The last of those wrongly convicted during the Salem Witch Trials has been cleared 329 years later thanks to the hard work of a Massachusetts teacher and her eighth-grade students. They pushed to have Elizabeth Johnson Jr. exonerated of witchcraft. Johnson faced allegations along with many of her extended family members, reports the New York Times. And though she reportedly admitted to being a witch and was sentenced to death in 1693, she was ultimately granted a reprieve. Her exoneration came much later. It was included in the state budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday, after three years of lobbying by North Andover Middle School civics teacher Carrie LaPierre and her students.
"I'm excited and relieved," LaPierre tells the Times, noting Johnson "became one of our world, in a sense." Johnson, who may have had a mental disability and never married or had children, was 22 when accused but lived to the ripe old age of 77, LaPierre said. Johnson submitted a petition to have her conviction reversed in 1712, but was denied for unknown reasons, per Courthouse News. Though others convicted in the trials were officially exonerated in 1957, including Johnson's family members, Johnson was overlooked, perhaps because she bore the same name as her mother. LaPierre took up the cause for a project that allowed her to teach students about research methods and how a bill becomes law.
They wrote letters to lawmakers and lobbied Baker for a pardon before state Sen. Diana DiZoglio added the exoneration to the budget bill. "These students have set an incredible example of the power of advocacy and speaking up for others who don't have a voice," DiZoglio tells the Times. Historian Emerson W. Baker of Salem State University notes those accused by the Puritans may have confessed to avoid being tortured or killed. Indeed, none of the 55 people who confessed were executed, but all 19 people who pleaded not guilty were, he says. A man was also crushed to death by rocks as part of a torture campaign meant to bring about his confession, per Courthouse News. (Read more witch trials stories.)