The Witchcraft Delusion In Colonial Connecticut (1647-1697)
by John M. Taylor
by John M. Taylor
NATHANIEL AND REBECCA [STEELE ELSON MUDGE] GREENSMITH
Nathaniel Greensmith lived in Hartford, south of the little river, in
1661-62, on a lot of about twenty acres, with a house and barn. He also
had other holdings "neer Podunk," and "on ye highway leading to
He was thrifty by divergent and economical methods, since he is credited
in the records of the time with stealing a bushel and a half of wheat,
of stealing a hoe, and of lying to the court, and of battery.
In one way or another he accumulated quite a property for those days,
since the inventory of it filed in the Hartford Probate Office, January
25, 1662, after his execution, carried an appraisal of L137. l4s.
1_d_.--including "2 bibles," "a sword," "a resthead," and a "drachm
cup"--all indicating that Nathaniel judiciously mingled his theology and
patriotism, his recreation and refreshment, with his everyday practical
affairs and opportunities.
But he made one adventure that was most unprofitable. In an evil hour he
took to wife Rebecca, relict of Abraham Elson, and also relict of Jarvis
Mudge, and of whom so good a man as the Rev. John Whiting, minister of
the First Church in Hartford--afterward first pastor of the Second
Church--said that she was "a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged
This triple combination of personal qualities soon elicited the
criticism and animosity of the community, and Nathaniel and Rebecca fell
under the most fatal of all suspicions of that day, that of being
possessed by the evil one.
Gossip and rumor about these unpopular neighbors culminated in a formal
complaint, and December 30, 1662, at a court held at Hartford, both the
Greensmiths were separately indicted in the same formal charge.
"Nathaniel Greensmith thou art here indicted by the name of Nathaniel
Greensmith for not having the fear of God before thine eyes, thou hast
entertained familiarity with Satan, the grand enemy of God and
mankind--and by his help hast acted things in a preternatural way beyond
human abilities in a natural course for which according to the law of
God and the established law of this commonwealth thou deservest to die."
While Rebecca was in prison under suspicion, she was interviewed by two
ministers, Revs. Haynes and Whiting, as to the charges of Ann Cole--a
next door neighbor--which were written down by them, all of which, and
more, she confessed to be true before the court.
(Note. Increase Mather regarded this confession as convictive a proof of
real witchcraft as most single cases he had known.)
THE MINISTERS' ACCOUNT--_Promise to Satan--A merry Christmas
meeting--Stone's lecture--Haynes' plea--The dear Devil--The corvine
"She forthwith and freely confessed those things to be true, that she
(and other persons named in the discourse) had familiarity with the
devil. Being asked whether she had made an express covenant with him,
she answered she had not, only as she promised to go with him when he
called (which she had accordingly done several times). But that the
devil told her that at Christmas they would have a merry meeting, and
then the covenant should be drawn and subscribed. Thereupon the
fore-mentioned Mr. Stone (being then in court) with much weight and
earnestness laid forth the exceeding heinousness and hazard of that
dreadful sin; and therewith solemnly took notice (upon the occasion
given) of the devil's loving Christmas.
"A person at the same time present being desired the next day more
particularly to enquire of her about her guilt, it was accordingly done,
to whom she acknowledged that though when Mr. Haynes began to read she
could have torn him in pieces, and was so much resolved as might be to
deny her guilt (as she had done before) yet after he had read awhile,
she was as if her flesh had been pulled from her bones, (such was her
expression,) and so could not deny any longer. She also declared that
the devil first appeared to her in the form of a deer or fawn, skipping
about her, wherewith she was not much affrighted but by degrees he
contrived talk with her; and that their meetings were frequently at such
a place, (near her own house;) that some of the company came in one
shape and some in another, and one in particular in the shape of a crow
came flying to them. Amongst other things she owned that the devil had
frequent use of her body."
