Title: One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s First Witch Hanging
Author: Beth M. Caruso
Publisher: Ladyslipper Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
It’s not something we think about in modern times. I can’t imagine being a woman back in the 1600s. There are few prospects beyond marriage. When Alice has no family left in England and no place to go, she takes a position with a wealthy family traveling to North America. They settle in Massachusetts Bay, and Alice hopes to reconnect with some family members there.
As Alice adjusts to her new country, she faces many obstacles. And it’s not the best time to be viewed as different or gifted. The witch scare is on and no one is safe from the persecution of the Puritans.
I fear for Alice, and even though I know how the story has to end, I want her to be safe. To be happy. She’s a gentle woman, loving, bright, and passionate about life.
You can tell the author did extensive research about the peoples and customs of these times. I felt like I’d dipped my toes into the past. The descriptive writing showed me this story. I was on the ship. I marveled at the new wilderness, and walked the streets. And I read the minds of the people. The paranoid thinking of the Puritans. Their righteous wrath.
It was a scary time. One you may find hard to believe. But the hanging of witches did occur. And this is Alice’s story. The story of the first witch hanging.
Alice, a young woman prone to intuitive insights and loyalty to the only family she has ever known, leaves England for the rigid colony of the Massachusetts Bay in 1635 in hopes of reuniting with them again. Finally settling in Windsor, Connecticut, she encounters the rich American wilderness and its inhabitants, her own healing abilities, and the blinding fears of Puritan leaders which collide and set the stage for America’s first witch hanging, her own, on May 26, 1647.
This event and Alice’s ties to her beloved family are catalysts that influence Connecticut’s Governor John Winthrop Jr. to halt witchcraft hangings in much later years. Paradoxically, these same ties and the memory of the incidents that led to her accusation become a secret and destructive force behind Cotton Mather’s written commentary on the Salem witch trials of 1692, provoking further witchcraft hysteria in Massachusetts forty-five years after her death.
The author uses extensive historical research combined with literary inventions, to bring forth a shocking and passionate narrative theory explaining this tragic and important episode in American history.
Enjoy the excerpt
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, 1692
The elderly reverend knew it was crucial to stop Satan. As if in unison with the Dark Lord’s latest antics, tremendous bolts of lightning and deafening thunder heralded the ensuing rainstorm of that early autumn day in Boston. The reverend’s dedicated son would have preferred that he stay home by a fire and rest. Still feisty in his later years of life, he refused. He was fervently determined to discuss pertinent matters at hand concerning the witchcraft calamities in Salem and surrounding towns. As a minister, albeit a retired one, he felt responsible for guiding younger ministers, such as Cotton Mather, to make their congregations understand the menacing threats of witchcraft.
The aged minister was someone who had personally suffered through a demonic incursion in Windsor, a river town of the Connecticut Colony, back in 1647. He was fully cognizant of its evil impacts. Satan had infiltrated Windsor through a consort and witch whom he knew all too well. The Great Demon had been stealthy in his trickery. But this time, the respected pastor hoped to arrest the Devil’s mischief before the same level of destruction and harm could occur. Accordingly, he was there to offer his assistance to Cotton Mather in dealing with witchcraft presently taking hold in Massachusetts Bay towns and villages. The young minister welcomed him into his home.
“Good day, dear Reverend. You must come in quickly out of the rain and take comfort by the hearth. I will have my servants bring you my finest cider and freshly baked, delicious cakes to eat. I have so much to share with you. By your experience, you have been the inspiration I have needed to start the work that we were speaking of the other week,” spoke Cotton Mather.
“Thank you, Cotton. It will warm my body as well as my heart to sit by the fire and hear of the inspirations that took hold of your soul. I hope it helped you to do the honorable task of warning our people of the great wrath of Satan,” replied the elderly reverend.
With that pronouncement, the old reverend took off his soggy cloak and sat down at a table next to the hearth. He paused and grew distinctly somber before continuing.
“Satan must not be allowed to advance further into our New England wilderness, for we have painstakingly worked at taming it over the years. Yet our young people lapse into disobedience of the commandments of Jesus Christ. Our current admonishment by the Lord through the events in Salem and b yond act to bring us back to the righteous path,” explained the aged pastor as the rain poured down.
He looked wide-eyed and serious at Cotton.
Cotton Mather nodded at the old reverend in agreement and replied, “You see, honored Reverend, by your histories of the very earliest acts of war first waged upon these colonies by Lucifer, I have been able to put the current difficulties in Salem into a broader view of understanding for our present government. I hope it will aid those justices that would weigh their opinions upon such cases of bewitchments. It is also for the benefit of younger generations. I know you prefer not to be mentioned by name, but hear what it is that I have reiterated concerning those times,” he implored.
Cotton quickly pulled out a satchel full of papers written upon with a righteous and eloquent hand and requested, “Please tell me what you think, Reverend. This is from the introduction of my commentary. These words were taken directly from our lengthy conversations of what is transpiring now at Salem and in our congregations in relation to the Devil and his armies’ frustration of
defeat in Connecticut so many years ago. I am naming this commentary Wonders of the Invisible World.”
“Wonders of the Invisible World,” nodded the old reverend, speaking loudly over the storm.
A servant came in and poured warm cider for the two ministers. At being interrupted, the elderly pastor pursed his lips, staying silent, but met Cotton’s eyes with a secret understanding. They waited until the servant left before continuing their discussion.
Cotton continued, “This is part of the Introduction, Enchantments Encountered”.
