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Accused of Witchcraft in New York with Scott R Ferrara

Accused of Witchcraft in New York with Scott R Ferrara Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

Anthropologist and Archeologist Scott Ferrara introduces stories and folklore of witchcraft accusations that impacted diverse peoples in the colony of New York in the 17th century. We get to dig into some individual histories and discuss details about early accused witches who faced their community outsiders.We connect the dark past of witch hunts to today’s witchcraft fear with a discussion answering our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches? LinksAccused of Witchcraft in New York by Scott FerraraAdvocacy for Alleged WitchesWrite a Connecticut Legislator Support Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!End Witch Hunts Movement Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book StoreSupport Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutFact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial HistoryWebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramPinterestLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordBuzzsproutMailchimpDonateSupport the show

Show Notes

Anthropologist and Archeologist Scott Ferrara introduces stories and folklore of witchcraft accusations that impacted diverse peoples in the colony of New York in the 17th century. We get to dig into some individual histories and discuss details about early accused witches who faced their community outsiders.

We connect the dark past of witch hunts to today’s witchcraft fear with a discussion answering our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches? 


Accused of Witchcraft in New York by Scott Ferrara

Advocacy for Alleged Witches

Write a Connecticut Legislator 

Support Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!

End Witch Hunts Movement 

Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book Store

Support Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!

Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!

Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.

Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut

Fact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial History














Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson.
Sarah Jack: I'm Sarah Jack.
Josh Hutchinson: In this episode, we speak with Scott R. Ferrara, author of Accused of Witchcraft in New York, which discusses witchcraft accusations involving the various cultures in what is now the state of New York.
Sarah Jack: We had a great conversation with Scott. We got to talk about some topics that are not often in witch trial discussions, including intersecting cultures in New York, the Native American witchcraft [00:01:00] beliefs and their responses to colonization and colonists who came into their worlds. And we got to talk about some of the ways that the accused witch history and the New York folklore blend together.
Josh Hutchinson: We got to learn about how the native cultures of what is now the state of New York were effected by colonization, how their witchcraft beliefs developed in response to European intrusion. We got to learn some of the key differences in how the Dutch and the English applied witchcraft law, and also, we learned about the similarities in their cultural [00:02:00] witchcraft beliefs.
Sarah Jack: One of the things we put the microscope on is some of the spectral stories that the accusers were telling and the specific occurrence of being hagridden.
Josh Hutchinson: We learned about apotropaic symbols in homes, which were used as protections against witchcraft and malevolent spirits, learned why they stuffed certain things into their walls and how they thought they could prevent a witch from coming in the door.
Sarah Jack: They weren't even sure they could keep warriors and soldiers out of their homes, but they took all this care to get this protection.
Josh Hutchinson: It was just part of their natural world. Scott explained some of that, how it was just part of life, part of their [00:03:00] understanding of how things worked, that witchcraft was a real and present danger. Just like today we have alarms, camera systems, locks on our doors, they carved symbols into walls and hung things over their doors to prevent witches and bad spirits from getting inside. And that was both the Dutch and the English that were doing that.
Sarah Jack: Scott's perspective is really great. I enjoyed hearing how Scott has used witchcraft fear to draw people to the material culture and how it all intersects and tells more of a story.
Josh Hutchinson: And it was fascinating, between the interview and reading Scott's upcoming book, to learn how very different [00:04:00] New York was from the New England colonies when it came to witchcraft accusations and trials. One thing I found interesting about reading Scott's book was following the lives of the Connecticut accused once they crossed colonial lines. It's a very fascinating field of study in itself. Like, what happened to them after they escaped or left after their trial and relocated. 
Sarah Jack: And what's so great about it is some of them, we have such limited information about their Connecticut life and trial. We have this extension of their life. We have some of that information.
And here is Josh's history segment.
Josh Hutchinson: In this week's history segment, I'd like to cover some individuals accused of witchcraft in Connecticut [00:05:00] who later became New York residents.
 Elizabeth Garlick of East Hampton was accused in 1658. At the time, East Hampton was part of Connecticut. It did become part of New York later on. Elizabeth was tried May 5th, 1658. Fortunately for her magistrate, John Winthrop, Jr. Was on the case in his first witchcraft trial, she was indicted but neither convicted nor acquitted. Instead, her husband was ordered to pay a large bond to assure the court of his wife's good behavior and that she should appear in court periodically. Elizabeth is said to have lived another 42 years after her trial to the age of about 100 years and died in around 1700. [00:06:00] Her resting place is unknown.
Judith Varlet and Goodwife Ayers were both accused in 1662, during the Hartford Witch Panic. Ayers and her husband William escaped to New York. Varlet was saved by the intervention of New York Governor Petrus Stuyvesant and also escaped to that colony, where she married Nicholas Bayard and settled on High Street in Manhattan.
Katherine Harrison was a wealthy widow of Wethersfield, Connecticut. She was accused of witchcraft in April 1668 and acquitted in October, but she was again indicted on May 25th, 1669. At that point, magistrates asked several questions of a group of ministers led by Gershom Bulkeley. A second trial was held October 12th [00:07:00] without word yet from the ministers. Harrison was found guilty and condemned to die. Fortunately for her, the ministers did answer on October 20th and ruled that multiple witnesses were needed to each alleged incident. So the spectral evidence used against her was ruled out and she was reprieved but told to leave Connecticut.
She relocated to Westchester, New York, which is now Westchester Square in the Bronx. A group of people there were unhappy to have an alleged witch in their presence and petitioned the governor to have her removed from town. The governor listened to this petition and issued an order for her to leave. However, she refused. The governor then ordered her to appear before him, where she pled her case. Governor allowed her to [00:08:00] remain in the town, but she could not escape the gossip and ill treatment, so she ultimately left the town and may have moved to Long Island. 
Goodwife Miller, whose first name is unknown, was accused of witchcraft in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1692. Upon hearing of the accusations she fled to nearby Bedford, New York and Connecticut authorities were unable to extradite her. 
You've heard us talk about Winifred King Benham and her daughter Winifred Benham Jr. before. What you might not know is that Winifred King Benham's mother, Mary King Hale, was accused of witchcraft in Boston before Winifred was accused herself in Connecticut. Winifred King married Joseph Benham of Wallingford, Connecticut and settled there. On November 2nd, 1692, Winifred [00:09:00] was examined on suspicion of witchcraft. At that time, the court dismissed the case, due to insufficient evidence. However, five years later, on August 31st, 1697, Winifred King Benham was accused of witchcraft once again, along with her daughter Winifred, Jr. They were both acquitted October 7th and fled Connecticut, probably living on Staten Island. 
Sarah Jack: Thanks for giving us some details on that history, Josh.
Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome.
Sarah Jack: I'm so happy to introduce Scott R. Ferrara, an archeologist and anthropologist, the author of Accused of Witchcraft in New York.
Scott Ferrara: I've been studying the 17th century in the northeast United States for a while now, particularly in my studies for school, graduate studies in archeology. And I think anyone could really be [00:10:00] drawn into witchcraft. It's interesting. It's cool. 
