What’s it going to take to correct an injustice committed 400 years ago? Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy says he is powerless to act. The Queen of England, whose government actually had jurisdiction over the scene of the atrocities, says she needs more information. It is dithering such as this that yields contempt for government.
Connecticut executed 11 people in the early 1600s for being witches. Those prepared today to defend these executions as justified assertions of public authority are few and far between. Times have changed. We still believe that evil stalks the world; we are less inclined to believe that the devil can possess a soul, and turn it to dark and sinister service. Those who harbor such beliefs are now prevented from imposing their idiosyncratic beliefs on the rest of us. It is almost enough to make me believe in progress.
Salem, Massachusetts’ witch trials have become the stuff of legend. Connecticut’s executions, which took place before those in Salem, draw far less attention. But the killings were real enough. The suspects were charged, tried, convicted, and then put to death, killed because they were deemed to be the devil’s tools.
Doesn’t the thought of such a thing produce shame?
My forebears had not even heard of Connecticut, or America, at the time these executions took place. I am the product of a union between a first generation American and a what we now call an illegal immigrant. I bear no responsibility for these deaths, either individually, or out of some residual sense of corporate identity. Yet, when I read about these deaths I cringe in shame. I do not want to be associated with a state than can engage in such folly, and refuse to accept responsibility for the collective madness that gripped a tiny colony facing the terrifying prospect of looking westward into a vast unknown.
Among those seeking a pardon for distant forebears are an an 82-year-old eighth-generation descendant of a Farmington woman and a retired New Haven police officer. Why should they be required to wait another day for justice?
Anthony Griego of Hamden has asked the governor for help. The governor says the state’s constitution ties his hands. So Griego is now asking the General Assembly for help. Griego even took his case to the Queen of England. Her advisors wrote back saying she’d need additional information before she could act. What, pray tell, doth the lady require? Why haven’t Connecticut lawmakers acted?
The descendant of a Farmington woman hanged as witch, Bernice Mable Graham Telian, is also asking lawmakers for help. Thus far, she’s met with failure. Lawmakers are apparently too busy to be bothered.
Virginia and Massachusetts long ago pardoned those executed in another time, another world, for the crimes of being bedeviled. Do we still labor under the spell of a peculiar form of madness in Connecticut that prevents us from acting?
A state that cannot acknowledge error and correct an ancient injustice looks foolish. These pardons should have been granted decades ago, even centuries ago. We call ourselves the Land of Steady Habits in Connecticut. Let’s hope our habits are not so steady that we cannot grant long overdue clemency.
What, I repeat, would be the harm in granting these pardons?