A Witch Hanged in Bridgeport
By Eric D. Lehman
In the middle of the 17th century, Bridgeport was simply a no-man’s land between the growing colonial villages of Stratford and Fairfield. That is no doubt why the citizens of these Puritan communities decided to hang a witch here.
In 1651 a woman named Goody Basset was executed in Stratford after making a confession, probably under torture, which also intimated there were other witches in the area, hinting at “others who hold their heads full high.” Other single women in the community and nearby Fairfield were looked upon with suspicion. One of these was Goody Knapp, a “simple minded woman” whom the townspeople regarded with contempt.
In the fall of 1653 the situation came to a head, and the good folk of Fairfield called for a witch trial. One of the founders of Connecticut, Roger Ludlow, came from Hartford with three others to preside over the court case, and “to execute justice there as cause shall require.”
A multi-day trial followed, in which testimony was given by a woman named Lucy Pell, and a midwife named Goody Odell. She was told to examine poor Goody Knapp and found “witch marks” on her, positive proof as far as these judges were concerned.
A guilty verdict was reached and Goody Knapp became hysterical, saying that she had nothing to confess. But she claimed she would whisper any confessions she did have to Roger Ludlow at the gallows.
The hanging took place in what is today the Black Rock section of town, according to historians at approximately 2470 Fairfield Avenue. At the time this was “between the house of Michael Try and the mill, west of the Stratfield boundary.”
After the body of Goody Knapp was cut down, the women of the town crowded around to see the “witch marks” but found nothing. A friend of the “witch,” Goodwife Staples said “They were naught but such as she herself or any woman had.” Another woman on the scene said, “Aye, and be hanged for them, and deserve it too.”
Many women and some men were hanged for such trivialities when it came to the hysteria surrounding witches. It is sad that such an event had to happen in what is today Bridgeport, but hopefully the story of Goody Knapp will remind us that we, too, might find ourselves at the gallows, if our society is ever allowed to descend to the level of superstition again.
Want to learn more about the witches of Bridgeport? The Bridgeport History Center has the following materials available:
The Story of Bridgeport 1836-1936. Danenberg, Elsie Nicholas. Bridgeport Centennial, 1936.