Elizabeth Johnson Jr, a woman convicted of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials in the 1690s, was finally acquitted last week after years of petitions from Massachusetts teacher Carrie LaPierre and her eighth-grade civics students. Justice came nearly 330 years later.
The woman was accused of witchcraft in 1692 along with over 200 other women and men in Salem. Of those convicted, 19 were hanged and another four died in prison – Johnson was also due to be executed, but was spared.
Although she was not murdered, during Johnson’s lifetime and through the centuries that followed, her name was never really cleared. This was only now, when Carrie LaPierre, an eighth-grade civics teacher at North Andover Middle School, came across her story and involved her students in the case.
North Andover, a city in northeastern Massachusetts, is just 40 minutes from Salem. But until reading a book about local witches by historian Richard Hite, LaPierre said she had no idea how the Salem witch trials had repercussions on the city — and it was in those pages that she learned about Johnson.
While many other convicted witches were acquitted, some of them posthumously, like the late Johnson — or “EJJ,” as LaPierre and her students called her — have somehow been forgotten over the years, the teacher told CNN in an email.
Details of Johnson’s life are scarce, but his family was a prime target of the Salem witch trials, fueled by hysteria, Puritan rule, and family feuds. She was one of 28 family members accused of witchcraft in 1692, according to the Boston Globe.
Johnson made a compelling confession during court interrogation: She said that another woman, Martha Carrier, “persuaded her to be a witch” and that Carrier told her she “should be saved if she were a witch,” according to a document. from 1692 digitized by the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive.
Some of the details of her story were sordid and mortifying to Salem residents: Johnson said the devil appeared to her “like two black cats”, and she named several other people in the city who were also involved in witchcraft. The woman also showed her knuckles, where it looked like fellow “witches” had “sucked her out,” according to the 1692 examination document.
For her “crimes,” Johnson was sentenced to death at age 22, as the Boston Globe reported last year, but the sentence was suspended by the governor at the time (whose wife was also accused of witchcraft).
In 1711, after state authorities realized they had little evidence to convict and execute or imprison women (and some men) for witchcraft, they acquitted many of those who had been convicted or even hanged, including John Proctor, later one of the protagonists of the Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible”.
Johnson’s name, however, was omitted from this list. Thus, in 1712, she requested the inclusion of Salem in the act, which provided for restitution to the families of the accused.
In the letter, she asked “that the Honorable Court be pleased to allow me something in consideration of my charges on account of my long imprisonment, which will be gratefully acknowledged as a great favor.”
Why, exactly, Johnson was left out is unclear. But LaPierre decided, after connecting with the North Andover Historical Society, LaPierre that taking on the case of a long-dead “witch” and clearing her name could be an engaging project for his students — a real application of civics in action.
last witch acquitted
So LaPierre’s eighth graders decided to exonerate EJJ, petitioning the Massachusetts legislature in hopes that a legislator would introduce a bill to clear his name.
Eventually, after three years and “numerous disappointments,” a state senator heard them — Diana DiZoglio sponsored a state budget amendment this year to add Johnson’s name to an existing resolution that exonerated other “witches” by name.
All that petitioning and bureaucratic navigating was instructive for his eighth grade classes, but LaPierre said that “the lasting lessons are probably more important: standing up for justice, standing up for those who can’t do it for themselves, recognizing that their voices have power.” in the community and in the world, and understanding that persistence is necessary to achieve your goals.”
The amendment adds Johnson’s name to a 1957 resolution that exonerated several people convicted of witchcraft — and so, ultimately, Johnson’s acquittal wish was granted.
But the job for LaPierre continues: She will have to find a new project for her eighth graders now that Johnson’s case is closed. She is leaving her students this year with an assignment to determine the problems they care about and the courses of action they will take to solve them.
Whatever her students decide to tackle this year, the witches are likely off the table: Johnson is the last woman convicted in the Salem trials to be exonerated. And with that, LaPierre and the gang closed a chapter in history that began centuries ago.
Source: CNN Brasil