Victims of Hartford’s Witchcraft Trials to be Commemorated Saturday
May 23-30, 2007
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
On May 26, 1647, Alse Young of Windsor exited this life at the end of noose in Hartford and entered the history books as the first person to be executed in New England for witchcraft. She wouldn’t be the last.
This Saturday, 360 years later to the day, Young and the 10 other persons that were hung in Hartford for supposedly committing witchcraft will be remembered at a ceremony on South Green at 1 pm. One of the organizers of the event, local historian Katherine Spada-Basto,said South Green was chosen because it was reported that some of the accused persons had gathered at the spot for “merry-making” that involved dancing and a drinking wine.
Spada-Basto, who was also instrumental in creating a monument to the victims of the Hartford Circus Fire, said she feels it is time to remember the victims of this forgotten chapter of Hartford history. She has been researching the Hartford witchcraft trials for several years but says much remains unknown. “The more I uncover, the more I realized how much more mystery and intrigue there was surrounding the trials,” she said.
Although Alse Young was a resident of Windsor, historian believe she and others who were convicted of witchcraft were hung in Hartford. Some believe that the place of execution was located near what is now the intersection of Albany Avenue and Garden Street but Spada-Basto said that, based on her research, she is leaning toward the area where Trinity College now stands, which was once known as Gallows Hill.
In 1661, 14 years after Young’s hanging, the death of an eight-year-old Hartford girl named Elizabeth Kelly sparked off a witch-hunting hysteria in the the four “River Towns” (Hartford, Windsor, Wethersfield and Farmington). A total of 17 persons were arrested and ten were executed.
While the Hartford witchcraft trials have largely been forgotten, a series of similar trials that were held in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690’s have become world famous. In fact, Salem is now known as the “Witch City” and attracts thousands of tourists a year to see sites that became prominent during the trials. The town even boasts three museums devoted to the trials.
Spada-Basto and other organizers of Saturday’s commemorative ceremony in Hartford have much more modest goals, such as a memorial stone or plaque on South Green and a wider appreciation for Hartford’s rich heritage, particularly among the city’s youth.
However, at least some of those attending Saturday’s event want something more: the official exoneration of those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut. Debra and Addie Avery, descendants of Mary Sanford, who was executed for witchcraft in Hartford in 1662, are scheduled to speak at Saturday’s event and describe their efforts to get the State Legislature to officially pardon all those accused of witchcraft in 17th century Connecticut. The campaign has generated a fair amount of local publicity, with recent articles in the New Haven Register and the Waterbury Republican American.
But Spada-Basto said Saturday’s commemoration will be a solemn, dignified ceremony. Those wishing to speak in a more political vein about the exoneration campaign will be allowed to do so following the conclusion of the ceremony, she said.