Accused: 17th-Century Witch Trials

by Christine Jewell
Fairfield Museum and History Center, Fairfield

TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT

Historical Background

For background information about the witchcraft trials in Connecticut, download the Fairfield Museum’s “Accused: Fairfield’s Witchcraft Trials” Educator Guide prior to teaching the lesson.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

What factors led to the 17th-century witchcraft trials in Connecticut?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS

  • Were religious or social differences tolerated in the 1600s?
  • Did everyone have equal protection under the law at the time?
  • Why were women particularly targeted as witches?
  • Could something like this happen today?

D2: TOOL KIT

Things you will need to teach this lesson:








D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

Begin the activity by having students examine one or both of the historic images as a class, in small groups, or individually.

  • Describe what is going on in the image(s). What is the setting? Who are the figures? What are the activities?

Break students into smaller groups, each with one of the court documents (including the transcription).

  • What details can be gleaned from each document?
  • Who is being accused? What can you learn about this person from the text?
  • Who is doing the accusing? What can you learn about this person from the text?
  • What are these people being accused of?
  • What can you infer from the testimony about why this person has been accused?
  • What beliefs or values held by the accused or the accuser are suggested by the testimonies?

Have each group share their discoveries and note similarities and differences.

D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS

Have students supplement their conclusions from the inquiry activity with information from additional resources (see below for some suggestions) to help them develop answers to the compelling and supporting questions posed at the beginning. Conclude with a discussion or writing activity based on the questions: Could something like this happen today? Does it?

For a further connection, investigate with students accusations of witchcraft in contemporary Africa and Asia.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Place to GO

The Connecticut State Library has an extensive collection of documents and materials about the Connecticut witchcraft trials.

The Town Green in Fairfield was the site of the “trial by water” of Elizabeth Clawson and Mercy Disbrough. Although the pond is no longer there, outdoor signage marks the spot and describes the 1692 trials. The Fairfield Museum and History Center offers educational programs about the witchcraft trials on the site and in the adjacent museum.

Things To DO

Students with a particular interest in the Connecticut witchcraft trials can conduct additional research into one accused person or one town where people were accused in the 17th century. Visit the state library, contact a local historical society, or read more. Many of the online resources listed on this page will lead to other books and articles.

Websites to VISIT

Fairfield Museum & History Center: Download the “Accused: Fairfield’s Witchcraft Trials” Educator Guide, including excerpts from author and illustrator Jakob Crane’s graphic novel about the Connecticut witchcraft trials.

The State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Library: Witches and Witchcraft: The First Person Executed in the Colonies

Articles to READ

ConnecticutHistory.org: “Witchcraft in Connecticut” by Andy Piascik.

Witchcraft in Connecticut, 10/29/2014. A short background essay from the Connecticut State Library.