History Corner: There’s a Lot to Learn About Them...
In May, the Stratford Historical Society is hosting a ball in honor of Goody Bassett, a woman whose life was cut short by the lack of understanding of life, differences in people and perhaps jealousy. Connecticut colony is credited with 11 hangings of women who chose to wear their clothes differently or were more assertive than others whose pious lives were “stepped” upon by woman who were just being themselves, a little different than the norm of the times.
In March of 2023, the State Judiciary Committee met with a House Joint Resolution to exonerate those hanged between 1647 and 1697, spearheaded by State Rep. Jane Garibay from Windsor. The committee is not putting it into a judicial statement, just a statement of regret…not a law. While dozens supported the resolution, the resistance comes from the fact that those hanged lived under British rule, before the establishment of the United States. Obviously, the descendants of the 11 Connecticut victims would like their ancestors to have a positive recognition of their innocence.
It has been almost 372 years since Mary Paine Bassett was sentenced to death, in May of 1651, for a crime of witchcraft. In addition to the State’s efforts, Stratford’s Town Council is considering a resolution that would officially exonerate her of conspiring with the devil. Little is known of her history or her accusers but we see the charge of witchcraft fell to outspoken women of lower social standing and the title Goodwife is an example of that.
As noted in the writings of Stratford’s town historian, David Wright, the women chosen as witches were often healers and midwives and in some cases widows. The charge was often used to settle property disputes or to attack with vengeance against an outspoken person. Such a person was Monroe’s Hanna Cranna whose actions upon her neighbors were noted but by the 18th century witchcraft trials were seen as government running amok and an embarrassment. Hanna was greedy and expected her neighbors to do her favors.
Once, when she asked for one of the pies, cooling on a neighbor’s window she was given the smallest one and leaving with disgust, the woman was never able to make pies again. As two men, driving an ox-cart full of hay, thought it smart to mock her as they drove by found out the error of their ways as the wheels of the cart fell off, tumbling the hay to the ground.
As to Goody Bassett, she has been noted as being invisible by, David Wright, but she has not been forgotten, not at all. A walk to the hanging was arranged in April and May to honor her and certainly the ball will be a lavish testimony to her life as brief as it was. The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project, made up of descendants of accused witches and researchers are eager to see the victims cleared of wrongdoing. “We want the State to acknowledge the injustice of the witchcraft accusations and trials, recognize the innocence of all who were accused of witchcraft, recognize the suffering of the accused and their families and to clear the names of those who were accused, apologize for all actions taken by colonial officials against the accused, their families and their descendants.”
According to the group’s research, Goody Bassett was one of the 11 people so indicted, “a relatively powerless scapegoat who fell victim to a community panic that had likely been whipped up by a baseless rumor,” says Mary Ann Vlahac, a Housatonic Community professor, “an example of what can happen to a person who is unable to defend themselves.” Mary Paine Bassett moved to Stratford from New Haven with her husband Thomas Bassett. This first name has come into question as to whether it was actually a Robert Bassett, but Fairfield records note a Thomas Bassett moved there shortly after his wife was hanged.
A portrait of Goody hangs in the ice cream shop in the center of town, named for her and her eyes, as painted, don’t give that “look” of what a witch was like as portrayed throughout history. It’s noted that she didn’t make many friends and was very loud and opinionated. Soon after she arrived in Stratford, people began suffering from hallucinations, sickness and death and witchcraft became the source of these scourges. One might note here that illnesses of such, prior to 1600 seemed not to be recorded and thus plunked at the doorstep of women such as Mary Paine Bassett.
On May 15, 1651, governor Mr. Cullick and Mr. Clark, went to Stratford for her trial. She was found guilty and no doubt, through duress, common at that time, confessed and she was hanged, 40 years before the infamous Salem witch trials. I found a thought on Mary from one of her great granddaughters where she states, “She was my 12th great grandmother and my family consists of loud and opinionated women...so we know where we got it from.”
It is obvious that the Town of Stratford has taken Goody into the fold and the ice cream shop, in her name, is a bustling gathering place for the pictorial history of Stratford. The walls covering the shop are historically interesting and Goody’s portrait stands out to greet the visitors. Just behind the shop is a desolate looking culvert which is said to be the remnants of Gallows Brook which appears on an old map to have been located at the I-95 exit. A comment has been made that her home was located in Stratford Center near the shop...could that be?