Connecticut lawmakers exonerate colonial-era ‘witches’

Hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft in the colonial-era US.

Connecticut lawmakers have voted to exonerate 12 people more than 370 years after they were convicted of witchcraft in colonial America.

Eleven of the 12 were hanged after trials that the state Senate now acknowledges were a “miscarriage of justice”.

It follows a long-running campaign by descendants to clear the names of those wrongfully accused of being witches.

Dozens were executed for witchcraft in the US in the 17th Century.

On Thursday, Connecticut’s Senate voted 33-1 to exonerate those convicted in trials that took place in the state in the mid-to-late 1600s.

The senator who voted against the move, Rob Sampson, said that he believed it was wrong to “dictate what was right or wrong about periods in the past that we have no knowledge of”.

“I don’t want to see bills that rightfully or wrongfully attempt to paint America as a bad place with a bad history,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

“I want us to focus on where we’re going, which is a brighter and better future.”

The resolution had already passed in Connecticut’s House of Representatives, with 121 votes in favour and 30 against.

The resolution follows nearly two decades of lobbying by the CT Witch Trial Exoneration Project, a group set up in 2005 by descendants of the accused.

The group said they are “ecstatic, pleased, and appreciative” especially as the decision comes on the eve of the 376th anniversary of the first witch-hanging in New England – that of Alice Young.

“We are grateful to descendants, advocates, historians, legislators of both parties and many others who made this official resolution possible.”

They added that they “will continue to advocate for historical education and memorialisation of the witch trial victims”.

Some members of the organisation discovered their family links using genealogy tests.

The family members and their supporters argue that the exonerations are an important step to learning from the mistakes of the past.

Saud Anwar, a state senator who took an interest after a constituent discovered their ancestor was a witch accuser, told the AP that witchcraft trials still take place around the world.

“It’s relevant, even to this time as well,” he said.

The Witch Trial Exoneration Project hopes that in addition to correcting past wrongs, that this will bring awareness to “deadly witch hunts still happening in many parts of the world due to fear, misogyny and superstition”.

At least 45 people were accused of witchcraft in colonial Connecticut, although the Witch Trial Exoneration Project believes the record is likely incomplete.

In the more widely-known Salem Witch Trials in nearby Massachusetts, about 200 people were accused, leading to the deaths of 25 people.

Last August, Massachusetts formally exonerated Elizabeth Johnson, the last person to be convicted during the Salem Witch Trials.

While initially sentenced to death, she was granted a reprieve and lived to be 77. Historians now believe she suffered from a mental disability.

Other countries have also sought to recognise people that were unfairly persecuted for witchcraft in the past.

Last year, then-First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon offered a formal apology to 4,000 Scots, mostly women, who were accused of witchcraft between 1563 and 1736.

About 2,500 of them had been executed.