The last remaining Massachusetts Salem "witch" has been officially exonerated by the state after 329 years and a lengthy campaign championed by an eighth-grade teacher. Elizabeth Johnson was branded a witch during the era of witch-hunting in 1693 along with 29 others, though these have since been exonerated. Johnson was then the last official "witch" in the state despite dying many centuries ago, before a recent bill legally exonerated her too.
The campaign was led by teacher Carrie LaPierre for over three years, and last year Democrat State Senator Diana DiZoglio introduced legislation to clear Johnson’s name after being inspired by a group of 13 and 14-year-olds. Now, Republican Governor Charlie Baker included her exoneration in a new budget bill after LaPierre and her students laid the legal foundations for what would be required to fully pardon Johnson’s name.
Many of the executed people were exonerated in 1957 and others in 2001. Johnson, who was not executed, was not included. She is believed to have died in the mid-1700s and buried an unmarked grave.
The Salem Witch Trials were an infamous series of accusations and executions, mostly of women wrongly accused of worshipping Satan and practicing witchcraft. In just over a year of witch hysteria, over 200 people were accused and 30 people were found guilty, with 19 put to death by hanging; another five died in jail; and one man refused to plead and died by crushing in an attempt to extract a confession.
Many of the arrests happened around Salem and Salem Village, and Salem was the county seat in which the convictions and executions were made, making Massachusetts home to one of the most notable witch trials in history.
Of the around 200 people accused, 78 percent of them were women. This was due to an inherent belief at the time that women were sinful and more prone to Satanist ideologies due to the belief that their bodies were "weak". The witch trials were a means to persecute society’s most powerless, with women holding little to no power in the religious Puritan communities.
DiZoglio now believes it is important that such an exoneration is made, as the issue is so closely tied to women’s rights both historic and present.
“Women’s rights are under attack,” DiZoglio said, reports Courthouse News. "Reproductive rights are under attack.”