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Wrongly convicted woman has been cleared 329 years after Salem witch trials

Convicted of being a witch duting the Salem witch ytials 329-iears-ago, Elizabeth Johnson Jr. has been cleared pf the charges.

"Witch Hill" or "The Salem Martyr" (1869). Source - Thomas Satterwhite Noble (1835–1907) CC SA 3.0.
"Witch Hill" or "The Salem Martyr" (1869). Source - Thomas Satterwhite Noble (1835–1907) CC SA 3.0.

The exoneration of Elizabeth Johnson Jr., the last person whose name was not officially cleared, came from the efforts of an eighth-grade civics teacher and her students.

Elizabeth Johnson Jr. is officially – not a witch, reports the New York Times. Until a week ago, the Landover, Mass. woman who had confessed to practicing witchcraft during the Salem witch trials was the last remaining person convicted during the trials whose name had not been cleared.

Johnson was sentenced to death in 1693. Johnson, who may have had a mental disability and never married or had children, was 22 when accused but lived to the ripe old age of 77. Johnson is believed to have died in 1747 and been buried in an unmarked grave in the Old Burying Ground in North Andover.

The reprieve came about as part of a budget bill signed Thursday by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. It was the product of a three-year lobbying effort by a civics teacher and her eighth-grade class, along with a state senator who helped champion the cause.

Teacher and her classes lobby for justice

Perhaps because Miss Johnson had no descendants, and had the same name as her mother, she became the only one of 30 people convicted in the witch trials to never be exonerated in 1957.

Historian Emerson W. Baker of Salem State University notes those accused by the Puritans may have confessed to avoid being tortured or killed. Indeed, none of the 55 people who confessed were executed, but all 19 people who pleaded not guilty were, he says. 

For three years, Carrie LaPierre, an eighth-grade civics teacher in North Andover where Johnson lived, championed her cause, lobbying the governor with the help of state Senator Diana DiZoglio, a second-term Democrat who represents parts of North Andover, according to Courthouse News.

Even with political backing, however, LaPierre’s young charges weren’t immediately excited about the prospect of becoming activists for a supposed 17th-century necromancer.

“Are you kidding? They’re eighth graders,” La Pierre explained. “It took some of them a month to realize she’s dead. The majority view was, who cares, it doesn’t matter.”  

However, the students began to look at the story a bit differently after the news media picked up the story and began championing the idea of a reprieve. “Most of the parents just didn’t pay much attention to it,” LaPierre recalled. 

The effort turned out to be a dream project said, LaPierre. It allowed her to teach students about research methods, including the use of primary sources; the process by which a bill becomes a law; and ways to contact state lawmakers. 

Historically, the events in Salem stand out precisely because witchcraft was generally not a big deal in the New World. There were a grand total of only 36 recorded witch executions in all of America, compared with more than 12,500 in Europe.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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