Northrop Genealogy ~~~ Witches in Connecticut
Probably all of us are familiar with the Salem Massachusetts witchcraft trials. Most people have not heard of similar instances in Connecticut. It gives an insight into how life was very different in Colonial Connecticut.
There were no Northrups accused of witchcraft, but there was a Jennings and a Burr who were. Fairfield, where Tom and I grew up, had a number of trials and executed a number of "witches". The town green originally had a "ducking pond" for testing them.
Apparently there IS a more direct connection with the witchcraft trials!!
here is a passage lining an ancestor of Joanna Leach
(Joanna b. ----. m. (1) Aug. 25, 1775, Thomas Northrop. m. (2) ) to the
Salem witch trials --
Susanna North, daughter of Richard and Ursula (----) North, married George Martin, of Salisbury, Mass., August 11, 1646, and died at Salem, Mass., in 1692. She was the "Goody" Martin in Whittier's poem "Mabel Martin, the Witch's Daughter".
With the death of her husband, Susanna became more exposed to the attacks of her enemies, who finally brought her to trial for witchcraft on June 29, 1692, before the Court at Salem, Mass., which condemned her and four other women, similarly accused, to be hanged on Tuesday, July 19, 1692. She and the others were executed accordingly in Salem on the day set. This execution practically marked the culmination of the frenzy which had begun to jeopardise even the rulers.
Susanna is described as a short, active woman, wearing a hood and scarf, well developed in her figure, and of remarkable personal neatness; a woman of great decision of character and strong minded. The charge against her was that she walked from Amesbury to Newbury in dirty weather without getting her clothes wet.
Among the descendants of George and Susanna (North) Martin are many of considerable note in educational and ecclesiastical spheres.
R.G.H.O., Boston Transcript August 13, 1938, says Susanna Martin(Goody Martin), hanged as a witch February 4, 1682, was the wife of George Martin. She was the daughter of Thomas Jones of Gloucester (who died September 2, 1671) and Mary, daughter of Richard North of Salisbury).
George Martin, of Salisbury and Amesbury, Mass., blacksmith, the emigrant ancestor of this Martin family, married first in 1643, Hannah ----, married (2) August 11, 1646, Susanna, daughter of Richard and Ursula North.
He received land in Salisbury in 1642, and died about 1686, will dated January 19, 1683-4. He was one of the fifteen "humble immortals" who, in 1653, stoutly and successfully maintained for the first time the right of petition for the subjects of the English crown. Major Robert Pike, of Salisbury, an influential citizen, had denounced a law passed by the General Court, for which he was convicted, fined and disfranchised by the General Court. This punishment caused many citizens of Salisbury and the surrounding towns to petition for a revocation of the sentence. This offended the Court still more, and the signers were called upon to give "a reason for their unjust request". Out of the seventy-five who signed, the above mentioned fifteen alone refused to recede or apologize, and they were required to give bonds and to "answer for their offense before the County Court". Their cases were never called to trial, and they thus, by their firm stand, laid the foundation for these rights, which are now granted in all the civilized world.
When his wife was accused of witchcraft he sought to protect her, and in 1669 brought suit against a man for slander in saying that she was a witch. The jury in the case found for the defendant, but the Court "concurred not with the jury".http://sheffieldgeneology.com/custom2_1.html
The Year: 1647In 1642, witchcraft became punishable by death in the Connecticut Colony. This capital offense was backed by references to the King James version of the Bible: Exodus (22:18) says, Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. And Leviticus (20:27) says, A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood (shall be) upon them.
Belief in witchcraft was common in seventeenth-century New England. The infamous witchcraft trials at Salem in 1692 are well known, but if you exclude those, ninety-three complaints of witchcraft were made in New England between 1638 and 1697—forty-three in Connecticut and fifty in Massachusetts, which was much more heavily populated.
