State Sen. Diana DiZoglio is working at clearing the criminal record of a woman who lived 328 years ago in what is now North Andover
DiZoglio has a bill before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee that would exonerate Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who was convicted of witchcraft in 1693. In written testimony to the committee, DiZoglio said it’s not clear why the legislature and courts did not take action on behalf of 22-year-old Johnson after clearing others in 1711, 1957 and 2001. 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.”
“Because Elizabeth was not hanged for her alleged crime, she was overlooked. Because she never had children, there is no group of descendants acting on her behalf,” DiZoglio said in testimony before the committee.
DiZoglio said she was inspired to file the bill by North Andover Middle School teacher Carrie LaPierre, whose students researched the issue. The senator 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.
In 1711, 265 years after 19 people were hanged and dozens more accused during the 1692 witch trials, Massachusetts lawmakers apologized. Acknowledging that some descendants 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famously linked to Salem, though they involved residents of other nearby towns—“have been long since abandoned and superseded by our more civilized laws,” there should be “no disgrace or cause for distress” attached to the victims’ descendants.
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 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.