What’s New at WDS – November 4, 2020

Everyday Living Wethersfield Witchcraft
Our Witches and Tombstone Tours are sold out, so this week in “Everyday Living at WDS” Cindy shares historic tales of Wethersfield witchcraft. We begin with an uncanny coincidence: WDS guide and educator Will Conard-Malley is a seventh-generation great grandchild of Gershom Bulkeley, whose decision in a local witchcraft case was a literal lifesaver!

We’ll explain Bulkeley’s role in a moment. First, we begin at the beginning of the Wethersfield witchcraft cases, which preceded those of Salem, Massachusetts by 40 years. It’s difficult to know precisely how many people were accused of witchcraft in Connecticut in the 17th century; many of the records have been lost or destroyed. We do know that at least eight were accused in Wethersfield. Three of them were executed.

The first was Mary Johnson, a servant who had previously been publicly whipped for theft. Johnson was found guilty by her own confession of familiarity with the devil. When first convicted, she was ordered to be “presently whipped and tortured” and “brought forth a month hence at Wethersfield and there to be whipped.” Later, she was hanged.Joan and John Carrington of Wethersfield were accused in 1650-1651. They were the first husband and wife accused of witchcraft in Connecticut. John was the only man to be found guilty of witchcraft in Wethersfield. 

Katherine Palmer was accused in 1660. It is believed she fled to Rhode Island to escape prosecution. Next came Elizabeth and John Blackleach, in 1662-1663, who were found not guilty.

James Wakely, who lived on Broad Street in Wethersfield, was accused in 1665. He escaped to Rhode Island, leaving his wife, Alice, and family behind. Alice cited the terms of the marriage contract, which stated that she would not have to move from Wethersfield and filed a petition for divorce. The court denied both petitions and promised James he could return to Wethersfield as long as no other complaints were made. He never returned, and Alice died in Wethersfield. 

In 1668 Katherine Harrison was accused of witchcraft. Her neighbors brought many charges against her, among them fortune telling, “evil conversation and supernatural power while in the employment of Captain Cullick,” and “spinning a greater quantity of linen yarn than any other woman could spin without supernatural help.” During Harrison’s first trial, the jury was unable to agree on a verdict. She was found guilty at her second trial, yet the court rejected the verdict. Instead of the court passing sentence on Harrison, they requested a panel of ministers to consider and advise the court on points of law and religion. Will Conard-Malley’s ancestor, the Reverend and Honorable Gershom Bulkeley (whose table gravestone we see here) submitted the panel’s findings in his own writing, noting they did not concur with the jury in sentencing Harrison to death. She was released from prison, ordered to pay fines, and banished from Wethersfield.In 1678, Goody Burr was the last of the known Wethersfield “witches” to be accused. Apparently, it was a slander case with little information, and the results remain unknown.
WDS Collections A-Z: “V” is for Veneer!
Visitors to WDS often marvel at the range of period furnishings in our three houses. Furniture, being among the larger types of domestic objects, often catches the eye. While native cherry was the predominant wood used in 18th-century Connecticut furniture, examples of walnut, mahogany and rosewood can also be spotted. But what lies beneath some of these more expensive wood surfaces might come as a surprise—common pine! 

Due to the expense of woods like imported mahogany, a technique called veneering would sometimes be employed in which a very thin layer of the expensive wood was glued to a local species, such as pine. Examples of such work can be found throughout WDS, ranging from a mid-18th-century, walnut-veneer dressing table in the Webb House’s Washington bedchamber, to a mahogany-veneer looking glass in the Deane House dining parlor, to a 19th-century shelf clock in the Stevens House dining parlor. Note how thin the veneer layer is in the cross-section view of the clock’s door, in the last photo.

While we may not think of the term much today, we are actually surrounded with examples of veneer, from sheets of plywood to particle-board office furniture covered with a thin layer of decorative wood.
Around the Grounds
Wow, this week in “Around the Grounds” we see great progress being made in the new Education and Visitor Center! Here you see books in the Welcome Center Shop; the new kitchen being stocked; the elevator ready to go; and the Welcome Center front desk, which boasts a wall monitor to highlight news and events! Can you tell we’re excited?