The Year of the Witch

The Salem Witch Trials get all the publicity, but it was far from the only witch panic that invaded colonial America. In Hartford, Connecticut, witch hysteria gripped the community in 1662 and 1663, so much that it came to be known as "The Year of the Witch." It all started with the death of eight-year-old Elizabeth Kelly, who died of an unknown ailment. Suspicion instantly led to Judith Ayres, who nobody liked anyway. She was arrested for witchcraft, and for good measure, they arrested her husband, too.

Judith and William were subjected to that indispensable part of any good witch trial: the "water test." The couple were bound hand to foot and tossed into a pond. If they floated, that was proof positive they were witches. If they sank, well, at least Judith and William would have the satisfaction of knowing that they would die vindicated.

To no one's real surprise, the pair floated like a pair of corks. A ghastly death at the gallows awaited them.

Luckily for the Ayerses, there were a few people in town who had not come down with the prevailing hysteria. These supporters managed to arrange a jailbreak, and the couple fled to Rhode Island, leaving behind their two sons, ages five and eight. One wonders what sort of lives those boys went on to have.

Unfortunately, the departure of Judith and William did not signal the end of the Hartford witch panic. In truth, it was just getting started.

The young girls of Hartford started talking about witchcraft, and accusing others of the practice. One suspect named an entire coven, including her own husband. Read the account of the Year of the Witch at Strange Company.


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