Center Church. Is an apology in order from the church for the persecution of women?

Posted: April 7, 2018 in for your reflection, question we got a question, Real Food For Thought

NOTE: With renewed interest in the Ct. Witch Trials we wish to republish this piece from 2014. It is an important piece and we hope that more work will be done and Center Church will come around and do what is right.

Center Church. Is an apology in order from the church for the persecution of women?

Center Church in Hartford is doing some wonderful programs this month in an arts and heritage celebration. On October 12 they will be celebrating their 382nd anniversary of its founding. A wreath laying ceremony will take place at the memorial marker to the Reverend Thomas Hooker founding pastor of the church and leader of the city. The church on October 24 will also celebrate 20 years of being an open and affirming congregation and possibly one of the most liberal congregations in the city of Hartford as far as social work is concerned. But you know all the good this church does, and isn’t that what a church should be doing, feeding the people, tending to the sick, affirming all peoples, many can still hear the screams of Mary Johnson and others who were falsely accused of being witches, tortured and hung. So we feel we must ask a question or two about this churches past and how they are or aren’t coming to terms with this past. As our title asks, Center Church, Is an apology in order from the church for the persecution of women? 

Reverend Samuel Stone, Thomas Hooker’s number 2 man.

In Connecticut (1642):

“If any man or woman be a witch—that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit—they shall be put to death.” Exodus xxii, 18; Leviticus xx, 27; Deuteronomy xviii, 10, 11. (Colonial Records of Connecticut, Vol. I, p. 77).

In New Haven (1655):

“If any person be a witch, he or she shall be put to death according to” Exodus xxii, 18; Leviticus xx, 27; Deuteronomy xviii, 10, 11. (New Haven Colonial Records, Vol. II, p. 576, Cod. 1655).

These laws were authoritative until the so called epidemic had ceased.

Witch Trial, by English artist William Powell Frith

Rev. Stone and crew flees religious oppression in England came here oppressed, accused tortured women. Stone was a Puritan, Protestants who wanted to purify the Church of England of its’ ceremony and other aspects that they thought were Catholic. They wanted the powers of the lordly bishops reduced and condemned priestly vestments, church ornaments and music. They wanted the church restored to its’ ancient purity and simplicity. This attitude put them in confrontation with The Crown and they were suppressed. So our discussion would have to lead us to, When the Oppressed become the Oppressor? What should we be doing to stop this injustice? How that would resound with the current situation of the state of Israel and the treatment of the people of Palestine and many other situations in this country and around the world. How does this relate today with the attacks against Muslims and Jews in the United States? Why must there always be someone to oppress? 

Rev. Samuel Stone came to America with Thomas Hooker. Along on the boat was the famous witch hunter Cotton Mather. After spending time in Massachusetts Hooker, Stone and 100 men, women and children and headed for the Connecticut Valley. Stone negotiated the purchase of Hartford from the Suckiag Indians, and became one of the settlement’s most influential founders. Upon Thomas Hooker’s death in 1647, Stone succeeded him as pastor of Hartford’s First Congregational Church. This was the same year that the first witch trial was held in Connecticut, the trial of Alice Young of Windsor. The only record of this hanging was from the second town clerk of Windsor, Matthew Grant who confirmed the execution with the May 26, 1647 diary entry, “Alse Young was hanged.” Where you there Rev. Stone, where you there?

We must note that at this time the towns of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield made up the first court and be reminded that the church was the town and it shaped all forces of society. Even if according to John Butler, “After about 1650 even in New England only about one-third of all adults ever belonged to a church.  The rate was lower in the Middle and Southern colonies, and on the eve of the American Revolution only about 15 percent of all of the colonists probably belonged to any church. In 1687 New York Governor Thomas Dongan wrote that settlers there usually expressed no religious sentiment at all or, when they did, entertained wildly unorthodox religious opinions.” (1)  So if that is the case then how could the few hold everyone at their mercy? Of course by that old Christian tradition of scaring everyone half to death and if they couldn’t scared then to put them to death.

