This Day in History: May 26th

This Day In History: May 26, 1647

magicOn May 26, 1647, Alse Young of Windsor, Connecticut had the dubious distinction of becoming the first person to be executed for the crime of witchcraft in the American colonies.

In the newly formed New England colonies, witchcraft was considered a capital crime by the Puritans (no big surprise there), and before 1662 just one single witness was sufficient to gain a conviction. The act of witchcraft technically required no damage to result of doing it, but in practice some sort of harm must have transpired to make it worth the time, effort and expense of putting on a trial. It would seem that these proceedings were well documented, but due to the ravages of time (and fires, floods and Indian raids) unfortunately most trial records no longer exist.

Alse Young (also known as Alice Young or Achsah Young) was born around 1600 and lived in Windsor, Connecticut with her husband John, a carpenter. She had one child, a daughter named Alice Young Beamon. Since she had no son, Alse would receive at least part of her husband’s estate, which may have accounted for the discovery of her “witchcraft.”  There were many other  later cases of someone being accused an executed for this reason. Money was often the prime motivating factor in witchcraft accusations.

Another proposed reason for Alse to be accused of witchcraft would be for concocting herbal remedies. Some historians suggest an epidemic of some sort was sweeping through Windsor, and Alse may have been trying to heal her neighbors with herbs. One or more of the townsfolk could have turned Alse in as a witch for having magical healing powers. Some gratitude.

This is all strictly conjecture of course, based on common themes with later people accused. All we know for certain is that on May 26, 1647, Alse Young was hanged in Hartford, Connecticut at Meeting House Square, making her the first person executed as a witch in the original thirteen colonies. On that day, Governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, noted in his journal that “One of Windsor was hanged,” and Windsor’s town clerk recorded, “Alse Young was hanged” in his diary.

Amazingly, Alse’s daughter, Alice Young Beamon, would be accused of witchcraft herself 30 years later in Springfield, MA, though she managed to escape her mother’s sad fate.

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