We will never be able to change what happened to victims like Elizabeth but at the very least can set the record straight.Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Mass.), who introduced the legislation officially pardoning the last Salem “witch.” The case was brought to lawmakers’ attention by an eighth-grade civics class.
- Background – the Salem witch trials (1692-1693): Over 200 people (mostly women) were accused of practicing witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts; 20 of them were executed. It started with children experiencing a series of “fits;” a doctor “blamed the supernatural” and local women were accused of using “the Devil’s magic.” Years later, the colony’s leaders admitted the trials were a mistake and provided compensation for the families of those convicted (Smithsonian Magazine).
- Fast forward 300+ years: Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who was convicted of witchcraft in 1693, was the last “witch” who had never been pardoned. She was officially given “an official warrant of remission of penalty“ by lawmakers last week.
- The case was brought to lawmakers by an eighth-grade civics class at North Andover Middle School in Massachusetts. Prior to the 2020 election, and at the height of the pandemic, they began working the on steps needed to pardon Elizabeth’s name.
- Elizabeth’s case: She was sentenced to be executed but her punishment was later set aside; she still spent the rest of her life with the charge against her. “It showed how superstitious people still were after the witch trials. It’s not like after it ended people didn’t believe in witches anymore. They still thought she was a witch and they wouldn’t exonerate her,” said Artem Likhanov, 14, one of the students who worked on the project.
- Why It Matters: North Andover teacher Carrie LaPierre — whose class researched the steps needed to pardon Elizabeth — noted that for the students, “passing this legislation will be incredibly impactful on their understanding of how important it is to stand up for people who cannot advocate for themselves and how strong of a voice they actually have.”
329 years later, last Salem ‘witch’ who wasn’t is pardoned (Associated Press)
8th-graders lead effort to pardon wrongly convicted ‘witch’ – August 2021 (Associated Press)
by Jenna Lee,