On May 26, 1647, Alse Young became the first woman in the 13 colonies to get charged with and hanged for “witchcraft.” Her crime? Unclear. Some historians believe she might have been scapegoated for a flu that broke out in the town, while others suspect that since her husband owned a small piece of land and they didn’t have a son, the fact that she’d received the inheritance might have played into the accusation. (Tale as old as time!) The only record of her execution is a diary entry from the Windsor town clerk that reads, “Alse Young was hanged.”
In the 15 years following Young’s execution, over 40 people faced trial on suspicion of cavorting with Satan. The colony’s earliest laws stated that “any man or women (to) bee a Witch, that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall bee put to death.” Nine women and two men were eventually executed. Connecticut bee brutal.
Now, over 375 years later, Young and the 11 other “witches”—who were, more often than not, a single mother, a poor mother, or both—may finally be exonerated for their witchy crimes of being a woman without a man. After receiving letters and requests from the eighth- and ninth-generation relatives of accused witches, Connecticut State Rep. Jane Garibay (D) has proposed an exoneration bill—something ancestors and historians have been calling for, for years.
“They’re talking about how this has followed their families from generation to generation and that they would love for someone just to say, ‘Hey, this was wrong,’” Garibay told the Associated Press. “And to me, that’s an easy thing to do if it gives people peace.”
Exonerating your town’s witches has become a pretty popular trend over the last couple of decades. (Better four centuries after being executed than never?) Grace Sherwood, a midwife accused of being a witch after neighbors blamed her for conjuring storms and killing their livestock, was thrown in a river in 1706 to see if she sank—which would mean she was not a witch. She floated, but also set herself free. She spent seven years in prison and lived until she was 80. Then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) awarded her an informal pardon in 2006.
In May, Massachusetts officially cleared Elizabeth Johnson Jr.’s name after she was convicted of witchcraft in 1692. Johnson was never hanged and actually lived until she was 77—but her conviction was never overturned, making her the only person from the Salem Witch Trials with “witch” still on her record. This is suspected to be due to the fact that she never had children and therefore, no one to eventually fight for her exoneration—but a group of middle school students in North Andover brought the case to legislators in 2021 and now, technically, Johnson is a free woman. (Hurrah?)
And in 2021, Scotland’s prime minister said sorry to the 4,000 Scots—2,500 of whom were executed—who were accused of being witches between the 1500s and 1700s. “We absolutely excelled at finding women to burn in Scotland,” Claire Mitchell, a lawyer and the head of Witches of Scotland, told the London Times in December of that year. “Those executed weren’t guilty, so they should be acquitted.” A bill was introduced in June to posthumously pardon them, so, fingers crossed.
It takes a village! To both hang a witch and eventually say whoops, that “was wrong.”