompanied by "ex

. the Devil

lowed to leave the colony for New Amsterdam only after a heated pro test by Stuyvesant against the Con
necticut court's "pretend

accusation of witchery" (7). Only two suspects, Andrew Sanford, hus band of the hanged witch Mary and Hartford's Elizabeth Seager, had been acquitted and Elizabeth Seager already faced a second trial on new charges of Sanford,
A community

tremely violent as she accused aged Rebecca being a witch

bodily motions," her neighbor, the of Greensmith, (3). In an official flurry of activity, witnesses were deposed, suspects interrogated,
trials set.

witchcraft. Hartford seemed poised to continue its deadly assault on floatedwere believed to be witches while those who sank proved their servants Satan's through 1663 and examined and for notable innocence. Witches
tests a woman by dunking her in a river. Women who apprehended, executed, true trial how to know whether a woman be a witch or not

The aggressive prosecutorial attitude of ministers and magis
trates was essential to the out

villanies by them committed both by land and water: With a strange
and most

(London: Printed byWilliam Stansby for Edward Marchant, 1613.) ecution of witchcraft in New

into 1664. The summer of 1663, however, produced a turning point in the


as resisting popular pres sure to convict witches through official skepticism and scrupu in lous insistence on direct evidence of the deviPs involvement inflicting harm, this certainly was not the case in the early days of Hartford's witch-hunt. Hartford's venerable Reverend Samuel Stone, accompanied by the youthful Reverend Joseph Haynes of Wethersfield and Reverend Samuel Hooker of Farmington, re formed a prosecutorial tribunal. They gathered evidence, corded notes, and forcefully interrogated witnesses. Rebecca Greensmith crumbled under the ministerial assault. When Jo against her, seph Haynes had begun to present evidence Greensmith felt as if "she could have torn him in peeces" (4). But as his battering interrogation persisted, she broke down. She said she felt "as ifher flesh had been pulled from her bones... and so could not deny any longer" (5). Similarly, When Goody Ayres heard the depositions against her read she exclaimed, "This will take away my life" (6). Two of the suspected witches were hand and foot and thrown subjected to trial by water?bound into a pond to see whether they would float. The logic behind

of these cases. Although learned elites are frequently presented

Hartford witch-hunt and in the pros* John England, because Governor Jr.,who had traveled to England in 1661 to obtain a royal Winthrop charter from Charles II, returned to Connecticut. Son ofthe Gover nor of Massachusetts, founder of three towns, industrial entrepre of England's scientific Royal Society, and the most sought-after physician in all New England, Winthrop was in many ways New England's quintessential adjudicator of witchcraft cases. As Connecticut's governor, he served as chief magistrate in capital neur, member
cases. As a physician, he was an authority on determining the causes

of the physical maladies that often provided the foundation for witchcraft accusations. As a dedicated alchemist whose abilities had been recognized by the Royal Society, Winthrop had first-hand knowledge of natural magical practices?like astrology, number with al magic, and the Hebrew magic of Kabbalah?associated chemy, a mystical form of chemical experimentation. Many people today think of alchemy only as a vain and greedy quest to turn lead into gold, but Winthrop and his contemporaries viewed it as a progressive science that promised to produce benefits in medicine,

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mining, metallurgy, industrial processing, and textile dyeing and manufacturing. like almost all of his con Winthrop, in the reality of believed temporaries, witchcraft. Like many of his learned peers, he was highly skeptical of however, witchcraft allegations. He knew first hand in practicing the difficulties involved effective natural magic and believed that people were too quick to attribute mis fortunes that occurred naturally towitch craft. Two ofthe major influences on his studies, the English natural P^M^jM^'W'^-' Dee and Robert Fludd, philosophers John ;. ; |; --^S^ had both been falsely accused of practic ing witchcraft as a result of their studies. Wolf Had Witnesses testified thatKatherine Harrison appeared with a largeblack dog. (Howard Pyle, "A From the time Winthrop became at Salem December Not Been Seen for Thirty Years," Harper's Magazine, 1909.) in adjudicating involved witchcraft cases inConnecticut as a in 1655?first in February of 1667 on charges of bewitching Stamford his medical consultant and then as Connecticut's governor?he to A death. few months another intervened to see that accused witches were not executed, as later, daughter they rejected witchcraft this time reprimanding the accuser for accusation, they had been in every previous case tried in that colony. His to England for the charter had removed his powerful influence from witchcraft trials, however, and Con moderating its prior punitive practices shortly after his necticut reinstituted the middle of 1661 departure for England. Upon his return?in the Hartford witch hunt?Winthrop acted forcefully to protect In the process, he the accused and end the crisis atmosphere. journey established legal precedents, which concern over witchcraft prosecution, New England for a generation. along with growing elite in helped end executions the first to Winthrop again found of adultery.



