CNN

The last Salem witch has been exonerated, thanks to an eighth-grade teacher and her students

Aug 6, 2022, 2:00 PM
A depiction of the Salem Witch Trials (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)...
A depiction of the Salem Witch Trials (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

 (CNN) — It’s never too late to right a historical wrong — even if that restoration of justice comes nearly 330 years later.

Elizabeth Johnson Jr., a woman convicted of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials in the 1690s, was finally exonerated last week after years of petitioning by Massachusetts teacher Carrie LaPierre and her eighth-grade civics students. Justice came in the form of a brief addition to the 2023 state budget.

Johnson was accused of witchcraft in 1692 along with more than 200 other women and men in Salem. Of those convicted, 19 were hanged and four others died in prison — Johnson was set to be executed, too, but was later spared.

And yet, during Johnson’s lifetime and over the centuries that followed, her name was never actually cleared. It wasn’t until Carrie LaPierre, an eighth-grade civics teacher at North Andover Middle School, came across her story and involved her students in her case that Massachusetts legislators took notice.

How to exonerate a convicted witch, 300-plus years later

North Andover, a town in northeastern Massachusetts, is only about 40 minutes from Salem. But until she’d read a book on local witches by historian Richard Hite, LaPierre said she had no idea how the Salem witch trials reverberated in the North Andover area — and it was within those pages that she learned of Johnson.

While many other convicted witches were exonerated, many of them posthumously, the late Johnson — or “EJJ,” as LaPierre and her students called her — had “somehow been overlooked while all other convicted witches had been exonerated over the years,” LaPierre told CNN in an email.

Details of Johnson’s life are slim, but her family was a major target of the Salem witch trials, driven by hysteria, Puritanical rule and feuding between families. She was one of 28 family members accused of witchcraft in 1692, according to the Boston Globe.

Johnson made a compelling confession during a court examination: She said that another woman, Martha Carrier, “perswaded her to be a witch” and that Carrier told her she “Should be Saved if she would be a witch,” according to a 1692 document digitized by the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive.

Some of the details of her story were sordid and mortifying to Salem’s residents: Johnson said the devil appeared to her “like two black Catts,” and she named several other people in Salem whom she said were involved in witchcraft. She also showed her knuckles, where it appeared fellow “witches” had “suckt her,” according to the 1692 examination document.

For her “crimes,” Johnson was sentenced to death at age 22, as the Boston Globe reported last year, but she was given a reprieve by the governor at the time (whose wife had also been accused of witchcraft).

In 1711, after state officials realized they’d had little evidence to convict and execute or imprison women (and some men) for witchcraft, they exonerated many of those who’d been convicted or even hanged, including John Proctor, later one of the protagonists in Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible.”

Johnson’s name, though, was omitted from this list. So in 1712, she petitioned Salem to be included in the act, which provided restitution to families of the accused.

In the letter, she asked “That the Honourable Court would please to allow me Something in consideration of my charges by reason of my Long Imprisonment, which will be thankfully acknowledged as a great favour.”

Why, exactly, Johnson was left out is unclear. But LaPierre decided, after connecting with the North Andover Historical Society, LaPierre that taking up the case of a long-dead “witch” and clearing her name could be an engaging project for her students — a real-life application of civics in action.

Johnson is the last Salem witch to be exonerated

So LaPierre’s eighth-graders set out on exonerating EJJ, petitioning the Massachusetts legislature with the hopes that a lawmaker would introduce a bill to clear her name. Eventually, after three years and “numerous disappointments,” one state senator heard them — Diana DiZoglio sponsored an amendment to the state budget this year to add Johnson’s name to an existing resolution that exonerated other “witches” by name.

All that petitioning and bureaucratic navigating was instructive for her eighth-grade classes, but LaPierre said “the long-lasting lessons are probably more important: Standing up for justice, advocating for those who cannot do so for themselves, recognizing that their voices have power in the community and the world, and understanding that persistence is necessary to achieve their goals.”

The amendment adds Johnson’s name to a 1957 resolution that exonerated several people convicted of witchcraft — and so, finally, Johnson’s wish for absolution was granted.

But the work for LaPierre continues: She’ll have to find a new project for her incoming eighth-graders now that Johnson’s case is closed. She’s leaving it up to her students this year to determine the issues they care about and the courses of action they’ll take to address them.

Whatever her students choose to tackle this year, witches are likely off the table: Johnson is the final woman convicted in the Salem trials to be exonerated. And with that, LaPierre and her class ended a chapter in history that began centuries ago.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

CNN

A balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana, U.S. February 1, 2023, in this picture obtained ...
Zachary Cohen, CNN

US military has shot down the Chinese spy balloon off US East Coast, US official says

The US military has shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard, a US official said Saturday.
15 hours ago
The Goonies House...
Taylor Romine and Ralph Ellis, CNN

Man wanted for leaving a dead fish at ‘The Goonies’ house saved by Coast Guard in daring rescue

A man wanted by police in an incident at a house featured in "The Goonies" was the subject of a Coast Guard rescue when he was tossed from a stolen boat as it capsized, authorities said.
15 hours ago
A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The U.S. is tracki...
Oren Liebermann, Haley Britzky and Michael Conte, CNN

Pentagon tracking suspected Chinese spy balloon over the US

(CNN) — The US is tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States, defense officials said on Thursday, a discovery that risks adding further strain to tense US-China relations. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the US government has been tracking the balloon for several days as it made its way over […]
2 days ago
A federal law that prohibits people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing...
Tierney Sneed, CNN

Court says gun law targeting domestic violence suspects is unconstitutional

 (CNN) — A federal law that prohibits people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms is unconstitutional, a conservative-leaning appeals court ruled Thursday. The ruling is the latest significant decision dismantling a gun restriction in the wake of the Supreme Court’s expansion of Second Amendment rights last year in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. […]
2 days ago
PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA, USA - FEBRUARY 2: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Tuesday  morning 6 more wee...
Scottie Andrew, CNN

The bizarre history of Groundhog Day

So how did Groundhog Day go from a kooky local tradition to an annual celebration even those of us who don't worry about winter can find the fun in?
3 days ago
Multiple Michigan agencies are investigating what happened to three local rappers, Armani Kelly, 28...
By Michelle Watson and Amy Simonson, CNN

3 rappers have been missing for 10 days since their scheduled performance was canceled, Detroit police say

Multiple Michigan agencies are investigating what happened to three local rappers who went missing 10 days ago after a performance at a club was canceled, Detroit police said.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
The last Salem witch has been exonerated, thanks to an eighth-grade teacher and her students