I particularly study past plant use, paleoethnobotany, the study of how people have used plants in the past. And I think there's this perception of witchcraft is particularly in Europe as herbs and potions and things like that. And every now and then I would come across accounts in 17th century New England and the Northeast here pertaining to herbalism and herbal remedies. Only a few circumstances intersect with accounts of witchcraft. And I, I thought that was pretty interesting, and it caught my eye. 
And when talking about plants and botany with most people you tend to lose their attention, but when you start talking about things like, you know, um, witchcraft and what we perceive today as the supernatural, people tend to perk up. They tend to get pretty interested in the subject and start listening a little bit more closely. I have found talking about witchcraft, particularly, is a great way to get people interested [00:11:00] in the history of a region, particularly the 17th century and get them to retain information and concepts and understanding of past human behavior and how people understood their world during these really early time periods, at least for European settlers in the Americas. Which is of course not the only worldview that we're talking about when we talk about the 17th century. We also have here in the Americas during the 17th century, it's multiple European empires are here, but also many Native American tribes who are already here and already had their own perceptions of witchcraft, and not really witchcraft, but religions that sometimes attributed bad things to malevolent forces, and then also religions that came here with enslaved African people.
It's all interconnected. It's all entangled. And I just found it very interesting. One strand of study that I particularly study [00:12:00] is colonialism in the northeast United States. And when we're looking at colonialism, we're looking at all of these different demographics and people who are here and how they're entangled. It's not really discussed so much how this relates to witchcraft and spiritual beliefs. So I thought it would be interesting to dive into that and look at not only European settlers but how Native Americans and enslaved African people were all dealing with these type of witchcraft beliefs.
Sarah Jack: What was the witchcraft situation in New York before the arrival of the Europeans?
Scott Ferrara: Before the arrival of Europeans we had within the bordered area of New York as we understand it today, New York state that is, we had the Algonquin language group of Native Americans, consisting of many tribes, particularly in coastal New York, areas like Long Island. And then upstate New York, we had the Haudenosaunee, also sometimes referred to as the Iroquois. And with these different groups, and of course the [00:13:00] tribes that compose them, their religions sometimes attributed malevolent events or harmful events to different supernatural or rather otherworldly deities and spirits. But nothing as specific as the way we understand witchcraft and European contexts. That's not until Europeans arrive in the 17th century or rather when we have these waves of European settlers arriving. That's really when we get to see this rise in what we understand as witchcraft. 
I typically subscribe to one researcher, Amanda Porterfield's, categorization of how Native Americans adopted witchcraft beliefs. There's four categories that Amanda Porterfield covers really or how she breaks down different types of reactions to European witchcraft. And we can actually see these in New York state, particularly how witchcraft presents itself among Native American groups in New York. I'll just briefly [00:14:00] go some of this criteria. 
First, we have the identification of the Christian God as actually the Devil and Christians as witches. Native Americans seeing these travelers, seeing these settlers coming to their homeland and spreading things like conflict, disease, war and perceiving European settlers as evil forces. 
We see this in the early 1640s with French Jesuits, these Jesuit missionaries in upstate New York, coming to spread Christianity to the Mohawk people, right. And what happens is, these missionaries, they inadvertently spread disease, and when they arrive at one village, they spread their Christianity and then leave to the next village. But once they leave, disease ravages the people in that village, and [00:15:00] many people die, and word spreads that the missionaries aren't here to help them, but rather to hurt them. And they are now perceived as evil. 
We also have Native Americans who are identifying themselves as witches. This is a strategy, really, to frighten missionaries. With dwindling numbers, population numbers, Native Americans, due to conflict and disease sometimes retaliation by physical violence is not always a potential strategy anymore, so a way to express aggression and resistance is by sometimes scaring European settlers by identifying themselves as witches. 
We also have some Native American groups accepting rather Christian ideas that at least some native religious practices were forms of devil worship. This is not really a complete abandonment of pre-contact native views but rather another [00:16:00] way that witchcraft presents itself among Native American groups is this of full acceptance of Christian ideas that at least some native religious practices were forms of devil worship. This represents really a complete abandonment of pre-contact religious practices, complete acceptance of converted Native Americans to Christian worldviews. 
And then we also have Native Americans who resisted conversion to Christianity but desired cultural reform. They didn't really believe that their own practices were devil worship, but they wanted some kind of cultural reform. And they could achieve this by accepting Christian worldviews that witches existed and possibly they could enact a cultural reform by accepting Christian worldviews and gaining support by European colonial authorities. This we see also in Long Island, in particular Sachem Poggatacut and Sachem Wyandanch on [00:17:00] the eastern end of Long Island. They're accused of witchcraft in the mid 1600s. And this is largely a tactic by New England tribal leaders who are trying to gain support by New England colonial authorities to help in taking over the political authority of Long Island Native American leadership. So the these Native American tribal leaders in New England were really trying to gain support by their colonial European authority partners to really gain that power over Long Island native groups. That's really how it unfolds with native groups with witchcraft.
Josh Hutchinson: Were there significant differences in witchcraft belief between, say, the Iroquois and the Algonquin peoples?
Scott Ferrara: Not so much. With Algonquin Native American groups or, rather, tribes, there's really not a [00:18:00] ton of evidence for really witchcraft belief among Native American groups on or rather within New York. With Native American groups upstate, like the Haudenosaunee, we do see evidence of witchcraft fear. But it's a difficult question, because in the 17th century witchcraft was really a European invention, a European belief system. So to attribute that to Native American groups, it's a slippery slope. It's a difficult thing to compare. It's not until the 18th century and the 19th century with more and more native Americans converting to Christianity, that we start to see a very clear and familiar belief and fear of witchcraft.
