By Lori Perkins
Over the course of the past three decades the women who were accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts more than 300 years ago have been posthumously exonerated as we, as a country, have seen the Salem Witch Trials for what they really were. But a class of middle school students in Andover, Massachusetts found that one of the so-called Salem witches had not been formally pardoned and began a petition to do so three years ago. Last week, Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was formally cleared of the charges of practicing witchcraft which she had been forced to confess to three centuries ago.
The exoneration of Johnson Jr. came tucked inside a $53 billion state budget signed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker brought about as a result of the lobbying efforts of Carrie LaPierre, an Andover North Andover Middle civics teacher, and her eighth-grade class, with the help of State Senator Diana DiZoglio.
“I’m excited and relieved,” LaPierre, told The New York Times on the day of the exoneration, which took place during summer vacation. She added that she was “also disappointed I didn’t get to talk to the kids about it. It’s been such a huge project. We called her E.J.J., all the kids and I. She just became one of our world, in a sense.”
LaPierre was able to teach her students civics, research, history and how legislation works through the experience of exonerating Johnson Jr. It also taught the students the value of persistence, as it was an extensive letter writing campaign that drew the attention of State Senator DiZoglio, who added an amendment to the budget bill, which finally made the exoneration a reality.
“These students have set an incredible example of the power of advocacy and speaking up for others who don’t have a voice,” Ms. DiZoglio, a Democrat whose district includes North Andover, said in an interview with The New York Times.
Not much is known about the life of Johnson Jr. other than that she was a 22 when accused of witchcraft and unmarried (almost a crime itself at that time). She confessed to her witchcraft charges and was not killed. She lived until 77. Her mother was also charged with witchcraft, along with another 19 members of her extended family, all of whom were exonerated earlier, as they had descendants to fight for their pardons.