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CT had its own witch hysteria years before Salem. Lawmakers still hope to exonerate those persecuted

Jospeh Baker
Library of Congress

Between 1647 and 1697, at least 34 people in Connecticut, mostly women, were accused or convicted of being a witch. Eleven of them were executed. Now some state lawmakers are hoping to redress this dark, early chapter in Connecticut’s History.

The proposed House Joint Resolution would exonerate Connecticut citizens convicted of witchcraft and executed, as well as those who were indicted but were exiled, acquitted on charges or fled.

The measure would also offer an apology “to the descendants of all those who were indicted, convicted and executed and for the harm done to the accused persons’ posterity to the present day, and acknowledges the trauma and shame that wrongfully continued to affect the families of the accused.”

At a public hearing on the resolution Wednesday, members of the Judiciary Committee heard testimony from people whose ancestors were among those hanged for witchcraft, including Suzanne Vogel-Scibilia. Her ancestor, Joan Carrington of Wethersfield, was tried and executed, along with her husband, for “familiarity with Satan” in 1651. She told the committee she often struggles to explain to her grandkids this tragic episode in her family’s past. She sees the resolution as more than a symbolic gesture.

“Given the recent deaths of citizens by law enforcement throughout the states, your office’s healing actions could send a strong statement to all oppressed people who may identify with the senselessness of those difficult times,” said Vogel-Scibilia.

Beverly Kahn echoed those sentiments in her testimony. Her ancestor, Goodwife Knapp, was tried and executed in 1653 in Fairfield.

“Please do the right thing, exonerate Goody Knapp, and all the others, and send a message to the citizens of Connecticut today that accusation, hatred and killing are wrong,” Kahn told the panel.

Just last year in Massachusetts, state lawmakers finally exonerated Elizabeth Johnson, who was convicted of witchcraft in 1693. She was the last accused witch of the infamous Salem Witch Trials to be exonerated. The other accused people were exonerated in previous legislation.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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