Josh Hutchinson: That's such a great explanation. That reminds me of what we're learning about the European colonization of Africa, that there wasn't really a thing that you would call a witch or witchcraft. There [00:19:00] were various magical practices among the groups there, but Christianity and Islam and other foreign religions really introduced the concept of the witch.
Scott Ferrara: I think that's really interesting, because if we consider pretty much every culture that I know of has some kind of witchcraft belief or rather belief of interaction with an other otherworldly presence, right, maybe fear of supernatural forces or even ways of divining the future.
This is just common kind of cultural behaviors that we see a lot, even for people in the 17th century. If we're talking about European settlers, witchcraft wasn't a something that was a superstition. It was part of the natural world. It was something that was really common that people had to interact with and deal with on a pretty common basis. Witches existed, and they could cause you harm. And it wasn't superstition, [00:20:00] it was part of their life. With other cultures, this not only is applicable, but it actually presents in different ways, even though it's very similar beliefs.
Sarah Jack: One of the things that I've learned over these episodes and all the reading and studying is the distinction between the malevolent forces and the diabolical fear. The religion and culture really informed that for people. It did for myself. I really see the before contact and the after contact and how those views collide and then what we have here today in the world with everything. To me, it's two very big concepts that are similar but very different with the definitions and the understanding and the origins. Why is it important to understand that different cultures had different motivations for accusations?
Scott Ferrara: One [00:21:00] large part about understanding this is that our view of, say the 17th and 18th centuries in in North America, or particularly what I study in New York, is that we tend to think of these time periods as mostly European settlers here creating a society, creating a culture, right, creating the United States. But this isn't the full story. We have Native Americans and enslaved Africans, who are all part of the story, all deeply entangled. 
So, seeing belief systems purely through the lens of European communities and or, rather, Euro-American communities, it's, it is problematic. We're focusing on just one demographic of a lot of people who were settling here. And also I should say, too, I'm not a historian. I'm a anthropologist, so I tend to look at things through mostly past human behavior. Of course, the [00:22:00] particularities of history and lived experiences of very specific people and how events unfolded, that all is very important. That all matters, but I tend to examine the past through anthropological patterns and patterns of behavior. So by looking at these different demographics of people living here, all entangled together in these communities, we can not only gain an understanding of what is causing witchcraft accusations but how it informs our understanding of past human behavior.
Josh Hutchinson: We find that field of study very interesting, because learning about what motivated the people in the past, we can get a lens into what motivates us now and why do we still have the same tendencies as them. It's because humans are humans, but learning about why [00:23:00] they made the witchcraft accusations then helps us understand witchcraft accusations and other forms of witch-hunt-type fear that we have now. So I think that's really important to know about. 
Scott Ferrara: I think with the way we understand the past, there's still a lot we have yet to fully understand. The approach that I take to do so is through anthropological archeology, because with the historical record, we don't always get a full picture of what's happening. If we're talking about issues like gender with women in the past who are the majority of people accused of witchcraft in European-American communities, we really don't understand a lot of lived experiences just from the historical record. We find more evidence and more data [00:24:00] to understand these lived experiences through things like artifacts and the material culture that we uncover.
If we are discussing New York, in particular, particularly the Dutch communities of early New Netherland, which became New York, we see that the Dutch, for the most part, at least in court records and these colonial documents of the Dutch who are here, these Dutch settlers, they're not really trying each other for witchcraft. There's a ton of historical analyses done on why that is, different philosophical leanings of Dutch magistrates and skepticism. But it doesn't really shine through in the archeological evidence of of the Dutch past.
So we have Dutch settlers here in New York, who if you were to examine the historical record, you see very little evidence of witchcraft beliefs, but if you look [00:25:00] at the archeological record, the archeological past, different artifacts and markings in these 17th century Dutch American homes of New Netherland. These items may be carvings within households, maybe different apotropaic items, these items that are intended to protect the dweller of these homes from any supernatural evils or evil forces that could harm them spiritually and physically.
So we have evidence of these beliefs among Dutch people but not within Dutch colonial records. So there's a distinction. We can see what's happening in the historical record, and we can see where people's minds are but not always where everyone's mind is. We see Dutch and English magistrates, how they're thinking. And sometimes also why people are suing each other and what are the different causes [00:26:00] for different community litigations, but not always the full picture.
Josh Hutchinson: We're very interested in the differences between the Dutch and the English and why it was witchcraft accusations were so prevalent among the English, but not the Dutch.
Scott Ferrara: There are lots of different thoughts on this. There are some historians who have credited this with Dutch Magistrates really subscribing to Erasmian philosophy, this type of skepticism of supernatural forces or really the ability that a person could actually sign a compact with the devil and wreak havoc. We also have a standardization of how legal education is taught to the Dutch judiciary. Also a demand for really strong empirical proof for any criminal case and this resistance of pursuing any [00:27:00] accusations of witchcraft.
It starts in the Dutch fatherland, in the Netherlands, and carries over to to New Netherland, later New York. And we don't really see people being accused of witchcraft here. Even after the English arrest control of new Netherland and change it to New York in the mid 1600s, we still have a very strong Dutch influence in the region. So even then, when Euro-American settlers are accused of witchcraft, it really doesn't lead anywhere. Those cases are acquitted. Those magistrates are now tasked with both appeasing the local community members, who are quite upset about a harmful event that occurred and this accused witch but also having some rationality within the situation and finding common ground where they can, they don't have to actually sentence a person to death for this crime, for witchcraft, but also appease these local community members.
