Happy Halloween! Tales of witchcraft in Georgetown and Wilton

While doing research for the Georgetown History Project, a small notebook was discovered in the History Room of the Bridgeport Library. It was handwritten by a distinguished gentleman by the name of Samuel M. Main, who had lived in Georgetown in the latter half of the 19th Century.

The notebook was written for the Fairfield County Historical Society, of which Mr. Main had been a founding member along with local historian Charles Burr Todd and the famed P.T. Barnum.

Within this notebook, alongside very credible historical research on the “Stillwellite” religious movement in Georgetown, are stories of witchcraft and the witches of Georgetown that were told to Mr. Main when he was a child.

He names names to give evidence that he knew these people existed and names places, some of which may be familiar to many of us today. As you walk in and around the woods this Halloween, you may wish to remember the past.

The first place name that Mr. Main mentions is that of “Hollibird’s Hole.” He goes on to explain that Thomas Hollibird settled in the area of what was then the parish of Wilton in 1737. The name of that place was changed about 100 years later to “Hurlbutt,” an area where Mr. Main’s maternal great-grandfather, Capt. Hurlbutt, had lived.

Mr. Main’s grandmother, Ruth Gilbert, daughter of the captain, had told him of how he and “others in the community, was greatly annoyed by Old Bill Sturdephant [William Sturtivant] and Aunt Syb, his wife.” These two were apparently familiar practitioners of witchcraft and if they came by asking for some favor and were denied, “some mischief would follow.”

The Sturtivants were allegedly responsible for bewitching people’s cows, causing the milk to curdle. Sheep would be found dead after the couple were denied wool and if they were denied the use of a horse, it would go missing only to be found weeks later in the farmer’s own barn surrounded by a solid wall of hay with no apparent way in or out.

Mr. Main speaks of folklore methods to ensure the ridding of witches, such as putting a broom across the threshold of the dwelling to prevent them from entering. Sticking a fork or sharp instrument under the seat of a chair would prevent them from getting up. A favorite ploy was to seat them too close to the fireplace and then pile the wood on to make it hot for them. Nailing a horseshoe with the “toe-calks up over the door … was better than bolts and bars for to keep out witches.”

Then there “came to Redding near what is now Branchville, Thomas Elsey and his wife Lizzie, who were known as wizard and witch.”

“Uncle Tom,” as he was known, could fly on a broomstick all the way to Long Island and back in one night and conjure up food for a party by holding a platter out the window and reciting some incantations. After Tom’s “contract” with the devil was closed, he was never seen again. “From that time Aunt Lizzie wandered about, a lunatic (though harmless), she absented herself for so long a period at one time that her son and daughter (both of them I knew) became alarmed and [a] search was made for her by a great number of men. Her body was finally found one mile from her home in a large tract of wood known as ‘Seventy Acers.’”

Mr. Main provided us with both plausible facts, such as the names of real people and places, while at the same time he went on to dismiss these stories as superstition of the old people. He extolled the advances in science and “better information,” while at the same time he spoke of his own fears that these stories instilled in him as a child. He described how his hair stood on end like “porcupine quills” after hearing the old people tell these stories and how “he dare not venture out of doors after dark, and so we were kept in the house much to the gratification of our parents.”

Mr. Main left us these stories and impressions during the end of the 19th Century. He was, from all reports, a well-respected man, rational and sober. However, he shared the terrors of his childhood, the stories of those “aunts” and “uncles” just a few generations removed from his own, who flew through the air on broomsticks and bewitched all manner of farm animals.

On this Halloween, the Georgetown History Project wishes to share these stories of Georgetown folklore.