Descendants Want Justice for Connecticut Witches

By Somma, Ann Marie | The Christian Century, November 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

Descendants Want Justice for Connecticut Witches


Somma, Ann Marie, The Christian Century


At age 82, Bernice Mable Graham Telian doubts she'll live long enough to see the name of her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and ten others hanged in colonial Connecticut for witchcraft cleared.

Telian was researching her family tree when she discovered that her ancestor Mary Barnes of Farmington, Connecticut, was sent to the gallows at the site of the old State House in Hartford in 1663.

"You won't find Mary's grave. She and all these people who were hanged were dumped in a hole. Their graves aren't marked. They wanted them to be forgotten," said Telian, a retired university administrator who now lives in Delhi, New York.

The discovery so shocked Telian that she spent the last five years writing a book, My Grandmother Mary Was Hanged, about her ancestor's execution. She's also part of a long, protracted effort to get Connecticut lawmakers to clear the names of the 11 people executed between 1647 and 1663 for witchcraft in the state.

Connecticut was executing suspected witches some 40 years before the infamous (and better known) trials in Salem, Massachusetts. Scores of others were put on trial until witchcraft was no longer listed as a capital crime in the state in 1715.

But unlike Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Virginia, Connecticut has yet to acknowledge those sent to the gallows. "I'd like to see this happen in my lifetime," said Telian.

In 2008, Telian wrote to Connecticut lawmakers in support of a resolution that had been introduced in the General Assembly to acknowledge the witch trials. Lawmakers heard testimony from historians and from descendants of executed witches, but the measure died.

There was an earlier effort to get the victims pardoned, but the state Board of Pardons and Paroles said it doesn't grant posthumous pardons.

Now members of the Connecticut Wiccan and Pagan Network are pushing Gov. Dannel Malloy to sign a proclamation to clear the names of the victims. Sup porters are asked to send Malloy a postcard that reads: "I am a Pagan/Witch and I vote. Clear the names of Connecticut's eleven accused and executed witches. …

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