Lydia Gilbert

April, 2012 by Ray Bendici
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Lydia Gilbert Year: 1654 Town: Windsor Outcome: Found guilty and possibly hanged, although may have escaped Lydia Gilbert is a harrowing reminder of how few legal rights women had in the Colonial era and how they were viewed in what then was almost an entirely misogynistic world. According to The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut (1647-1697) by John M. Taylor and other sources, Lydia Gilbert and her husband Thomas were living in Windsor when Henry Stiles was shot and killed on Oct. 3, 1651 when neighbor Thomas Allyn accidentally discharged his gun. Allyn was officially indicted in December and plead guilty; at the trial, the jury returned a verdict of "homicide by misadventure." Allyn was fined £20 for "sinful neglect and careless carriage," plus an additional £10 bond, and was placed under a year-long probation that also required that he not carry a gun. Accidental shooting, guilty party properly chastised, case closed, right? Not so much. Connecticut was in the throes of the witchcraft hysteria, and for reasons quite not clear, suspicions turned to Lydia Gilbert as the "true" cause for the untimely death of Henry Stiles. On Nov. 28, 1654, Gilbert was brought to court and formally charged. Here's the indictment against Gilbert from The Gilbert Family: Descendants of Thomas Gilbert, 1582(2)-1659 of Mt. Wollaston (Braintree), Windsor, and Wethersfield by Brainard, Gilbert and Torrey, via the website of Loren Eiseley, an American anthropologist and descendant of Lydia Gilbert.
"Lydea Gilburt thou are here indited by that name of Lydea Gilburt that not having the feare of god before thy Eyes thou hast of late years or still dust give Entertainment of Sathan the great Enemy of god and mankind and by his helpe hast killed the Body of Henry Styles besides other witchcrafts for which according to the law of god and the Established Law of this commonwealth thou Deservest to Dye."
Harsh words, to say the least. It's not recorded of what "other witchcrafts" Gilbert was suspected, although given the fact that she was going to be tried for an accidental death from three years earlier where the person responsible freely admitted their guilt and had been punished, fair to say that it probably was something closer to spurious than legitimate. Whatever the "evidence," it was enough to bring about the verdict of "guilty of witchcraft by ye jury," even though the jury apparently knew about Allyn's admission of guilt in the death of Henry Stiles. Interestingly, there is no record of what exactly happened to Lydia Gilbert following her conviction for witchcraft. Historical experts seem to think that in conjunction with the conventions of the era, she was most likely hanged. Others aren't so sure. Again, according to the aforementioned anthropologist and descendent Loren Eiseley, family stories suggest that she escaped with her husband Thomas, who shortly after the trial moved to Nayaug, which is part of present-day Glastonbury. Eiseley claims that when Thomas died, it was noted that there were "charges of funeralls for him and wife." A new wife? Or maybe, did someone, possibly realizing the absurdity of Lydia's "guilt," look the other way so the Gilberts could leave Windsor and never return? Chances are we will never know Lydia Gibert's true fate, but she will always be remembered for being another victim of Connecticut's witchcraft hysteria.

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Submitted by JK Greyfriars (not verified) on
Nah, Ed's right, my comment was snarky. But professionalism is all in the intent. You all usually do better; that one just snagged my editor's eye.

JK -- Thanks for the correction. I appreciate that you take the time to visit our site and for the constructive criticism—although don't expect too much professionalism here! I will make the change and hopefully avoid getting my toes singed. Ed -- We ask that your refrain from personal attacks and inappropriate language—thanks!

Submitted by JK Greyfriars (not verified) on
Unique is an absolute, and using qualifying adjectives deserves the modern-day equivalent of burning at the stake.

Submitted by Ed Warren (not verified) on
"Your" a unique kind of ****.

Submitted by JK Greyfriars (not verified) on
That's me, washing semi-literacy out of the dark crannies of the net. Really, a little more polish and professionalism on the writing here would elevate a fine and unique site quite a bit. Verb. sap., eh?

Submitted by Carl Eastvold (not verified) on
Genealogical research is not all it could be - at this remove in time, but if mine is right - Thomas Gilbert Jr (husband of Lydia) is my 8th great grandfather. My 8th great grandmother is listed as Catherine Chapin Gilbert. They were married in 1655. Thomas Gilbert Jr is listed as having three wives, Lydia being one of them. Point is, the "new wife" would have been Catherine. I have no more information on Lydia's fate.

