TABLE OF CONTENTS
Samuel Wyllys Papers
Depositions on cases of witchcraft, assault, theft, drunkenness & other crimes, tried in Connecticut, 1663-1728
Finding aid prepared by Connecticut State Library staff.
Copyright © 2011 by the Connecticut State Library
Samuel Wyllys was born in Fenny Compton, England in 1632 to George and Mary Wyllys. The family, including Samuel's half-sisters Amy and Hester, emigrated to New England in the early 1630s. Samuel's older half-brother George remained in England. By 1634 Samuel's father, George Wyllys, Sr. had been appointed an Assistant to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The family moved to Hartford in 1638. In Connecticut, George Wyllys, Sr. was elected to the Court of Assistants in 1639, Deputy Governor in 1641, and Governor in 1642. After his term as governor ended, George served as an Assistant to the General Court and chosen to be a Commissioner from Connecticut to the United Colonies of New England in 1643. George died in 1645.
Samuel graduated from Harvard College in 1653. He married Ruth Haynes, daughter of Connecticut's first governor, John Haynes, in 1654. The couple had one son, Hezekiah (b. 1672), who was Secretary of the Colony of Connecticut from 1712 to 1735, and three daughters, Ruth, Mary, Mehitable.
Ruth Wyllys died sometime before November 28, 1688, when Wyllys married his second wife, Mrs. Mary (Smith) Love at Berwick, Maine. Samuel Wyllys died on May 30, 1709 and was buried in Hartford's Ancient Burying Ground. There is no known portrait of Samuel Wyllys.
Samuel was chosen magistrate of the General Court in 1654 and reelected each year. After Connecticut received its charter in 1662 he was elected as an Assistant and continued in that office until 1685. He often served as moderator when the Governor or Deputy Governor were not present. Financial distress from sugar plantations in Antigua led him to resign from the General Court in 1685. However, he returned to his position as Assistant from 1689 through 1692 and again in 1698.
Between 1658 and 1670 he sat on courts that tried witchcraft cases and as an Assistant in 1693 he was one of three judges that granted a stay to Mercy Disborough who was later acquitted. When Connecticut's charter arrived in Boston in September 1662, Wyllys was one of the men that brought it to Hartford. He served as a commissioner to the United Colonies of New England in 1661, 1662, 1664, and 1667. In 1676, during King Philip's War, he was authorized along with Major John Winthrop and Thomas Stanton to negotiate for a peace between the English and the Indians.
According to tradition, when Joseph Wadsworth took action to prevent the surrender of the Charter to Sir Edmond Andros in early November 1687, he took it to Samuel Wyllys's home. At the suggestion of Wylly's wife, Wadsworth hid the Charter in a hollow of an oak tree and then put the dog kennel at the foot of the tree. The tree has come to be known as the Charter Oak.
Barbour, Lucius Barnes.Families of Early Hartford, Connecticut.Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1977 See pp. 696-700 for information on the Wyllys family.
Shaw, Ernest R.Story and Legend of the Charter Oak Tree.. Farmington, Conn.:Heritage Trails, 1996.
Sibley, John Langdon. “Samuel Willis.” In Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Volume I: 1642-1658, 323-325.Cambridge: Charles William Sever, University Bookstore, 1873. See pp. 696-700 for information on the Wyllys family.
Talcott, Mary K.The Original Proprietors.Hartford: Society of the Descendants of the Founders of Hartford, Inc., 1986 See pp. 271-2.
Tomlinson, R. G.Witchcraft Trials of Connecticut. [s.l.]: R.G. Tomlinson, 1978
The Samuel Wyllys Papers, 1668-1728, undated, are a group of 88 court documents that include 6 cases of witchcraft (42 documents), 12 cases concerning assault and battery, theft, adultery and other crimes (35 documents), and 11 other documents related to prayers of confession and petition, lists of freemen, poor relief, taxes, and titles to Indian land. .
Restrictions on Access
Restrictions on Use
See the Reproduction and Publications of State Library Collections policy.
Samuel Wyllys Papers, 1638-1757 (bulk 1663-1698), John Hay Library, Brown University.
