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October 7, 2012

Conn. asked to denounce witchcraft executions

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Descendants of some of the 11 people executed for witchcraft in mid-1600s Connecticut are hoping for a little magic of their own: that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will issue a proclamation clearing their distant relatives’ names and condemning the prosecutions and killings.

Over the past seven years, descendants and their supporters have been trying to get state officials to denounce the Connecticut witch trials, which began in 1647, three decades before the more famous trials in Salem, Mass., and ended in 1697. About 46 people were prosecuted, according to a 2006 state report.

“They were wrongly accused. It’s a justice issue,” said Debra Lynne of New Milford, who says her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Sanford, was hanged for witchcraft in Hartford in 1662.

The first person executed in the New World for witchcraft was Alice Young of Windsor, Conn., who was hanged in Hartford in 1647, according to several books on the trials. The last executions were in 1662.

Many historians believe fear was a major driver of Connecticut’s witch trials, according to the state report. Deeply religious colonists who endured years of fighting with Native Americans, floods and sickness may have been looking for someone to blame for their hardships, the report said.

Historians say laws against witchcraft stemmed from passages in the Bible.

Lynne’s ancestor, Mary Sanford, and her husband, Andrew, were accused of witchcraft in 1662, according to court records obtained by Lynne’s cousin.

They were also accused of having knowledge of “secrets in a preternatural way beyond the ordinary course of nature to the great disturbance of several members of this commonwealth.”

A grand jury couldn’t agree on the indictment against Andrew Sanford and he was acquitted. But Mary Sanford was convicted and ordered executed.

While officials in Massachusetts, Virginia and Hampton, N.H., have posthumously pardoned and exonerated accused witches, their counterparts in Connecticut have shown interest but taken no action.

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