Witchcraft was defined as giving entertainment to Satan. The first known witchcraft trial in North America and the first execution for witchcraft took place in Connecticut in 1647. Eleven of the sixteen persons executed for the crime of witchcraft in New England prior to 1692 lived in Connecticut. They were:
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What is the Origin of the Crime of “Witchcraft?”
The crime of witchcraft was included in laws enacted by the parliament of England during Queen Elizabeth I' s reign (1558-1603). Witchcraft and its penalty were thought to be the express law of God as stated in Exodus 22: 18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”), Leviticus 20: 27 (“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them”), and Deuteronomy 18: 10 (“There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch” (quotes from the Holy Bible, King James Version).
In each of the New England colonies, witchcraft was a capital crime that involved having some type of relationship with or entertaining Satan. The earliest laws of Connecticut and New Haven colonies, the Blue Laws, make it a capital offense for “any man or woman [to] bee a Witch, that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall bee put to death. ” Although the witchcraft crimes did not require any harm to result from this relationship or entertainment, in practice there had to be harm that warranted the effort and expense of a formal proceeding. In addition to a formal witchcraft charge, allegations of witchcraft were often the bases for civil suits for slander.
When were Connecticut' s Witch Trials Held and What Gave Rise to Them?
Connecticut' s witch trials were held in the mid to late 1600' s, between 1647 and 1697. However, no alleged witches were executed after 1662. Although historians cannot say with absolute certainty what gave rise to the witch trials, many believe that fear was the primary caused. The colonists held strong religious beliefs and years of fighting Native Americans, floods, and epidemical sickness may have caused them to look for someone (Satan) to blame for their hardships.
Describe the Legal Proceedings
Although all proceedings appeared to have been documented, many of the trial records no longer exist. Of those that survive, historians have discovered that a formal complaint started the process. Following the complaint, local magistrates would collect evidence, usually consisting of depositions from witnesses and an examination of the accused. A single witness was all it took to support a witchcraft conviction prior to 1662. Beginning that year, Connecticut required simultaneous witnessing of the same incident by two or more people.
Once gathered, the information was forwarded to higher courts authorized to try capital cases. The high court would refer the cases to a grand jury for indictment. Full consideration was given to the written evidence and, where possible, there was a personal reaffirmation of the testimony by the deponents. If indicted, cases went to a jury trial. The governor' s assistant served as prosecutor and as such he shaped the jury' s understanding of the case. The prosecutor and the accused called witnesses (it is unclear whether the accused were represented by counsel). Once all of the evidence was presented, the jury delivered its verdict and the magistrate (the governor) imposed sentence. If the jury returned a verdict with which the magistrate disagreed, he could overturn it.
Table 1: People Accused Of Witchcraft In Connecticut
* This town in Long Island, which today belongs to New York, was initially within the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Colony.
** Suspected witches were sometimes dropped into a body of water to determine if they possessed evil spirits. The theory behind the so-called “ducking test” was that if the person sank she was innocent but if she floated she was guilty because the pure water cast out her evil spirit.
) THOMAS DISBROW (b. 16?? d. c1707) m. c1680-85 MERCY neé Holbridge (b. c1637 d. after 1711-12) Nichols. She had two sons, John and Nathaniel Nichols, from a previous marriage to John Nichols, who she divorced in 1677 for abandonment. (Note: John may have been kidnapped and forced to fight King Philip's War).
Two Puritan Goodwives, Mercy Disborough of Compo (now Westport) and Elizabeth Clauson of Stamford, were cried out upon by their neighbors for an assortment of peculiarities, including a bewitched child, a bewitched sow, a dead heifer, the appearance of the skin on a roasted pig (“…it seemed to me to have no skin upon it…but when ye sd Disburrow began to cut it ye skin …came again upon it…”), an afflicted servant girl, and a recalcitrant canoe. In separate proceedings both Mercy and Elizabeth submitted to body-searches for marks of the devil, and each was subjected to the “water ordeal”—bound hand to foot and thrown into a pond or river to see if she would sink like a good Christian, or remain buoyant, like a diabolical resister of baptism. Eventually each woman was found guilty and condemned to death by hanging. In that same year witchcraft trials were also held for Mary and Hannah Harvey, Goody Miller and Mary Staplies, all of Fairfield, and in 1693 for Hugh Crotia of Stratford.
