Rebecca (Unknown) Greensmith was executed for witchcraft in Connecticut
Rebecca's surname is unknown. She is often said to be Rebecca Steele, the daughter of George Steele of Hartford, Connecticut. This is incorrect. This theory comes from the fact that George Steele named in his will his grandchildren Moses Mudge, Micah Mudge and Martha Hanison. These three were children of Jarvis Mudge, so the assumption was that Rebecca was a daughter of George Steele. However, following the execution of Rebecca and her third husband for witchcraft, the marshal was ordered to preserve the estate and to "dispose of the 2 daughters with the advice of the Assistants in Hartford." These two daughters are then identified as Hannah Elsen and Sarah Elsen in the inventory of Nathaniel Greensmith. If Rebecca had any children by Jarvis Mudge or Nathaniel Greensmith they would have been named in these court proceedings. Also, Moses Mudge was born about 1640, and Rebecca did not marry Jarvis Mudge until 1648/9. There is also no other evidence that George Steele even had a daughter Rebecca. The three grandchildren named by George Steele must have been by a another one of his daughters, and by chronology was almost certainly his daughter Mary Steele. Since Rebecca has been shown to not be a daughter of George Steele, then we have no evidence whatsoever as to her LNAB.
Rebecca was married three times: She had children by Abraham Elson, but no living children by Mudge or Greensmith.
Born: About 1620. Estimate based on her marriage about 1642 and birth of first child in 1643.
Rebecca was married three times:
Abraham Elson (b 1620; d 1648); at least two children: Hannah, Sarah who made a claim to a portion of their mother's estate after her execution.
Jarvis Mudge (m abt 1649); he was born about 1625 in England; and died 2 Jun 1653 in New London, Connecticut. Jarvis' children Micah Mudge b 1640, Moses Mudge b. 1642 and Martha (Mudge) Hannison were children of his first wife, who was the daughter of George Steele.
Nathaniel Greensmith; m abt 1654 in Hartford. The two of them were found guilty of familiarity with Satan and executed 25 Jan 1662/3. Court records show that their estate was to pay debts and "to dispose of the 2 daughters, wth advice of the Assistants in Hartford." These daughters were named in the inventory as Hannah and Sarah Elsen. The fact that the Mudge boys were not mentioned makes it clear that they were not biological children of Rebecca, that she and Mudge, and she and Greensmith, had no living children when they were executed.
Rebecca and her last husband, Nathaniel Greensmith, on the charge of witchcraft were hanged in Hartford 25 January 1662/3.
"The origins of the Hartford outbreak are obscure, but the trouble apparently began in the spring of 1662, with the possession and subsequent death of eight-year-old Elizabeth Kelly, who in her fits had cried out on her neighbor, Goodwife Ayres. Convinced that their child had died from bewitchment, her parents demanded an investigation. Ayres was probably the first person named, but two other people, Mary and Andrew Sanford, were brought up for examination not long after. Ayres's husband, who would eventually come under suspicion himself, accused Rebecca Greensmith, who in turn supported accusations against her own husband and implicated several other Hartford residents. And so it went. The community was caught in the grip of a witchcraft fear that would eventually result in accusations against at least thirteen people, and that would take the lives of four of them. At some point during the early period of the Hartford outbreak, Ann Cole, whom minister Increase Mather described as a "person of real Piety and Integrity," succumbed to possession. She was, He said, "taken with very strange fits, wherein her Tongue was improved by a Daemon to express things which she her self knew nothing of. In the precence of several local ministers, the demons said "that such and such persons... (who were then named and who included some of the people already accused) were consulting how they might carry on mischievous designs against her and several others..." Statements made by Cole that a number of witches were at work in the area seem to have intensified the community's desire to ferret them out. One of the women mentioned by Cole was her next-door neighbor, Rebecca Greensmith, who was already in prison awaiting trial. When Greensmith was confronted by the ministers and magistrates, she fully admitted her "familiarity with the Devil." She denied making "an express Covenant with him," but said that "at Christmass they would have a merry Meeting" and seal their bargain. She also acknowledged that "the Devil had frequently the carnal knowledge of her Body," and that she and the other accused witches "had Meetings at a place not far from her House." Greensmith was hanged in January 1663, along with her husband, who steadfastly denied his own guilt, and a Farmington woman, Mary Barnes, about whom little is known. According to Mather, Ann Cole was "restored to health" after their executions."
"The confessions of Mary Johnson, Mary Parsons, and Rebecca Greensmith, and the possession of Ann Cole, also show that at least some colonists (even if only confessing witches and the possessed) shared the ministers' preoccupation with the Devil's role in witchcraft. This limited acciptance of the belief in the witch's pact with Satan==as well as the rash of accusations themselves--probably owed something to the massive witch-hunts in England in 1645-47, since it was then that the covenant had first become a central focus of English witchcraft cases."
