Legends of witchcraft in Wilton
In Wilton’s early days, bizarre occurrences were often attributed to witches and witchcraft.
Among those believed to have possessed supernatural abilities were a man known as “Uncle Bill” and his wife, “Aunt Syb.”
In 1884, Hurlbutt family descendant Samuel M. Main wrote down stories his grandmother, Ruth Gilbert, had told him about some “strange doings” in the late-1700s.
According to Main, Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb “greatly annoyed” his great-grandfather, Capt. Daniel Hurlbutt, who lived in a farmhouse at present-day 175 Hurlbutt Street in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb were constantly demanding favors of the Hurlbutts, and mischief would result if they were refused, according to Main. For example, he wrote, if a request for butter or milk was denied, cows would come down with disease or “give bloody milk” or milk would sometimes “lopper in an hour.”
Pans of milk would be overturned with the milk remaining in them until a Hurlbutt family member would go to turn them right side up, wrote Main, whose ancestors also believed Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb would bewitch their cream so it would not turn into butter.
According to Main, after the Hurlbutts refused to give pork to Aunt Syb, she bewitched their hog — causing it to squeal, run and butt its head “against any wall or other obstruction.”
The hog “immediately recovered” after the Hurlbutts cropped off one of its ears, after which Aunt Syb suddenly took to wearing a muffler around her ears. According to Main, it was believed her ear had been cut off simultaneously because ”she had entered into the swine.”
On another occasion, Main wrote, the day after Uncle Bill was denied some favor by the Hurlbutts, Capt. Hurlbutt discovered three hogs “on the great girt of his barn” and called his neighbor to get them down.
When Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb were refused wool, six sheep went missing and were not found until the following spring, under a pile of wood with “a great log lying across their necks,” Main wrote.
The Hurlbutt family resorted to “anti-witchcraft devices” to stop Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb. The Hurlbutts threw a broom on the threshold of a door because it was believed a witch could not cross it. They also nailed a horseshoe, with the toe calks up, over their door to keep them out.
A horse of Josiah Marvin, who lived in present-day Cannondale, went missing after he refused to loan it to Uncle Bill. Three to four weeks later, Marvin found his horse crunching hay in the back of his barn.
“He had eaten a space in the solid haymow, large enough to turn around in. Yet, between the horse and the barn floor … were six or eight feet of haymow. No signs could be found of the removing of the boards, and so no other explanation could be found but that Uncle Bill had bewitched the horse and put him there.”
Main said this story was told to him by Capt. Nathan Gilbert, who helped get Marvin’s horse out of the hiding place.
There was also a woman named Patty Bedient who claimed Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb would “come through a keyhole and bewitch her, turning her into a large white horse that would make long [journeys],” according to writings by late town historian G. Evans Hubbard.
Sharp Hill Witch
Another witch-related Wilton legend is that of the “Sharp Hill Witch.”
The legend originated from the 1857 death of 87-year-old Esther Abbott Betts, who was found dead in front of a fireplace in her red-shingled home at 186 Sharp Hill Road.
According to an article in the Wilton Library History Room, “the belief in the witch was so strong at times” that “children in the neighborhood dared not venture close to the property” and the old house remained uninhabited until 1948.
The state of Connecticut later took the land under eminent domain and the house was moved to Chestnut Hill Road in the 1970s, according to a 1981 Wilton Bulletin article.