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Winifred King Benham 1637 – 1697 :I00425

From the trial of Katherine Harrison of Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1669.

From the trial of Katherine Harrison of Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1669.

I am quite pleased to have an ancestor who was tried for witchcraft in 17th century New England, specifically in Wallingford, Connecticut, especially because she survived the accusations and was acquitted.  Many people lost their lives to witchcraft hysteria, but this 9x great grandmother of mine was not one of them.

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Winifred King

Connecticut is not generally well known for its historic witchcraft hysteria, but that’s an accident of record keeping, according to Boynton’s 2014 Connecticut Witch Trials: The First Panic in the New World.

Connecticut’s witch hunt was the first and most ferocious in New England, occurring almost fifty years before the infamous Salem witch trials. Between 1647 and 1697, at least thirty-four men and women from across the state were formally charged with witchcraft. Eleven were hanged. In New Haven, William Meeker was accused of cutting off and burning his pig’s ears and tail as he cast a bewitching spell. After the hanging of Fairfield’s Goody Knapp, magistrates cut down and searched her body for the marks of the devil. Through newspaper clippings, court records, letters and diaries, author Cynthia Wolfe Boynton uncovers the dark history of the Connecticut witch trials.

Winifred King  was prosecuted three times — along with her thirteen year old daughter on one occasion.  Apparently the New England courts decided that enough was enough, and no more accusations of or trials for witchcraft were recorded after Winifred’s third arrest.  She then left her home in Wallingford and relocated to  Staten Island.  Mary Hale, her mother, was also  twice accused (but acquitted) to be a witch of Boston. in 1681 and 1691, she is said to have owned a boarding house and was also accused (though it was never proven) of poisoning her boarders.

 

Witchcraft trials (Benham, Hale)

Source: THE DEVIL IN THE SHAPE OF A WOMAN, Witchcraft in Colonial New England
Carol F. Karlsen
W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 1987.

Chapter I, New England’s Witchcraft Beliefs, page 43-44.

1694-1725 After the Salem and Fairfield outbreaks, only two people in New England were sent by local officials to the higher court to be tried as witches: Winifred Benham of Wallingford and her thirteen-year-old daughter and namesake. The elder Benham, possibly the daughter of an earlier Boston witch, Mary Hale, originally came under suspicion in 1692, but the New Haven County court had dismissed the case for insufficient evidence. Her husband’s threat to shoot her accuser did not end the rumors, and the following year she was in court again on the same charge. She was released again, this time required to post bond of 20 pounds for her good behavior.

The church soon after added their censure by excommunicating her.

When she was accused a third time in 1697, this time of possessing several of her neighbors’ children, she was sent to Hartford for trial, along with her daughter, who was by now implicated in her crimes. But the grand jury refused to give credence to the accusation and the cases were dismissed without trials. The court’s actions failed to clear the Benhams of suspicion, however, and the family soon moved to the less hostile environment of New York. (137)

The Benham cases were unusual. To be sure, some people still believed that witches plagued their communities, but in the aftermath of the Salem outbreak witch trials were no longer countenanced by either ministers or magistrates, nor, it would seem, by the larger community.

MARY HALE was accused of poisoning one of her boarders. Allegedly the young man decided not to marry her grand-daughter (a daughter of Winifred King Hale).

Chapter II, The Demographic Basis of Witchcraft, p. 71-72

Single, married, and widowed women are all found in significant numbers among accused witches in early New England. Married women predominated, however, both during the Salem events and at other times. Women who were married also made up the majority of women prosecuted, convicted, and executed for witchcraft throughout the century. within the larger picture, certain patterns emerge. Most noticeable, during the Salem outbreak, the proportion of married women among suspected women dropped, from a little less than three-quarters of the total in non-Salem cases to just over half.

This difference is attributable to the increase, in Salem, of accusations against reputed witches’ daughters and granddaughters, most of whom were both young and unmarried. All of the fourteen single women tried in 1692-93 fit in to this category. With a few exceptions, their presence among prosecuted and convicted witches probably had more to do with their relationships to older women in their families than with their marital status.

At other times, when relatives of witches were less susceptible to witchcraft suspicion, all but one of the accusations against young, single women were ignored by the authorities (only thirteen-year-old WINIFRED BENHAM of Wallingford was prosecuted, along with her mother.) (87)

Chapter IV, Handmaidens of the Devil, page 146-147

To flesh out the connection between women’s work in a developing economy and the propensity of witches to thwart domestic process, consider the witches (at least nineteen) who were castigated for their unusual success in “domestic” pursuits. These were women who turned their food and textile production, brewing, and other domestic work in to profitable business enterprises, the “works of Men” in colonial New England. (93)

Elinor Hollingworth ran a tavern in Salem.

