Connecticut Exonerates Witches Hanged in 1600s

Lawmakers pass legislation acknowledging miscarriage of justice
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2023 11:40 AM CDT
Connecticut Exonerates Witches Hanged in 1600s
Beth Caruso, author and co-founder of the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project, which was created to clear the names of the accused, is seen in Windsor, Connecticut, on Jan. 24.   (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

Connecticut lawmakers have voted to formally exonerate accused witches who were punished by death nearly 400 years ago. The bill introduced in January by state Sen. Saud Anwar passed the Senate with a 33-1 vote on Thursday after clearing the state House in a 121-30 vote on May 10, per the BBC. "We cannot go back in time and prevent the banishment, tarnishing, or execution of the innocent women and men who were accused of witchcraft, but we can acknowledge the wronghoods they faced and the pain they felt, pain still recognized by their survivors today," Anwar said in a statement, per CNN.

Anwar had joined a chorus of people calling for the state to recognize the wrongful accusations and executions that began some four decades before the better-known witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. Botanist Alice "Alse" Young of Windsor, Connecticut, became the first person executed for witchcraft in America when she was hanged in Hartford on May 26, 1647, per CNN and the Washington Post. Trials continued for the next 50 years. Of 34 people indicted on witchcraft charges, at least 11 were hanged, according to the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project, a group of advocates and descendants of accused witches. Some "hugged and cried" as the bill was passed, per the Post.

"It doesn't matter that it was so long ago; it was somebody's life that was taken unjustly," Young's ninth great-granddaughter Susan Bailey, 67, tells the Post. She says the resolution may or may not help Young in the afterlife, "but the relatives of hers that know about her terrible death … will gain some peace from it." Anwar said it was about addressing "a stain on our history"—a series of murders "because of a reason that has no moral standing ... no legal standing." It's never too late to do the right thing," he added. The last accused witch in Salem was formally exonerated last year. (Belief in witchcraft remains surprisingly widespread.)

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