There have been rumors of her escaping the ends of the trials, since it was quite obvious the outcome. I also, according to my mother's genealogy, a descendant of Lydia Gilbert, which it would be fantastic to meet other descendants intrigued by this murky yet interesting bit of family history. My mother supposedly has copies of some of the trials and paperwork from the family. I will try to find more information if possible.

Submitted by Carl Eastvold (not verified) on
Chelsey, Love to see anything you can come up with.

Submitted by Carl Eastvold (not verified) on
Would love to see Lydia's maiden name. Some accounts and genealogical charts show "Lydia Ballat," or Lydia Bollot." This appears to refer to a marriage between Thomas Gilbert and Lydia Ballat that occurred in 1690 - and therefore - could not be referring to the Lydia who was tried in 1654.

I wonder, if he had 3 wives, if this was another Lydia. I will be digging into paperwork and see what I can find. We are in the middle of relocating, so it may be a bit.

Submitted by Carl Eastvold (not verified) on
Did an hour or so of research last night - there is a diversity of opinion on whether Lydia's husband was Thomas Gilbert Sr, born 1589, or Thomas Gilbert Jr, baptized 1611/12. Doesn't really matter to me - as both are ancestors. Each point of view has compelling arguments - though I found those for Thomas Gilbert Jr slightly more so. This would mean he had three wives, and remarried in 1655 - within a year (or less) of the time Lydia Gilbert was condemned for witchcraft. Very mean, if true - yet if there were a number of children involved - it may have come close to necessity. Some of the Thomas Gilbert Jr evidence revolves around location - who was where and when. This can hardly be ignored as it appears unlikely that a man would have a wife living in one town - while he resides in another. Meanwhile - I have more to read.

Submitted by Carl Eastvold (not verified) on
RE: Comment #10: This appears to be a totally different, and somewhat later, Thomas Gilbert and Lydia - and has nothing to do (I believe) with the Lydia, Thomas Gilbert Sr, and Thomas Gilbert Jr under discussion.

Submitted by Stefani (not verified) on
I have been looking into this Lydia/Thomas thing today. I also initially found the various arguments for each Thomas compelling but thinking about it further, those arguments are all based on assumptions. For instance, the one that "rules out" Thomas Sr. because the funeral expenses allowances in his' will for both himself and his wife... well, everyone who argues this says it had to have been referring to Elizabeth Bennett (supposed wife of Thomas Sr.) because of him dying in 1658. They assume she had to have died very shortly before him for him to include that in his will and since Lydia (they assume) was hanged in 1654, it somehow cannot be her. However, they fail to consider the possibility that maybe her funeral expenses just had not been paid off yet. After all Thomas relocated after she passed, which does come with a considerable expense. Furthermore, they assume that she died before him period. Perhaps this wife of his was still living but he wanted to make sure it was taken care of (maybe they were getting joint plots). Maybe she was ill and on her death bed and about to die. I am not sure when the will was drafted..perhaps it was an old copy? Others dismiss her as being a wife at all but suggest maybe she was his sister. They cite a lack of marriage record. Perhaps Lydia was a middle name. What if Lydia and Elizabeth Bennett or Thomas Jr.'s first wife were one in the same!?! The BIGGEST thing that caught my attention was in regard to the purported birth/baptism records for Thomas Jr. They state he was christened on 16 February 1611 in Yardley, Worcester, England (there is such a record for a Thomas), but claim he was born in Berry Pomroy, Devonshire, England on the same day. Now, clearly they have not done their homework because these two locations are about 192 miles apart. Furthermore, they assume Thomas Sr. IS the Thomas born in Yardley to Richard on 25 Apr 1589 BUT there is also a Thomas born on 22 March 1585 in Devonshire, son of John. There is also a Thomas, son of Robert, born in 1595. We also have a Thomas, son of Richard, born 30 September 1593 in Devonshire. There are other things as well. It seems to me there have been a lot of liberties taken in regard to these people of ours. I realize with limited documentation, one must consider circumstantial evidence but some of the "evidence" given by some is not thoroughly considered. I would love it if we could figure this puzzle out but I suspect that may never be accomplished. Thank you for this great post. @Chelsey, if you found those documents, I would be most grateful if you would share them :) Take care cousins! Stefani

