Hartford Witch Trials: The Beginning of an Era of Hysteria

The Salem Witch Trials which primarily took place during 1692-1693 are a very well known time in colonial America. However, most people are not aware of the hysteria that consumed society in Hartford, Connecticut in 1662, 30 years prior to Salem. It all started when an 8-year-old girl, Elizabeth Kelly, died after falling ill. A few days before, she had come home with her neighbor Goodwife Ayres. According to Elizabeth’s parents, Ayres possessed Elizabeth which resulted in her illness and death. This case led to chaos in the town. Accusations were being thrown all around and hysteria grew among the people. 2 citizens were hanged as a result of this case alone. Back in 1642, the Connecticut state government had hartford_witch_trialdeclared witchcraft as one of the 12 capital crimes, which justified the punishments of execution. 7 trials and 4 executions took place in Hartford during this short period of time. These events are important in colonial American history and literature because they show the strict religious Puritan culture of the era. Even though it was 30 years before the infamous Salem witch trials, the citizens still had the same beliefs because a similar sequence of events occurred. The court’s verdict for those being tried for the Kelly case was, “According to the law of God and the established law of this commonwealth, thou deserves to die.” This exemplifies how the Puritan religion was the foundation of the government and judicial system in society in colonial America. Although Salem is the most well-known, the Hartford witch trials were the first in New England to occur and it is important that people are aware of this.

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