Witches, Alchemists, and Occultists … Oh My!

Ever wish you could turn common, everyday household objects into gold? Well, now you can! This pitch may sound eerily similar, if in reverse, to the “Cash for Gold” ads flooding our TV airwaves today. In the early modern world, alchemists were the ones pursuing methods to turn common elements into gold. When Europeans settled across the Atlantic, many took their beliefs in alchemy and witchcraft with them. New England in the 1600s was a land of superstition and magical thinking as well as Puritan religious sermons.

Today (Tuesday, May 4) at 7:30 p.m. AAS will host a talk about one of early America’s alchemy proponents. Connecticut state historian and assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut, Walt Woodward, will talk about “New England’s Other Witch Hunt: John Winthrop, Jr. and the Hartford Witch Hunt of the 1660s.”
Did you know that Connecticut, not Massachusetts, was New England’s most zealous prosecutor of witchcraft in the years before the famous Salem witch trials? Connecticut conducted the first witch hanging in New England. Connecticut also executed each of the first seven persons indicted for that crime.

Woodward will tell the fascinating story of the Hartford Witch hunt of the 1660s, focusing on John Winthrop, Jr. This alchemist, physician, political leader, and authority on the occult intervened to transform Connecticut from New England’s fiercest witch hunter into a colony that ended executions permanently a generation before Salem. Woodward’s talk is based on his new book, Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

For more information, click here for AAS’s public programs page on our website.

Published by

Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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