Witchcraft conviction overturned after 329 years

A school teacher and her class convinced Massachusetts to axe a 1692 Salem Witch Trial conviction

The US state of Massachusetts has overturned a witchcraft conviction from over 300 years ago after a school teacher and her pupils campaigned to clear the name of a mentally ill woman condemned during the notorious Salem Witch Trials. 

The exoneration of 22-year-old Elizabeth Johnson Jr comes as part of a $53 billion state budget bill signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday, some 329 years after the woman was accused of being a witch.

Johnson Jr was among over 200 people suspected of practicing witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials between 1692 and 1693. The trials, which were fueled by superstitions, fear of disease and other paranoia saw 19 people hanged and one person crushed to death by rocks. Johnson was one of 10 others found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to death. However, due to an order by Governor William Phips in 1693, those executions were stayed. Johnson Jr died in 1747 at the age of 77.

While most of the women branded witches during the trials have since had their names cleared, Johnson Jr was until now left out, presumably due to her having no descendants fighting to clear her name.

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That prompted civics teacher Carrie LaPierre and her students at North Andover middle school to launch a campaign to clear the woman’s conviction, aided by state senator Diana DiZoglio who helped champion the cause and ultimately included the motion in the state’s annual budget bill.

LaPierre told the New York Times that she got the idea while she and her class were covering the notorious witch hunt as part of the school’s yearly curriculum. 

During the lessons, she came to the realization that unlike the dozens of women and men found guilty by Salem city officials, Johnson’s name was never officially cleared.

The class then petitioned a local lawmaker about the prospects of getting the ruling overturned, and their plea eventually landed with the Massachusetts State Senator DiZoglio.

DiZoglio testified to the state senate about the case last May, saying ‘We will never be able to change what happened to victims like Elizabeth but at the very least can set the record straight.”