Unearthing the First American Witch Hanging Case by Beth M Caruso
|Alse Young was hanged at the Meeting House Square in Hartford, Connecticut, on what is now the site of the Old State House (pictured)|
Few people have ever heard of Alice ‘Alse’ Young, the first witch-hanging victim in the American colonies. The fact that ten others were also hanged in Connecticut years before the Salem witch trials is also largely unknown. My novel One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s First Witch Hanging aims to raise awareness about this ignored history as well as entertain the reader with an enthralling story that includes love, passion, fear, revenge, survival, and sisterhood. It is a combination of real history mixed with literary invention.
From the moment I first learned about Alice Young, my mind reeled in desperate ways to understand why such an important historical figure had vanished from the record. Certainly, the energy leading up to such a dramatic and decisive event would have been intense and peppered with many raw emotions, especially fear.
Part of the reason that Alice Young disappeared from known history was that documents concerning her witchcraft case ceased to exist even though many other court records the days before and days after her hanging are accounted for. The looming question is could this be a cover-up? There are only two direct records that pertain to her. The first is a brief description written in 1647 by the governor and early founder of Massachusetts, John Winthrop. He noted “One_ (blank)___Of Windsor arraigned and executed at Hartford for a witch”. Again, more questions arise. Did the governor know her name or did he omit it on purpose?
Over two hundred years would pass before a young man discovered an old book in the wreckage of an ancient Windsor, Connecticut home. That book rescued out of rubble, the old Windsor Church Record, now called The Matthew Grant Diary, was the key to discovering the name of the first witch-hanging victim. Fortunately, the diary made it into the hands of historian James Hammond Trumbull who discovered, a notation on the inside cover. Matthew Grant had written simply, “May 26, ‘47 Alse Young was hanged.” Later his daughter Annie Trumbull shared this discovery with the public in a Hartford Courant article in 1904 and later donated The Matthew Grant Diary to the Connecticut State Library.
Despite such little evidence, I was determined to find Alice somewhere and capture her elusive story. Luckily, I knew of an old map that plotted out the old properties of ancient Windsor. On a street called Backer Row that no longer exists, lived a man name John Young who many historians presumed to be the husband of Alice Young.
Since I couldn’t find information about Alice directly, I delved into the lives of every other family living on Backer Row in 1647, the year of her hanging. With the help of old land records from the town of Windsor, genealogical records, and many other historical documents, I was able to recreate the map for Backer Row specific to 1647. The pattern of people that came to life before me on Backer Row amazed me and provided many important clues. A possible story and theory quickly emerged about her identity and the possible reasons for her hanging. What astonished me the most was that the story was hidden only by the fact that the women, the wives of the men on Backer Row, were largely ignored, as so often happens in early American history.
Writing about Alice was a rich and interesting experience. The words seemed to flow and filling in the narrative came more easily than I ever expected. From the beginning, I wanted to convey that Alice Young was not just a victim of an unjust witchcraft accusation, but she was also a human being with a full life who was dearly loved and tragically lost. With heartfelt effort, I wrote One of Windsor to lovingly find Alice Young again and bring her story back into view. For she is a part of American history that is vibrant, dramatic, and often tragic—part of a history that must never be forgotten.
Beth M. Caruso
Author Beth M. Caruso grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and spent her childhood writing puppet shows and witches’ cookbooks. She received a Bachelor’s degree in interested in French Literature and Hispanic Studies, receiving a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Cincinnati. She later obtained Masters degrees in Nursing and Public Health.
Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, she helped to improve the public health of local Karen hill tribes. She also had the privilege to care for hundreds of babies and their mothers as a labor and delivery nurse. Largely influenced by an apprenticeship with herbalist and wildcrafter, Will Endres, in North Carolina, she surrounds herself with plants through gardening and native species conservation.
Her latest passion is to discover and convey important stories of women in American history. One of Windsor is her debut novel. She lives in New England with her awesome husband, amazing children, loyal puppy, and cuddly cats.
One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s First Witch Hanging
Alice, a young woman prone to intuitive insights and loyalty to the only family she has ever known, leaves England for the rigid colony of the Massachusetts Bay in 1635 in hopes of reuniting with them again. Finally settling in Windsor, Connecticut, she encounters the rich American wilderness and its inhabitants, her own healing abilities, and the blinding fears of Puritan leaders which collide and set the stage for America’s first witch hanging, her own, on May 26, 1647.
This event and Alice’s ties to her beloved family are catalysts that influence Connecticut’s Governor John Winthrop Jr. to halt witchcraft hangings in much later years.
Paradoxically, these same ties and the memory of the incidents that led to her accusation become a secret and destructive force behind Cotton Mather’s written commentary on the Salem witch trials of 1692, provoking further witchcraft hysteria in Massachusetts forty-five years after her death.
The author uses extensive historical research combined with literary inventions, to bring forth a shocking and passionate narrative theory explaining this tragic and important episode in American history and in the life of Alice ‘Alse’ Young, America's first witch hanging victim.
This is fascinating, particularly since the American witch hunts are one of my historical interests. Thank you for sharing your research. I will read your book at my first opportunity.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much Kaye. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. BethDelete
I had no idea about the American witch hunts. I thought it was just a European thing.ReplyDelete
This is such an interesting post. Thank you for sharing!ReplyDelete