Windsor First Apologizes For Role In 17th Century Witch Trials

3/14/2017
By Drew Page

19th Century Representation of Witch Trial in New England (Public Domain Image)
WINDSOR – After 370 years, one may think apologies are no longer needed. After all, who is alive to remember the wrong doing? The community at First Church in Windsor, UCC, felt an apology was needed, and it should be done publicly.
 
On February 6, members of the church stood in support as the town council of Windsor presented a resolution to acknowledge the wrongful deaths of two Windsor residents who were hanged as witches in the mid-1600s.
 
"Today, the members of First Church in Windsor, United Church of Christ, support this resolution as a first step in acknowledging this part of our collective and mutual history, to apologize for its participation in the hanging of these two women," said Rev. Char Corbett, Associate Pastor of First Church in a prepared statement at the event.
 
The resolution does not pardon anyone, nor seek to change any official judicial record. Its purpose is to recognize that the community today sees history through a new lens.
 
"It really truly is a matter of justice," says Corbett. "We're not out to change history, but we can understand it differently."
 
Alice Young and Lydia Gilbert were among the first 2 women in colonial Connecticut tried and hanged for witchcraft in the 1700s. Both women were suspected of witchcraft after unexplained deaths occurred in their communities. In total, 11 women were tried and executed as witches in the state. Windsor's first pastor, the Rev. John Warham was passionately against witchcraft and an influential leader in the community at the time of the trials.
 
Corbett, and other members of the First Church community, including senior pastor the Rev. Nicole Grant Yonkman, got involved in the town's resolution efforts after connecting with town leaders and a descendants of the two women. Acknowledging the role First Church had in the indictments of Young and Gilbert, church leaders agreed to support the resolution.
 
"In our Christian practice of confession," stated Corbett, "we intentionally set aside time to recognize when our actions or non-actions have been sinful, to acknowledge that we have made mistakes and then to apologize."
 
Corbett says she and other church leaders hope the actions they have taken will encourage other communities to recognize the roles they once played in the injustices committed in the witch trials of the 1600s, even if those actions were almost 400 years ago.
 
"There is never a wrong time to do what is right, to do what is just, and to do what is healing," said Corbett.