Records show that the first execution for witchcraft in New England took place in Connecticut, rather than Massachusetts, almost a half-century before the Salem trials, and from 1647 through 1768, some thirty-seven Connecticut women and men were brought to trial for entering into compacts with Satan. A Connecticut law enacted in 1642 reflects the close alliance of church and state at that time: “If any man or woman be a witch—that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit—they shall be put to death.” Exodus xxii, 18; Leviticus xx, 27; Deuteronomy xviii, 10, 11.” In the foreword to his 1908 book, The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut 1647-1697”, John M. Taylor writes, “The true story of witchcraft in old Connecticut has never been told. It has been hidden in the ancient records and in manuscripts in private collections, and those most conversant with the facts have not made them known, for one reason or another…”
Why have the Massachusetts trials generated such an avidity of discussion, literature, drama, tourism and Internet sites, while the Connecticut trials have gone scarcely noticed? Why did Connecticut resident Arthur Miller choose to set his play, “The Crucible” in the Bay Colony, rather than his own? Clues can be found in a study of the trials themselves.
Between March and September of 1692, on the testimony of a clique of raving adolescent girls, nineteen people in Salem were tried and executed for witchcraft. Eighteen of them were hanged and one, Giles Corey, slowly pressed to death under layers of planks and stones. No one who has read Marion Starkey’s gripping 1949 book on the Salem trials, The Devil in Massachusetts, or who has visited the tourist destination of modern-day Salem (and can ignore the hype of cone-hatted witches, horned red devils and Tarot readers on every block) can escape being horrified at the failure of justice in that period of mass hysteria. “Due process” was hardly a right of the accused. Jurors and judges formed little more than lynch mobs. If we can debate today over the validity of circumstantial evidence in bringing about a guilty verdict, can we imagine a time when spectral evidence—perhaps composed of a dream, hallucination or the mere spite of the accuser, could be enough to bring a death sentence? In Marion Starkey’s words, “Let an accuser say, ‘Your shape came to my room last midnight,’ and the accused has no defense at all; no conceivable alibi can be furnished for the whereabouts of a ‘shape,’ one’s airy substance.” A descent into the dank catacombs beneath Salem’s Congregational Church to see effigies of the imprisoned accused awaiting these mock trials—wedged vertically into crevices in the cave-like walls, so that the pull of gravity on their spines must have been the most fiendishly conceived of tortures—can almost make their moans heard, and convince us of their prayers for the victory of death. Often their only chance at retribution was to cry out on one of their accusers for witchcraft at their last hour.
But now let us look at one of the most notable witchcraft cases in Connecticut, that of Goodwife Knapp of Fairfield in 1653. Goodwife Knapp was “suspicioned”, tried and sentenced to death for evidence as paltry as that which convicted the unfortunates of Salem. And at her execution she came down from the very gallows to whisper in the ear of Roger Ludlow, the prominent New England lawmaker and magistrate, to whisper the name of Mary Staplies and identify her as a witch. Rather than raise a hue and cry against Goodwife Staplies, Ludlow, some time afterwards, merely told the story in confidence to the Reverend John Davenport and his wife at New Haven, under the promise of secrecy, though gossip soon carried it abroad. When it reached the ears of Thomas Staplies, Mary’s husband, Mr. Staplies sued Mr. Ludlow for defamation of his wife’s good name and was successful in winning monetary damages! And if we notice that the name Mary Staplies comes up with an accusation of witchcraft in 1692, we can figure that almost forty years have gone by in which she has escaped the fate of Goodwife Knapp.
