Most Americans are familiar with the trials and tribulations that those suspected of witchcraft once faced during the nation’s founding. But while many dismiss the tales as mere historical blemishes, some descendants of the so-called witches are demanding that their long-lost relatives receive justice.
Take, for instance, 82-year-old Bernice Mable Graham Telian, who’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother was hanged in Connecticut back in 1663. More than 300 years later, Telian is seeking equity for her relative and for the 10 others who perished alongside her.
After learning that her seventh grandmother, Mary Barnes, was killed at the gallows in Hardford centuries ago, she became captivated by the story. Now, the retired university administrator is setting out to clear her great (to the seventh degree) grandmother’s name. Telian infused all of her energy and interest into a five-year book project about the subject called, “My Grandmother Mary Was Hanged.”
“You won’t find Mary’s grave. She and all these people who were hanged were dumped in a hole,” she told Religion News Service (RNS). “Their graves aren’t marked. They wanted them to be forgotten.”
Telian’s goal is clear: To un-sully the names of the once-alleged perpetrators who are now, looking back in time, viewed as victims of superstition. RNS notes that Barnes was one of the many individuals who was put on trial and accused of witchcraft decades before the same phenomenon unfolded in Salem, Massachusetts (the latter events occurred years later in 1692).
In 1715, Connecticut removed witchcraft as a capital crime; in 1702, the Massachusetts trials were declared unlawful. The State of Connecticut General Assembly web site, in addition to providing a full list of those who were put on trial in the state, describes all that’s known about the trials:
Although all proceedings appeared to have been documented, many of the trial records no longer exist. Of those that survive, historians have discovered that a formal complaint started the process. Following the complaint, local magistrates would collect evidence, usually consisting of depositions from witnesses and an examination of the accused. A single witness was all it took to support a witchcraft conviction prior to 1662. Beginning that year, Connecticut required simultaneous witnessing of the same incident by two or more people.
Once gathered, the information was forwarded to higher courts authorized to try capital cases. The high court would refer the cases to a grand jury for indictment. Full consideration was given to the written evidence and, where possible, there was a personal reaffirmation of the testimony by the deponents. If indicted, cases went to a jury trial. The governor’s assistant served as prosecutor and as such he shaped the jury’s understanding of the case. The prosecutor and the accused called witnesses (it is unclear whether the accused were represented by counsel). Once all of the evidence was presented, the jury delivered its verdict and the magistrate (the governor) imposed sentence. If the jury returned a verdict with which the magistrate disagreed, he could overturn it.
Connecticut has apparently differed from other states, though, by not publicly apologizing for what unfolded.
“I’d like to see this happen in my lifetime,” Telian said of the state’s public acknowledgment and denouncement.
As for her grandmother, there isn’t much information surrounding why she was accused of being a witch (after all, there were no photocopiers back then and 300+ years is more than enough time for any evidence that did exist to disappear). However, Telian has read the court’s condemning decree of Barnes — a sentiment that will haunt her. The court’s statement reads:
“Mary Barnes thou art here indicted by the name of Mary Barnes for not having the fear of God before thine eyes, thou hast entertained familiarity with Satan, the grand enemy of God and mankind — and by his help has acted things in a preternatural way beyond human abilities in a natural course for which according to the law of God and the established law of this commonwealth thou deservest to die.”
The Connecticut Wiccan and Pagan Network Inc. is also joining in on the call for Gov. Dannel Malloy to speak in favor of the victims. The group, which claims to “provide a forum for Wiccans and Pagans to meet others of ‘like mind’ and to come together and worship in a safe environment,” is asking members to send a postcard to the governor. It reads, “I am a Pagan/Witch and I vote. Clear the names of Connecticut’s eleven accused and executed witches.”
(H/T: Religion News Service)