"greatly sinning" in bringing such charges (11). Many members to accept this ofthe polity proved less eager than the magistrates new moderate policy toward suspects. Despite Winthrop's au a his medical and scientific tide and credentials, growing thority, of elite skepticism, some New Englanders proved most reluctant to cede full power to determine questions of witchcraft to their leaders. Nowhere was this lay resistance more apparent than in the case of Katherine Harrison, the pivotal case in the transfor mation Harrison was an of colonial witchcraft prosecution. medical practitioner, astrologer, and outspoken Wethersfield widow who had risen from low status to become a person of substantial means. InMay of 1668, Harrison's neighbors began charging her with witchcraft. The evi collecting depositions dence against her took a number of forms. She was accused of of three causing the death, on separate occasions, magically people, two of them children. Other witnesses claimed to have seen her spectral apparition. Harrison and her black dog ap in the house of one witness. She appeared peared by moonlight first as a calf s head and then as herself in a hay cart before another witness. A third person saw a dog-like thing with head walking to and fro in the witness's bedchamber. Harrison was charged with using astrology to Additionally, foretell the future, a practice even the magistrates had to admit was diabolical, since only God knew the future, and one could Harrison's not foretell future events without aid from the devil. When Harrison was formally indicted inMay of 1669, at least resistance to the thirty witnesses testified against her. Apparent in the jury's and the resulted testimony byWinthrop magistrates a was to Harrison unable reach verdict. ordered being imprisoned until the next court inOctober, at which time the jurywould be reconvened to render a decision. Long before October, however, someone, probably the governor, ordered her release. Harrison was allowed to return toWethersfield, which produced howls of a from protest frightened community. Thirty-eight Wethersfield residents, including two ministers and the local physician, signed

Elizabeth Seager, awaiting her second trial, was benefit from the governor's return. In all likelihood, engineered a compromise with her accusers that once her not guilty of witchcraft, but the lesser charge
Seager, however, a strong-willed and sharp-tongued


a third time in the spring of 1665 for continuing to accusers to determined witchcraft. This seemed time, get practice a conviction, and so, Winthrop allowed them to get one. He remained away from her trial, although as governor he could have presided over it.Once the expected guilty verdict was delivered, refused to enforce it. Calling however, Winthrop together a indicted special meeting ofthe governor and magistrates, he declared that Seager's conviction seemed "obscure and ambiguous" to him and deferred sentencing until a future date (8). He then did nothing for nearly a year, waiting until judicial reforms authorized in the new Connecticut charter went into effect. These reforms gave the governor new powers including the right to "impose, alter, change, or anul any penalty, and to punish, release, or pardon any of became empowered to sum fender" (9). A week afterWinthrop mon special courts of assistants to handle unique situations or special needs, the colony's first Special Court of Assistants over turned the jury's conviction of Elizabeth Seager and set her "free from further suffering and imprisonment" (10). For the first time in Connecticut's history, a convicted witch did not hang. soon adopted the new policy of Other colony magistrates to indict William Graves of refused judicial skepticism. They 18 OAH Magazine of History July 2003




Harrison's They also

release demanded


demanding that Harrison's




legal procedures,

though not bound
shared the new

in any way by
skepticism ex




tion be taken away from Winthrop and the magistrates and handled by the colony's foremost lawyer. on 12 October, When the jury reconvened they found Harrison guilty of witchcraft. But again, as in the earlier case of court challenged the verdict. Elizabeth Seager, Winthrop's
Before on all passing a number of sentence, issues cases: central the the magistrates not evidentiary just to sought the Harrison clarification case, but for

pressed in Connecticut. over the next eighteen
Morse of Newbury,

It acquitted all people brought to trial years but one, and that person, Elizabeth
was subsequently released.


Examining witchcraft inNew England only from the perspec tive of the Salem trials limits both the scope of analysis and the
range topic. of questions that analysis patterns of can be answered new witchcraft in about insight this into generative the histori Ana New Longer-term and provides




cal nature lyzing the

of colonial executions


conviction; distinction

and the of spectral evidence; the acceptability and diabolical between practice. To acceptable
the court turned to a triumvirate of ministers




headed by Gershom Bulkeley. A friend ofthe governor, Bulkeley and an alchemist. He both a physician was, like Winthrop, interest in natural magic and his deep shared Winthrop's skepticism toward charges of witchcraft.
The queries tion opinion changed in Connecticut. testifying Bulkeley the wrote in response standards conviction the to the magistrates' convic on act two of evidentiary First, that it made they for witchcraft contingent exact people (One same