And then let us look again at the cases of Mercy Disborough and Elizabeth Clauson, who, also in 1692, were accused, tried, sentenced to death—and reprieved. As Taylor writes, “But no utterance…deserves more consideration in its appeal to sanity, justice, and humanity than the declaration of certain ministers and laymen of Connecticut, in giving their advice and ‘reasons’ for a cessation of the prosecutions for witchcraft in the colonial courts, and for reprieving Mercy Disborough under sentence of death…” In his account of the Disborough and Clauson trials (“Elizabeth Clawson…Thou Deseruest to Dye”, The Stamford Historical Society, 1976), Ronald Marcus writes, “It was a common belief that only a witch would come to the aid of one accused of being in league with Satan. To testify on behalf of the accused was indeed an act of courage and conviction, for in so doing one might come under suspicion of practicing witchcraft also.” Nevertheless, some seventy-six individuals, including several officials of the town of Stamford, signed an affidavit attesting to Elizabeth Clauson’s good character. Mary and Hannah Harvey also escaped the hangman’s noose in that period, as did Goody Miller, Hugh Crotia, and for the second time in her life Mary Staplies, despite Taylor’s description of her as “a shrewish woman, impatient of some of the Puritan social standards and of the laws of everyday life…”
Though certainly some Connecticut colonists were executed for witchcraft, most notably in the earlier years, the cases of those tried here during the time of the Salem persecutions all ended in acquittals or reprieves. In defending their reprieve of Mercy Disborough, the Stamford committee concluded in their report to the 1693 session of the General Court: “…and the miserable toyl they are in the Bay (Massachusetts) for Adhereing to those last mentioned Litigious things is warning enof, those that will make witchcraft of such things wil make hanging work apace…”
Several theories have been offered for the contrast between the two neighboring colonies in their reaction to the witchcraft accusations—the unbridled hysteria in the Bay, the prevailing of reason in Connecticut. In Salem, some point to Tituba, the Reverend Parris’s slave-woman (said by some to be of African descent and others an Amerindian), as the catalyst in setting off the adolescent girls with her tales of superstition. Others blame the stronger influence in Massachusetts of the zealous Puritan preacher Cotton Mather. Another theory is that a growth of fungus called “ergot” had infected the rye flour and caused hallucinations in the girls. But there are still others who propose that, even in those early days, the two colonies were already fostering separate characters—in Massachusetts a dark romanticism that was to inspire a Nathaniel Hawthorne, in Connecticut a Yankee commonsense that would appeal to a Mark Twain.
When I was completing my mystery novel, The She-Wood, which is set against a background of the Connecticut witch trials, I found I had misplaced Elizabeth Clawson, Thou Deseruest to Dye, one of my references. I went to The Stamford Historical Society for another copy and there met the author, the Society’s librarian, Ronald Marcus, and his wife Virginia. In the course of our conversation, they told me how they had met years ago. Virginia had once been involved in a production of “The Crucible”, and when she visited the Society, she found herself fascinated by the affidavit signed by Elizabeth Clauson’s neighbors. (Years later she would discover she was descended from one of them!) Mr. Marcus and I talked about John Taylor’s book on the Connecticut trials and about Marion Starkey’s book on Salem. We remembered how Ms. Starkey had concluded her preface:
“…I find myself impelled to report that the very hour I began my formal
research…a small hurricane came through my open window, wrecked the
room, brought every tree in the yard crashing against the house, and toppled
the steeple of the East Saugus Community Church, visible in the lightning
beyond my window. Then again, the evening of the day I finally shipped
off this manuscript, there came a plague of lightning, continuous and directly
overhead, striking neighbours’ houses but missing mine.
My excuse for setting down these observations is that Cotton Mather,
my colleague in the field of New England history, would value them
and know exactly what to make of them.”
Mr. Marcus, with a smile, shared an observation of his own that Cotton Mather might know what to make of. He said it had occurred while he had been doing his own research at the Fairfield Probate Court. The State records are reproduced in large volumes that roll out horizontally, and Mr. Marcus said he is always quite methodical in replacing books. But as he was leaving the room, he looked back, and noticed that several of the volumes seemed to have inched out again.
