Lawmakers asked to clear one more name from Witch Trials

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Two hundred and sixty-five years after 19 people were hanged and dozens more accused during the 1692 witch trials, Massachusetts lawmakers apologized.

Acknowledging that some descendents of the witchcraft trials’ victims remained distressed by the actions of a “possibly illegal” court, the state Legislature in August 1957 adopted a resolution officially declaring the events “shocking, and the result of a wave of popular hysterical fear of the Devil in the community.”

The resolution establishes that, because the laws that governed the witchcraft trials — most famously linked to Salem, though they involved residents of other nearby towns — “have been long since abandoned and superseded by our more civilized laws,” there should be “no disgrace or cause for distress” attached to the victims’ descendents.

It wasn’t the first time, or the last, that legislators had stepped in to clear the name of those accused of witchcraft during a dark period in Massachusetts history. They’re now being asked to do so again.

In 1711, acting on the petition of several of the accused and children of some of those who were executed, the colonial Legislature passed an act reversing witchcraft convictions, specifically naming 22 individuals. The 1957 resolution — the result of another family effort — mentions Ann Pudeator, a 70-year-old widow hanged in Salem on on Sept. 22, 1692, “and certain other persons.”

On Halloween in 2001, Gov. Jane Swift signed a law adding the names of Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott and Wilmot Redd to the resolution.

Twenty years later, a bill before the Judiciary Committee, scheduled for a Tuesday hearing, proposes one more name to put on the list — Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who was convicted in 1693, and according to Sen. Diana DiZoglio, never exonerated.

In written testimony to the committee, DiZoglio said it’s not clear why the Legislature and courts did not take action on behalf of Johnson, a 22-year-old who lived in a part of Andover that’s now North Andover.

The Methuen Democrat speculates one possible answer is that because Johnson “was neither a wife or a mother, she was not considered worthy of having her name cleared.”

“[B]ecause Elizabeth was not hanged for her alleged crime, she was overlooked. Because she never had children, there is no group of descendents acting on her behalf,” DiZoglio said in her testimony.

She told the News Service she was inspired to file the bill (S 1016) by North Andover Middle School teacher Carrie LaPierre, whose students researched the issue. DiZoglio said she was happy to work with the students, and that action is long overdue.

“It’s very important that we correct history and give the families of victims like Elizabeth closure,” DiZoglio said.

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