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Descendants want a pardon for those hanged as witches in Connecticut

 A memorial brick for Alse Young, the first known American victim of witch hangings.
Davis Dunavin
WSHU Public Radio
A memorial brick for Alse Young, the first known American victim of witch hangings.

A group of activists in Connecticut want to right what they say is a centuries-old wrong. They want the state to exonerate eleven women and men hanged for witchcraft in the 1600s.

The Connecticut witchcraft trials were the first of their kind in the colonies — before the far more famous Salem trials. The panic largely centered around the Hartford area, but extended as far as the Bridgeport area, too.

“If you were called a witch back then, it meant you were in league with Satan," Beth Ferguson said

Ferguson, co-founder of the group CT Witch Memorial, has worked for years with descendants to get Connecticut to exonerate the so-called witches — as Massachusetts has done for the Salem witch trial victims. But it’s been a hard fight.

“I think part of it was so many people in Connecticut were completely unaware that there were witch trials here as well," she said.

Plus, Connecticut doesn’t offer pardons to people who are already dead. So Ferguson is getting help from descendants of the victims — like Sarah Jacks, who learned she had multiple witch trial victims among her ancestors when she researched her genealogy.

“The online research community, I think, has really impacted people finding hangings or accusations in their family trees," Jacks said. "That's what happened with me.”

But Jacks added it’s not just about history.

“Our world is currently full of witch trials," she said. "And I would like to see our country stand up to the history of it, so that everyone is saying ‘this is an unjust measure.’”

Activists are now working with a state representative to change Connecticut’s pardon laws so the 11 people who wrongfully died when the state was just a colony can finally have their names cleared.

Copyright 2022 WSHU. To see more, visit WSHU.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He fell in love with sound-rich radio storytelling while working as an assistant reporter at KBIA public radio in Columbia, Missouri. Before coming back to radio, he worked in digital journalism as the editor of Newtown Patch. As a freelance reporter, his work for WSHU aired nationally on NPR. Davis is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism; he started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.

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