This brick engraved with Alice ‘Alse’ Young’s name is among the memorial bricks found beneath a flag pole near Town Hall in Windsor Connecticut. Credit: Courtesy of the Connecticut Law Library

Over the objections of several Republicans, the Judiciary Committee moved forward this week with a resolution to apologize for the convictions and, in some cases, execution of people accused of witchcraft in colonial-era Connecticut.

The panel sent the resolution to the House on a 28-9 vote during a meeting Monday. Prior to that vote, members of the committee spent time debating whether the state legislature could or should exonerate people convicted on witchcraft-related charges by a colonial government long before Connecticut was even a state.

Thirty-four people were indicted on witchcraft-related charges during the 17th century in what is now Connecticut. A dozen of those people, most of them women, were convicted and 11 were executed.

During the Judiciary Committee’s meeting, co-chair Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, argued the resolution was a symbolic “expression of sympathy and an acknowledgment of trauma.” The Massachusetts legislature has taken similar steps in recent years to pardon victims of the Salem witch trials.

“This resolution is an acknowledgement of … mob mentality, of folks who are punished for non-conformity, folks who were the victim of misogyny, were ridiculed for adultery and generally have been victimized as a result of conduct that in large measure would not be considered criminal in today’s state of Connecticut,” Stafstrom said.

However, Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, noted the resolution explicitly stated its intent to exonerate those who were convicted. Fishbein said the state had no authority to absolve convictions it never handed down.

“The state of Connecticut had absolutely nothing to do with this,” Fishbein said. “We were Great Britain, we were a colony at the time of this. If you really wanted to do something, you go to Great Britain, you ask them to apologize.”

“I intend to vote against,” Fishbein said later. “It may be a nice idea, a nice gesture. It’s sorta like a Valentine card, but that’s all that we have before us.”

Another lawmaker, Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, argued that the committee did not have enough evidence that the people convicted on witchcraft-related charges were not in fact guilty of those charges.

Dubitsky made headlines following a public hearing earlier this month when he pressed a descendant of a woman executed during the witch trials for evidence that her ancestor was innocent. On Monday, he pushed back against the tone of those news stories, which he said depicted him as a “rube” for believing witchcraft was real. 

Some of the people included in the resolution were convicted of other crimes like murder and “consortium with the devil,” he said.

“Do people believe that there is no devil anymore?” Dubitsky asked. “Well, people who believe in God typically believe there’s a devil. Is it no longer a crime to consort with the devil? Well, I guess it’s no longer a crime in Connecticut to do that but does that mean it wasn’t a crime back then? All these things need to be sorted out before this legislature could say that these people all deserve exoneration.”

Others, like Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, argued the witch trials were wrong, “no matter how you believe about magic and the occult.” Kissel said he found it “amazing” that colonial courts felt they had sufficient evidence to convict residents of the witchcraft-related crimes. 

“It’s part of our history and today is a day that we get to right that wrong in some way, sense or form,” Kissel said. “You’re probably going to think I’m a little crazy. I think I’m sorta doing a service by voting ‘yes’ today. It’s my way of sorta saying to the spirits, ‘You can rest a little easier now’.”