Massachusetts Grants Absolution To Its Last Witch

Courthouse News Service reported (on July 28, 2022), that after 329 years – and thanks to an eighth-grade civics class – a Salem-era woman has been officially exonerated of devil worship. The last remaining Massachusetts resident legally classified as a witch has been given a reprieve as part of a budget bill signed Thursday by Governor Charlie Baker.

According to The Courthouse News Service, in 1693, Elizabeth Johnson was one of 30 people who were convicted as part of the Salem-area witch hysteria but the only one who hadn’t later been exonerated by the state Legislature, making her the last person still regarded, as far as the state legal system was concerned, as in league with Satan.

Johnson’s cause was championed for three years by Carrie LaPierre, an eighth-grade civics teacher in North Andover where Johnson lived more than three centuries ago. She helped led her classes in learning about the witch trials, contacting legislators, helping draft legislation and lobbying state officials.

When Elizabeth Johnson was sentenced to death for consorting with the Prince of Darkness, Johnson was a 22-year-old woman who had significant developmental disabilities. Her grandfather called her “simplish at the best,” and Boston merchants Robert Calef, who opposed the witch prosecutions, described Johnson and fellow defendant Mary Post as “two of the most senseless and ignorant creatures that can be found.”

Elizabeth Johnson was spared death when her sentence was commuted by then-Governor William Phips. The reason for Johnson’s confession is unknown. Historian Richard Hite noted that accused witches in Massachusetts were generally only put to death if they professed their innocence. Those who confessed were spared so that they could provide evidence against others.

CNN provides more information. While many other convicted witches were exonerated, many of them posthumously, the late Elizabeth Johnson had “somehow been overlooked while all other convicted witches had been exonerated over the years”, said teacher Carrie LaPierre.

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

A 1692 document digitized by the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive provided a digital version of documents from the witch trial of Elizabeth Johnson. Here is a small portion of one:

“…She confesseth as followeth That Goody Carrier brought a book to her & she set her hand to it – That Goody Carrier baptized her when she Baptized her Daughter Sarah & that Goody Carr’r told her she Should be Saved if she were a witch – That she had bin at Salem Village w’th Goody Carr’r & that she had been at the Mock Sacrement theire & Saw Mr. Burroughs their She Conffessed She had aficted Severlall persons that the first She afflicted was lawrence Lacey & that She & Tho Carrier aflected them this day as She Came to Twone and that She hath afflicted a Child of Ephraham Davis, the 9 Instant & this day by pinching it and that she affected ann Putnam w’ith a Spear That She and goody Carrier afflicted Benja’ Abbott – …”

For her “crimes,” Johnson was sentenced to death at age 22, 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. Elizabeth Johnson’s name, however, was omitted from this list. In 1712, she petitioned Salem to be included in the act, which provided restitutions of the families of the accused.

In August of 2022, Elizabeth Johnson, Jr., was finally exonerated after years of petitioning by teacher Carrie LaPierre and her eight-grade civics students. CNN reported that justice came in the form of a brief addition to the 2023 state budget.

Related Articles on

The Descendants Of Witches Want Ancestors Cleared

Any Acquired Witches In The Family?

Salem Witchcraft Trials

< Return To Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.