Randall Beach: Witchcraft Expert Explains Why Connecticut Executed 11 'Witches'

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), October 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Randall Beach: Witchcraft Expert Explains Why Connecticut Executed 11 'Witches'


When you find out (you think) that your great-grandmother was hanged for being a witch, it's good motivation for delving into the subject of Connecticut witchcraft.

That's what happened to Richard G. Tomlinson of Glastonbury, whose first book on Connecticut's witchcraft trials erroneously reported that Lydia Gilbert was his "witch ancestor."

Gilbert was hanged in Hartford in 1654. She was falsely accused after a soldier's gun accidentally discharged while he was marching in Windsor, killing him on the spot.

But as Tomlinson sheepishly confessed to an audience at the New Haven Museum last Thursday night, later research showed she was not his great-grandmother after all. Disappointed, yet wanting to set the record straight, "I wrote another book."

That historical volume, "Witchcraft Prosecution: Chasing the Devil in Connecticut," came out last year, published by Picton Press. Tomlinson was invited to the museum to sign and sell copies and talk about what those trials were "really like," because Halloween is coming soon.

There is clearly substantial interest in the topic; about 80 people came out to hear him talk about it.

Tomlinson, a former research scientist, also has a hobby of investigating his family tree. He is a founder and director of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists Inc.

Tomlinson told us he writes these books because the real history of the witchcraft trials has been "hijacked."

"The truth is more interesting and complex than the popular stereotypes," he said, citing the public's perception of the Salem, Mass., witch trials.

Tomlinson projected on a screen a familiar-looking color painting from one of those Salem trials. He noted it features "women groveling in front of misogynist judges, people having fits and writhing about. That's good theater but it's not historically accurate, for Connecticut anyway."

Tomlinson said the witchcraft conflicts in our state, which caused the execution of nine women and two men from 1647 to 1662, featured fascinating characters, "not cartoon figures."

But how could this have happened? Tomlinson noted Connecticut's early settlers in the 1630s came from a Europe that had been gripped by hysteria over witches and mass executions. "They were destroying people left and right."

Many of those settlers here "firmly believed the devil was active in the world and was trying to undermine the moral society they were trying to build," Tomlinson noted. …

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