Halloween is just around the corner, a time when representations of witches make their frequent appearance. The United States has a complicated history with witchcraft and the occult, due in part to its puritanical past and influx of diverse cultures.
Most Americans are familiar with the Salem Witch Trials (1692-1693) in Massachusetts, but trials for witchcraft have probably occurred as long as trials have existed, and still do in places where belief in magic is strong. In Europe people were tried for witchcraft throughout the 1700s.
Around 1670 in Westchester, NY, there was the Katharine Harrison, accused witch. She had come to America from England around 1650, settling in Wethersfield, Connecticut. There, she married and gave birth to a daughter, Rebeckah. In 1669, a neighbor made a witchcraft complaint against Katharine Harrison and she was arrested. She sat in prison for more than a year, during which time her husband died. She was found guilty by a jury in Hartford and ordered to pay a fine.
Katharine moved to Westchester, where by her daughter and her son-in-law Josiah Hunt were living. In 1670, perhaps as a result of a property dispute between mother and daughter, Thomas Hunt Sr., father of Josiah Hunt, and a man named Edward Waters, brought a complaint against Katharine before New York’s colonial governor, Colonel Francis Lovelace.
At Katharine’s complaint hearing, her life and the witch trial she endured in Hartford were recounted and she was ordered to leave Westchester, but refused. The townspeople brought another complaint to the Governor. Katharine Harrison was brought to court again on October 7, 1670 in New York City where she was given the freedom to remain in Westchester and all complaints and charges against her were dropped.
This was not the end of Katharine Harrison’s hardships however. It appears in the records that Harrison’s friends and family began to take control of her property. She had given some of her possessions to Robert Yates for safekeeping, and now he refused to give them back. Then, her daughter and son-in-law (along with the father-in-law Josiah Hunt) brought an action for property they argued Katherine Harrison was obliged to give over upon the marriage of her daughter.
Katharine returned to the Governor with her complaint against Robert Yates, and filed a counteraction stating she never promised her daughter money or possessions upon her marriage. Governor Lovelace issued an order in July 1671 stating that Katharine Harrison’s possessions were her own and that she should be assisted in locating any possessions of hers she had put into the care of others during her stay in prison.
Photo: Statue at a Salem, MA museum.