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

Connecticut’s Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to absolve the women and men who were convicted and the 11 who were executed on witchcraft charges in the 17th century when the state was a British colony. 

The resolution mirrors efforts in other states like Massachusetts to reconcile with the persecution and execution of colonists, most of them women, on crimes like witchcraft and familiarity with the devil. It passed on a 33 – 1 vote with only Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, in opposition. The proposal cleared the House with bipartisan support earlier this month. 

Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said Thursday’s action coincided with Friday’s 376th anniversary of the killing of Alse Young, a woman from the area that is now Windsor, who was the first recorded execution on witchcraft charges in the American colonies. Some of Young’s descendents came to witness the passage of the resolution, he said.

“Stories are going from one generation to the other and when you start to talk and listen to the details, you recognize that this is what generational trauma is,” Anwar said. “People are experiencing generational trauma and they want closure.” 

Thursday’s debate included a long winded history lesson from Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who traced the concept of witchcraft from biblical references through the early days of the nation. Kissel said he was not interested in passing judgment on whether the victims were actually practicing witchcraft. 

“I’m not going to say that you can’t play with a Ouija board and not open a portal and unleash things that you don’t want to unleash. You can go across the street a couple of blocks to the cathedral and visit Archbishop [Leonard] Blair’s house and I’m sure that he has some exorcist assigned for the state of Connecticut,” Kissel said. “There’s crazy stuff that happens here. I mean Connecticut– land of Ed and Lorraine Warren.”  

In any event, Kissel said Connecticut, officially nicknamed the “constitution state,” should recognize that law was subverted during the colonial witch trials. 

“It’s time in 2023, to acknowledge that, at least as we understand justice, justice was not done,” he said. “Even if they were witches, they were not tried appropriately or properly.” 

Sampson, the chamber’s lone “no” vote, articulated his opposition, saying the state legislature should refrain from “relitigating history.”

“The moment you begin on this path, where does it end? Will we be back next year, litigating Attila the Hun and the atrocities committed by him?” he said. “What concerns me is I somehow connect this document and what we’re doing here with a movement that is happening in our country that I find very troublesome and that is the desire to paint this nation as somehow an evil nation.”

Sampson said the resolution absolving the witch trial victims demonstrated an “extreme arrogance” on the part of lawmakers. Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, disagreed. 

“I don’t think it is arrogant, I don’t think it is ‘hindsight to 20/20’ to say that it is an injustice for people at any time in history to have been executed for a crime that simply should not exist,” Lesser said. “It was a horrible trauma visited upon families at the time… It is the right thing to do to say that this was wrong.”

The witch trial victims are now considered absolved in the eyes of the state legislature. A joint resolution only requires passage through both chambers and does not need to be signed by the governor.