BOSTON (AP) — It’s taken more than three centuries, but Salem’s last “witch” who wasn’t has been officially pardoned.
On Thursday, Massachusetts lawmakers formally exonerated Elizabeth Johnson Jr., clearing her name 329 years after she was convicted of witchcraft in 1693 and sentenced to death at the height of the Salem witch trials.
Johnson was never executed, but neither was she officially pardoned like others wrongfully accused of witchcraft.
Lawmakers agreed to reconsider his case last year after a curious eighth grade civics class at North Andover Middle School took up his case and sought the necessary legislative action to clear his name.
Later legislation introduced by State Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat from Methuen, was added to a budget bill and approved.
“We can never change what happened to victims like Elizabeth, but we can at least set the record straight,” DiZoglio said.
In a statement, North Andover teacher Carrie LaPierre – whose pupils have championed the legislation – praised the youngsters for tackling “the long-neglected issue of justice for this wrongfully convicted woman”.
“Passing this legislation will have an incredible impact on their understanding of the importance of standing up for people who cannot stand up for themselves and the strength of their voice,” she said.
Johnson is the latest accused witch to be cleared, according to Witches of Massachusetts Bay, a group devoted to the history and lore of 17th-century witch hunts.
“For 300 years, Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was speechless, her story lost to time,” said Senator Joan Lovely, of Salem,
Twenty people from Salem and nearby towns were killed and hundreds more charged in a frenzy of Puritan injustice that began in 1692, fueled by superstition, fear of disease and strangers, scapegoating and petty jealousies. Nineteen were hanged and one man was crushed to death by stones.
Johnson was 22 when she was caught up in witch trial hysteria and sentenced to hang. It never happened: Then-Gov. William Phips rejected his punishment as the scale of serious miscarriages of justice in Salem sank.
In the more than three centuries since, dozens of suspects have been officially cleared, including Johnson’s own mother, the daughter of a minister whose conviction was eventually overturned.
But for some reason, Johnson’s name has not been included in various legislative attempts to set the record straight. Because she was not among those whose beliefs were officially overturned, hers was still technically valid. Unlike other wrongfully accused, Johnson never had children and therefore had no descendants to act on his behalf.
“Elizabeth’s story and struggle continue to resonate greatly today,” DiZoglio said. “Although we have come a long way since the horrors of the witch trials, women today still too often see their rights challenged and their concerns dismissed.”