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Thread started 08/13/08 6:18am

Mach

Witch Trials: Connecticut Was Hanging Witches Long Before Salem Did

Witch trials: Middletown filmmaker documenting a little-known fact: Connecticut was hanging witches long before Salem did

In Colonial Connecticut, stories swirled about the old woman who lived with the New Haven Colony's then-deputy governor: Goodman muttered to herself. She accused others of witchery. She sinisterly knew about unseen figs tucked in one woman's pocket. Another woman complained that after Goodman tried buying her chickens, they died and when they cut open the birds, they found snarls of worms.

Beer, it happens, figured prominently into accounts of the old woman's odd behavior, rehashed by genealogists and historians in the annals of the State Library.

Nonetheless, this "evidence" and puritanical beliefs delivered Goodman to prison. Noting strong suspicion but weak evidence, the court determined it insufficient to condemn her to die. Not everyone facing similar accusations here some three-and-a-half centuries ago was so lucky. Salem may be famous for sending those suspected of consorting with Satan to the hangman's noose, but Connecticut colonists chased witches long before their Massachusetts brethren. The Salem Witch Trials began in 1692 — 45 years after what historians have called the New World's first witch execution case here. Though records are scarce, a document unearthed from a local town clerk notes the believed earliest hanging, of Alse "Alice" Young in Hartford in 1647.

Seeking to explore what led to the executions and accusations, film maker Andy Blood recently turned his lens on the state's 17th-century witch hunts. "The Devil Among Us," is the latest in a series of documentaries and shorts that Blood, a former auto mechanic, socialist activist and self-taught filmmaker from Middletown, has produced under the banner of Wolf Gang Pictures. Other recent works include a story about crystal meth addiction, "Living Nightmare," that aired on Wyoming public television, and "My War, My Story," about Iraq war veterans. He is currently submitting the "Devil" film to festivals.

A lifelong state resident, Blood first heard about the witch trials a few years ago and was intrigued about this little-known piece of Connecticut history.

"These are not minor stories," he said, recalling his surprise: "It was always Salem, Salem, Salem."

Because of spotty records, it's unclear exactly how many people in Connecticut were accused of witchery, or were executed. Estimates number two dozen on up. Accusations flared regionally, starting in the Windsor/Wethersfield area before spreading south. Two "panics" marked by a flurry of accusations occurred in Hartford and Fairfield, in 1662 and 1692, respectively. By the time Salem started putting its accused witches on trial, the hunt in Connecticut was subsiding.

Today, Blood wonders how many cases we don't know about. He found no records of executions in the then-New Haven Colony researching his film, but thinks the notion that no one was executed in that area "ludicrous" given the colony's theocratic leanings.

Blending narration and re-enactments, Blood presents several hypotheses as to why and how the Connecticut witch hunts happened, though he admits looking back through the prism of time affords a misleading clarity.

"They were acting in good faith, on what they knew at the time," said Blood, noting most people then believed in witchcraft. "The number one factor has to be the legitimate belief that witches are real and can hurt you. I'm not unsympathetic to the Puritans. They solved their own problems."

Motivations, he cites, range from land grabs to misogyny to isolationism that bred suspicion. Such was the case, Blood posits, during part of the Hartford Witch Panic, when a flurry of people were accused.

"I know people are going to disagree with this, but whatever the flash point was, whatever triggered it, it happened because a group separated themselves," Blood said, recounting some accused witches who went into the woods to drink and do "who knows" what else. "One fact that is absolutely decisive is they were a separate, discrete unit, away from the group."

Maybe wine did Addie and Debra Avery's ancestor in, too. That, or dancing on the Hartford Green. Whatever the offenses, in 1662, Mary Sanford was convicted of witchcraft. Sanford's present-day family, the Averys of New Milford, believes she was executed, but like so many cases the records are incomplete. Featured in the documentary, 15-year-old Addie spent the past three years trying to clear the name of her maternal grandmother, nine generations removed. Legislation to that end she advocated for failed in the last General Assembly session, but neither she nor her mother plan to give up.

Their efforts and projects like the documentary that illuminate the finger-pointing that led to several deaths, Debra said, serve as an educational reminder and cautionary tale.

"What happened to our grandmother is still happening today in different parts of the world," said Debra. "It's pertinent now, (and) it's a huge piece of our history."

The Averys plan to push again for legislation acknowledging the injustice Mary Sanford and others faced next session. They also belong to a group seeking money for a memorial to place someplace prominent, like outside the Old State House. Explained Debra: "We're looking to recognize the people who died for no reason."
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Reply #1 posted 08/13/08 6:36am

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Blending narration and re-enactments, Blood presents several hypotheses as to why and how the Connecticut witch hunts happened, though he admits looking back through the prism of time affords a misleading clarity.

"They were acting in good faith, on what they knew at the time," said Blood, noting most people then believed in witchcraft. "The number one factor has to be the legitimate belief that witches are real and can hurt you. I'm not unsympathetic to the Puritans. They solved their own problems."

Motivations, he cites, range from land grabs to misogyny to isolationism that bred suspicion. Such was the case, Blood posits, during part of the Hartford Witch Panic, when a flurry of people were accused.

"I know people are going to disagree with this, but whatever the flash point was, whatever triggered it, it happened because a group separated themselves," Blood said, recounting some accused witches who went into the woods to drink and do "who knows" what else. "One fact that is absolutely decisive is they were a separate, discrete unit, away from the group."



i do disagree with that nod
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