In 1603, England passed a law making witchcraft a capital crime. England witnessed more than seventy executions in one county in a single year under this law. The law, not surprisingly, was “exported” to New England, in what is now the United States. To grasp the impact of the witchcraft hysteria, it is interesting to note that according to the 12th century church, it was a mortal sin to believe that witches could fly — by the 15th century, it was a mortal sin to believe that they could not.
Juror’s Oath: “You do sware by the Ever living god that you will diligently enquire and faithfully present to this Court what soe Ever you know to bee a Breach of any Established Law of this Jurisdictyon so far as may conduce to the glory of god and the good of the commonwealth as allso what Oreginall offences you shall Judge meete to be presented, as you expect helpe from god in Jesus Christ”
In the mid 1600s, Thomas Gilbert and his wife, Lydia, lived with Henry Stiles, an older man, in Windsor, Connecticut. Lydia Gilbert performed many services for Mr. Stiles, such as mending his clothes, tending him when he was sick, and the like. There is not the slightest trace of any annimosity on the part of any of the parties to this arrangement.
The date was November 3, 1651. Henry Styles was accidentally shot by Thomas Allyn (a neighbor), when Thomas’ musket discharged. Henry Styles died as a result. Thomas Allyn was indicted for and found guilty of “homicide by misadventure”. The court ordered Thomas Allyn to pay a fine of £20 for his “sinful neglect and careless carriages in the premises,” and he was sentenced to be “bound to his good behavior for a twelve-month period and that he shall not bear arms for the same term.” Thomas Allyn’s father paid £10 and Thomas was remanded into his father’s custody for the year’s probationary period.
On November 28, 1654 (three years later), a special session of The Court began, in which Lydia, the wife of Thomas Gilbert, stood accused of witchcraft.
As was the procedure of the time, the Jury first heard the evidence to see if it was sufficient for an indictment.
After doing so, the Jury brought back: The Indictment: “Lydea Gilburt thou are here indited by that name of Lydea Gilburt that not having the feare of god before thy Eyes thou hast of late years or still dust give Entertainment of Sathan the great Enemy of god and mankind and by his helpe hast killed the Body of Henry Styles besides other witchcrafts for which according to the law of god and the Established Law of this commonwealth thou Deservest to Dye.”
But indictments are quite different from convictions, so of course, the indictment lead to a further examination of the evidence. Curiously, six of the jurors in Lydia’s trial were residents of Windsor, and were aware that Thomas Allyn had been convicted of killing Henry Stiles three years before. Yet, in spite of this information, Lydia was indicted by the jury for the death of Henry Styles. Deviating from the customs of our times, these same jurors then considered the “evidence” once again to determine if Lydia was guilty as charged. After reviewing the evidence against her, the Jury brought in their verdict: The Verdict: “Ye party above mentioned is found guilty of witchcraft by the Jury.”
Lydia was the fifth witch convicted in Connecticut, some time before the Salem Witch Trials began in 1692. According to family stories, handed down through the generations, Lydia was not executed, but rather escaped and walked away. Yet no one really knows. Most witchcraft experts agree that she must have suffered her fate and been hanged in Hartford, following the verdict. However, there is no documented evidence of her death. Shortly after the trial, her husband, Thomas Gilbert, left the Windsor area for good, settling in Nayaug. Some years later, Thomas Gilbert died at the age of 77. His estate administrators noted “charges of funeralls for him and wife.” It is possible that Lydia was not executed after all, but rather escaped with Thomas to Nayaug and died about the same time as her husband. Taken from: http://www.olin.wustl.edu/faculty/mcleanparks/bearswamp/lydiagilbert.htm
Information on the trial of Lydia and the events leading up to it was based on the information provided in:
“The Gilbert Family: Descendants of Thomas Gilbert, 1582(2) – 1659 of Mt. Wollaston (Braintree), Windsor, and Wethersfield”, by Brainard, Gilbert and Torrey, New Haven, CT: 1953, pp 14 -23.