Sarah Jack: And what would've [00:28:00] been similar between English and Dutch witchcraft beliefs? Did anything stick out?
Scott Ferrara: We have a lot of these different apotropaic items, these items that are intended to protect the dwellers of a household from spiritual attacks. And there's a lot of different ways people can do this. We have, for one, leather boots that are found in the walls of historic structures today. These were a form of protection. Horseshoes, everyone knows about horseshoes over the threshold of a door to protect the dweller from spiritual attack. Dried feline corpses, so deceased cats were placed in the walls, mummified naturally, and this presented itself in historic structures that we find today in the archeological record. And it was almost used as a minor sacrifice. You had these cats, which are home protectors from things like rodents and pests. So it was believed that the spirit of that cat would [00:29:00] protect the residents after death from supernatural nuisances. So placing a dried feline corpse in the wall was another form of spiritual protection. Different markings on the beams, exposed beams of structures, known as witches marks, were thought to protect the residents of witch spirits, spectral occurrences. There's a few more different strategies that people could take to really protect themselves.
Josh Hutchinson: That's really intriguing. That's the first time I've heard an explanation for why they had the cats in the walls. I had seen that they'd done that, but I didn't realize it was the cat's spirit protecting against other spiritual forces.
Scott Ferrara: There's quite a number of ways that people could protect themselves, which is pretty interesting, too, because if you look in the historical record, different accounts, whether you have the witch cakes in Salem or there was some [00:30:00] kind of witch jar. 
With Winifred King Benham 's mother, different ways to get back at witches, to protect yourself or to identify witches. And it's interesting that those occurrences aren't examined with the same scrutiny as an accused witch. But I think this just goes to show that with different divination practices, they're not always seen as malevolent. They're actually quite accepted, not only in 17th century, your American cultures, but throughout the world, even today.
Josh Hutchinson: It's a fascinating area of study. How was the devil involved in European witchcraft?
Scott Ferrara: There are two forms of witchcraft that we examine in the historical record, right. There's this malevolent form, malefic ium, or rather harmful magic, that witches can exert to harm people. And then also diabolical, which really deals with the nature of how a witch gains this power within this Christian worldview. So within[00:31:00] the legal system of how we actually prosecute witches in the 17th century, you really need to make that connection that the accused witch had some kind of interaction or some kind of deal with the Devil. If that evidence isn't there, it's very hard to convict.
If we look at Goodwife Elizabeth Garlic k in Easthampton, she's accused of the death of the 16 year old daughter of one of the wealthiest landowners, one of the most prominent settlers in that region, Lion Gardiner. Even though she's accused, they have a hard time connecting what happened to a compact with the Christian Devil or Satan, leads to her acquittal. If there's not that clear connection with signing your name in the Devil's book or meeting with the Devil, then most certainly it'll lead to an acquittal, at least in the European or English legal system.
Sarah Jack: And were there sinister entities involved in Native American witchcraft?
Scott Ferrara: [00:32:00] A lot of what qualifies as witchcraft with Native American belief systems draws on public health and epidemiology, right. We have a lot of these Native American causes for believing someone to be spiritually harmful. Boils down to just death from disease, maybe medical condition that has spread. There's this medical reasoning for the accusation from Native American people to accuse someone of witchcraft. This happens not only in the 17th century but also in the 18th century.
We have instances where Native Americans are accusing either Europeans or other Native Americans of witchcraft, because of the spread of disease and death. Now, granted, this use of the term witchcraft is also very tricky because in the historical record, we're not observing Native Americans using this term of witchcraft. We're seeing Euro-American observers translating [00:33:00] what's happening as witchcraft. So, it's a very tricky ground when you're looking at all these different kind of this cross-cultural phenomenon of witchcraft.
Sarah Jack: And I was thinking how you mentioned some of the tribes viewed the Christian God as sinister, because of the disease and the death that was showing up. So that would be sinister.
Scott Ferrara: The first people that are actually accused and executed for what we're translating as witchcraft in New York State are those French Jesuit missionaries in upstate New York. And they are both accused and executed because of this threat, this spread of disease among Mohawk villages that is attributed to them by Mohawk people.
Josh Hutchinson: I found that part very interesting in the book. And I wanna change subjects for a moment if we [00:34:00] can and talk about family history, because I understand you have a connection, and I found a new connection in your book. I'm descended from Captain John Seamans, who was one of the grand jurors for the Halls. And I found that really fascinating, because that particular branch of my family, I hadn't had any connections with witchcraft before. And so that was really interesting to me. And what is your connection to witch trials?
Scott Ferrara: Before I answer that, I want to say with Captain John Seamans, it's a very ubiquitous name on Long Island. We have Seaman's Neck Road. A few different roads and place names named after him. I visited his grave site in, it's in Wantagh a town on Long Island here. We have a lot of different Native American place names. And a few towns over from where I'm located at there's this town of Wantagh, that's where he's buried. But it's a private cemetery. It's hard to get access [00:35:00] to. But you could see his, if you're squinting real hard. You can make out the tombstones. You can try to identify where he is. 
But yeah with my own family history, on my father's mother, my grandmother on my father's side, we have a family named the Lyon, L Y O N, the Lyons. Doing my own genealogical research, I traced this back to, I think it was Fairfield, Connecticut. I guess my, I don't know, 9th or 10th back family members were involved in the trials of Goodwife Staples and Goodwife Knapp, I believe it was. And not a really involved relationship there. 