In turn I told him of my own experience the first time I began to look into the history of Connecticut’s witch trials. It was several years ago, shortly after the Norwalk Public Library had converted from its card files to the computer. While I was looking through the shelf of books on witchcraft, I heard something fall out from the other side. I went around and picked up John Taylor’s book from the floor. As I looked into it, it seemed to be the most comprehensive book on the Connecticut trials, but I didn’t remember seeing it listed in the computer system. When I returned to the computer to look again, I found that it had indeed been omitted. Had it been pushed to the back of the shelf and overlooked? I wondered what John Taylor would think to know that even his own account of the Connecticut witch trials had almost been hidden away.
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What is clear from the Colonial records, according to State historian Walt Woodward, is that the Connecticut and New Haven Colonies did not hesitate to prosecute accused witches. In fact, between 1647 and 1655 "every single person tried and found guilty [of witchcraft] was executed." In a 21 year period in the colonies of Connecticut (1647 to 1668), it is believed that at least 29 people were indicted for witchcraft and 11 were condemned and put to death.
Viewed with modern eyes and sensibilities, Connecticut's experience is but an earlier chapter of the delusional witch hysteria at Salem, incomprehensible to us today except perhaps as a metaphor for subsequent persecutions of those outside the political mainstream. We note that it was largely women and often those envied, disliked or on society's margins who were accused of witchcraft, but have a harder time seeing that those who accused their neighbors of capital crimes might be motivated by something other than manipulating the law to settle old scores. Feuds, gossip, and a culture that demanded conformity to rigid social norms certainly played their part, but these secular explanations are easier for us moderns to accept than the sacred, and the two were inextricably linked in 17th-century New England.
In the mid-1640s, the English colonies of Connecticut and New Haven were young, tenuous establishments without Royal Charters. They were Puritan bastions on a savage frontier, uncomfortably close to the new Amsterdam Dutch and in direct competition with them on both sides of Long Island Sound. A savage war had recently been waged against the powerful Pequot nation, and beyond the coast and the Connecticut River was the Devil's country, a heathen wilderness, the last place reached by the Word of God. Puritan New England communities warned out strangers without visible means of support and denied them sanctuary, and sometimes banished religious dissenters outright from their colonies. An outsider in these frontier communities was potentially an economic, physical or spiritual threat, and the ultimate outsider was Satan who worked through his minions both in wilderness and town.
There were no further executions of witches in Connecticut after 1662, but the Hartford witch trials of that year had been bad enough. The Hartford Witch Trials of 1662-1663 eerily foreshadow the great witch hysteria at Salem. Up to 11 people in Hartford and surrounding communities were accused of witchcraft at this time and as many as 4 were executed (the records are inconclusive regarding one of the accused, Mary Sanford, who is thought to have been hanged). Several accused witches fled prosecution (James Wakeley did so on two separate occasions three years apart). Two of those who escaped were William Ayres and his wife, who were put to the water test to see if they floated when bound hand and foot - a sign that they denied their baptism - or sank and were deemed free from the taint of witchery. Their survival was due not to acquittal, for they floated, but their subsequent escape from prison.
Fear was a primary motivator of those who accused others of witchcraft, and also the desperate acts of some of the accused to deflect the charge from themselves against others. William Ayes himself turned witch accuser, confirming charges against Mary Sanford and Rebecca Greensmith that each woman had "disturbed" Ann Cole, a woman who raved and claimed to be tormented by witches. Nathaniel Greensmith accused William Ayres of slander but soon found himself on trial. He had acquired something of a wrap sheet beforehand, having once been convicted of the theft of a hoe. Rebecca Greensmith's confession affirmed that she and other named persons - including her husband - had familiarity with the Devil.
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This home on Pequot Avenue, Southport, Connecticut is a recently restored example of the Northrop Brothers fine carpentry and building in the Southport-Greeens Farms area.
Image Courtesy of David Parker Associates