Alse Young: America’s First Witch (And Hanged For It)

Hanging America's first witch, Alse Young, 1647
In this May 26, 1647 diary entry (above, left), Windsor town clerk Matthew Grant recorded, “Alse Young was hanged.”

This is the story of Alse Young, today’s Wednesday’s Woman. Forty-five years before the Salem witch trials in 1692, Alse Young (ca. 1600–1647) of Windsor, CT, was the first woman to be tried, convicted, and executed for witchcraft in America’s 13 colonies.

Witchcraft was one of 12 capital crimes decreed by Connecticut’s colonial government in 1642. The legal precedent cited by the devoutly Puritan colonists was of a higher order: biblical passages like Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”; and Leviticus 20:27, “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death.”

Very little is known about Alse Young — no record of her trial nor any details of the charge against her exists. We believe she was the wife of John Young, a landowner and carpenter by trade.

Estate inheritance
She had one daughter, Alice Young Beamon — herself accused of witchcraft in Springfield, MA, some 30 years later — but no son. This meant Alse Young would have inherited her husband’s estate had he died before her.

Accused Salem witch Rebecca Nurse in chains in 1692
Grudges and greed-driven maneuvers were often behind witch accusations, as in this case of Rebecca Nurse who was charged with being a witch by neighbors after a Salem Village dispute over property boundaries in 1692.

Scholars now believe many accusations of witchcraft against women were, at least in part, based on greed. In 17th-century patriarchal culture, society demanded that inheritance pass through its males. If a woman in line to inherit died before her husband, and without sons, her husband’s property often went to the community.

Could this have factored into Young’s accusation? There was also an epidemic of some sort that swept through Windsor in early 1647, taking young and old alike. If Alse Young was a local healer or herbalist who couldn’t prevent their deaths, she may have blamed.

1647 execution
All we know for sure is that on May 26, 1647, Alse Young was taken to the gallows in Hartford’s Meeting House Square where the Old State House now stands and publicly hanged.

The journal of Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop states, “One … of Windsor arraigned and executed at Hartford for a witch.”

Windsor town clerk Matthew Grant confirms the execution with this terse May 26, 1647, diary entry: “Alse Young was hanged.”

It wasn’t until December of 1904 that the identity of America’s first witch to be executed was revealed in an article in the Hartford Courant newspaper titled “One Blank of Windsor.”

More than 360 years after she was put to death, Alse Young was officially pardoned, and her name cleared, by the Windsor Town Council in a resolution that passed unanimously in February of 2017.