May 26, 2007

Alse Young Hanged for Witchcraft in 1647

Alse Young is believed to be the first person executed for witchcraft in the American colonies. The records of her trial are exceedingly sketchy, consisting of two separate entries in two journals. John Winthrop, the governor of Massachusetts, made an entry in his journal that day, "One [blank] of Windsor arraigned and executed at Hartford for a witch." He left a blank for the name; presumably either he didn't know or couldn't remember it. The other entry was by the second town clerk of Windsor, Matthew Grant, "May 26, 47. Alse Young was hanged."

There is no other record of the execution, and, until the two entries were put together some 200 years later, the identity of the hanged "witch" was not known. We don't know why she was accused. There seems to have been some kind of outbreak of disease early in 1647, and that may have been a factor. It has also been suggested that Alse's real "crime" was that she hadn't produced a male heir, making her eligible to inherit her husband's property -- a failure she shared with Mary Johnson, Margaret Jones, Joan Carrington, and Mary Parsons, all of whom were executed for witchcraft in the late 1640's and early 1650's.

Whatever the reason, Alse was hung in Hartford, Connecticut in 1647, 45 years before the Salem Witch Trials took place. Shortly thereafter, Alse's husband and daughter unsurprisingly moved out of the area.

It is interesting to note that Alse's daughter, Alice Young Beaumon, was also accused of witchcraft in Springfield, Massachusetts, some 30 years later. Alice Beaumon, however, escaped her mother's ultimate fate.

Illustration: Pioneers in the Settlement of America, by William A. Crafts, 1876. Public Domain

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