She Was Declared a Witch at Salem. These Middle Schoolers Want to Clear Her Name.

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An eighth-grade people successful North Andover, Mass., is seeking to wide the sanction of Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who was convicted of witchcraft successful 1693.

A circuit  radical  astatine  the Salem Witch Trials Memorial successful  Salem, Mass.
Credit...Mark Lorenz

Neil Vigdor

Aug. 20, 2021, 9:31 a.m. ET

More than 3 centuries aft being tarnished by the hysteria of the Salem witch trials, a Massachusetts pistillate convicted of witchcraft could yet person a pardon from the authorities due to the fact that of the lobbying efforts of an improbable constituency: an eighth-grade civics class.

The woman, Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who lived successful what is present North Andover, Mass., was 1 of 28 members of her extended household who faced allegations of witchcraft successful 1692, according to historians. She was calved astir 1670 and whitethorn person been mentally disabled.

She was sentenced to decease successful 1693 aft she confessed to being a witch, lone to beryllium granted a reprieve by the politician of Massachusetts astatine the time. She died successful 1747, astatine the property of astir 77.

But successful opposition with a immense bulk of different radical who were wrongfully convicted and carried the stigma associated with the witch trials agelong aft their deaths, Johnson had nary known descendants to effort to wide her name.

That’s wherefore a radical of mediate schoolhouse students from North Andover decided past twelvemonth to instrumentality up her cause, pressing their authorities legislator to present legislation that they helped trade and that would exonerate Johnson, who ne'er joined and had nary children.

“To close a wrong, it’s worthy doing,” Carrie LaPierre, the teacher of the eighth-grade civics people astatine North Andover Middle School, said connected Thursday.

As portion of their civics education, Ms. LaPierre said, the students are taught astir acceptance.

“It’s thing we speech a batch about: individuality and stereotypes and respecting radical who are antithetic than you,” she said.

At slightest 172 radical from Salem and surrounding towns, which see what is present North Andover, were accused of witchcraft successful 1692 arsenic portion of a Puritanical inquisition that was rooted successful paranoia and xenophobia, according to historians.

Among them was Johnson’s mother, whose archetypal sanction was besides Elizabeth; respective of her aunts; and her grandfather, who was a minister, said Emerson W. Baker, a past prof astatine Salem State University successful Massachusetts and the writer of the publication “A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience.”

“In the 17th century, it’s earlier the property of science,” Professor Baker said successful an interrogation connected Thursday. “When things spell wrong, you look for idiosyncratic to blame.”

Elizabeth’s gramps had erstwhile described her arsenic “simplish” astatine best, according to Professor Baker. “So that surely mightiness person singled her retired arsenic idiosyncratic who mightiness beryllium different.”

About 35 percent of the radical who were formally charged with witchcraft confessed and avoided execution, helium said, adding that the ones who were enactment to decease were those who had maintained their innocence oregon refused to cooperate.

“Frankly, being accused of witchcraft successful 1692 would person been a stain worse than murder,” Professor Baker said.

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Credit...Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

In the 1700s, immoderate of those who were convicted of witchcraft successfully petitioned to person their convictions overturned. During the 1950s, Massachusetts passed a instrumentality that had been intended to exonerate the remaining radical who were recovered blameworthy of witchcraft, but it failed to see each of their names. Another effort to present justness successful 2001 excluded Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who historians said was declared legally dormant erstwhile she was convicted successful 1693.

“She was the lone idiosyncratic who was convicted during that process who was ne'er exonerated,” State Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat whose territory includes North Andover, said connected Thursday.

Ms. DiZoglio said that she had been moving with Ms. LaPierre’s people connected civics projects erstwhile the students enlisted her successful the exoneration effort. In March, a measure that she introduced to wide Johnson’s sanction was referred to the Joint Committee connected the Judiciary and it received a proceeding past month.

“There has been nary progressive radical of descendants advocating connected her behalf, and these students chose to prime up that mantle,” she said. Still, Ms. DiZoglio added, she is optimistic that the effort volition yet beryllium successful.

Ms. LaPierre said that her students had learned however the legislative process works — and however it could beryllium a grind. The hold is thing new, though, particularly for Elizabeth Johnson Jr.

“This,” Ms. LaPierre said, “isn’t going to hap overnight.”

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