A woman convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death more than three centuries ago is about to be formally pardoned thanks to a class of eighth-graders, politicians and historians.
State Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat from Methuen, Massachusetts introduced legislation to clear the name of Elizabeth Johnson Jr.
Johnson Jr. was convicted of ‘covenating with the devil’ in 1693 at the height of the Salem Witch Trials, but she was never executed.
DiZoglio, filed a bill earlier in the year having been inspired by a group of eighth-graders at North Andover Middle School in the state.
Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who was condemned in 1693 at the height of the Salem Witch Trials but never executed (File photo: artist depiction of Salem Witch Trials)
Historical document from the Salem Witch Trials on the examination of Elizabeth Jonson Jr.
The work of the 13 and 14-year-olds was so meticulous that it warranted the introduction of legislation to pardon the woman.
‘It is important that we work to correct history,’ said DiZoglio. ‘It’s the time of year to get this done.
‘We will never be able to change what happened to these victims, but at the very least, we can set the record straight.’
The work of the 13 and 14-year-olds from North Andover Middle School was so meticulous that a state senator was inspired to introduction of legislation to pardon the woman
This drawing is called: ‘The Arrest.’ The original caption says: ‘Illustration shows an officer of the law leading away an elderly woman, who has her hands out in a gesture of innocence’
Civics teacher Carrie LaPierre’s students painstakingly researched Johnson and the steps that would need to be taken to make sure she was formally pardoned.
‘They spent most of the year working on getting this set for the Legislature — actually writing a bill, writing letters to legislators, creating presentations, doing all the research,’ said LaPierre.
DiZoglio is sponsoring Senate Bill 1016, which will see Johnson added to the list of peopled formally exonerated 328 years after she was condemned.
If lawmakers approve the measure as is expected, Johnson will be the last accused witch to be cleared, according to Witches of Massachusetts Bay, a group devoted to the history and lore of the 17th-century witch hunts.
At the age of 22, Johnson was one of dozens sentenced to death in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, during which 19 were hanged and hundreds of others accused.
Karla Hailer, a fifth-grade teacher from Massachusetts, shoots a video where a memorial stands at the site in Salem where five women were hanged as witches in 1693
THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS OF 1692 CAUSED ‘MASS HYSTERIA’
In 1692, mass hysteria swept through Salem, Massachusetts.
Superstitious townspeople, fearful of the devil, began accusing men and women of witchcraft and hounded scores of ‘witches’ to put on trial.
The hysteria began after a group of young girls in claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft.
As hysteria spread throughout Massachusetts, a court convened in Salem to hear the cases.
The first convicted witch, Bridget Bishop, was hanged that June.
Eighteen others followed and some 150 more men, women and children were accused over the next several months.
Trials continued with until May 1693.
But by that May, the governor of Massachusetts had pardoned and released all those in prison.
‘On 10 August 1692, 22-year-old Elizabeth Johnson Jr. of Andover, Massachusetts, was arrested for witchcraft … she told Justice Dudley Bradstreet that she too … participated in the big witch meeting in Salem Village,’ the report states.
Johnson was condemned to death on January 11, 1693 but ultimately received a stay of execution from Governor William Phips. She later died in 1747, at the age of 77.
But while dozens of suspects had their convictions thrown out and were officially cleared, including Johnson’s own mother, Johnson’s name wasn’t included in various legislative attempts to set the record straight.
‘Why Elizabeth was not exonerated is unclear but no action was ever taken on her behalf by the General Assembly or the courts,’ DiZoglio said.
‘Possibly because she was neither a wife nor a mother, she was not considered worthy of having her name cleared. And because she never had children, there is no group of descendants acting on her behalf.’
In 2017, officials unveiled a semi-circular stone wall memorial inscribed with the names of people hanged at a site in Salem known as Proctor’s Ledge. It was funded in part by donations from descendants of those accused of being witches.
LaPierre said some of her students initially were ambivalent about the effort to exonerate Johnson because they launched it before the 2020 presidential election and at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging.
‘Some of the conversation was, “Why are we doing this? She’s dead. Isn’t there more important stuff going on in the world?”’ she said.
‘But they came around to the idea that it’s important that in some small way we could do this one thing.’
An accused witch is shown going through the judgement trial, where she is dunked in water to prove her guilt of practicing witchcraft