A Massachusetts woman – the last known state resident to have been legally classified as a witch – who was wrongly convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death more than three centuries ago has finally been exonerated, according to reports.
Elizabeth Johnson, Jr., was condemned to death in 1693 – at the height of the Salem Witch Trials – but was never executed. Until last week, she was Massachusetts’ only-known resident who was still legally considered a witch, Courthouse News reported.
But that changed on Thursday, when Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a budget bill that also exonerated Johnson.
Last August, state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat from Methuen, introduced legislation to clear Johnson’s name, saying at the time that she was inspired by sleuthing done by a group of 13- and 14-year-olds at North Andover Middle School. 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.
Twenty people from Salem and neighboring towns were killed and hundreds of others accused during a frenzy of Puritan injustice that began in 1692, stoked by superstition, fear of disease and strangers, scapegoating and petty jealousies. Nineteen were hanged, and one man was crushed to death by rocks.
In the 328 years since then, dozens of suspects were officially cleared, including Johnson’s own mother, the daughter of a minister whose conviction eventually was reversed. But for some reason, Johnson’s name wasn’t included in various legislative attempts to set the record straight.
Johnson was 22 when she was caught up in the hysteria of the witch trials and sentenced to hang. It never happened: Then-Gov. William Phips threw out her punishment as the magnitude of the gross miscarriages of justice in Salem sank in.
But because she wasn’t among those whose convictions were formally set aside, hers still technically still stood.
According to Courthouse News, LaPierre and her North Andover students worked to clear Johnson’s name for more than three years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.