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Witches in Connecticut

Connecticut had its own witch hunts, more infamous than the Salem Witch Trials, State Historian Walt Woodward said. It was the first colony to execute someone for witchcraft.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses, he did much more than start his own religion.

"In many ways, he fractured the social structure of early modern Europe," said state Historian Walt Woodward.

Before then, the Roman Catholic church, which controlled many societal beliefs, had been unified. Thanks to Luther, the church struggled to re-establish itself and delved into discovering witches.

The Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of the Witches, was a well-known tool in witch hunts.

"The main purpose of the Malleus was to attempt to systematically refute arguments claiming that witchcraft does not exist, discredit those who expressed skepticism about its reality, to claim that witches were more often women than men, and to educate magistrates on the procedures that could find them out and convict them," the Website states.

The church wanted greater social control and created the idea that witches signed "The Devil's Book," and the idea was spread further with invention of movable type.

The idea of the "Witches' Sabbat" was said to be where witches met with the Devil at night to "party down." A woodcut he showed depicting the Sabbat was considered horrific to people of that time, Woodward said.

When a suspected witch was found, he or she could be tortured through the pressing of knuckles and other means. Usually a confession and implications of of other witches were obtained despite innocence.

People feared witches had numerous powers connected with the Devil, such as secret information and control over the weather. Mixed with a belief in alchemy, which incorporates magic, science and religion, witches were genuinely feared, according to Woodward.

At the time, bad weather and disease would be blamed on witches. "You didn't ask why, you asked who," Woodward said.

And alchemy was the most advanced science at time, he added.

The idea of the familiar was also created, an animal that linked the witch to the devil. The witch was also said to have a "witch's teat," a mark that a suspected witch carried.

Suspected witches' bodies would be thoroughly searched. Based on transcripts, some victims of this search went insane as a result, Woodward said.

The first witchcraft execution in New England was in 1647, and the second was Margaret Jones, who allegedly had a "malignant touch" and could see the future. She also had a witch's teat and a familiar.

She was accused of weather control, and "there was a great tempest in Connecticut the day she was killed," Woodward said. 

There were nearly three times as many witch trials in New England comparied to England from 1647 to 1692, the historian said.

Massachusetts acquitted half of its accused witchs but between 1647 and 1655, all witch suspects were convicted in Connecticut. "Connecticut was not soft on witchcraft," Woodward said.

Then, in 1657, noted alchemist and scientist John Winthrop Jr. became governor of Connecticut and stayed in office for 19 years. He presided over witch trials.

In that time, witchcraft trials declined. "His efforts changed Connecticut witchcraft executions," Woodward said. Winthrop was heavily science-oriented, he noted.

But after he left office, the state resumed its witch hunts, the historian said. They were later stopped when Withrop returned to the state.

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