07 August 2022 :
Massachusetts Formally Exonerates Last ‘Witch’
329 years after she was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, the Massachusetts state senate amended the state’s budget to include a provision to exonerate Elizabeth Johnson Jr., the last of the people convicted during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693 to be legally vindicated of the false charges. The exoneration provision was included in the final state budget bill that passed both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on July 28, 2022.
Johnson, who historians believe was intellectually disabled, confessed to witchcraft in 1693 and was sentenced to death. She later was granted a reprieve and lived to be 77 years old. Her case had largely been overlooked until Carrie LaPierre, an eighth-grade civics teacher at North Andover Middle School, took up her cause. LaPierre used Johnson’s case to teach her students about historical research, how a bill becomes a law, and how to petition their representatives. “I’m excited and relieved,” LaPierre told The New York Times, “but also disappointed I didn’t get to talk to the kids about it,” as they are on summer vacation. “It’s been such a huge project.”
Though the Salem Witch Trials are often seen as an isolated instance of mass hysteria, Johnson’s case mirrors some of the inequities still present in today’s death penalty. She was likely intellectually disabled – her own grandfather called her “simplish at the best,” and, according to Courthouse News, “Boston merchant Robert Calef, who opposed the witch prosecutions, described Johnson and fellow defendant Mary Post as ‘2 of the most senseless and ignorant creatures that can be found.’” She was politically powerless, not only as an unmarried woman, but also as a member of a disfavored family: at least 20 of her relatives were accused of witchcraft.
State Senator Diana DiZoglio represents the area where Johnson lived, and introduced the exoneration legislation.