Stephan Savoia Archives Associated Press A woman films a video in 2017 at the Proctor's Ledge memorial in Salem, where five women were hanged for witchcraft in 1692. In 1711, leaders of the Massachusetts colony passed a bill to clear the names of some people convicted in Salem. And the efforts to clear their names did not stop there.
In 1648, Margaret Jones, a midwife, became the first person in Massachusetts ― and the second in New England ― to be executed for witchcraft, decades before the infamous Salem witch trials.
< p>Nearly four centuries later, the state and region are still struggling to deal with the magnitude of the legacy of the witchcraft trials.
The latest initiative comes from a group that works to clear the names of all people accused, arrested, or indicted for witchcraft in Massachusetts, whether or not the charges resulted in hanging.
Made up of history buffs and descendants, the Massachusetts Witch-Hunt Justice Project hopes to persuade the state to take a more complete accounting of its ancient history, according to Josh Hutchinson, the group's leader.
< p>Between 1638 and 1693, hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft in what would become the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Most escaped execution.
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While much effort has been made to clear the names of those put to death in Salem, most of those who were victims of witchcraft trials during the 1600s were largely ignored, including five women hanged for witchcraft in Boston between 1648 and 1688.
“It is important that we correct the injustices of the past,” said Mr. Hutchinson, who noted that he counts accusers and victims among his ancestors. We would like an apology to all those who have been accused, indicted or arrested. »
For now, the group has collected signatures for a petition, but they hope to take their case to the legislative chamber.
Links historical and family
Among those accused of witchcraft in Boston was Ann Hibbins, the sister-in-law of Massachusetts Governor Richard Bellingham, who was executed in 1656. A character based on Mrs. Hibbins would later appear in Nathaniel Hawthorne's “The Scarlet Letter,” published in 1850.
Another accused witch in Boston, known as Goodwife Ann Glover or Goody Glover, was hanged in the city in 1688. A plaque dedicated to her on the facade of a Catholic church in the North End neighborhood describes her as “Massachusetts’ first Catholic martyr.” It is one of the few physical mementos of the city's witch trial history.
The Witch Justice Group helped lead a successful similar effort in Connecticut, where The first person executed for witchcraft in the American colonies was in 1647: Alse Young. The last witchcraft trial in Connecticut took place in 1697 and ended in dismissal.
In May, Connecticut state senators voted 34-1 to absolve 12 women and men convicted of witchcraft ― 11 were executed ― more than 370 years ago and to apologize for the “error “judicial” that occurred during a dark 15-year period in the state's colonial history.
The resolution, which lists the nine women and two men who were executed, as well as one woman who was convicted and given a reprieve, was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 121 to 30. As it s This is a resolution, it does not require the governor's signature.
For many, the distant events in Boston, Salem and elsewhere are both fascinating and personal. This is the case of David Allen Lambert, chief genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Among the accused who were to be hanged in 1692 in Salem, but who escaped execution, were counts his great-grandmother Mary Perkins Bradbury.
“We can’t change history, but maybe we can send an apology to the accused,” he said. This would sort of close the chapter. »
The shame of a judge in Salem
Massachusetts has already struggled to come to terms with its history of witch trials ― proceedings that allowed “spectral evidence” in which victims could testify that the defendant harmed them in a dream or vision.
These efforts began almost immediately when Samuel Sewall, judge at the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693, made a public confession in a Boston church five years later, taking “the blame and shame” of the trials and asking for pardon.
In 1711, colony leaders passed a bill to clear the names of some people convicted in Salem.
In 1957, the state legislature issued an apology of sorts for Ann Pudeator and others who “were indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed” in 1692 for witchcraft. The resolution declared the Salem trials “shocking and the result of a wave of hysterical fear of the devil within the community.”
In 2001, then-governor Jane Swift signed a law exonerating five women executed during the Salem witchcraft trials.
In 2017, Salem dedicated a memorial for the victims. The ceremony took place 325 years after the hangings of Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Wildes at a site in Salem known as Proctor’s Ledge. Nineteen of them were hanged during the Salem witch trials, while a twentieth victim was pressed to death.
In 2022, lawmakers exonerated Elizabeth Johnson Junior, 329 years after she was convicted of witchcraft in 1693 and sentenced to death at the height of the Salem witch trials. Elizabeth Johnson would be the latest accused Salem witch whose conviction was overturned.
Krieger widow honored
Other states have worked to facing similar stories.
In Pownal, Vermont, a town bordering Massachusetts and New York, a dedication ceremony was held last month for the installation of a historical marker recognizing the survivor of Vermont's only recorded witchcraft trial. The widow Krieger allegedly escaped drowning in the Hoosic River during her trial for witchcraft in 1785, according to the “Legends and Lore” panel.
The accusers believed the witches floated, but Mrs. Krieger sank and was saved, the monument says.
The September 16 dedication ceremony included a witch walk, during which people dressed as witches walked across a bridge to the site of the monument, along the Hoosic River.
“I'm sure Widow Krieger would have been happy to participate in our witch walk today, to challenge those who think they have the right to accuse witchcraft someone who looks different to them, acts differently or has a personality that they find weird,” said Joyce Held, a member of the Pownal Historical Society, who worked with the Bennington Museum to obtain the memorial plaque .