"Rebecca Greensmith had been widowed twice before her marriage to Nathaniel Greensmith. Her first husband, Abraham Elsen of Wethersfield, had died intestate in 1648, leaving an estate of L99. After checking the birth dates of the Elsens' two children, three-year-old Sarah and one-year-old Hannah, the court initially left the whole estate with the widow. When Rebecca married Wethersfield's Jarvis Mudge the following year, the local magistrates sequestered the house and land Abraham Elsen had left, worth L40, stating their intention to rent it out "for the Use and Benefit of the two daughters. The family moved to New London shortly after, but Jarvis Mudge died in 1652 and Rebecca moved with Hannah and Sarah to Hartford. Since Rebecca was unable to support herself and her two daughters, the court allowed her to sell the small amount of land owned by her second husband (with whom she had had no children) "for the paying of debts and the Bettering the Childrens portyons." Sometime prior to 1660, Rebecca married Nathaniel Greensmith. During the Hartford outbreak, Rebecca came under suspicion of witchcraft. After Nathaniel sued his wife's accuser for slander, Nathaniel himself was named. Both husband and wife were convicted and executed. Respecting Nathaniel's L182 estate, l44 of which was claimed by the then eighteen-year-old Sarah and seventeen-year-old Hannah Elsen, the court ordered the three overseers "to preserve the estate from Waste" and to pay "any just debts," the only one recorded being the Greensmiths' jail fees. Except for allowing the overseers "to dispose of the 2 daughters," presumably to service, the magistrates postponed until the next court any decision concerning the young women's portions. First however they deducted L40 to go "to the Treasurer for the County." No reason was given for this substantial appropriation and no record of further distribution of the estate has survived."
"Rebecca Greensmith. A Hartford woman who was executed as a witch along with her husband Nathaniel during the 1662-1663 Hartford outbreak; she was accused by several of her neighbors and, according to one of the town's ministers, confessed to a lengthy list of witchcraft crimes."
↑ 1.01.11.2 Harris, Gale Ion. "Jarvis Mudge and John Henryson Families of Connecticut" in The American Genealogist vol. 81 (2006): pages 18-30. Cites Records of the Particular Court. Connecticut Hist Soc. Colls. 22:258 and Manwaring: Conn Probate Records 1:121-22
John M. Taylor, The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, date? publisher? page? by John M. Taylor: "Alse Young of Windsor was the first unhappy victim, but the court records give us no information concerning her trial. On the cover of Mathew Grant's Diary, Dr. J. Hammond Trumbull discovered the record "May 26. 47 Alse Young was hanged." This supplies the blank in Winthrop's History: "One --of Windsor arraigned and executed at Hartford for a witch."1 So far as known, this was the first execution for witchcraft in New England. The next victim was Mary Johnson of Wethersfield. In 1646, she had been sentenced to be whipped for theft, probably at 'Hartford, which was to be repeated a month later at Wethersfield. -On her own confession, she was indicted by a jury December 7, 1648, as guilty of "familiarity with the Deuill." Mather says, "Her confession was attended with such convictive circumstances that it could not be slighted."2 She confessed, he says, that she had murdered a child, and committed other faults of licentiousness. For some months before her execution, she was imprisoned at Hartford, under the care of William Ruscoe. A son was born to her while there. Nathaniel Ruscoe, the jailor's son, agreed with her before her death to bring up and educate the child, which agreement was afterward sanctioned by the court. The jailor was paid 96 10s. for twenty-four weeks' charges to June 6, 1650, from which fact it is inferred that she was executed on that date. Rev. Samuel Stone ministered to her while in prison, and it is said that she became a penitent woman. She was evidently a poor, misguided creature, who accounted for her fault according to the superstition of the age.??After the execution of John and Joan Carrington of Wethersfield in 1651, and Lydia Gilbert of Windsor in 1654, a witchcraft tragedy was enacted among Hartford residents. It is one story and has been written and published by Dr. Charles J. Hoadly.3
Annie Eliot Trumbull, in The Hartford Courant, Dec. 3, 1904; Winthrop's History, II: 374.?2 Mather's Magnolia, Bk. VI, pp. 71-78.?3 "A Case of Witchcraft in Hartford" in Connecticut Magazine, Nov., 1899, pp. 557-561: Nine persons were involved, largely through the statements of Rebecca Greensmith. She had been the wife of Abraham Elsen of Wethersfield, who died in 1648. Then she married Jarvis Mudge, and was a widow when she married the unfortunate Nathaniel Greensmith. Those who were implicated constituted a group of local acquaintances, some of whom had a repute for misdemeanors or immorality. Their names were Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith; Elizabeth, the wife of Richard Seager; Andrew Sanford and Mary his wife; William Ayres and his wife; Judith Varlett and James Walkley.
Of Rebecca Greensmith, Rev. John Whiting wrote to Increase Mather that she was " a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman." Her husband had twice been convicted of theft. The court had once censured him for lying. Elizabeth Seager left a record of shameless crime, being guilty of blasphemy and adultery. These were the leaders. The others kept such company. One night they had a merry-making, under a tree on the green near Rebecca Greensmith's house. James Walkley, Goodwife Ayres and Goody Seager were present. They all danced and had a bottle of sack. Other nocturnal gatherings were held. Suspicions were awakened in the neighborhood.