An artist's depiction of Mary Johnson, the first recorded confession of witchcraft in Connecticut

An artist rending of Mary Johnson

The first recorded confession of witchcraft in Connecticut was given under duress by Mary Johnson in 1648. Mary was a servant whose legal troubles began around 1646, when she was accused of theft. Under pressure from the minister, Samuel Stone, and after extended whipping, Mary confessed that she was guilty of witchcraft (or, as it was called, “familiarity with the Devil”) and fully described her crimes, including using the Devil to help her with her household chores. She admitted to “uncleanness with men and Devils” and even to the “murder of a child”, although she was not indicted for murder or adultery. However, the charge of “familiarity with the Devil” stuck and, on the strength of her confession, she was sentenced to death. She gave birth to a baby boy while awaiting her sentence in jail in Hartford, Connecticut. The execution was delayed, probably due to her pregnancy, until June 1650, when she was hanged.

Saving his flock from Mary Johnson.

As a comrade said, “Mary Johnson was executed in 1648. Stone got the credit, although the whippings undoubtedly encouraged her to confess.”

The aggressive prosecutorial attitude of ministers and magistrates was essential to the outcome of these cases.  Although learned elites are frequently presented as resisting popular pressure to convict witches through official skepticism and scrupulous insistence on direct evidence of the devil’s involvement in inflicting harm, this certainly was not the case in the early days of Hartford’s witch-hunt. Hartford’s venerable Reverend Samuel Stone, accompanied by the youthful Reverend Joseph Haynes of Wethersfield* and Reverend Samuel Hooker of Farmington, formed a prosecutorial tribunal. They gathered evidence, recorded notes, and forcefully interrogated witnesses. Rebecca Greensmith crumbled under the ministerial assault. When Joseph Haynes had begun to present evidence against her, Greensmith felt as if “she could have torn him in peeces”. But as his battering interrogation persisted, she broke down. She said she felt “as if her flesh had been pulled from her bones… and so could not deny any longer” (2)

The Notorious Hartford Witch Hunts began in 1662 and we have to wonder, was Mary Johnson in 1648 the only victim of the Rev. Samuel Stone? We know during this period when he was the Reverend of Center Church until his death in July 1663 at the age of 61, 5 people were convicted of witchcraft sentenced and hung in Hartford. This count does not take into consideration the others who were from other towns in the state that were convicted, hung, or acquitted, fled the area or released. (2)

Also executed (according to historical records and a recent report from the Office of Legislative Research) were Mary Johnson, of Wethersfield; Joan and John Carrington, of Wethersfield; Goodwife (her first name is lost) Bassett, of Fairfield; Goodwife Knapp, of Fairfield; Lydia Gilbert, of Windsor; Rebecca and Nathaniel Greensmith, of Hartford; Mary Barnes, of Farmington, and Mary Sanford, of Hartford. (3)

One burning question that some of our folks have brought up is did the Center Church profit in any way from the death of those who were accused of being witches? Did the Reverend Samuel Stone? Did any of the other religious leaders and their churches profit from these deaths? Who among their congregants profited with by possessions or land?

We firmly believe that an apology is in order and that reparations  to the ancestors of the victims be made. We also have to ask, since the congregational church at that time was the state church should we not explore all the records of not only Center Church but of South Congregational, First Church in Farmington, and the first Church of Christ in Wethersfield? All having a hand in the persecution of women and all having a hand in the shaping of the society to their liking. Devilish behavior, scapegoating others because of the fears and inadequacies of some of the so called thinkers and religious leaders of the day.

Here is a way that some explain it all away–

State Historian Walter Woodward has this to say, “In Puritan culture, the devil was a real presence, and residents lived in fear for their souls.”.

“The devil was an agent at work in the world, and he used all kinds of subtle mechanisms to get control of people,” said Woodward. “For a society that believed the devil is their enemy and who also believed the devil is the strongest power in the universe next to God, when they think they’re under attack by the devil, their response is based on perceived threat. This wasn’t just mean-spiritedness. This was the product of intense fear.” 