Submitted by Stefani (not verified) on
I forgot to mention that the Thomas who married Elizabeth Bennett, did so on 29 Aug 1610. If Thomas Jr. was born on 16 Feb 1611..well, that is only 6 months later. While I realize they could have got pregnant beforehand, this wasn't common and it would be unlikely they would have waited so long to get married. It's not proof one way or another but something to consider :) Stefani

Submitted by Diane (not verified) on
Lots of descendants of Lydia here. Our family story about Lydia says that elderly Henry Stiles was a boarder of Lydia and her husband, Thomas, Sr. When Stiles was shot and killed by Thomas Allyn through negligence , his family did not want to pay Lydia what was owed so they trumped up the charge of her being a witch and killing Henry Stiles. According to this tale, Lydia was hanged and her husband, Thomas Gilbert Sr. moved in with his son, Thomas Jr.'s family until his death. Sorry, I don't have any documentation, just the story told by my grandma. Maybe this is just an old tale that has been refuted by now...

Submitted by Kris (not verified) on
Chelsey, I am a descendant also of Lydia. I would love to see any family documents you have, if you're willing to share.

Submitted by Rick (not verified) on
In response to an earlier post about Thomas Gilbert's English origin. He was most assuredly born in Yardley, Worcestershire England, not Devonshire. All of his children except Sarah are shown in the baptismal records at Yardley. The likelihood of another place having the exact era with names like Ezekiel and Obadiah and Josiah would almost defy belief. This data was uncovered by Douglas Richardson, published in 1992 in the American Genealogist. He nailed the location and parents of Thomas Sr. However, he speculated about Lydia and came to the conclusion that she was the wife of Thomas Jr, and many have repeated this since that time. He supposed, without evidence, that Lydia was the second wife of Thomas Jr, but she could easily be the second wife of Thomas Sr. Elizabeth Bennett appears in only one record: her marriage in 1610 in Yardley. She is not in the baptism records of Thomas Sr's children. She could theoretically have died in 1610 and not been the mother of any of Thomas' children! There is a gap between the first child: Thomas Jr. in 1611/12 and the next bp. record of 1617. It could be that Thomas Sr married Lydia in this timeframe and she was the mother of the subsequent children (but not eldest son Thomas Jr born soon after parent's marriage). I think this is likely because most of these children named a daughter: Lydia. Also, most accused witches were elderly, and this could better fit the wife of Thomas Sr. In discussions about the location of Lydia at the time of accusation (Windsor) it wouldn't be necessary for her to have lived near/with Henry Stiles at the time of his death, she could have just been visiting for a while and still be accused. Some of the Salem accused were not longtime residents. While it is quite possible that Thomas Gilbert Jr married Mary ____ in England in the 1630s, his wife was not Mary James of West Bromwich, Stafford (marr 1639) as that Thomas and Mary remained in West Bromwich and had other children including one baptised 1 week after the child of Thomas of Yardley, making this a separate couple.

