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A group of 8th-graders are working to clear the name of a wrongly convicted Salem ‘witch’

Massachusetts State Senator Diana DiZoglio has introduced a bill to clear Elizabeth Johnson Jr.'s name.

A group of 8th-graders are working to clear the name of a wrongly convicted Salem ‘witch’
Image source: Facebook/witchesmassbay

It's never too late to be exonerated and a group of teenagers is about to clear the name of a Massachusetts woman, who was wrongly convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death. Elizabeth Johnson Jr. wasn't executed but was condemned in 1693 at the height of the Salem Witch Trials. A group of curious eight-graders is determined to clear her name and it's about to become a reality. Thanks to detailed research from the kids, State Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat from Methuen, has introduced legislation to clear Johnson's name. The eighth-graders who did the sleuthing in the subject are from North Andover Middle School, reported The Huffington Post.



Not only did they do the research on the Massachusetts woman's case, but they also found the means to get her formally pardoned. “It is important that we work to correct history,” said DiZoglio. “We will never be able to change what happened to these victims, but at the very least, we can set the record straight.” The Salem Witch Memorial in Salem, Massachusetts, honors those who were killed during the 17th-century witch hunts that started in 1692. Twenty people were killed in Salem and nearby places after being accused of performing witchcraft. Rooted in superstition, predominantly women were blamed for various events including diseases, and killed out of fear, scapegoating, and even out of jealousy. Nineteen were hanged while one man was crushed to death by rocks.  


Johnson was all but 22 when she was targeted in the name of witchcraft but thankfully her sentence came at a time when it started to become apparent that the witch trials were gross miscarriages of justice. The then-governor William Phips dismissed her case and she escaped execution. Johnson's mother was also initially convicted for performing witchcraft but was eventually reversed. Many names, including that of Johnson's mother, have been cleared since then but Johnson's name is yet to be cleared.



“Why Elizabeth was not exonerated is unclear but no action was ever taken on her behalf by the General Assembly or the courts,” said DiZoglio. “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.” If the bill is passed, Johnson will be the last accused witch to be cleared, according to Witches of Massachusetts Bay, a group that documents the 17th-century witch hunts. 


DiZoglio's bill aims to tweak 1957 legislation that was amended in 2001, to include Johnson's name among those pardoned for being wrongly accused and convicted of witchcraft. To honor those who were hanged as part of the witch-hunts, officials revealed a semi-circular stone wall memorial in 2017, inscribed with the names of those hanged at a site in Salem known as Proctor’s Ledge. The descendants of those accused who were accused of being witches helped fund the memorial. 



“We should not be here commemorating the heartbreaking and tragic loss of life, it did not need to happen,” said the Reverend Jeff Barz-Snell, minister at the Unitarian Universalist First Church in Salem at the time of the unveiling, reported AP News. ″(The memorial) brings justice to the fact that they were wrongly accused,” said Jeffrey Stark, a relative of Susannah Martin, a victim. “It’s a welcoming feeling that they put this memorial up and they have recognized the mistake that was made here in Salem back in 1692.”

Carrie LaPierre, a Civics teacher at North Andover Middle School said they had debated on the idea before finally deciding to do it. “Some of the conversation was, ‘Why are we doing this? She’s dead. Isn’t there more important stuff going on in the world?’” recalled LaPierre, before adding, “But they came around to the idea that it’s important that in some small way we could do this one thing.”

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