The story of the Salem Witch Trials is well known. In the midst of a perfect storm of poor crops, religious tension, political conflict, economic arguments, health and social issues, for less than a year, accusations flew and fear took over small villages in the burgeoning British colony of Massachusetts. From those dark days, then 22-year-old Elizabeth Johnson Jr. still stands convicted for the crimes of witchcraft for which she was examined in 1692 and convicted in 1693 for crimes to exhort witchcraft to, in modern parlance, torture, main and conspire to murder.
Elizabeth Johnson, Jr was the granddaughter of one of Rev. Frances Dane, the elder of two reverends in Andover. She was one of several of Rev. Danes’ accused family members. Elizabeth was arrested in August, quickly confessed and accused many others. When her trial took place much later, on January 11, 1693, Elizabeth plead not guilty at her trial, but was the only one out of three accused who was found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to hang. Why Elizabeth was not cleared then is anyone’s guess, but she was somehow different, which could have played a part. Her grandfather Reverend Francis Dane had made a statement on January 2 calling her “simplish at best,” which was reinforced by Robert Calef writing in 1700 that she was “senseless and ignorant”, so there is a question of whether she had a mental disability.
By January 1693, Massachusetts Governor Phelps had determined to put an end to the witch hunts and intervened, and ended up staying her execution but not clearing her of the charges. Elizabeth Johnson Junior remained charged as accused. While Elizabeth was pardoned and what we know about her life after the Trials is limited, we do know that her life continued to be plagued by her conviction. She never married and never had children. In the eyes of the law, someone who was convicted of witchcraft was considered “dead” and could not own property (although we know that she did sell some of hers in the early 1700’s). At one point, her brother petitioned for restitution of fees paid on her behalf to cover her stay in jail. In 1711 Elizabeth herself filed to clear her name as others had been cleared by then, for some reason leaving her name out of that list. By 1711, however, it seems that the community had moved on and Elizabeth’s request was left unfulfilled.
Over time, stories have been told and retold, some of the purported witches cleared in the Massachusetts courts, as gradually history was atoned. It has only recently been discovered that Elizabeth Johnson Jr today remains the sole accused witch who has yet to be cleared of her crimes.
A school class, their teacher, Carrie LaPierre, and Massachusetts Senator Diana DiZoglio began work to change history after finding inspiration in the work of historian Richard Hite. An educational success story, Ms. LaPierre’s middle school class researched Elizabeth’s case and presented it to Senator DiZoglio, who attempted to pass a bill that would exonerate Elizabeth by adding her name to the list of others who had previously been granted that freedom.
Despite international coverage in news outlets such as ranging from the New York Times, The Smithsonian and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail to La Nouvelle Tribune (Benin), Spiegel (Germany) and El Confidencial (Spain). Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary, however, elected to place Bill S.1016, “An Act relative to the conviction of Elizabeth Johnson, Jr. during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692” on their study list, effectively electing not to act on it. 330 years later, Elizabeth Johnson Jr remains the sole convicted witch from the Salem Witch Trials and the foundation of our documentary as efforts continue to clear her name as our project continues to ask the question, “Why is she still considered to be a witch?"