WIDOW MARY HALE, tried as a witch in 1680, kept a boarding house in Boston. (95)

Footnotes
(137) Chapter I: Calef, “More Wonders of the Invisible World,” 385; “Conn. Assistants Records,” 262-65; Suffolk Court Files (manuscript, volume, Suffolk County Courthouse, Boston, Mass.) 24:1972; C. Bancroft Gillespie and George Munson Curtis, A Century of Meriden (Meriden, Conn., 1906), 254-59.

(87) Chapter II, See Calef, “More Wonders of the Invisible World,” 385.

(93) Chapter IV, The citation is from C. Mather, Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion, 101.

(95) Chapter IV,Ibid. 395. The records of Mary Hale’s trial are in Massachusetts Assistants Records 1:188-89; Suffolk Court Files, 23:1958, 1972. (Also listed are John Hale and Sarah Hale, husband and wife. John was a minister.

North American Witches and Witch Trials, Compiled by I. Marc Carlson. Source
Benham, Winifred  Excommunicated, but Acquitted. (Source: Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1959; Taylor, John M. The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, 1647-1697. New York: Burt Franklin, 1971) 1697 NEng/CT, Hartford 1 Benham, Winifred f Excommunicated, but Acquitted. Daughter of the above. (Source: Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1959; Taylor, John M. The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, 1647-1697. New York: Burt Franklin, 1971)

Selected transcripts of the original court records follow. Additional information and sources on Winifred’s database page.

A MEETING OF YE COURT EXTRAORDINARY, MARCH 23TH, 1652

“Upon a complaint made to ye governor of sundrie in ye Towne that had committed much wickedness in a filthy corrupting way with another, they were called before the Governor & Magistrats, visd: Benjamin Bunill, Joshua Bradley, Joseph Benham, William Trobridg, Thomas Tutill & Thomas Kimberly: they were examined in a private way, and their examination taken in wrighting, wch were of such a filthy nature as is not fitt to be made known in a publique way: after wch the Court weere called together, and ye youthes before them; their examinations were read and vpon their severall confessions the Court, being mett at the meeting house vpon the day avoue written, sentenced the youthes aboue named to bee whipt publiquly.”

Court date November 1692

New Haven Court Records, Volume 1, Page 202

Winifred Benham of Wallingford being summoned to appear at the Court for examination upon suspicion of witchcraft, was now present, and the witnesses were called to testify what they had to say in the case, and accordingly gave in their testimonies in writing which were read in the hearing of the said Winifred. And she being called to say what she had to say for herself, her general answer was, that she knew nothing of the matters testified, and was not concerned therein. She also gave in some testimonies for herself which were read. The Court having heard and considered all the evidence against the said Winifred Benham and not finding sufficient grounds of conviction for further prosecution (at present) of the said Winifred, do therefor at this time dismiss the business, yet advising the said Winifred Benham solemnly to reflect upon the case, and grounds of suspicion given in the alleged against her, and told her if further grounds appear against her by reason of mischief done to the bodies or estate of any by any preternatural acts proved against her she might justly fear and expect to be brought to her trail for it.

Court date June 1693

New Haven Court Records, Volume 1, page 213

Winifred Benham of Wallingford, her husband Joseph Benham being bound in a bond of 20 pounds for her appearance at this Court for further examination about Witchcraft, he was called and appeared, and the Court adjourned the case to their next session, and then upon notice given the parties to appear, and the said bond to continue for said appearance, which said Benham consented to.

A special County Court by order of the Governor held at New Haven the 31st of August 1697.

New Haven Court Records, Volume 1, page 252
Present: Robert Treat, Esq., Governor William Jones, Esq., Deputy Governor Major Moses Mansfield, Assistant.

Complaint being made to the Authority by Ebenezer Clark, Joseph Royce, and John Moss, Jr., all of Wallingford, against Winifred Benham, Jr. her daughter, that Sarah Clark daughter of said Ebenezer Clark, Elizabeth Lathrop, and John Moss, son of the said John Moss, Jr., were frequently and sorely afflicted in their bodies by the said Benham, mother and daughter, or their apparitions, and as they strongly suspect by their means or procurement by the Devil in their shapes, and therefor desire the Authority as God’s Ordinance for their relief strictly to examine the said suspected persons in order to a due trial of them, that a stop may be put to their suffering and prevention of such mischiefs among them for the future. The court having seriously considered the accusations and information on good testimony given in against Winifred Benham, Sr., and Winifred Benham, Jr., upon suspicion of them for witchcraft, they, or the devil in their shapes, afflicting sundry young persons above named, as formerly accused and suspected in the year 1692; and finding clear and sufficient grounds of suspicion against them after strict examination of the said persons apart and severally, see just cause to bind over the said Benham’s mother and daughter to appear at the next court of Assistants in October next at Hartford in order to their further examination and trial personally and the husband of said Winifred Senior gave 40 pounds recognizance for their appearance accordingly, or that they be secured in prison for their said trial, and said Benham to pay the charge of this Court. Court Charges, 21 shillings. Execution granted for said 21 shillings.

Memorandum. The death of said (blank) young child to be inquired into, with what appeared of spots on said child and the like spots on said Benham quickly vanishing.

