Connecticut lawmakers exonerate colonial-era ‘witches’

By Bernd Debusmann Jr. BBC News, Washington

42 minutes ago

Image source: Getty Images

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Hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft in the United States during the colonial era.

Connecticut lawmakers have voted to exonerate 12 people, more than 370 years after they were convicted of witchcraft in colonial America.

Eleven of the 12 were hanged after trials that the State Senate now recognizes as a “miscarriage of justice.”

What follows is a long-running campaign by descendants to clear the names of those wrongly accused of being witches.

Dozens of people were executed for witchcraft in the United States in the 17th century.

On Thursday, the Connecticut Senate voted 33 to 1 to exonerate those convicted in trials that took place in the state in the mid to late 1600s.

The senator who voted against the move, Rob Sampson, said he thought it was wrong “to dictate what is right and wrong about times past of which we are unaware”.

“I don’t want to see bills that rightly or wrongly try to portray America as a bad place with a bad history,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

“I want us to focus on our goal, which is a brighter and better future.”

The resolution had already passed the Connecticut House of Representatives with 121 votes in favor and 30 votes against.

The resolution follows nearly two decades of lobbying by the CT Witch Trial Exoneration Project, a group formed in 2005 by descendants of the accused.

Some members of the organization discovered their family connections through genealogy testing.

The family members and their supporters argue that the relief is an important step in learning from past mistakes.

Saud Anwar, a state senator who discovered one of his ancestors was a witch prosecutor, told the AP witch trials are still taking place around the world.

“It’s also relevant to this time,” he said.

At least 45 people have been accused of witchcraft in colonial Connecticut, although the Witch Trial Exoneration Project believes the record is likely incomplete.

The more famous Salem witch trials in nearby Massachusetts indicted about 200 people and killed 25 people.

Last August, Massachusetts officially exonerated Elizabeth Johnson, the last person to be convicted during the Salem witch trials.

While originally sentenced to death, she was granted a reprieve and lived to be 77. Historians now assume that she suffered from an intellectual disability.

Other countries have also tried to recognize people who have been unjustly persecuted for witchcraft in the past.

Last year, then First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon formally apologized to 4,000 Scots, mostly women, accused of witchcraft between 1563 and 1736.

About 2,500 of them were executed.


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