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Descendants want a pardon for those hanged as witches in Connecticut

A memorial brick for Alse Young, the first known American victim of witch hangings.
Davis Dunavin
A memorial brick for Alse Young, the first known American victim of witch hangings.

A group of activists in Connecticut wants to right what they say is a centuries-old wrong. They want the state to exonerate eleven women and men hanged for witchcraft in the 1600s.

The Connecticut witchcraft trials were the first of their kind in the colonies — before the far more famous Salem trials. The panic largely centered around the Hartford area, but extended as far as the Bridgeport area, too.

“If you were called a witch back then, it meant you were in league with Satan," Beth Caruso said.

Caruso, the co-founder of the group CT Witch Memorial, has worked for years with descendants to get Connecticut to exonerate the so-called witches — as Massachusetts has done for the Salem witch trial victims. But it’s been a hard fight.

“I think part of it was so many people in Connecticut were completely unaware that there were witch trials here as well," she said.

Plus, Connecticut doesn’t offer pardons to people who are already dead. So Caruso is getting help from descendants of the victims — like Sarah Jack, who learned she had multiple witch trial victims among her ancestors when she researched her genealogy.

“The online research community, I think, has really impacted people finding hangings or accusations in their family trees," Jack said. "That's what happened with me.”

But Jack added it’s not just about history.

“Our world is currently full of witch trials," she said. "And I would like to see our country stand up to the history of it so that everyone is saying ‘this is an unjust measure.’”

Activists are now working with a state representative to change Connecticut’s pardon laws so the 11 people who wrongfully died when the state was just a colony can finally have their names cleared.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.