Had Rebecca been content with purging her own conscience, she alone
would have met the fate she had invoked, and probably deserved; but out
of "love to her husband's soul" she made an accusation against him,
which of itself secured his conviction of the same offense, with the
same dire penalty.
THE ACCUSATION--_Nathaniel's plea--"Travaile and labour"--"A red
creature"--- Prenuptial doubts--The weighty logs--Wifely tenderness and
anxiety--Under the greenwood tree--A cat call--Terpsichore and Bacchus_
"Rebecca Greenswith testifieth in Court Janry 8. 62.
"1. That my husband on Friday night last when I came to prison told me
that now thou hast confest against thyself let me alone and say nothing
of me and I wilbe good unto thy children.
"I doe now testifie that formerly when my husband hathe told me of his
great travaile and labour I wondered at it how he did it this he did
before I was married and when I was married I asked him how he did it
and he answered me he had help yt I knew not of.
"3. About three years agoe as I think it; my husband and I were in ye
wood several miles from home and were looking for a sow yt we lost and I
saw a creature a red creature following my husband and when I came to
him I asked him what it was that was with him and he told me it was a
"4. Another time when he and I drove or hogs into ye woods beyond ye
pound yt was to keep yong cattle severall miles of I went before ye hogs
to call them and looking back I saw two creatures like dogs one a little
blacker then ye other, they came after my husband pretty close to him
and one did seem to me to touch him I asked him wt they were he told me
he thought foxes I was stil afraid when I saw anything because I heard
soe much of him before I married him.
"5. I have seen logs that my husband hath brought home in his cart that
I wondered at it that he could get them into ye cart being a man of
little body and weake to my apprhension and ye logs were such that I
thought two men such as he could not have done it.
"I speak all this out of love to my husbands soule and it is much
against my will that I am now necessitate to speake agaynst my husband,
I desire that ye Lord would open his heart to owne and speak ye trueth.
"I also testify that I being in ye wood at a meeting there was wth me
Goody Seager Goodwife Sanford & Goodwife Ayres; and at another time
there was a meeting under a tree in ye green by or house & there was
there James Walkely, Peter Grants wife Goodwife Aires & Henry Palmers
wife of Wethersfield, & Goody Seager, & there we danced, & had a bottle
of sack: it was in ye night & something like a catt cald me out to ye
meeting & I was in Mr. Varlets orcherd wth Mrs. Judeth Varlett & shee
tould me that shee was much troubled wth ye Marshall Jonath: Gilbert &
cried, & she sayd if it lay in her power she would doe him a mischief,
or what hurt shee could."
The Green smiths [and Mary Barnes] were convicted and sentenced to suffer death. In  January, 166, they were hung on "Gallows Hill," on the bluff a little north of where Trinity College now stands--"a logical location" one most learned in the traditions and history of Hartford calls it--as it afforded an excellent view of the execution to a large crowd on the meadows to the west, a hanging being then a popular spectacle and entertainment.
Other family connection to this witch trial:
The magistrates holding the court were Matthew Allyn, moderator, Samuel Wyllys, [likely our grandfather] Richard Treat, [possible uncle] Henry Wolcott, Daniel Clark, secretary, John Allyn. The jury were [likely our grandfather] Edward Griswold, Walter Filer, Ensign Olmsted, Samuel Boardman, Gregory Winterton, John Cowles, [likely our grandfather] Samuel Marshall, Samuel Hale, Nathaniel Willett, John Hart, [possible uncle] John Wadsworth and [likely our grandfather] Robert Webster.
Rebecca STEELE-b.1590 /Sarah ELSON Emigrant-b.1611 / David ENSIGN-b.1644 / David ENSIGN-b.1688 / Datus (Datis) ENSIGN-b.1729 /Isaac ENSIGN Rev.WarVet-b.1756 / Horace Datus ENSIGN-b.1797 / Martin Luther ENSIGN-b.1831 / Harriett Camilla ENSIGN-b.1859 / George Ensign SMITH-b.1898 / Camilla SMITH-1b.1926 / Lark / J.R.