A resolution that would exonerate certain victims of Connecticut’s witch trials nearly four centuries later passed a major hurdle on Wednesday. The bill passed the state’s House of Representatives in a vote of 121 to 30.
The resolution would make a public statement absolving those 11 men and women who were convicted and executed in Connecticut in the five decades from 1647 to 1697. It would also absolve dozens more who were indicted and humiliated by their community during that time. Finally, the resolution issues an apology to the families of those men and women, several of whom testified in support of the bill during its time in committee.
“Modern norms and standards certainly have changed in our courts, certainly for the better,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom (D-Bridgeport) as he introduced the resolution to the chamber. “But unlike some of our surrounding states, Connecticut has not yet publicly recognized, or publicly reconciled with some of the families who have been victimized by many of the misogynistic trials and mindsets of colonial times.”
But the resolution did not fly through the House without changes or debate. Some of the original co-sponsors of the resolution introduced an amendment further clarifying some of the language in the legislation.
In particular, the amendment adds some language specifying that the listed individuals are being absolved “for the crimes of witchcraft and familiarity with the devil.” Additionally, it adds a sentence differentiating colonial justice from those of the American courts and strikes an “unknown individual” from the list of those indicted.
“The underlying bill essentially said we are going to exonerate all these people for everything that they may or may not have done and we will apologize for those actions that the government took,” said Rep. Doug Dubitsky (R-Chaplin), who is listed as one of the co-sponsors of the amendment. “What this amendment does is it clarifies a little bit. It shows that although these people may have been done a grave injustice, they were done this injustice by the British. The U.S. did not exist at the time. Connecticut was a British colony, and all these injustices that were carried out were done by the British.”
Dubitsky had been skeptical of the resolution during its time in the Judiciary Committee, stating later in his arguments that he believed he was the only one on the committee who took the bill seriously. He also stated that he does not believe the modern-day descendants of accused and convicted witches suffer any negative consequences of their ancestor’s false convictions.
Those descendants, though, would disagree, as many of those indicted, convicted, or executed were forced to give up their standing in society as well as their property, and many were forced to move outside of their communities to escape persecution.
“There is a cloud of real harm that has echoed through the generations of this Puritan heritage and superstition, and it is real harm that it has reeked on generations,” argued Rep. Anne Hughes (D-Easton). “It is about this body taking a small step of accountability. We know better. We no longer criminalize homosexuality, but there are vestiges of that Puritan influence in some of our laws still to this day, and we are attempting in this body to update those laws to understand that some of that came out of superstition and influence, and when we know better we must do better.”
While his statements on Wednesday indicate Rep. Dubitsky may still find the legislation unnecessary, claiming that his colleagues saw it as a nice thing to do rather than something with real-world consequences, he and many other Republican members of the House did ultimately vote in favor of the resolution as amended.
Among them was Rep. Craig Fishbein (R-Wallingford) who took issue with the framing of it as an issue of women’s rights, as a few of the listed individuals were, in fact, men. Rep. Fishbein did, however, support the amended version of the resolution, noting that the clarifications provided in the amendment made it clear that the legislature would only be absolving these individuals of a crime of witchcraft but would not be absolving them of any further crimes for which they may have been tried and convicted.
The bill will now head to the Senate before it can move on to the Governor’s desk.