It is curious that my ancestors left England in part to escape the tyranny of a state religion—and upon arrival practiced the same tyranny of an official religion themselves.
They were wrought by fear of things they didn’t understand. They were superstitious. This resulted in the Salem Witch Trials, the most famous, but not the only witch trials in New England.
In the Connecticut Colony, beginning in 1639, estates were administered by the Particular Court also sometimes referred to as “Quarter Court” when it met quarterly, which also dealt with most other judicial actions. By September of 1662, Samuel Boreman was something of a mover & shaker in Wethersfield (today a really neat suburb of Hartford, CT), and was appointed as a juror on at least one such court:
At a Particular Court held at Hartford, December 30, 1662, Samuel served as a juror in the indictment of Nathaniel Greensmith and of Rebecca, his wife: “Nathaniel Greensmith thou art here indicted by the name of Nathaniel Greensmith for not having the fear of God before thine eyes, thou hast entertained familiarity with Satan, the grand enemy of God and mankind, and by his help hast acted things in a preternatural way beyond human abilities in a natural course , for which according to the law of God and the established law of this commonwealth thou deservest to die.”
The magistrates holding the court were Matthew Allyn, moderator, Samuel Wyllys, Richard Treat, Henry Wolcott, Daniel Clark, secretary, John Allyn. The jury were Edward Griswold, Walter Filer, Ensign Olmsted, Samuel Boardman, Gregory Winterton, John Cowles, Samuel Marshall, Samuel Hale, Nathaniel Willett, John Hart, John Wadsworth and Robert Webster.
Nathaniel Greensmith made no confession. Here is all that we know of the evidence given in against him:
Rebecca Greensmith testifieth in court January 8, 1662.
“1. ‘That my husband on Friday’ night last, when I came to prison, told me that now thou hast confest against thyself let me alone and say nothing of me and I will be good unto thy children.”
“2. ‘I do now testify that formerly when my husband hath told me of his great travail and labor, I wondered at it how he did it; this he did before I was married, and when I was married I asked him how he did it, and he answered me, he had help that I knew not of.”
“3. ‘About three years ago, as I think it, my husband and I were in the woods several miles from home, and were looking for a sow that we lost, and I saw a creature, a red creature, following my husband, and when I came to him I asked him what it was that was with him, and he told me it was.a fox.”
“4. ‘Another time when he and I drove our hogs into the woods beyond the pound that was to keep young cattle, several miles off, I went before the hogs to call them, and looking back I saw two creatures like dogs, one a little blacker than the other; they came after my husband pretty close to him, and one did seem to me to touch him. I asked him what they were, he told me he thought foxes. I was still afraid when I saw anything, because I heard so much of him before I rriarried him.”
“5. ‘I have seen logs that my husband hath brought home in his cart that I wondered at it that he could get them into the cart, being a man of little body and weak to my apprehension; and the logs were such that I thought two men such as he could not have done it.”
“I speak all of this out of love to my husband’s soul, and it is much against my will that I am now necessitate to speak against my husband. I desire that the Lord would open his heart to own and speak the truth.”
“‘I also testify, that I being in the woods at a meeting, there was with me goody Seager, goodwife Sanford and goodwife Ayres. And at another time there was a meeting under a tree in the green by our house, and there was there James Walkicy, Peter Grant’s wife, goodwife Ayres, and Henry Palmer’s wife, of Wethersfield, and goody Seager; and there we danced and had a bottle of sack. It was in the night and something like a cat called me out to the meeting, and I was in Mr. Varlet’s orchard with Mrs. Judith Varlet, and she told me that she was muth troubled with the marshal, Jonathan Gilbert, and cried; and she said if it lay in her power she would do him a mischief, or what hurt she could. Taken upon oath in court.’
“The jury return that they find the prisoner at the bar, Nathaniel Greensmith, guilty of the indictment.”
“Respecting Rebecca Greensmith, the prisoner at the bar, the jury find her guilty of the indictment.”
“The said Rebecca confesseth in open court, that she is guilty of the charge laid in against her.”
“This, with the concurrent evidence, brought the woman and her husband to their death as the devil’s familiars.” [Source: A CASE OF WITCHCRAFT IN HARTFORD, By Charles J. Hoadley, LL. D. Published in the Connecticut Magazine November, 1899]
The Greensmiths were executed a couple of weeks later:
“On [January 25,] 1663, [*Sometimes recorded as 1662 or 1662/3, since January 1 was not the legal beginning of the new year] a husband and wife were hanged for witchcraft in colonial Connecticut…”
“…The persecutions began with the deathbed ravings of an 8-year-old girl, who accused a certain Goodwife of the town, the latter preserving herself only by escaping detention and fleeing the colony with her husband…”
“…Nathaniel Greensmith did not “own and speak the truth,” but he shared his wife’s fate this day. They may have been executed with a third accused witch as well, but the documentary trail for Mary Barnes’ case seems less certain. Though she, and perhaps another woman, may have been hanged after the Greensmiths in this particular spasm of supernatural paranoia, the Hartford witch trials of 1662-63 would mark the last witchcraft executions in Connecticut.”
“The Greensmiths left behind 15- and 17-year-old daughters, a modest estate, and community lore of the miraculous post-execution recovery of the party they were supposed to have been afflicting.” [Source: Executed Today.com]
Thus ends the short chronicle of my immigrant ancestor, Samuel Boreman. I’m sure glad we no longer fall prey to irrational fears and superstitions…
…or do we?