Deeply religious colonists who endured years of fighting with Native Americans, floods and sickness may have been looking for someone to blame for their hardships, the report said. Again there is a real dispute over the colonists deeply held religious beliefs as we can read in the essay The Intelligencers and the Fifth Moon of Jupiter: Alchemy in the American Colonies. (see our notes for the link)

You know we often wonder about those who use scripture to denounce others. The folks back then sure had an ungodly amount to back them up when claiming that their neighbors were playing footsies with the devil. But you know one of the ten commandments Exodus 20:16 has this to say – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor and speaks clearly on this subject as does Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. People have been killed because of slanderous lies told against them.

Now we just received a note from Merry Furbird Jr. who said, “If I was an accused witch back then and I was hauled into a court I would yes I would call upon the devil to bring fire and the very heat of hell upon the court room.” Yes, I wonder did anyone ever think of that? Why if these women were witches didn’t they use their powers to fight back against the ignorant of the day that held them captive?

Governor John Winthrop Jr. and the end of persecutions in Connecticut.

State Historian Walter Woodward Discusses The New England Witch Trials.

Between 1655 and 1661, no witch was convicted in Connecticut. Governor of Connecticut from 1657 through 1676, Winthrop managed to protect potential “witches” while he was present in the colonies. In 1661, Winthrop went to England to pursue a charter for the state. In his absence, there were eight witchcraft trials held within eight months. “The ministers were especially aggressive during the Hartford trials,” said Woodward. Four people were hanged in Hartford between 1661 and 1663. Five others, according to Woodward, fled the colony in terror.

When Winthrop returned from England in 1663, he again put a stop to the persecution. He put into action a chain of events leading to legislation, “that made certain no one would ever be killed [in Connecticut] for witchcraft again,” said Woodward. Not until decades later, beginning in 1692, were at least 24 people executed during the Salem witch trials.

Winthrop himself was a practitioner of magic, particularly alchemy. “But he also believed, at the end of the day, that to kill a neighbor because they were different…was against the will of God,” said Woodward.

It is clear from colonial records is that Connecticut colonies never hesitated in prosecuting accused witches. In fact, between 1647 and 1655, he said, Connecticut’s magistrates and Puritan ministers fervently prosecuted alleged witches, and “every single person tried and found guilty of witchcraft was executed.” In 1662 Connecticut’s Governor John Winthrop Jr. established more objective criteria for witch trials, requiring at least two witnesses for each alleged act of witchcraft, greatly diminishing the likelihood of a witch case proceeding from inquiry to trial. In some cases, he personally intervened and overturned or reversed verdicts.(3)

Check out more on John Winthrop Jr. from the Ct. State Library.

We would love your opinion on this matter in our comment section below. From where we stand it is as clear as a clear blue sunny day which side the folks at furbirdsqueerly come down on.


(1) The Intelligencers and the Fifth Moon of Jupiter: Alchemy in the American Colonies. PLEASE check out this article.

(2) Woodward WalterW. “New England Other Witch hunt. The Hartford Witch-hunt of 1660 and the Changing Patterns in Witchcraft Prosecution.

Mary Johnson of Wethersfield was executed in 1648 after having confessed to entering into a compact with the devil. Joan and John Carrington also of Wethersfield were executed in 1651. Rebecca and Nathaniel Greensmith and Mary Barnes were found guilty of witchcraft and were hanged in Hartford on January 25, 1663. Ann Cole had accused Rebecca Greensmith of making her have strange fits. Witchcraft was last listed as a capital crime in 1715. The crime of witchcraft disappeared from the list of capital crimes when the laws were next printed in 1750.

(3 ) Connecticut Witch Trials and Posthumous Pardons: Sandra Norman-Eddy, Chief Attorney and Jennifer Bernier, Librarian. From a ORL Report.

