Around a dozen people came out on Wednesday morning to voice their support of a resolution to exonerate the state’s accused and executed witches. The group attended the morning meeting of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to offer public comment on HJ 34.
Among those testifying on the resolution was Dr. Beverly Kahn, a former Dean of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University and descendant of one of the women accused and executed in 1653.
“Goodwife Knapp acted nobly. Her descendants include her great-great-grandson and his son (both named John Knapp) who fought in the Revolutionary war in service to the colony of Connecticut,” she argued about her ancestor. “Those descendants alive today deserve to have the name of Goodwife Knapp cleared. The wrong that was done to Goody Knapp should be acknowledged by the State of Connecticut. She should be exonerated.”
Following her testimony, Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield), a ranking member of the committee who said he has some understanding of the state’s history with witchcraft thanks to growing up in Windsor, wondered whether passing a resolution like this would do much more than open a can of worms.
“I’m concerned about the path that we’re taking if we have to go back and redress every single perceived or real wrong that happened in our history,” he said. “This may start in colonial times and we can march forward and essentially retry and reassess every single wrong of hundreds and hundreds of years while we have really pressing issues right now.”
Kahn agreed with Sen. Kissel’s sentiment that any vote to exonerate accused and convicted witches now would be symbolic, but she believes it would be an important message to send to today’s residents about where we stand on justice.
Rep. Doug Dubitsky (R-Chaplin), meanwhile, had a different argument.
“Typically, when somebody wants to have a convict exonerated, while they’re alive or after they’re dead, they produce evidence that they’re innocent,” he said before asking “do you have any evidence that this person was innocent?”
Kahn stated that she had a book that outlined the political situation at the time and the events leading up to her ancestor’s execution which should provide at least some evidence that the accusation wouldn’t hold up to any modern idea of legality.
Following Kahn, several others took an opportunity to voice similar arguments. Rep. Jane Garibay (D-Windsor), who brought the resolution to the General Assembly said, “This is not about witchcraft. This is about women’s rights and justice.”
The most endearing came from 9-year-old William Schloat of Avon, who highlighted the stories of several young children in colonial Connecticut whose mothers were accused or executed of witchcraft. Schloat asked the legislators to imagine being one of those children and seeing their own mother called names, persecuted, and possibly killed as a result.
When he finished, several members of the committee congratulated Schloat on his testimony and thanked him for teaching them something about the state’s history.