Hello everyone, welcome to my first written blog entry. I wanted to talk a bit about Alse Young, one of the historical figures on which part of my book, The Witchfinder’s Serpent is based. Very little is known about Alse Young other than the fact that she was the first woman in the American colonies to be hanged as a witch, and that she was living in Windsor, Connecticut at the time. The hanging took place on May 26, 1647, almost 50 years before Salem.
It wasn’t until about a hundred years ago, in fact—approximately 250 years after he found in the diary of Matthew Grant, the second town clerk of Windsor, showing the same date followed by the words: Alse Young was hanged. It wasn’t until 1904 when an article, written by Annie Trumbell, the daughter of Connecticut’s first librarian, appeared in the Hartford Courant newspaper, reconciling these two facts and publicly giving America’s first witch-hanging victim a name.
Clearly, what happened to Alse Young was a tragedy. She was a victim of the times she lived in. The colonial Puritans were very religious and superstitious people. They believed that Satan lurked around every corner and that he worked tirelessly to sabotage their lives in the New World. Alse Young was likely a scapegoat. Someone perhaps a little different from everyone else, maybe someone who didn’t quite fit in or follow the accepted norms. People, even nowadays, like to find someone or something to blame when bad things happen. Unfortunately, in 17th century America, the witch trials were a very real and tragic way to do just that.
I’ve lived in Windsor, Connecticut for most of my life. I’ve raised a family there. I have a real love for the town as well as an appreciation for its unique history as Connecticut’s (and one of America’s) very first colonial settlements. My main goal in writing The Witchfinder’s Serpent was to celebrate the town and to help spread the tragedy of Alse Young’s hanging and the horror of the Connecticut witch trials to a wider audience. Many people have never even heard of the Connecticut witch trials; I hoped that in some way my book might help change that.
Alse Young is not a main character in my book, even though her execution plays a significant role. And while I have given her some minor magical abilities for the sake of the story, her execution has nothing to do with them and everything to do with her community’s need to place blame. The townsfolk in the book have no idea that she has magic of any kind, and her demise is just as tragic in the book as it must have been in real life.
While most of the story takes place in present-day Windsor, I do have a secondary story that follows Alse’s Young daughter immediately following her traumatic and life-altering realization that her mother was horribly and unjustly hanged as a witch. It was very important to me to treat all of these characters with great respect and dignity as the real people behind them were innocent victims. These characters are, in fact, portrayed as tragic heroes in my book.
Now, just by the fact that I’m basing part of my story on historical figures, I realized there was a fair chance that there would be some criticism. Unfortunately, I was right. I’m in the process right now of obtaining endorsements for the book. Endorsements are the brief quotes that you see on book covers from celebrities and other authors. You must realize that this is a difficult and uncomfortable process. You’re asking someone you likely don’t know to invest the time required to read some or all of your manuscript and to write feedback worthy to plaster on the front of your book for all the world to see.
While I’ve gotten some very positive responses, I did receive one reaction to my request that, at the time, honestly felt like a personal attack. In retrospect I don’t think that was the case, but I must admit that the interaction troubled me for several days. I reached out to someone very knowledgeable on the topic of the Connecticut witch trials and the response I got back read as very righteous, indignant and condescending along the lines of “how dare you write about Alse Young in that manner.”
To be fair, the exchange was through email, where you never can be sure of the tone of voice or the extent of emotion behind it. But I was accused of turning Alse Young into a Harry Potter character. I was told that I was spreading invalid notions of the witch-trial victims and that many people would be very distressed by my book. This person would not touch my book at any cost. Now understand that this was all without having read any portion of my book, the complete manuscript of which I had offered to supply in my initial request.
I’m not one to hold a grudge and I think we left things on OK terms by the end of the exchange. But I really respected this person (and still do). The extreme reaction really had an impact on me. I’ve always felt that understanding a person and their motives is very important and that it is good to know all the facts before passing judgement. I have also always believed that it is far better to make allies than to burn bridges. Anyway, it took a while for it to occur to me that this person’s judgement was not based on me, my intentions, or on my manuscript in any way since this person didn’t know me and never had any interest in looking at my manuscript. After that realization I was able to put the interaction behind me.
As I’ve said before and as I make clear in my author’s note at the end of the book, Alse Young and all the other people accused of being witches, in America and elsewhere, were 100% victims. Witches are not real, and I trust that my readers will be intelligent enough to understand that The Witchfinder’s Serpent is a work of fiction, nothing more. If you are inclined to be upset in anyway with my use of historical characters, please know that it was never my intention to offend anyone, quite the opposite. All I ask is that you read the book before criticizing it.
Please don’t jump to snap decisions based on assumptions or hearsay. Don’t assume bad or unfair intentions, and please don’t pass judgement until you know all facts and have studied the evidence.
I’ve added a link on my site to the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project. Check it out. Sadly, after all this time, the convictions of Alse Young and the other witch trial victims have still not been fully overturned. A number of years ago the town of Windsor officially pardoned Alse Young and Lydia Gilbert, Windsor’s two witch-trial victims. But the effort still has a way to go before the marks against these women can be erased from history. It’s a worthy cause, please take a look.
Thank you, and until next time… peace.