Contemporaneous account

Source:  Calef, Robert (1648-1719) More wonders of the invisible world, or The wonders of the invisible world displayed. In five parts. 1800. Reprinted 1823.  (Text available online at archive.org)

In August 1697. The Superior Court at Hartford, in the Colony of Connecticut, where one Mistress Benom was tried for Witchcraft, she had been accused by some children that pretended to the spectral sight; they watched her several times for Test: they tried the experiment of casting her into the Water, and after this she was Excommunicated by the minister of Wallingford. Upon her Tryal nothing material appearing against her, save Spectre Evidence, she was acquitted, as also her daughter, a girl of Twelve or thirteen years old, who had been likewise accused; but upon renewed complaints against them, they both fled into New York Government.

Donald Lines Jacobus commentary and analysis

“The youthful accusers belonged to respectable families of Wallinford. John Moss (in his 15th year) was the son of John and Martha (Lathrop) Moss, grandson of John Moss, for many years a deputy to the General Court and Commissioner for Wallingford, and of Samuel Lathrop, Judge of the New London Court, and great-grandson of Rev. John Lathrop. Elizabeth Lathrop (aged 19) was first cousin of John Moss, being daughter of John and Ruth (Royce) Lathrop; her father was dead and her cousin Joseph Royce may have joined in the complaint on her behalf.

Sarah Clark was aged 16. She had a brother born in 1694 who did not survive, but the date of his death is not recorded. The child who had spots and died was more probably a son of Joseph Royce, who died in December 1695 aged a few months. The accused was Winifred King of Boston who married Joseph Benham of New Haven in 1657. They were among the first settlers in Wallingford in 1670. She was probably about 57 or 58 years old at the time of the 1697 accusation. Her daughter Winifred, the youngest of her 14 children, was then aged but 13. Calef’s assertion that continued suspicions drove mother and daughter to seek refuge in New York state is doubtless true.

Two of the Benham children, Joseph and James, remained in Wallinfgord, where the younger Joseph died in 1702. The elder Joseph appears to have died the following year, but the probate entries are meagre and it is not certain whether his wife Winifred survived him. There is some reason to believe that the elder Joseph and his wife died on Staten Island.

The Wallingford realty was divided by agreements made between the heirs in 1727 and 1728 (Wallingford Deeds, V. 453, 454). These show that the son John Benham was then resident in Kings County, N.Y., and that the three Benham daughters, Anna, Sarah, and Winifred, with their respective husbands, Lambert Johnson, Jacob Johnson, and Evert Van Namen, were living in Richmond, N.Y. The records of the Dutch church on Staten Island contain mention of their families, and show that Lambert and Anna (Benham ) Johnson had a daughter Winifred Baptized in 1696. This was a year before the witchcraft accusation, and since the elder Winifred then had a married daughter living on Staten Island, it was probably to this daughter’s home that she fled; and some of the younger children either accompanied or followed her thither.

Calef’s account of the case seems to be trustworthy so far as it can be verified, and we need not hesitate to accept his statement that Mrs. Benham was searched for witch marks, probably at the New Haven trial. His assertion that the water test was applied is perhaps questionable. Mr. Jones one of the examining Magistrates, is known to have held the water test in slight esteem. However, it may have been applied at Mrs. Benham’s own request. Accused witches were no less superstitious than their accusers, and feeling confident of their own innocence, sometimes volunteered to undergo the water test, in the belief that it would prove them innocent. Nothing is known against the character of Mrs. Benham, and the family was of good repute, save for the suspicions of witchcraft. Two at least of her daughters named a child for their mother, which tends to show that they were fond of her. It is pleasing to learn that the young daughter, Winifred Junior, after passing through such terrifying experiences, was married to Evert Van Namen and reared a family in Richmond, N.Y.”

 

A = Accused. There is evidence of accusation or suspicion, with no recorded court action.
C = Complaint. Some formal step was taken towards prosecution (petition, deposition).
I = Indictment/Presentment. Accused appeared before the courts, preliminary to trial.
T = Trial. A formal trial was held on the charges.
Q = Acquitted at trial.
V = Convicted at trial.
V*= Verdict reversed
F = Confession. The accused confessed to the charges.
X = Execution. The accused was executed for the crimes.
S = Slander. Legal action was initiated by accused witch, not alleged victim.
R = Repeater. Suspect had been in court on similar charges before.
? = Data is not confirmed.

1692…Winifred BENHAM…….Wallingford,…….. CT.. C,I
1697…Winifred BENHAM…….Wallingford,……..CT….C,I,T,Q,R
1697…Winifred BENHAM, Jr. Wallingford,………C,I,T,Q

Also listed in Demos’ book is Mary Hale:

1681…..Mary HALE…………Boston, MA…………….C,I,T,Q
1691…..Mary HALE…………Boston, MA…………….C,I,R

Note: Mary appears to be the only witch trial held in Boston, in either year. Handmaidens of the Devil, page 146-147

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