My ancestor provided testimony, pretty much, I think it was Goodwife Staples, it was who said the deal was, your soul will be saved if you confess to more witches. And at first, she obviously, she wasn't a witch, and no one was who was accused, so she didn't confess or name other people. [00:36:00] And then before she was about to be executed, she attempted to name more people. And I guess one of my ancestors gave, I'm not really too sure of the details, it's not very well written, but pretty much said that she shouldn't name anyone else, because she's just trying to save herself in this moment and don't throw other people under the bus at this moment. So not really a large part in what was happening, but it was just interesting to see a family connection there to this area of study, which I hadn't found, I hadn't known about this until I started developing my interests in this subject.
Josh Hutchinson: We came into this subject because of our family connections, so we went the other way and found out about the connections and then got deeply interested in the subject.
Sarah Jack: My ancestor, Winifred Benham, discovering her story in what [00:37:00] little bit I could find is what pushed me out of my Salem research and interest and helped me to see, "hey, there's a much bigger picture we get to look at." And I love that your coverage of her family really gives a lot of detail and some really great sources. And it's really great that you have those all together for the descendants. And I love comparing the colonies and how they were different and that family had trial experience in Massachusetts Colony as well as Connecticut. And then they find their safe haven in New York. It crosses through all of those territories and what was going on. So I find that really interesting.
Scott Ferrara: A big part of what with my research and my book project, one thing that mattered a lot to me was providing as many sources, at least, to the primary source documents, right, to the original documents as I [00:38:00] possibly could, just because I think that's what really matters the most. I tried my hardest to really piece together what logically and chronologically made sense for interpreting their stories and interpreting what exactly happened with these events.
But there's not really a lot of details of people's lives back then, particularly women. It was three generations of the Benham family. It was her mother, Winifred King Benham, and then also her daughter. And the only time really we see women in the historical record is when you know they're being sued or some kind of legal issue, and you don't really get the full picture. So by providing all of these primary source documents where I'm getting this from, not only can you see how I'm interpreting the order of events, if you, the reader, want to go look at those, you can do your own research and interpretations of what's happening in the past, right. 
I think that's what kind of really matters. But, yeah, they actually have really interesting story, the Benhams. That's the only really location I haven't been able to make it to, where Winifred, Sr. settled down in Staten [00:39:00] Island. That's still on my list of places to visit.
Sarah Jack: I would love to do that one day, too.
Josh Hutchinson: We're hoping to get to a few of these places this year, so hopefully we get out there.
Sarah Jack: I like that what can be known, you talked about, cuz one of the things that when I mean it's going to change because more information is getting talked about and is available, but when I first started looking at Winifred Sr.'s story, first, she's just folklore for Wallingford, but then there's this is she in the, buried in the cemetery there? Is she not? And Tony Griego, one of our advocates with the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project, he went and did investigation there to find out, what do we know? And yes, there are Benhams there, but that's all we know. But you were able to pull up records showing children being born in New York or living in New York, getting married in New York. So it added to that story. It pulled some [00:40:00] facts out of the folklore.
Scott Ferrara: And I think that's a really interesting point you brought up, is these people who are accused of witchcraft, where are they today? A lot of the places that I've visited, uh, people that were accused of witchcraft, either in New York or outside of New York, and decamped here or rather fled here and started new life here in New York. Where are all their grave sites? It's very rare that we see them. That's on my agenda for kind of future research, looking more deeply into the heritage of witchcraft and where all of these different grave markers are. Is it something that's too embarrassing for a community, so the grave marker is removed? Or what exactly is happening there? Because it's very rare. One gravestone that I actually did find was in Salem, New York. There was a woman accused of witchcraft, there, a mother, and her gravestone, along with her husband and the rest of her family, they're, it's still there in, in Salem, New York, which I found pretty cool, but actually pretty rare.
Sarah Jack: That would be significant. I [00:41:00] know out of all of the hundreds of accused colonial American colony victims, we surmise where they were. We think they're on family land, but there is not, you can't walk up and say, here's so-and-so resting.
Scott Ferrara: I think Rebecca Nurse, right. I think her grave site is marked.
Sarah Jack: It's presumed. There's a monument.
Josh Hutchinson: People believe that we know where Rebecca Nurse is buried based on the family history of it, and there is that memorial there, and there's still a little cemetery there.
Sarah Jack: I think when I say, "presumed," I'm saying at the death, the burial wasn't marked and preserved until now.
Josh Hutchinson: And the family had to take the body away and bury it on their own land. They never got buried in cemeteries, as far as we know, because that [00:42:00] was just frowned upon.
Scott Ferrara: It's very interesting, exactly what happened. And I that's a large part of what made the project in Salem so important where I think it was what Marilynne K. Roach and I believe Emerson Baker might have been on that project, too, when they identified the the ledge where all those victims were executed. So just identifying both places and names is very important to understanding the past and preserving the past.
Josh Hutchinson: That's so important to understand the past. We want to understand the individual lives and the individual cases, what actually happened with these people and tell the stories of the people, which is interesting in your book, how you broke it down by individual person to give them an opportunity for their story to be told.
Scott Ferrara: That made the most sense to me, to break it down chronologically and like these little biographical narratives of each person in chronological order. To make [00:43:00] sense of how, not only who's being accused and what little we can find of their life story, but also observing how culture and the legal system is changing in New York. And also, by seeing these different individual accounts, we can also maybe draw out different reasons for why people are being accused within these different cultures. It made the most sense to approach it that way, especially for a public audience.
Josh Hutchinson: I'm very interested in the sleep paralysis aspect of the accusations, because I've personally experienced sleep paralysis, and I've been what you described as hagridden, basically. But could you explain for our audience what it means to be hagridden?
