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Three Centuries Later, Accused Witch Is Cleared

Salem pardons Elizabeth Johnson Jr.
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 26, 2022 5:47 PM CDT
Three Centuries Later, Accused Witch Is Cleared
File photo of the logo for the Salem Police Department.   (AP Photo/Lisa Poole, File)

(Newser) – It took more than three centuries, but the last Salem “witch” who wasn’t has been officially pardoned. Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday formally exonerated Elizabeth Johnson Jr., clearing her name 329 years after she was convicted of witchcraft in 1693 and sentenced to death at the height of the Salem Witch Trials, per the AP. Johnson was never executed, but neither was she officially pardoned like others wrongly accused of witchcraft. Lawmakers agreed to reconsider her case last year after a curious eighth-grade civics class at North Andover Middle School took up her cause and researched the legislative steps needed to clear her name.

Johnson is the last accused witch to be cleared, according to Witches of Massachusetts Bay, a group devoted to the history and lore of the 17th-century witch hunts. “For 300 years, Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was without a voice, her story lost to the passages of time,” said state Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem. 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.

Johnson was 22 when she was caught up in the hysteria of the witch trials and sentenced to hang. That never happened: Then-Gov. William Phips threw out her punishment as the magnitude of the gross miscarriages of justice in Salem sank in. In the more than three centuries that have ensued, dozens of suspects officially were cleared, including Johnson’s own mother, the daughter of a minister. But for some reason, Johnson’s name wasn’t included in various legislative attempts to set the record straight. Because she wasn’t among those whose convictions were formally set aside, hers still technically stood. Until now.

(Read more Salem stories.)

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