In the spring of 1692 a wave of terror swept Massachusetts and engulfed the New England colonies in tragedy. It was rumored that many had entered into compacts with the Devil and that the practice of witchcraft had reached epidemic proportions. "Hundreds of innocent men and women were imprisoned, or fled into exile or hiding places, their homes were broken up, their estates were ruined, and their families and friends were left in sorrow, anxiety, and desolution." Belief in witchcraft was widespread in the Western world in the seventeenth century. Scriptural passages in the Old and New Testament formed the basis for use of ecclesiastical and civil authority. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22.18) was the Biblical quotation most frequently cited in examination and trial proceedings. The churches considered witchcraft a mortal sin, disbelief, a heresy; and extirpation, a necessity, requiring the most severe penalties.
The early codes of New England made witchcraft a capital offense. Religious and English precedents were considered as sufficient authority. Connecticut passed a law in 1642 which stated that "If any man or woman be a witch—that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit—they shall be put to death." In New Haven Colony the law declared that "If any person be a witch, he or she shall be put to death, according to Exod. 22.18, Levit.20.27, Deut.18.10,11."
Prior to the 1692 delusion numerous trials for witchcraft in Connecticut were held—at Windsor (1647), Wethersfield (1648, 1650-51), Stratford (1651), Fairfield (1653), New Haven (1655, 1657), Easthampton (1658), and Saybrook (1661). Ten persons were accused and placed under arrest in 1662 and four were tried, convicted and executed. The victims were the last individuals to suffer the death penalty for witchcraft in Connecticut. By 1692 court procedures relating to witchcraft were well established.
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