To be wrongly accused of a crime is anybody's worst nightmare. What's even crueler is not only for the ruling to be inaccurate but for the crime to not even be real in the first place— which is exactly what every woman charged with witchcraft faced in the 17th-century witch trials.
So many women were slammed with the 'witchcraft' label that only today have they finished pardoning every person accused, having finally exonerated the last of the Massachusetts 'witches.'
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An incredible pardon centuries in the making was finally served recently, with an unlikely group having been the championing force behind it all.
Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was one of the women convicted of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials in 1693. She was sentenced to death but, thankfully, never executed. That being said, she also was never pardoned or forgiven. Not until now.
Just last year, Massachusetts lawmakers formally exonerated Johnson and deemed her innocent after 330 years of guilt. She is officially the final Salem 'witch' to be pardoned.
A Class' Impact
The team behind the movement to have her name cleared is just as shocking as the story itself, as it was an eighth-grade civics class from North Andover Middle School.
The group of kids seemed so interested in Johnson's case that they took it upon themselves to look up the legislative actions needed to have her pardoned. It became a full-time, year-long project for these students who became inspiringly invested in clearing this woman's name, no matter how late it was.
The Fruits Of Their Labor
As Carrie LaPierre, the teacher of this class, told The Boston Globe, "They spent most of the year working on getting this set for the legislature—actually writing a bill, writing letters to legislators, creating presentations, doing all the research, looking at the actual testimony of Elizabeth Johnson, learning more about the Salem Witch Trials."
"It became quite extensive for these kids."
Thankfully, all their hard work paid off once state officials caught wind of their project.
A Lesson Learned
The exoneration was passed thanks to legislation introduced by state Senator Diana DiZoglio. "We will never be able to change what happened to victims like Elizabeth but [we], at the very least, can set the record straight," DiZoglio said in a statement.
LaPierre agrees, and also thinks this occasion has all been an amazing learning opportunity for her students. "Passing this legislation will be incredibly impactful on their understanding of how important it is to stand up for people who cannot advocate for themselves and how strong of a voice they actually have."
The confirmation that Johnson is the last convicted witch to be pardoned comes from the Witches of Massachusetts Bay, a historical group that focuses on the 17th-century witch hunts.
Very little is known about Johnson herself, though. According to Salem State history professor Emerson Baker, Johnson lived in Andover, having never married nor had children. No one is even sure when exactly she died.
Andover was one of the many small towns outside of Salem that fell into the witch-hunt craze once word got around.
A Long Time Coming
A total of 45 people were arrested for witchcraft in Andover. 28 of those were members of Johnson's family, including her own mother.
Though it was far too late for the 20 people who were killed in the witch trials, in the centuries since they took place, dozens upon dozens of accused witches were wiped clean of the accusations, their names able to rest fully in innocence.
Why was Johnson left for so long, then? It wasn't anything personal, just a number of roadblocks that halted either her own or others' progress in granting her blamelessness.
First, in 1712, Johnson herself petitioned for exoneration of her charges. However, her request was never heard in court, so nothing wound up happening.
Skip ahead a few centuries to 1957, the new legislative resolution was introduced that cleared exactly one person who still had the crime of witchcraft on their name, though it did refer to "certain other persons."
In 2001, then-Governor Jane Swift added another five names to that resolution, but still not Johnson's.
What We Know Now
"I'm a bit disappointed that we missed a person," Swift said about the matter. “What has always resonated with me is that these are some of the earliest historical examples in the U.S. of women being vilified for acting outside of their accepted role.”
Johnson was only 22 when she was wrongfully accused of witchcraft, an accusation we know today was simply a stand-in for misogynistic beliefs, used as an excuse to punish women for daring to do anything beyond what society asked of them.
A Modern Reflection
"Elizabeth's story and struggle continue to greatly resonate today," DiZoglio said. "While we've come a long way since the horrors of the witch trials, women today still all too often find their rights challenged and concerns dismissed."
Johnson's case is a curious one and a sad example of how often women get left behind in the criminal justice system. Though we're far beyond the days of witchcraft accusations, that doesn't mean that women don't face their own unique set of challenges when dealing with this realm. We ought to continue believing women and listening to their stories to better understand how today's systems fail them, and what can be done to fix them.
The Salem witch trials of the 17th century were a dark and tumultuous era in our nation's history. While it is impossible to turn back the hands of time, you can use today's modern tools to make your dreams a reality. Are you looking to attract wealth into your life this year? Click here if you want to activate your inner Wealth DNA and attract money endlessly.