Nathaniel Greensmith had a small home-lot, house and barn, recently purchased. It was located just south of our present Barnard Park, on which green the dance of the witches was doubtless held.1 Complaint had been made to the town that he had set his barn on common land. James Walkley had a house-lot on the north side of the road from George Steele's to the South Meadow. Sanford and Ayres apparently lived on North Main Street. The crisis came in the spring of 1662, with the accusations of a young daughter of John Kelley, uttered in the delirium of sickness. The child died. Immediately, the neighborhood was busy with reports that she had been bewitched unto death. The magistrates examined several of those accused. Nathaniel Greensmith then sued William Ayres for slandering his wife. She and her husband were soon arrested. The, defendent Ayres, his wife, and James Walkley, took refuge in flight. Ann, the daughter of John Cole, had strange fits about that time.
Conn. Col. Rec., II: 91; Original Distribution, pp. 268, 269: Her examination by the ministers, Samuel Hooker of Farmington, Samuel Stone, Joseph Haynes and John Whiting of Hartford, only increased the mystery and augmented the excitement. On June 6th, Andrew Sanford was indicted for witchcraft. The jury disagreed. I A week later, Mary Sanford was indicted and found guilty. This action furthered the ultimate indictment of Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith, which occurred December 30, 1662. They were both found guilty.' The woman's testimony implicated her associates. On January 6th, Mary Barnes of Farmington was indicted, and was also found guilty. The tragic scenes, which closed this horrible episode of our local history, can be all too clearly imagined. Mary Sanford was convicted first, and was not long detained in jail. Like some weird spectre of the spirit world, she disappeared. Goodwife Barnes was confined three weeks, for which Daniel Garret, the jailkeeper, was allowed 21s., to be paid by Goodman Barnes. The jailor was also allowed 6s. a week for keeping Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith, to be paid out of his estate. His inventory states that he was executed January 25, 1662-3.2 Hutchinson quotes the diary of Goffe, the regicide, under the date January 20th, as saying "three witches were condemned at Hartford." The indictment reads: "Nathaniel Greensmith, thou art here indicted by the name of Nathaniel Greensmith for not having the feare 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 preter naturall way beyond human abilities in a naturall course, for which according to ye Law of God and ye established laws of this Commonwealth thou deserveth to die." The form of the information, used in the Superior Court for many years, assigned all crimes to the instigation of the Devil. The magistrates at this trial were as follows: Mr. [Mathew] Allyn, moderator, Mr. [Samuel] Wyllys, Mr. [Richard] Treat, Mr. [Henry] Woolcot, Danll Clark, See., Mr. Jo. Allyn. The jury were: Edw. Griswold, Walter Ffiler, Ensign [Nicholas] Olmstead, Samll Boreman, Good-[Gregory] Winterton, John Cowles, Samll Marshall, Samll Hale, Nathanill Willet, John Hart, John Wadsworth, Robert Webster. The execution of criminals then devolved upon the Marshal, who was Jonathan Gilbert. One of the accused is said to have seen this worthy official in a dream, which seemed to presage the end. He was the first of three appointed to settle Greensmith's estate. Jonathan Gilbert succeeded Thomas Stanton in this office, and was followed by George Grave.??2 January 25th was a Sabbath, and we can not think the execution would have occurred on that day. Perhaps the court met on the 20th and they were executed on the 23rd, the latter date being incorrectly copied.
On this date the Particular Court met. He also says of Rebecca Greensmith: "Upon this confeffion the was executed, and two more of the company were condemned at the same time."1 The scene was doubtless accompanied by the public sensation, common to such occasions in England. It was the last time any witches were hung in Connecticut, and forty years before the excitement over the Salem witchcraft.
Elizabeth Seager was indicted on the same day with Mary Barnes, and twice later. In 1665 she was convicted, but the Court of Assistants found a way to release her, after a year's imprisonment. it seems probable that the witches were executed outside of the town-plot, on the road from the Cow Pasture into the Country. There the gallows of early times was located. On March 10, 1711-12, John Read sold to John Olcott a tract of about seven acres, bounded south on the "highway leading out of Hartford town towards Symsbury," now Albany Avenue. It is described in the deed as "near the houfe lately built by Joseph Butler, near where the Gallows used to stand." 2 The place is near enough identified as on the north side of the avenue, on the east end of the present Goodwin lot. There, a large elm tree on a rise of ground might well memorialize the place where this tragedy of Hartford's early history was enacted.??The usual place of punishment for minor offenses was in the meeting-house yard. Near the church were the stocks, the pillory and the whipping-post. The stocks was a timber frame in the holes of which the feet, or feet and hands of criminals, were confined. In the pillory, the head and hands were held, the victim being often compelled to stand. To the whipping-post the criminal was fastened while the lash was applied. All these punishments were very common. It was not so much the pain as the disgrace that was depended on for correction. On lecture day, just before the ringing of the first bell, the criminal was put in the stocks or pillory, where the congregation could see him. The passer-by sometimes railed at him, and the children pointed their fingers at him. An old writer says, "The jeers of a theatre, the pillory and the whipping-post are very near akin."
1 Hutchinson's History, II: 17.?2 Hartford Land Records, 2:228