Home Education The last conviction at the Salem witch trials was overturned 329 years...

The last conviction at the Salem witch trials was overturned 329 years later


Elizabeth Johnson Jr. is officially not a witch.

Until last week, a woman from Andover, Massachusetts confessed to witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, was the only remaining person convicted during the trials whose name was not cleared.

Although she was sentenced to death in 1693, after she and more than 20 members of her extended family faced similar charges, she received a reprieve and avoided the death penalty.

The release took place on Thursday, 329 years after her conviction, hidden in a 53 billion dollars state budget signed by Governor Charlie Baker. It was the result of three years of lobbying by a civics teacher and her eighth grade teacher, as well as a state senator who helped champion the cause.

“I’m excited and relieved,” Carrie LaPierre, a teacher at North Andover Middle School, said in an interview Saturday, “but also disappointed that I didn’t talk to the kids about it” because they are on summer vacation. “It was such a big project,” Ms. LaPierre added. “We called her EJJ, all the kids and me. In a way, she just became part of our world.”

Only the broad outlines of Ms. Johnson’s life are known. She was 22 when she was accused, may have been mentally challenged and had never been married or had children, factors that could have made the woman a target in the courts, Ms. LaPierre said.

The governor of Massachusetts at the time granted Mrs. Johnson a reprieve from death, and she died in 1747 at the age of 77. But unlike other convicts in the trials, Ms. Johnson had no known descendants who could fight for her acquittal. name Earlier attempts to justify people convicted of witchcraft overlooked Mrs. Johnson, perhaps because of an administrative mix-up, historians say: Her mother, who had the same name, was also convicted but was released earlier.

Trying to clear Ms. Johnson’s name was a dream project for the eighth-graders, Ms. LaPierre said. This allowed her to teach students research methods including the use of primary sources; the process by which a bill becomes law; and ways to contact state legislators. The project also taught students the value of persistence: After an intense letter-writing campaign, the bill to free Ms. Johnson was essentially dead. While the students focused their efforts on lobbying the governor for clemency, their state senator, Diana DiZolio, added an amendment to the budget bill, renewing the release effort.

“These students set an incredible example of the power of advocacy and speaking up for those who don’t have the right to vote,” Ms. DiZolio, a Democrat whose district includes North Andover, said in an interview.

At least 172 people from Salem and surrounding towns, which include what is now North Andover, were accused of witchcraft in 1692 as part of the Puritan Inquisition, which was based on paranoia, according to historians.

Emerson W. Baker, professor of history at Salem State University and author of the book “The Witchcraft Storm: The Salem Trials and the American Experience” said there are many reasons innocent people confess to witchcraft. Many wanted to avoid torture or even believed that perhaps they were actually witches and simply did not know it due to a campaign of pressure from religious ministers and even family members.

“At what point does she say,” asked Mr. Baker, “‘For the good of society I should probably confess?’ I don’t think I’m a witch, but maybe I’ve had bad thoughts and I shouldn’t have had them.’ It was a logical process for a society that widely believed in the existence of witches, he said. said.

Another common reason for confessions, according to Professor Baker, was survival. In the summer of 1692, it became clear that those who pleaded not guilty were quickly tried, convicted, and hanged, while those who pleaded guilty appeared to escape this terrible fate: all 19 men executed at Salem did not pleaded guilty, but none of the 55 who pleaded guilty were punished, he said.

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

“For what the government and the people of Massachusetts Bay put Elizabeth and her family through,” he said, exonerating her, “is the least we can do.”

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