82 year-old Bernice Telian is fighting to have the name of her 7 x great-grandmother, and 10 others hanged in colonial Connecticut for witchcraft, cleared.
Bernice was shocked to discover, when researching her family tree, that her 7 x great-grandmother, Mary Barnes of Farmington, Connecticut, was hanged for witchcraft at the site of the old State House in Hartford in 1663 – and that 10 other victims shared her fate in Connecticut between 1647 and 1663.
Bernice, a retired university administrator now living in New York, told Ann Marie Somma, editor of HartfordFAVs.com, “You won’t find Mary’s grave. She and all these people who were hanged were dumped in a hole. Their graves aren’t marked. They wanted them to be forgotten.”
Bernice was so moved that she wrote a book about her ancestor’s execution, and is part of a protracted campaign to get the state of Connecticut to clear the names of the 11. Connecticut was executing people accused of witchcraft 40 years before the infamous Salem witch trials in the neighbouring state of Massachusetts, and only repealed it as a capital crime as late as 1715. However, unlike Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Virginia, Connecticut has never pardoned or acknowledged the innocence of those sent to the gallows.
Another descendant, Patricia Borris, whose 8 x great-grandparents John and Joan Carrington of Wethersfield, Connecticut were hanged in 1651, said, “This is a travesty of justice. Why doesn’t Connecticut clear their names?”
A resolution was put to the Connecticut General Assembly in 2008 to formally acknowledge the victims of the witch trials, and members heard testimony from historians and descendants of executed witches, including Bernice, but the motion failed. An earlier attempt to get the victims pardoned also failed when the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles ruled against the granting posthumous pardons.
The Connecticut Wiccan & Pagan Network are supporting Bernice’s cause and have lobbied Governor Dannel Malloy to clear the names of the victims, but his office has not responded. They even wrote to Queen Elizabeth II, on the basis that Connecticut was a British colony at the time (although no monarch was actually on throne for most of the period), requesting that she grant a pardon for the accused. Buckingham Palace denied the request.
Frank Kirkpatrick, a religious education teacher at Hartford’s Trinity College, said the evidence presented during the trials was deeply flawed, with rulings based on biblical passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. He said, “The evidence was so circumstantial and virtually improvable that the only sure way to a conviction was a voluntary confession.”
This is probably why Rebecca Greensmith was found guilty of the ‘crime’ of dancing and drinking “sake” in Hartford, and was hanged in 1663 along with her husband, Nathaniel. And why, in the same year, the court condemned Bernice Telian’s ancestor to death with following decree:
“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.“