William Schloat told lawmakers, “If I had a time machine, I would travel back to Hartford in the 1600s to help the people who are being accused of witchcraft." Two rows behind him at right is Rep. Jane Garibay, sponsor of the exoneration resolution. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Almost 376 years to the day after the first person in the original 13 colonies was executed for witchcraft, nearly all of Connecticut’s state Senate voted to absolve those convicted and killed for witchcraft or familiarity with the devil.

Just one senator voted against it Thursday evening.

Friday marks the anniversary of Windsor resident Alice “Alse” Young’s 1647 hanging. Her execution was the start of years of government-sanctioned killings for those accused of witchcraft or consorting with the devil.

The House had already adjusted the resolution earlier this month, ultimately voting to absolve rather than exonerate those accused. But it maintains that misogyny played a large role in the trials and specifically absolves nine women and two men killed for what was then considered a capital crime. 

“It is the right thing to do, to say that this is wrong, to move past it, to atone for what happened in our state,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown.

There have been a few unsuccessful attempts to absolve those accused of witchcraft, including a 2008 resolution that didn’t make it out of committee, a 2012 request to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for a proclamation, and appeals to the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Some of the descendants of those who were executed have held onto the stories, senators said, and asked lawmakers to act. 

“People are experiencing generational trauma, and they want closure,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor.

Thursday’s debate ranged from covering the misogyny in the trials and generational trauma to the history of witchcraft and personal beliefs about the occult.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, offered a history of witchcraft that included the biblical King Saul consorting with the Witch of Endor (a reference that led to comments briefly about George Lucas’ fictional moon in “Star Wars”) to summon the ghost of the prophet Samuel.

He said as someone who believes in the afterlife, he thinks “there are things on the other side of the veil.”

But that belief, Kissel said, is moot. The trials were about consolidating power and ostracizing certain groups, he added.

“Even if they were witches, they were not tried appropriately or properly,” he said, offering support for the bill. “Justice was not done.”

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, was the sole no vote on Thursday.

He said he doesn’t believe it’s the job of the state legislature to relitigate trials that occurred years ago.

“Where does it end?” he said. “Will we be back next year litigating Attila the Hun and the atrocities committed by him?”

He said it was arrogant of lawmakers to think they know better than those at other times of history, without being presented the same set of facts.

“I would not dare to suggest that I know any better because I’ve not studied these folks,” Sampson said. “I certainly wasn’t present, and none of us were.”

In the closing statement on the debate, Lesser responded definitively to comments about whether it is the job of the Senate to absolve those accused of witchcraft.

“Frankly it is,” Lesser said.

The governing body that oversaw the laws allowing people to be executed for witchcraft is the predecessor of the Senate, Lesser said.

“I don’t think it is arrogant, I don’t think it is hindsight of 2020 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,” he said.

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Ginny MonkHousing and Children's Issues Reporter

Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter and a Report for America corps member. She covers a variety of topics ranging from child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021.