We have all heard of the infamous Witch Trials of Salem, Massachusetts. They may have obtained a certain interest of notoriety, but were they as wide spread as noted in our history. During that time there was one witch trail that not many are aware.
Francis Stiles was one of five brothers born in Milbrooke, England, sons of John and Maria Stiles. John was a farmer in Bedfordshire, north east of London. Two of the brothers,
Henry and Francis left Milbrooke and migrated to the large
city of London. Records show that John,Thomas, and Christopher remained on the farm. In London they took up the trade of carpentry and became freemen of London. Francis was well known and an acquaintance of one Lord Saltonstall, the nephew of Lord Mayor of London. Lord Saltonstall had become favored by the King of England, King Charles I. Being so favored Lord Saltonstall had been granted a track of land on the Connecticut River in the New World.
Lord Saltonstall had sailed to the New World to observe what he had been granted and decided to establish a colony in the New World. After returning to London, Lord Sationstall approached Francis to lead a group to America and settle on his land on the Connecticut River.
Francis began making plans to take a group of individuals from England to settle in America. Among this group consisting of approximately 100 hardy souls were four of his brothers. One of these brothers was an elder brother, Henry the subject of this narrative.
The group departed from England in the early spring of 1634 aboard the Christian, a sister ship of the Mayflower arriving in Massachusetts in March of that year. The trip was uneventful and after a short stay in Plymouth they left to further sail around Cape Horn, down the coast and then up the Connecticut River until they could not navigate no further due to the falls at Windsor.
Unknown to the new settlers word had
leaked out of their destination and men had been sent to the area to claim the land in the name of the Bay Colony. Upon arriving at the falls the settlers found that most of the good land had been claimed by this group of men from Plymouth. The settlers then moved a little down the river and established their colony in this location.
The new settlers off loaded all the supplies and materials which they had brought with them and set in to establish their settlement in this area. The Stiles group was well equipped to build and maintain a new settlement in the fall of 1634. The Christian returned to England leaving the settles in their new settlement.
The winter of 1634/35 was severe and the group that had traveled overland to claim the land in Connecticut came unprepared to the area in hast not expecting the difficulties of spending the winter. The settlers took pity upon this group and offered them shelter for the winter but were shrewd enough to take advantage of the situation to trade shelter for claimed land. In this the settlers obtained most of the property that they had planned to settle on the river.
One of these settlers was the eldest brother of the Stiles family and had established himself in the settlement but had never married. The settlement at Windsor had grown and prospered and Henry was a prominent citizen in the community. Being an establish Community there was a need for a militia to be formed to protect Windsor from attaches from some of the roaming and unfriendly Indians hunting in the area. Henry was a member of this militia.
Henry owned land in Windsor, upon which he had built himself a house. Since he had never married, Henry took upon himself to rent his house retaining a living area for himself. . He rented the house to Thomas & Lydia Gilbert. 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 animosity on the part of any of the parties to this arrangement. Thomas and Lydia had children and one may have been a young daughter who assumed some of the duties for Henry.
In 1651 during one of the many
militia drills Henry was accidentally shot and died from his wounds. The wound was a result of a musket discharging which was in the possession of Thomas Allyn. +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.
Thomas had used the defense that the discharging of his musket was not an accident by caused by the witchcraft of Lydia Gilbert. (*Note* in my investigation of this case, I believe that Thomas may have been involved with the daughter of Lydia Gilbert and Lydia did not favor of this involvement and there was problems between Thomas and Lydia Gilbert prior to the shooting incident.) This was the first attention brought of Lydia Gilbert being a witch.
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.
On November 28, 1654 (three years later), a special session of The Court in Windsor, Connecticut began, in which Lydia, the wife of Thomas Gilbert, stood accused of witchcraft.
"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."
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 following indictment.
The Indictment handed down by the court.
"Lydea Gilburt thou are here indicted 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 Satan 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."
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.
"Captain Thomas Allyn, son of Hon. Matthew Allyn, lived in Windsor, on Branker place. He lived on the homestead after his father's death in 1670. He was a listed trooper, and was made freeman in 1658.
He was the accidental cause of Henry Stile's death in 1651. He married Abigail, daughter of Rev. John Warham, October 21, 1658, and he died February 14, 1695-96. She was a member of the Windsor church. Children: John, born August 17, 1659, died October 4, 1659; Hon. and Col. Matthew, mentioned below; Thomas, March 11, 1662-63; John, June 24, 1665; Samuel, November 3, 1667; Jane, July 22, 1670; Abigail, October 17, 1672; Sarah, July 13, 1674; Hester, October 29, 1679."
*Note* 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"
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