Ten greats back on my mother’s side Lived Lydia Gilbert of Windsor, Conn. In Sixteen Hundred Fifty and Four She was accused, indicted, tried, Found guilty, and was hanged. Her crime, you might've already guessed, Was witchcraft – "advancing Satan’s work." So judged the jury at her trial: "Lydia Gilbert, thou art here indicted … That not having fear of God before thine eyes Thou dost give entertainment to Satan And by His help hast killed the body of Henry Stiles, Besides other witchcrafts for which According to the laws of God and of this Commonwealth Thou deservest, poor soul, to die." Lydia’s tale was no less strange than sad. At first she was not even in the plot – A musket accident, an innocent was shot, And blame put on a neighbor, Thomas Allyn, Who cocked the gun and let it knock Against a tree three years before. The musket discharged, hit hapless Henry Stiles -- Its lead ball lodging deeply in his heart. There was no doubt then as to fault, And Lydia at first bore no blame. Indeed the local jury indicted Mister Allyn: "Thou didst suddenly, negligently, Carelessly cock thy piece, it charged, And going off in thy own hand, Slew thy neighbor Henry Stiles." "This breach of peace, to God’s dishonor," Was "homicide by misadventure," so the jury ruled. It set a fine of twenty pounds, then demanded for a year Allen’s good behavior, and for that time Did not allow his bearing arms. Why then was Goodwife Gilbert charged three years later on For killing star-crossed Henry Stiles? There was no causal linkage strung From Lydia to Henry’s death, nor to Allyn’s gun. Stiles had been her boarder, he had lent Her money, they had quarreled. But where was proof of capital wrong? In other things before their formal courts The Puritans protected rules of evidence. But here prosecutors only had to say That Satan hid in details of the case, and "Fear of God was missing from her eyes." Apparently, in disdaining mores of charity Lydia had violated Windsor's “peaceability” -- What neighbors thought her Christian obligation. No doubt she was assertive, and did not hide Her grievances against the boarder Stiles. Perhaps there was envy of her success "In besting personal antagonists, and Suspicion she invokes the Devil’s means." Was Lydia guilty because, if only verbally She stood her ground, or something else? Could she have justly won the case (The disputed loan from boarder Stiles), Had he not died from Thomas Allyn’s gun? But accident or crime, the town could not forgive. Perhaps she might have doubted Puritan Theology, like fate’s predestination, or Rules that women do as men command. But she had done for Commonwealth and town A duty dangerous to her health – She bore two daughters and four worthy sons. This a witch? The thought offends. What cost attends the gift of charity? Where ends the toll of peaceability When hysteria bests honesty And murders common sense? So is done my tale of Grandma Gilbert, hung. I sadly say, this sin was Windsor’s choice, Revenge against both accident and myth -- The victim judged and hanged by prejudice. Robert Gallamore, Rehoboth Beach DE, 2014. *Source material from John Demos, “Entertaining Satan,” American Heritage Magazine, Volume 29, Issue 5, 1978; John Demos, Entertaining Satan, Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, New York, 1982; Richard Godbeer, The Devil’s Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Quote marks in the poem indicate quotation or near paraphrases drawn from the surviving official records.

Submitted by Gayle Denney (not verified) on
RE Gallamore's poetic summary is a wonderful addition to the genealogical facts being gathered about Lydia Gilbert. Both prose and poetry to give definition to a life.

Submitted by Mary (not verified) on
I, too, am a relative of Thomas and Lydia and would like to see any documents on the subject of whether Thomas Sr. or Jr. was married to Lydia.

Submitted by Shonna (not verified) on
Hi everyone, I too am a descendant of Thomas Gilbert. I have an account that shows Thomas's death in 1659 and his estate was distributed to his siblings instead of his children probated in Wethersfield, CT: John Jonathan, Thomas Ezekiel, Josiah Obadiah and Sarah Jenkins. Although from his tombstone in Wetherfield Village Cemetery, Hartford, CT it says father to Obadiah, Jonathan, Ezeckiel, John, Josiah, Thomas and Sarah. I've written the siblings exactly how my document reads, it's an old typed history of my Gilbert side and a bit hard to read at times. Is this in line with anything anyone has seen?

Submitted by Mary (not verified) on
Hi Shonna- any chance you could email me a copy of the document? I am still trying to determine if Lydia was Thomas senior's wife or his son's wife. thanks, Mary

Submitted by Searchgeni (not verified) on
Hello All, Someone wrote that Lydia had children. I have never seen that anywhere, but people must believe it or they would not be saying they are her decendents. Where can I find the names, etc. of her children? Thank you.

Submitted by Jeanne Thompson (not verified) on
Thomas B1612, Sarah B1615, Prudence B1617, Ezekiel B1621, Giles B1624, John B1625, Josiah B1628, Mary B 1628 (must have been a twin), Obadiah B1629

Submitted by Jeanne Thompson (not verified) on
I have just discovered that Lydia is my 9th Great Grandma, is there any other information regarding her trial or any books you could direct me to.

Submitted by Mary (not verified) on
Hi Jeanne, Do you happen to have any documentation about Lydia's husband or children? I am trying to discover if she was married to Thomas Sr. or Jr. Which of the children are you descended from? I am descended from Ezekiel. Thanks for any info you can provide. Best, Mary

Submitted by Marie Grimm (not verified) on
I am interested in all documents connected to Thomas and Lydia. I am a direct descendant of the son, Jonathan, who married Mary Wells. I was under the impression that the children were from Lydia and Thomas remarried rather fast to have a mother for the children. I would love to have any and all documentation available. Thank you all, Marie

Submitted by Mary Landers (not verified) on
Marie- I am also a direct descendant of Jonathan, but from his wife Mary White. If you learn anything, I would love to hear about it. Thanks.