Descendants of Witches Want Ancestors Cleared

In 2020, Alse C. Freeman used to dig into genealogical information about one of her ancestors. Hartford Current reported that Alse C. Freeman’s search confirmed what her family members had told her – Freeman’s nine-times great-grandmother was Alse Young of Windsor, the first person ever hanged for witchcraft in the American Colonies.

Alse Freeman lived in North Carolina, and her nine-times great-grandmother had lived in Connecticut. She eventually found an online community of people who were working to clear the name not only Alse Freeman’s ancestor, but also others who had been wrongly accused as “witches.”

Activists from Florida, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, and Texas are seeking a posthumous pardon for their wrongly convicted ancestors. While some other states, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Virginia have exonerated their “witches”. Connecticut has not done so. The state’s governor lacks the power to pardon and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles does not have a posthumous exoneration process.

Various groups are working on getting their ancestors, who were the target of witch trials, exonerated. One such group is the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project. They are seeking to interview Connecticut Witch Trial Descendants. The purpose is to share those interviews in video format with Connecticut state legislators. 

NBC Connecticut reported that Connecticut State Representative Jane Garibay is trying to clear people’s names for their families. According to NBC Connecticut, the process is in the early stages as Representative Garibay gathers information before determining exactly how to proceed.

The Connecticut Witch Trials, which predated the American Witch Trials by nearly 30 years, included a total of 37 cases, 11 of them resulted in executions. The first person executed for witchcraft was Alse Young. There are no surviving records of her trial or the charge against her. 

Alse Young was from Windsor, and was either married or related to John Young. The trial occurred during an influenza epidemic. Alse might have been targeted because she may have been eligible to inherit his property. Alse was executed in Hartford.

Mary Johnson was the first with a recorded confession of witchcraft, after being accused of theft. She was a house servant who was interrogated and tortured until she confessed. Her execution was delayed because she was pregnant and she was later executed in June of 1650.

The Guardian reported that, three centuries after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, thousand of witches could get official apologies. After a campaign by the Witches of Scotland group, a member’s bill in the Scottish parliament secured the support of Nicola Sturgeon’s administration to clear the names of those who had been accused as witches. 

The move followed a precedent by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2001 that proclaimed that victims of the Salem witch trials were innocent. It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of victims of the witch trials were women, some of whom were targeted because they were disliked or because they were in line to receive a relative’s wealth. 

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