The last person whose conviction of witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials remained on the books had her name cleared Thursday when the Massachusetts Senate signed off on a measure first proposed by local middle school students.
Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was convicted of witchcraft in 1693 in the now-infamous witch hunt, in which 19 people were hanged and one man crushed to death by rocks. She was condemned to death but never executed.
The legislation clearing her name 329 years later was advocated for by students at North Andover Middle School, who researched the case and how to get Johnson exonerated -- by 1711, all the other people who'd been convicted but not executed had had their names cleared.
"It was unacceptable then and remains unacceptable now that she and other women have been considered unworthy of the dignity and respect they deserve," said State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, who sponsored the legislation, in a statement that noted Johnson may not have been considered worthy of being exonerated because she was unmarried and not a mother.
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In recent years, residents of Salem and surrounding towns like North Andover have made efforts to honor those wrongfully executed in the witch trials, in which hundreds of people were accused in a frenzy of Puritan injustice stoked by superstition, fear of disease and strangers, scapegoating and petty jealousies.
In 2017, Salem unveiled a new memorial of stones engraved with the names of the 19 people who were hanged in the city 325 years before. And last October, the eighth graders in North Andover Middle School teacher Carrie LaPierre's civics class made headlines as they pushed to pardon Elizabeth Johnson.
The students, LaPierre and DiZoglio are set to be featured in an upcoming documentary telling Johnson's life and story, the state senator's office said.
"Passing this legislation will be incredibly impactful on [the students'] 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," LaPierre said in a statement.
DiZoglio credited LaPierre and her students for the passage of the legislation: "They are to be celebrated for stepping up to the plate and having the courage to be a voice for someone who hasn’t had a voice for so long."
Johnson was 22 when she was caught up in the hysteria of the witch trials and sentenced to hang. That never happened: Then-Gov. William Phips threw out her punishment as the magnitude of the gross miscarriages of justice in Salem sank in.
In the more than three centuries that have ensued, dozens of suspects officially were cleared, including Johnson’s own mother, the daughter of a minister whose conviction eventually was reversed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.