During the Hartford Witch Panic of 1662, a number of people were accused of witchcraft. This panic was part of a greater Connecticut Witch Hunt that lasted between 1647 and 1697.
Living in Hartford, Connecticut at the time of the panic were Richard Seager (or Seger), his wife Elizabeth, and their five children who ranged in age from seven to twelve years old.
Richard Seager was born in Suffolk, England in 1595, immigrated to the United States in the early years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and was one of the first settlers of Hartford, Connecticut. He married the much younger Elizabeth Moody in Hartford in 1649.
Elizabeth Moody was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Deacon John Moody and Sarah Cox Moody in 1628. Elizabeth married 54-year-old Richard Seager when she was 21 years-old. She gave birth to five children between the years 1650 and 1655.
By 1657, Richard Seager had become a substantial property holder in Hartford and was admitted as a Freeman of Connecticut in May 1657.
Early in 1662, Rebecca Greensmith was accused of being a witch by a young woman named Ann Cole. When a special day of prayer was held for her, the young woman also denounced Elizabeth Seager, who immediately responded that the accusation was nothing but a lot of “hodgepodge.” Though Elizabeth was no doubt indignant, it wasn’t safe at that time to have characterized Ann’s hysterical ravings that way.
Another woman, Goodwife Miggat, also added accusations of her own, claiming that Seager had appeared in the night to her, striking her in the face and preventing her from waking her husband, before flying away.
In the meantime, Rebecca Greensmith was jailed for suspicion of being a witch and during questioning, she stated that she, along with Elizabeth Seager, Mary Barnes, Andrew and Mary Sanford, and William and Goody Ayres had danced with the devil in the woods. Another man named Robert Sterne also accused Elizabeth, stating that he had seen her along with two other women dancing in the woods with two black creatures and cooking mysterious concoctions in black kettles.
As the gossip and rumors continued to fly, more people made accusations and on January 6, 1663, Elizabeth was indicted for witchcraft. On the same date, Mary Barnes was also indicted.
Though Elizabeth was acquitted, Rebecca and Nathaniel Greensmith, along with Mary Barnes, were hanged on Gallows Hill in Hartford on January 25, 1663.
But, for Elizabeth, her acquittal did not erase the suspicions and gossip. She was indicted again on July 2, 1663. The indictment read:
“Elizabeth Seager thou art here indicted by the name of Elizabeth Seager the wife of Richard Seager 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 the ordinary course of nature, as also for that thou hast committed adultery, and hast spoken blasphemy against God, contrary to the laws of God, and the established laws of this corporation for all or any of which crimes by the said laws thou deservest to die.”
She plead not guilty and the case went to trial. This time she was found guilty of adultery. At that time, the crime of adultery was punishable by death, but, for whatever reasons, she was spared.
She was accused again in 1665 and on July 16, 1665, was found “Guilty of familiarity with Satan.”
Seager was then imprisoned, but, Governor John Winthrop, Jr., who had not participated in the trial, refused to carry out the sentence. He deferred the case to the newly appointed Court of Assistants which met on May 18, 1666, and rendered the following verdict:
“Respecting Elizabeth Seager, this court considers the Verdict of ye Jury, and finding that it doth not legally answer the indictment, does therefore discharge and set her free from further suffering or imprisonment.”
For the first time in Connecticut’s history, a convicted witch did not die.
Some years after her release from prison, her son, Ebenezer drowned in 1669, and shortly afterward the family moved to Rhode Island. Richard Seager died in Newport, Rhode Island in 1682, at the age of 87. There are no records as to the place and time of Elizabeth’s death.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander, June 2018
Godbeer, Richard; Escaping Salem: The Other Witch Hunt of 1692; Oxford University Press, 2005