England reveals that prosecution can be divided into three peri ods: an early period (1647-1663) of great danger for accused witches accompanied by rigorous prosecution by elites; a middle period (1663-1687) of increasing skepticism regarding witchcraft accusation and elite reluctance to prosecute; and a final period of at Boston and Salem in which magis (1688-1692) prosecution
trates again became active in the persecution of the accused. This

hunt tion as a from


the importance
in the transition assault on

of the Hartford witch
of witchcraft the accused prosecu to protec


witnesses witchcraft witches Harrison

observed always, were on



simultaneously. as witches when with a dog, another

Almost they as a calf

encountered witness as a saw dog

tive magisterial
Some convict as scholars the

have seen elite standard

on behalf of the convicted.
this skepticism and reluctance cases until to to witchcraft

alone. a haycart,

a third


like thing.) Previously, the cumulative impact of these separate reports by individuals had been sufficient to prove guilt. Hence
forward, at the unless same two time, people the saw a witch's would go specter free. in the same shape accused

Salem. The Hartford witch-hunt shows this not to be true. (1647-1663), During the early years of witchcraft prosecution New England's leaders proved all too eager to send witch suspects to the gallows. Only in the 1660s, after a governor and
minister who themselves were magic practitioners took a stand

Second, the magistrates worried about whether the devil could assume the form of an innocent person and thus provide false evidence that would lead to a false conviction. Bulkeley and the ministers argued that God would not allow the devil to appear in
the guise of an innocent person before multiple witnesses, though

against witchcraft cism begin.


did the generation

of skepti

it left open the question of his ability to do so before a single person. This reinforcement of the need for multiple witnesses
strongly undermined the former standards for conviction.

1. The

data for Connecticut merged in 1663.

Endnotes is based on New


and Connecticut



The magistrates also asked the ministers to render a decision on whether the fortune telling attributed to Katherine Harrison demonstrated her familiarity with the devil. Bulkeley's ambiguous
answer guilty, events rived to this question but was from in practice, indeed "human essentially she probably diabolical, skill said was that not. wrote, in theory Harrison was Information unless of future it was revelation, de or

2. "The Testimony of John Kelly and Bethia his wife concerning the sickness and death of their daughter Elizabeth, aged 8 years, May 13, 1662" reprinted in in Seventeenth-Century New Witch-Hunting England: A Documentary 1638-1692 David D. Hall, ed. (Boston: Northeastern History University Press, 1991) 152454. to Increase Mather, 3. John Whiting 1682 4 December cal Society Collections 4th ser. Vol. Ill, 466-469. 4. Ibid. inMassachusetts Histori

Bulkeley in Arts,"



from man (12). Which of those alternate sources of was not explicitly stated, but Harrison used had foreknowledge Harrison was not found to be in league with Satan. InMay of 1670, a special court of assistants freed her and ordered her to leave the colony, which she had previously intended to do. Harrison moved to New York, and subsequently seems to have returned to information Wethersfield.

5. Ibid. 6. R. G. Tomlinson, Trials of Connecticut: The First Comprehensive, Witchcraft in Colonial Connecticut Documented Trials (Hart History of Witchcraft ford, CT: Bond Press, 1978), 31. to the Hartford Magistrates, 7. Peter Stuyvesant 13 October 1662. Robert C. State Library. Connecticut Collection, Court of Assistant 8 July 1665. Connecticut State Records, Library, Hartford, CT. 9. William K. Holdsworth, in Colonial "Law and Society 1636 Connecticut, 1672" (Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1974) 438,440,446,451. Winthrop 8. Connecticut 10. Connecticut 11. "Case of William of Assistants Records, 52, 56. on Cases of Graves," Samuel Wyllys Papers, Dispositions in Connecticut Witchcraft Tried State Library, [1662-1693] Connecticut Hartford, CT, W-8, W-9. 12. "The answer of some ministers to the questions propounded to them by the honored magistrates" 20 October 182-183. 1669, Witch-Hunting, Sources Black, Robert Press, Used New York: Columbia University Court

So ended the last witchcraft
for twenty-two years.

trial to take place


The Katherine Harrison case closed the anguished story of the even as it opened the door to establishment Hartford witch-hunt of a new pattern of ministerial and magisterial skepticism regard had ing witchcraft cases throughout New England. Connecticut no witch trials for a generation, though it endured aminor witch
panic during the Salem crisis. It never again executed a witch.

C. The Younger John Winthrop. 1966.

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Walter Woodward is anAssistant Professor of Colonial American History atDickinson Col lege, His book, JohnWinthrop, Jr.,Alchemy, and the Shaping of New England Culture will be published by the Omohundro Institute of American and Culture. Early History


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