Two weeks ago in this space I suggested that our threadbare little state, which is waist deep in red ink, might look to the black arts to put some more green in its cash drawer. That is, we might look for a way to capitalize on one of the darker moments of our history: the witch panic that swept through this colony from 1647 to 1662, putting steady habits on hold and sending almost a dozen people (between nine and 11, depending; the old records are spotty at best) to the gallows for allegedly consorting with the devil and/or his minions.
Sure, Massachusetts bumped off twice as many people, and the Bay State has done a creditable job of monetizing that experience, what with all the tourist traps around Salem. But we were almost half a century ahead of them, and we also have the dubious and lugubrious distinction of having been the first of the 13 original colonies to liquidate someone for applied witchery. That should count for something, no?
(An aside: As Editorial Page Editor Jeffery Kurz has written in these pages, one so-called witch, who was “probably executed” in 1654, was Lydia Gilbert, mother of John Gilbert, the early European settler who’s considered the founder of Meriden. Another local connection: Much later, in 1697, Wallingford’s Winnifred Benham and her daughter, also named Winnifred, got into double, double toil and trouble when they were accused and tried, but set free. They soon hit the road for New York.)
Anyway, Massachusetts has lucrative tourist attractions including a Witch House, a Witch Village, a Witch Museum, a Witch Dungeon Museum, a Witch History Museum, a Wax Museum, and even the homestead of Rebecca Nurse, who was executed for witchcraft in 1692. What does Connecticut have? Zilch.
What I neglected to mention a fortnight ago is that for every witch we polished off back in the day, several more were accused but acquitted — although their social standing was bound to have been seriously impaired in the process. Some of them fled the colony entirely.
And that’s where the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches comes in. The purpose of the 31-year-old ADEAW is “to search for and preserve the names of those accused of witchery in that portion of Colonial America now the United States of America,” and “to locate the living female descendants of all witches who were accused in the American colonies” before 1700.
So far, they have convinced Windsor to clear the names of the two town residents who were hanged, but the state of Connecticut has yet to mend its ways and pardon those it snuffed out, let alone those who were tried but acquitted. The ADEAW maintains a list of 43 “ancestors” who were persecuted and/or prosecuted by our colonial forebears.
They are now trying to raise money for a memorial to those who were whacked for witchcraft in Connecticut, to be placed at the Old State House in Hartford — which, after all, is where most of the trials and executions took place.
Perhaps our next governor will see fit to take up his or her broomstick and sweep the record clean.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.