Scott Ferrara: Things like sleep paralysis, being hagridden, right. This actually occurs quite often in witchcraft accusations. It relates to [00:44:00] spectral appearances, being paralyzed in the state between being awake and dreaming, where a lot of your biases towards fears in your life can present itself. So for people like Hannah Travally in Southampton, that's just one example. We also see this with Katherine Harrison. There's instances of accusers seeing these accused individuals, these accused witches in their rooms, bothering them at night. With Hannah Travally for example, in Southampton out on Long Island, her accuser sees her tormenting him by sitting on his roof at night and pretty much tormenting him. With Katherine Harrison, several accusers are seeing her at night. There's actually a very fascinating dialogue between her familiar spirit and one of her victims or rather suspected or alleged victims, I should say, which is very interesting in itself too.
A lot of these primary [00:45:00] source documents, once you start reading into them ,particularly with these sleep paralysis demons, these spectral appearances, when you start reading the primary source accounts, they almost read like screenplays, these dialogues between the familiar spirit or the spectral appearance of the accused witch and the victim. Very fascinating, but , I think it's what brings the genre, if we're gonna see the historical record as almost like a genre, it's what makes it into a horror genre. It's where we get really vivid imagery of these familiar spirits and almost demons that are plaguing witchcraft victims.
Sarah Jack: It really sounds like in these instances there's just such a physical component to it, like the weight of the visiting specter. And the one narrative, the alleged victim was identifying the specter by touching the face in the dark. That just really was horrible to me.
Scott Ferrara: With Katherine Harrison, right, her image appears [00:46:00] several times in testimonies against her We have her head on a dog's body that's tormenting her victims. We also see another testimony where a red calf traveling on a cart transforms into her head right at a certain distance, and all these weird kind of transformations. I think that's also interesting in itself too. This idea linking witchcraft to therianthropic instances, where like humans are transmutating into animals. See this time and time again, not only in testimonies against accused witches, but also the folklore. That was a big decision for my research, grouping in the folklore account of Aunty Greenleaf, New York folklore about a witch into the factual people accused, because with Goody Greenleaf story of animal kind of tormenting or being present when bad things occur, when crops fail and people get sick, [00:47:00] and then being chased down and turning back into a human is not only present in New York folklore, but in so many different folklores is in native American groups upstate New York, even in European, ancient Greek mythology. It's a very interesting concept.
Sarah Jack: It's interesting to me how the harm and the damage that can happen in the spectral phase then might have physical evidence, like in the folklore, the bullets, but maybe in a real life accusation case, there's bruising or an ailment they're complaining of.
Scott Ferrara: With that physical evidence, that's what kind of makes me lean more towards medical explanations of witchcraft accusations, because with the Benham, we see one of their victims who had died had red spots, and some testimony say that Winifred and her daughter Winifred Jr. both had these red spots that dissipated. With Goodwife Ayers and Elizabeth Kelly, they shared a [00:48:00] bowl of warm broth and with Elizabeth Kelly, it was the first autopsy in American history, by a physician named Brian Rossiter, who he actually misattributed the natural process of decomposition of a human body towards witchcraft causes. But one interesting fact to pull out of that was he noticed different red spots that Goodwife Ayers also had. There's also Native American examples of this, too, in the 18th century. This physical evidence is pretty interesting towards understanding witchcraft accusations as like this broader human behavior, and you know how to frame it within a pattern of broader human behavior in the past.
Josh Hutchinson: I found in your descriptions, what you pulled from the court records of the symptoms that the people were reporting are very similar in the Connecticut and New York cases. They're very similar to Salem. They're reporting the pinching and the bruising and the choking and the pressure on [00:49:00] the chest. They're all common across so many different witch trials that we've read about.
Scott Ferrara: I think that really speaks to, besides the bruising, the sleep paralysis and things like that really attest to the psychological state of people back then. Things like I know Mary Beth Norton dives a little bit into conflict with indigenous groups, but, that could be one part of it, but just the trauma of everyday life, losing children, losing family members ,spread of disease, changing political environments. A lot of the stress, and I think any witchcraft scholar can tell you that these instances of witchcraft really appear when there are conditions of societal stress and trauma. Seeing these instances of sleep paralysis and night terrors really, I think, give you a, an insight of what it was like to live back then, at least for some people who were experiencing that anxiety, that stress, that trauma that people just had to work through on a daily basis.
Josh Hutchinson: [00:50:00] I find for me the sleep paralysis is especially interesting, because I've been there. I went through a period of a couple years where that was happening to me fairly regularly, and one of the first times, I wake up, and I can't move at all, and I'm still in a dream state, and so I feel the pressure on my chest, like somebody's on me, and my brain just attributes that to a person being there and fills in the gaps, I guess. 
Scott Ferrara: It's very difficult to diagnose people in the past with medical conditions that we experience today. You don't wanna attribute something that's not, a medical condition that's not, hasn't been, diagnosed from a physician. But, still, these accounts and these stories and testimonies, they are so familiar to what we experience today that it's [00:51:00] almost, you read these stories and you're like, wow. I. If not yourself and someone else, who's experienced these things. 
Sarah Jack: I really enjoyed your intro talking about your grandfather, so I think that was really a special way to open your book. And I also like that you want people to use the documents as a springboard to do more research for themselves and your encouragement to check out historical sites that are available. I think that's really important.
Scott Ferrara: I do this professionally, so it's sometimes pretty sad when you go to historical societies, museums, and it's just ghost towns in there, you know. You have maybe one historian just sitting quietly by themselves, just clocking into work on a, once or twice a week and just spending time in silence and not a lot of people taking advantage of of these resources we have in our communities. We have town historians, village historians, [00:52:00] historical museums, and they're all available to you. You can pop in whenever you want and learn about your own region and your own story. For the most part, it's free.