For a interesting take on the witch trials in Hartford, published by Ct. Magazine in 1899 see, A Case for Witchcraft in Connecticut by Charles Hoadly.

Before Salem, The First American Witch Hunt, Christopher Klein

*Rev. Joesph Haynes

He was the son of Rev. John Haynes, the first Governor of the Colony of Connecticut. At the time of the trial and persecution of Mary Johnson he lived and preached in Wethersfield.  Rev. John Haynes was called as the third pastor of the First Church of Hartford on June 12, 1663. He is buried in the Ancient Burial Ground in Hartford Ct. He was one of the three ministers that were responsible for torturing and bringing Mary Johnson to the gallows.

For a very sketchy sketch see: Historic Sketch: First Church of Christ In Wethersfield. Give from the pulpit July 9, 1876 by pastor A.C. Adams. This is just for fun to see how some whitewash history.

In Connecticut, 46 people were prosecuted and 11 were executed during a series of trials that began in 1647. For the last seven years a group of their descendants have been working to convince state officials to denounce the trials and clear the names of those accused. Here Center Church should take the lead, ask forgiveness and apologize for the crimes of their founders.

States Pardon and Apology. Why not the church? Note on Note 2.

It appears that two states (Massachusetts and Virginia) have granted witches posthumous pardons. On October 17, 1711, the governor and General Court reversed the conviction against several people tried as witches in 1692 and ordered restitution. Years later, on August 28, 1957, the General Court of Massachusetts issued a resolution (attached) (1) finding that Ann Pudeator and others executed for witchcraft in 1692 may have been illegally tried, convicted, and sentenced; (2) declaring its belief that witchcraft trials were shocking and the result of a wave of popular hysterical fear of the Devil in the community; and (3) declaring that the resolution did not (a) bestow rights that did not exist before its passage, (b) authorize any suits or deprive anyone of a suit or defense that existed before its passage, (c) alter property rights, or (d) require or permit the remission of any imposed penalty, fine, or forfeiture.

On October 1, 2001, the Massachusetts legislature amended the 1957 resolution by adding the names of the five other people executed for witchcraft in 1692. Those added were Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott, and Wilmot Redd. We have attached a copy of the amendment.

On July 10, 2006, the governor of Virginia granted an informal or ceremonial pardon to Grace Sherwood, who 300 years ago became the only person in that state convicted as a witch tried by water. The pardon, which restored Sherwood’s good name, was in the form of a letter to the mayor of Virginia Beach, the site of the water trial.

In addition to the two states, one town has posthumously exonerated a witch. In 1938, the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire, by resolution (attached), exonerated the one person in the town who had been accused of witchcraft. The town declared its belief that Eunice (Goody) Cole was unjustly accused of witchcraft and familiarity with the devil in the 17th century. It restored her rightful place as a citizen of the town and ordered the selectmen to burn certified copies of all official documents relating to the false accusations. (2)

Just more contradictions in the life of the Puritans and Colonial Americkkka.

****One of the most interesting documents that we have read is, The Intelligencers and the Fifth Moon of Jupiter: Alchemy in the American Colonies. which hold an excellent example of rich vrs. poor whereas Alchemy was an acceptable practice but what they considered witchcraft was not. It also turns on its head many of the things that we were taught about the founders and the settlers of early americkkka. We were taken in by these lines:  “Witchcraft was strictly prohibited, but occultism was a sport of intellectuals, and homespun cures and traditions weren’t considered pagan.  Almanacs filled with astrology and bits of occult information were popular back home and abroad.  Books on the Cabala, the writings of Hermes Trismegistus, the medical and metaphysical works of Paracelsus were circulated among well read citizens in England and the colonies.  Not that the English and Americans were rejecting Christianity, they simply had a much wider definition of it than we do today.  They didn’t view the wisdom of the ancients as satanic, nor did they fear astrology or think experiments in communicating with spirits or foretelling the future punishable offenses against their faith.  If anything by broadening their understanding with the accumulated wisdom and time-honored practices of other cultures, many believed they were becoming better Christians.” This interests us as we as well as anyone can see the contradictions in this. If one wants to get picky and believe that the rules and regulations of both the old and new testament then one would have to consider this:

God specifies astrologers as among those who will be burned as stubble in God’s judgment (Isaiah 47:13-14). Astrology as a form of divination is expressly forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10-14). God forbade the children of Israel to worship or serve the “host of heaven” (Deuteronomy 4:19).  We also read these lines:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire [an ancient occult practice], or one who practices witchcraft, or asoothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are anabomination [detestable] to the LORD…”    —Deuteronomy 18:9-12a

Photographs within this piece were taken from the following sources.

Samuel Stone Statue: Located Hartford Ct., Ancient Burial Grounds. Photo Kim Knox Beckius

Witch Trial, William Powell Frith, from

Artist Rending of Mary Johnson, History of American Women

Hanging of a witch, Lithograph Hanging of Bridget Bishop, from Legends of America.

John Winthrop Jr. Wikipedia.


  1. Gerald says:

    Ah come on guys, don’t you think that it would be better for the church to deal with their mistakes rather than you guys? If they feel that their founders have done wrong then they should be the ones who say so. This is an eternal matter within not without.

    Yes Center Church is one of the most liberal churches and women play a major role in all aspects of religious life. Its been 382 years since their founding so as they say time heals all wounds. One last question, why are you guys such over the top leftists who poke and pick at whatever you disagree with?

    • furbirdsqueerly says:

      Well Gerald we think that after some 380 years that someone had to ask the question. Since the question wasn’t coming from within it might as well come from without don’t you think? Or then again maybe it has and the church has offered an apology, “forgive us our trespasses” would be a nice start.

      We salute Center Church for being liberal yes that is nice but we also think that how can they go on with their liberalness unless this matter is cleared up. If a state or a township can do it then the church should also and then take a lead to get these folks pardoned. Bearing false witness, whipping people, slandering their names is not what a christian should be or should do in our opinion. No time does not heal all wounds as some are festering under the surface.

      Now to your last question on our politicks. We nearly split a gut laughing over your statement calling us “over the top leftists.” In fact Emma O. Furbird nearly peed her pants she laughed so hard. We can only say Why not, that is how we were born and we love the art of poking and picking and plan on continuing until our last days of writing. Someone has to do it and it might as well be us.

  2. PatriciaB says:

    great?? It is way way late coming and it will not change anything ?

  3. PatriciaB

    Thanks for your comment although we do not fully understand it. We at Furbirdsqueerly firmly believe that an apology is in order as it is never too late to say we are sorry especially for a liberal church which in this day and age seems to see and preach so much light. Would it matter, well we know it would matter to the descendants of the folks who were slandered, tortured and hung. We also wonder if any profit was made from their holdings, or land and who profited. We also would have to question if this be the case would reparations be in order?

    Would it change anything, yes if the church joins with the families who are descendants of the men and women and convinced the state to pardon these folks. It would be simply righting a wrong and perhaps out there in the great scheme of things the balance would shift towards the good just a bit. That is what is important tipping those scales toward the good adding just a bit of weight to the other side..

    We did bring up several other questions that beg answers today. One that interests us is the idea of folks who were the oppressed oppressing others when they are out from under the yoke of oppression.

    Another question would be that of raising our voices when people amongst us are victims of slander, falsely accused and demonized especially when they are the young.
    We would beg an answer when folks are unjustly imprisoned by the state, or are executed with flimsy evidence, what is our role in opposing the state?

    We would also question rules and regulations. We are all aware that there are different sets of rules in this country, one for the rich, one for the poor, one for black and one for white, such as in the days past concerning witchcraft and the occult. How do we go about abolishing these rules and creating a just society?

    We would think that the church should be the first to apologize for their past trespasses; certainly if the state governments and towns can do this a Christian Church can.