In 1692, 22-year-old Elizabeth Johnson of Andover confessed to witchcraft. Arrested as part of the witch hysteria that swept the region that year, Johnson admitted she had consorted with the devil and afflicted her neighbors. She was convicted in 1693.
Now, thanks to the efforts of a group of middle school students from North Andover and their teacher, Johnson has finally been exonerated. A provision in the budget package signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in late July legally recognizes Johnson was the victim of popular hysteria and unjust proceedings.
The effort to exonerate Johnson began when Carrie LaPierre, a teacher at North Andover Middle School, first learned about Johnson’s case and saw an opportunity to teach her students a valuable civics lesson.
Over the years, starting in the 1700s, other legal efforts has cleared every other person convicted of witchcraft in the so-called Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693. Twenty people were executed during the hysteria. Though the trials are generally associated with the city of Salem, many of the accusers and accused came from all around the region, including Ipswich, Gloucester, Andover, and Methuen.
Following lobbying by the descendants of some convicted of witchcraft, the state in 1957 issued a resolution declaring that the trials of Ann Pudeator and others “were and are shocking, and the result of a wave of popular hysterical fear of the Devil in the community,” and that “no disgrace or cause for distress attaches to the said descendants or any of them by reason of said proceedings.” In 2001, an amendment to the resolution added more names to the list. For unknown reasons, Johnson was not included in this update, however.
So LaPierre’s class researched primary documents, learned about Johnson and the accusations against her, and drafted a bill to acknowledge that her conviction was unjust. The students worked with state state Senator Diana DiZoglio of Methuen to introduce the proposal in the legislature in early 2021. It took another year and a half, but a provision adding Johnson’s name to the list of those exonerated was finally packaged into a budget bill and signed into law.
“These students have set an incredible example of the power of advocacy and speaking up for others who don’t have a voice,” DiZoglio told the New York Times.