Josh Hutchinson: Now here's Sarah with an important update on witch-hunts happening now. 
Sarah Jack: Here's your Connecticut witch trial exoneration weekly legislation news. The history of Connecticut Witch Trials is a story that has been introduced and embraced in different communities throughout the state over the last few decades through research, books, lectures, and remembrance events. Some specific localized efforts to research and memorialize individual victims have been done at the local level in Farmington and Stratford. The current and past director of the Stanley Whitman House has flavored their public history, education, and program offerings with the elements of local history. This includes uncovering witch trial victim stories and other people's and event stories that combined into the unique local recipe formed by their lives on the land and in the colony.
Thank you to all volunteers and staff that have prioritized these [00:53:00] stories. In a few episodes, you will get to hear more of this inspirational, landmark and program from our return guest, Andy Verzosa. We also see the community of Stratford memorializing. Stratford Historical Society has made plans for their community to learn and celebrate the life of their local accused witch victim, Goody Bassett, with a presentation by local historian Richard Ross at Town Hall. There are plans for Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick to give a ceremonial proclamation of innocence and for the town council to vote on a resolution absolving victims Goody Bassett and Hugh Croatia of the guilt of colonial witchcraft crimes. Sign up for Thou Shalt Not Suffer episode downloads, because we are bringing a feature episode on Goody Bassett shortly. 
Many women are listed in colonial court records as Goody. This is not a first name. This is an omission of what would've been her personal identity. Her first name was known, but the first name of a wife was not legally significant in the court in colonial America. She was supposed to be remembered with dignity. Whenever the name of a historical woman comes up as [00:54:00] Goody, think about her. Think about her lost name. When you are doing research and writing, keep your eye peeled and be thoughtful. If you identify a first name, it is significant to include her first name in your record so that the Goody becomes insignificant and she is more known. The first names of these women may not be lost forever, and their story certainly is being preserved by our writing and nvoices.
The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project is an organized collaboration of advocates working for an official state exoneration of the 17th century accused and hanged witches of the Connecticut Colony. We support the Joint Committee on Judiciary's Bill HJ number 34, Resolution Concerning Certain Witchcraft Convictions in Colonial Connecticut. It is being sponsored by the following Connecticut legislators: state Representative Jane Garibay, Senator Saud Anwar, State Senator Eleni Kavros-DeGraw, State Representative Aimee Berger-Giravalo, and State Representative Mary Welander. Please support this bill by sponsoring it, if you are a [00:55:00] Connecticut state legislator. 
Will you take time today to write a member of the judiciary committee asking them to recognize the relevance of exonerating Connecticut witch trial victims? You can do this whether you are a Connecticut resident or anywhere else in the world. You should do it from right where you are. Now is the time and place to stand for acknowledging that women were not and are not capable of harming others with diabolical or maleficent powers. The victims we wish to exonerate are known to be innocent. The victims of today that we wish to protect are known to be innocent. You can find the information you need to contact a committee member with a letter in the show links. To learn more about attacks on alleged witches today, please see our link to Advocacy for Alleged Witches. 
This resolution will be an example to others working to recognize and address historic wrongs. Connecticut is taking a stand against injustice. By acknowledging the mistakes of the past, we educate the public that similar actions are not acceptable today. The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project strongly urges the general [00:56:00] assembly to hear the voices of the witch trial victims being amplified by the community today. They were not witches. We hope you'll pass this legislation without delay.
Our project is offering several ways for exoneration supporters to plug in and participate or learn about the exoneration and history. Please download our robust lineup of episodes featuring witch trial descendants, education about hanged witch Alice Young and other victims and Connecticut Colony's Governor John Winthrop Jr.'s positive influence against convicting witches. You can go to our project website for an informative and easy to understand fact sheet of the Connecticut Colony witch trial victims, places, and dates. You can follow along by joining our Discord community or Facebook groups. Links to all these informative opportunities are listed in the episode description.
Use your social power to help Alice Young, America's first executed witch finally be acknowledged. Support the descendants by acknowledging and sharing their ancestors' stories. Remember the victims in modern day facing the same unfair and [00:57:00] dangerous situations. Take time to listen to episode 16, "Witchcraft Accusations in Nigeria with Dr. Leo Igwe." Please use all your communication channels to be an intervener and stand with them. Would you like to host a stop and Leo Igwe's upcoming US speaking tour? Please contact us today. 
The world must stop hunting witches. Please follow our project on social media @ctwitchhunt and visit our website at The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project is a project of End Witch Hunts movement. End Witch Hunts is a nonprofit organization founded to educate about Witch trial history and advocate for alleged witches. Please support us with your donations or purchases of educational Witch trial books and merchandise. You can shop our merch at and and shop our books at We want you as a super listener. [00:58:00] You can help keep Thou Shalt Not Suffer podcast in production by super listening with your monthly monetary support. See episode description for links to these support opportunities. We thank you for standing with us and helping us create a world that is safe from witchcraft accusations. 
Josh Hutchinson: Thank you, Sarah, for that enlightening news segment.
Sarah Jack: You're welcome.
Josh Hutchinson: And thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast.
Sarah Jack: Join us like you always do next week.
Josh Hutchinson: Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Sarah Jack: Visit our website,
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell your friends and family.
Sarah Jack: Thank you for supporting our efforts at End Witch Hunts. If you'd like to donate, please visit our website at to learn more.
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow. 
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