Few people have ever heard of Alice ‘Alse’ Young, the first witch-hanging victim in the American colonies. The fact that ten others were also hanged in Connecticut years before the Salem witch trials is also largely unknown. My novel One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s First Witch Hanging aims to raise awareness about this ignored history as well as entertain the reader with an enthralling story that includes love, passion, fear, revenge, survival, and sisterhood. It is a combination of real history mixed with literary invention.
From the moment I first learned about Alice Young, my mind reeled in desperate ways to understand why such an important historical figure had vanished from the record. Certainly, the energy leading up to such a dramatic and decisive event would have been intense and peppered with many raw emotions, especially fear.
Part of the reason that Alice Young disappeared from known history was that documents concerning her witchcraft case ceased to exist even though many other court records the days before and days after her hanging are accounted for. The looming question is could this be a cover-up? There are only two direct records that pertain to her. The first is a brief description written in 1647 by the governor and early founder of Massachusetts, John Winthrop. He noted “One_ (blank)___Of Windsor arraigned and executed at Hartford for a witch”. Again, more questions arise. Did the governor know her name or did he omit it on purpose?
Over two hundred years would pass before a young man discovered an old
book in the wreckage of an ancient Windsor, Connecticut home. That book
rescued out of rubble, the old Windsor Church Record, now called The
Matthew Grant Diary, was the key to discovering the name of the first
witch-hanging victim. Fortunately, the diary made it into the hands of
historian James Hammond Trumbull who discovered, a notation on the
inside cover. Matthew Grant had written simply, “May 26, ‘47 Alse Young
was hanged.” Later his daughter Annie Trumbull shared this discovery with
the public in a Hartford Courant article in 1904 and later donated The
Matthew Grant Diary to the Connecticut State Library. Despite such little evidence, I was determined to find Alice somewhere and capture her elusive story. Luckily, I knew of an old map that plotted out the old properties of ancient Windsor. On a street called Backer Row that no longer exists, lived a man name John Young who many historians presumed to be the husband of Alice Young.
Since I couldn’t find information about Alice directly, I delved into the lives
of every other family living on Backer Row in 1647, the year of her hanging.
With the help of old land records from the town of Windsor, genealogical
records, and many other historical documents, I was able to recreate the map
for Backer Row specific to 1647. The pattern of people that came to life
before me on Backer Row amazed me and provided many important clues.
A possible story and theory quickly emerged about her identity and the
possible reasons for her hanging. What astonished me the most was that the
story was hidden only by the fact that the women, the wives of the men on
Backer Row, were largely ignored, as so often happens in early American
Writing about Alice was a rich and interesting experience. The words
seemed to flow and filling in the narrative came more easily than I ever
expected. From the beginning, I wanted to convey that Alice Young was not
just a victim of an unjust witchcraft accusation, but she was also a human
being with a full life who was dearly loved and tragically lost. With
heartfelt effort, I wrote One of Windsor to lovingly find Alice Young again
and bring her story back into view. For she is a part of American history that
is vibrant, dramatic, and often tragic—part of a history that must never be