BOSTON ( Associated Press) — It took more than three centuries, but the last Salem “witch” who was not officially pardoned.
Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday formally acquitted 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 he officially pardoned like others wrongly accused of witchcraft.
Lawmakers agreed to reconsider her case last year after a curious eighth-grade civics class at North Andover Middle School researched the legislative steps needed to clear her name.
Subsequent legislation introduced by State Sen. Diana Dijoglio, a Democrat from Méthne, was introduced and approved on a budget bill.
“We will never be able to change what happened to victims like Elizabeth, but we can at least set the record,” Dizoglio said.
In a statement, North Andover teacher Carrie Lapierre – whose students supported the law – praised the youth for taking up “a long-overlooked issue of justice for a wrongfully convicted woman.”
“Passing this law will be incredibly influential on their understanding of how important it is to stand up for those who can’t advocate for themselves and how strong their voices really are,” she said.
According to the Witches of Massachusetts Bay, a group devoted to the history and lore of 17th-century witch hunting, Johnson is the last accused witch.
“For 300 years, Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was without a voice, her story lost with the passage of time,” said Salem State Sen. Joan Lovely.
Twenty people from Salem and neighboring towns were killed and hundreds of others were accused of superstition, disease and fear of strangers, scapegoating and petty jealousy during the frenzy of Puritan injustice that began in 1692. Nineteen were hanged, and one person was crushed to death by rocks.
Johnson was 22 when she was caught in a frenzy of witch trials and sentenced to death. It never happened: The then Govt. William Phipps dismisses his sentence as the horrors of a blatant miscarriage of justice in Salem.
Over more than three centuries, dozens of suspects were officially cleared, including Johnson’s own mother, the daughter of a minister, whose sentence was eventually overturned.
But for some reason, Johnson’s name was not included in various legislative attempts to set the record straight. Because she was not among those whose sentence was formally overturned, technically she still stood. Contrary to falsely accusing others, Johnson never had children and thus had no descendants to act on his behalf.
“Elizabeth’s story and struggle resonate a lot today,” Dizoglio said. “While we have come a long way since the horrors of the witch trials, today women still often challenge their rights and dismiss concerns.”