Rep. Steve Stafstrom introduces a resolution on absolving witch trial victims Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut’s House of Representatives voted Wednesday to absolve victims of colonial-era witch trials who were convicted and in some cases executed for the crimes of witchcraft and “familiarity with the devil.” 

The chamber sent the resolution to the state Senate on a 121 to 30 vote during an afternoon session. 

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 a floor debate, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said the resolution was an effort to publicly reconcile with the trauma inflicted on the families of witch trial victims as nearby states like Massachusetts have done in recent years. 

“The land that is now Connecticut has a dark history when it comes to certain womens’ rights issues surrounding adultery and a number of other, what were prosecuted as crimes, that would not be prosecuted now,” Stafstrom said. “Women who did not meet certain societal expectations were convicted on trumped up charges and sometimes were even put to death.”

Although all 30 votes in opposition to the resolution came from Republican legislators, it found some bipartisan support after a unanimous vote to amend the language in a way that acknowledged that the witch trials had been carried out by an English colony, rather than the state of Connecticut. 

The amendment also made the language of the resolution sound less legally binding. Rather than “exonerate” those convicted at witch trials some 370 years ago, legislators voted to “absolve” them of the specific crimes of witchcraft and familiarity with the devil.

Those changes won the support of Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Chaplin Republican who made headlines after a public hearing in March, when he asked the descendent of a woman executed on witchcraft charges in 1653 whether she could provide evidence that her ancestor was innocent.

Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin Credit: Mike Savino photo

“I asked for some of that evidence. Well, silly me. Just go to any search engine, type in my name and the word ‘witchcraft.’ You will find news articles from across the country,” he said during Wednesday’s debate. He cited articles at media outlets in California and Texas.

“I know that I’ve made it now because I was in the Modern Pagan News and Perspectives about my comments on witchcraft,” he said. 

Dubitsky said he initially felt that many legislators were not taking the resolution seriously enough but that the amendment, which he co-authored, represented a step in the right direction. 

“Based on that limited focus of this bill, I’m okay with it now,” Dubitsky said. “So hopefully the Modern Pagan News and Perspectives will write that Doug Dubitsky supports absolving these people from 350 years ago of witchcraft.”

During a media briefing earlier Wednesday, House Speaker Matt Ritter said that raising the resolution was something of a departure for the House. 

“Let the record reflect, traditionally we do not do resolutions in the House because you could go down a lot of rabbit holes,” Ritter said. “This one’s been worked on very hard. It was done in the state of Connecticut, so there’s a nexus there. We will be very firm in the future for things where there’s no direct nexus to Connecticut.”

Not everyone was convinced. Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, called the resolution a waste of time. The legislature could be acting on some 500 more important proposals, he said.

“I hope residents of the state of Connecticut are watching this that’s going on right now,” he said.  “They’re going to get a glimpse into the kind of nonsense that we do here sometimes… Folks, let’s get to work on stuff that matters to the residents of the state of Connecticut. I don’t know if I’m voting for this thing or not. Whatever.” 

Others, like Rep. Jane Garibay, D-Windsor, argued the resolution was not a frivolous effort. 

“Symbolic gestures like this do have real impact,” Garibay said. “This is a simple and compassionate way of expressing our state’s remorse, whether it was the British, whether it was whoever. We are saying we are sorry that this happened.”