Drunkeness (Criminal law)
East Haven (Conn.)
Freemen (American colonies)
Indian land transfers
New Haven (Conn.)
Ordination -- Congregational churches
Trials (Assault and battery)
Trials -- Connecticut -- History -- 17th Century
Title (property rights)
After Samuel Wyllys's death, succeeding generations assumed responsibility for these papers. Three Wyllyses, each Secretary of the Colony or Secretary of the State for Connecticut in his turn, represent a ninety-eight year span in which the descendants of Samuel Wyllys had continuous custody of the papers. Samuel’s only son was Hezekiah Wyllys, who was Secretary of the Colony for 23 years (1712-35). Hezekiah’s son, George Wyllys, replaced his father in 1735, and served for 61 years (1735-1796).
George’s son, Samuel Wyllys, then replaced George in 1796 and was Secretary of the State for 14 years (1796 until his death in 1810). That Samuel had two brothers, William and Hezekiah, who allowed William Stone, editor of the Connecticut Mirror, to examine the papers relating to witchcraft. Transcripts of some documents appeared in the New York Commercial Advertiser, July 14 and 15, 1820; the New York Spectator, July 18, 1820; and The Hartford Times and Weekly Advertiser, August 8, 1820.
William Wyllys died January 18, 1826 and Hezekiah Wyllys on March 29, 1827. The documents accumulated by their ancestor, Samuel Wyllys, appear to have remained in the original Wyllys house until Hezekiah’s death. The house was then sold, and the papers went to Hezekiah’s daughter Amelia (Wyllys) Adams, wife of Ashur Adams of Charlestown, Massachusetts and, on her death (ca.1859) and Ashur’s (ca. 1861), to their children. In 1868, one of the children sold most of the documents to Nicholas Brown of Providence, Rhode Island.
Nicholas Brown passed the papers on to his son, Nicholas Brown III, and later they went to the son of Nicholas III, John Carter Brown. John’s widow, Mrs. Sophia Augusta Brown, on July 10, 1907 sold part of the papers to George Godard, Connecticut State Librarian.
The documents, of varying size, were then arranged, indexed, “preserved by the silk or Emery process,” and “substantially bound.” The resulting volume of Samuel Wyllys Papers is in the State Archives.
Although a microfilm was made in 1954 by the Genealogical Society of Utah [Family History Library film 0003645], many of the items did not film well.
Links to digital images of the documents are provided in the "List of Documents" section.
Barbour, Lucius Barnes. Families of Early Hartford, Connecticut.Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1977. [CSL call number HistRef F 104.H353 A22 1977] See pp. 696-700 for information on the Wyllys family.
Hall, David D. Witch-hunting in Seventeenth Century New England. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. [CSL call number BF 1575 .W62 1991]
Hinman, R. R. Catalogue of the Names of the First Puritan Settlers of the Colony of Connecticut. Hartford: Printed by E. Gleason, 1846. [CSL call number SpecColl F 93 .H65] See pp. 108-9.
Report of the State Librarian to the Governor for the Two Years Ended September 30, 1908. Hartford: Published by the State, 1909. [CSL call number ConnDoc St 292 1908]
Seymour, George Dudley. Captain Nathan Hale, Major John Palsgrave Wyllys: A Digressive History. New Haven: Privately Printed for the Author, 1933. [CSL call number E 280 .H2 S512]
Talcott, Mark K. The Original Proprietors. Hartford: Descendants of the Founders of Hartford, Inc., 1986. [CSL call number HistRef F 104 .H353 A28 1986] See pp. 271-2.
Tomlinson, R. G. Witchcraft Trials of Connecticut. [s.l]: R. G. Tomlinson, 1978. [CSL call number BF 1576 .T65 1978] See pp. 67-8 for a brief overview of the Samuel Wyllys Papers.
“Trials for Witchcraft.” Hartford Times and Weekly Advertiser, August 8, 1820: 2.
The Wyllys Papers: Correspondence and Documents Chiefly of Descendants of Gov. George Wyllys of Connecticut, 1590-1796. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1924. [CSL call number F 91 .C7 v. 21]