Home U.S.Education Last Conviction in Salem Witch Trials Is Cleared 329 Years Later

Last Conviction in Salem Witch Trials Is Cleared 329 Years Later

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Elizabeth Johnson Jr. is not officially a witch.

Until last week, a woman from Andover, Massachusetts, confessed to practicing witchcraft at the Salem witch trials and was the only person convicted during the trial whose name was not released.

She was sentenced to death in 1693, but after she and more than 20 members of her extended family faced similar allegations, she was granted reprieve and escaped the death sentence.

The exoneration took place Thursday, 329 years after her conviction, and was included in a $53 billion state budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker. It was the result of her three years of lobbying by civics teachers and her eighth grade class, and state senators also helped advocate for the movement.

“I’m excited and relieved,” Carrie Lapierre, a teacher at North Andover Middle School, said in an interview on Saturday. holiday. “This was a very big project,” he added LaPierre. “We called her EJJ. All the kids and I. In a way, she became one of our worlds.”

Only a rough outline of Ms. Johnson’s life is known. Lapierre said she was 22 when she was accused. She had a mental disorder and she may not have been married or had children, which was a factor that could make a woman a target for trial.

The governor of Massachusetts at the time granted Ms. Johnson a reprieve, and she died in 1747 at the age of 77. her name. Historians say her efforts so far to acquit those convicted of her witchcraft have overlooked Ms. Johnson, likely due to administrative turmoil.

The effort to clear Johnson’s name was a dream project for the 8th grade civics class, Lapierre said. It allowed me to teach students about research methods, including the use of primary sources. The process by which a bill becomes law. How to contact state legislators. This project also taught the students the value of persistence. After an intensive letter-writing campaign, the bill to exonerate Ms. Johnson was essentially dead. When students lobbied the governor for a pardon, state senator Diana DiZoglio added an amendment to the budget bill to revive her exoneration efforts.

“These students set a great example of the power of advocacy and the power to speak up for those who don’t have a voice,” Dizoglio, a Democrat who lives in an area that includes North Andover, said in an interview. Told.

According to historians, at least 172 people in Salem and surrounding towns, including present-day North Andover, were accused of witchcraft in 1692 as part of the Puritan Inquisition rooted in paranoia.

Emerson W. Baker, professor of history at Salem State University and author of A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience, says there are many reasons why innocent people confess to witchcraft. increase. Many wanted to avoid torture. Or they believed they might be witches, but didn’t know it. This is the result of a pressure campaign by religious ministers and family members.

“At what point does she say?” asked Mr. Baker. I don’t think she’s a witch, but maybe she had bad ideas and maybe she shouldn’t have.”

Another common reason for confessing is survival, Professor Baker said. By the summer of 1692 it was clear that those who pleaded not guilty were quickly tried, convicted, and hanged, while those who pleaded guilty escaped their terrible fate. It looked like Fifty-five people who confessed were executed, he said.

Professor Baker said he was happy to see Ms Johnson’s name cleared. Her accusations against her and her family must have ruined their lives and reputations, he said.

“All the governments and people of Massachusetts Bay have made Elizabeth and her family suffer,” he said, adding that exonerating her “is the least we can do.”

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