Little Bits of History

Alse Young

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 26, 2012

Woodcut of witch trials

May 26, 1647: Alse Young (also cited as Achsah Young or Alice Young) is executed by hanging. She was about 47 years old at the time of her execution. She is believed to have been the wife of John Young, a man with some property to inherit. She had a daughter, but no son, and would have been heir to her husband’s estate. This was apparently enough to make women susceptible to the charge of witchcraft. There is no record remaining about the basis of the charge. There is some speculation of a communicable disease running through the small town of Windsor, Connecticut. Witchcraft became a capital offense in Connecticut in 1642.

The number of witches executed over the centuries is not clearly known. The best guess is between 50,000 and 100,000. Most of these executions took place between 1550 and 1650 although the crime was punished from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Some of the witches were Pagans, but many were not. Most victims were punished by local or community courts and were not tried by an established Church. While executions took place throughout Europe and her colonial properties, there were wide variances in the number of executions. Ireland had only four while most of the deaths occurred in German lands of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Colonial America frenzy culminated in the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Between June and September of that year, nineteen men and women were convicted of witchcraft and hanged at Gallows Hill. Another older man was pressed to death after he refused to submit to a trial. Hundreds more were accused of the crime with many of them jailed for months without trials. The hysteria passed and the killings stopped.

Most of those accused of witchcraft over the centuries have been women. Often, after epidemics or natural disasters, a cause was sought out. There needed to be someone to blame. Neither the Catholic nor Protestant churches targeted witches as the cause behind any disasters. Outlying lands where the Catholic Church was the weakest were the location for the most virulent witch hunts, according to Nachman Ben-Yehuda. While being a woman didn’t automatically mean you were accused of witchcraft, about three-fourths of those accused were women. Most confessions came after horrific torture. Sadly, witch hunts still continue on a limited basis in some Third World countries.

All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. … What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours. – from The Hammer of Witches

Its [The Hammer of Witches] enormous influence was practically guaranteed, owing not only to its authoritative appearance but also to its extremely wide distribution. – Nachman Ben-Yehuda

The medieval conception of women shares much with the corresponding medieval conception of Jews. – Steven Katz

After the terrible devastation caused by the Black Death [bubonic plague] (1347-1349), these rumors increased in intensity and focused primarily on witches and ‘plague-spreaders.’ – Jenny Gibbons

Also on this day:

Who Was That? – In 1828 a strange teenager is found on the streets.
Complex Napoleon – In 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy.
Sailing to Oblivion – In 1854, Khufu or Cheops’ ship was discovered.