He read, “We have been advised by Credible Christians still alive, that a Malefactor accused of Witchcraft as well as Murder, and executed in this place, more than Forty years ago, did then give Notice of An Horrible PLOT against the country by WITCHCRAFT, and a foundation of Witchcraft then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered, would probably Blow up and pull down all the Churches in the Country.”
“ Yes. Yes!” agreed the agitated old minister, and added, “ The young people need to know how, if we had not ferreted out the witch that spawned all others on the shores of the Great Connecticut, all of our churches in the colonies would have failed indeed. Nothing would have pleased Satan and his legions more than to see those intent on building a godly and pure Utopian state in this wilderness beaten down and forced by evil to return to England. We, the people of Windsor, agonized much in bringing to light of day the bewitchments brought upon us by a naughty and wayward woman. She who made a pact with the Devil allowed him to nearly destroy us. By the Grace of God he did not, thanks to the watchful vigilance of God’s dedicated and steadfast servants!” he howled with the tempest.
The aged pastor continued, enraged, “No one likes to speak her name. She deserves no recognition for her defamation of this country by unleashing devils that would dare claim this corner of the earth for their own in an affront to the Lord Jesus Christ. By her hand, a
great pestilence of disease infiltrated the daily life of the fledgling colony of Connecticut, especially in the town of Windsor. We had settled into our homes only about twelve years when the Devil was over- come with venomous jealousy that we had claimed formerly heathen territory and tamed wilderness for our Lord Jesus. Satan saw a prime opportunity to permeate and upset our small community through the wickedness and unfaithfulness of that woman,” he spoke as the sky rumbled.
The old reverend took a sip of cider, wetting his dry lips.
“Such was the power that Satan infused her with that a great many people died, including many young children, for the Devil has no conscience and no compassion. Upon her death, she did swear in a fit of lies that she was innocent. She cursed those whose testimonies and swift actions led her to the hangman’s noose. The good Reverend Thomas Hooker was presiding at the First Church in Windsor for the Reverend John Wareham during the time of her bewitchments,” recounted the old cleric.
He clenched his fists as he took a deep breath.
“He helped to expose her and was touched by her wickedness in such a way that he died less than one month later of the same dreaded disease that she helped to proliferate and use to kill other devout soldiers of Christ,” the old reverend said.
Cotton Mather spoke again intensely, “Yes, I understand, Reverend. I pref- ace the first reading I recited just now with this…The New Englanders are a People of God settled in those, which were once the Devil’s Territories; and it may easily be supposed that the Devil was exceedingly disturbed, when he perceived such a People here accomplishing the Promise of old made unto our Blessed Jesus, that He should have the Utmost parts of the Earth for his Possession.”
Cotton continued, “I believe that never were more Satanical Devices used for the Unsettling of any People under the Sun, than what have been employed for the Extirpation of the Vine which God has here Planted, Casting out the Heathen, and preparing a Room before it, and causing it to take deep Root, and fill the Land, so that it sent its Boughs unto the Atlantic Sea Eastward, and its Branches unto the Connecticut River westward, and the Hills were covered with the shadow thereof. But in all those attempts of Hell, have hitherto been Abortive and Having obtained Help from God, we continue to this Day. Where fore the Devil is now making one Attempt more difficult, more Surprising, more snarled with unintelligible circumstances than any we have hitherto encountered.”
The senior cleric nodded his head approvingly. Their conversation contin-ued for the better part of two hours. The time was interspersed with prayers
as well, imploring the Almighty Father to empower them in their fight against the Prince of Darkness. Cider was refilled several times. They discussed the importance of weeding out all of Satan’s imps and witches in Salem and other nearby villages and towns so that New England could be as pure again as that first generation of godly wayfarers who led the ultimate religious Utopian experiment into the wilderness.
When the conversation eased, the thoughtful and grave old minister stared into the fire. He wondered if she were burning in hellfires in that very moment. And what of the souls of the family who had forever fractured in their defense or blame of her, the first colonial witch? He was becoming quite old now. Soon, he hoped to be called to God’s kingdom. Until that time, he would continue to be of service to the younger generations of ministers trying to guide their lost flocks away from Satan.
Abruptly, there was a knock on the door that jerked the ministers from their pious imaginings. It was the elderly reverend’s son. He had come to retrieve his father. He paid his respects to the Reverend Cotton Mather and then gently guided his father out into the streets of Boston, newly drenched from the rain. The elderly pastor turned around and shouted to Reverend Mather.
“Please feel free to call for my assistance again. For an old man such as I delights in nothing more than making his last acts upon this earth ones that are dedicated to bringing God’s people closer to Him and away from the wretches of the Devil. I shall be honored to continue to help you with your mission,” offered the old cleric.
“Thank you, honorable Reverend,” answered Cotton with a slight bow.
Author Beth M. Caruso
Beth M. Caruso grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and spent her childhood writing puppet shows and witches’ cookbooks. She became interested in French Literature and Hispanic Studies, receiving a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Cincinnati. She later obtained Masters degrees in Nursing and Public Health.
Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, she helped to improve the public health of local Karen hill tribes. She also had the privilege to care for hundreds of babies and their mothers as a labor and delivery nurse.
Largely influenced by an apprenticeship with herbalist and wildcrafter, Will Endres, in North Carolina, she surrounds herself with plants through gardening and native species conservation.
Her latest passion is to discover and convey important stories of women in American history. One of Windsor is her debut novel. She lives in New England with her awesome husband, amazing children, loyal puppy, and cuddly cats.
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