In 1648, Margaret Jones, a midwife, became the first person in Massachusetts – the second in New England – to be executed for witchcraft, decades before the infamous Salem witch trials.
Nearly four centuries later, the state and region are still struggling to understand the magnitude of the legacy of the witch trials.
The latest effort comes from a group dedicated to clarifying the names of everyone accused, arrested or charged with witchcraft in Massachusetts, whether or not the charges end in hanging.
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The Massachusetts Witch-Hunt Justice Project, made up of history buffs and descendants, hopes to persuade the state to take a more complete accounting of its beginnings, according to Josh Hutchinson, the group’s leader.
Hundreds of individuals were accused of witchcraft in what would become the Commonwealth of Massachusetts between 1638 and 1693. Most escaped execution.
While much attention has been focused on clarifying the names of those executed in Salem, most of those involved in witch trials throughout the 1600s were largely ignored, including five women hanged for witchcraft in Boston between 1648 and 1688.
“It’s important that we correct the injustices of the past,” said Hutchinson, who noted that he counts both accusers and victims among his ancestors. “We would like an apology for all those accused, indicted or arrested.”
For now, the group has collected signatures for a petition but hopes to take its case to the Statehouse.
Among those accused of witchcraft in Boston was Ann Hibbins, sister-in-law of Massachusetts Governor Richard Bellingham, who was executed in 1656. A character based on Hibbins would later appear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” published in 1850 .
Another accused Boston witch, known as Goodwife Ann Glover or Goody Glover, was hanged in the city in 1688. A plaque dedicated to her is located on the front of a Catholic church in the North End neighborhood of the town, describing her as “the first Catholic witch”. martyr in Massachusetts. » It is one of the few physical testimonies in the history of the city’s witch trials.
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The witch justice group helped launch a successful similar effort in Connecticut, home of the first person executed for witchcraft in the American colonies in 1647 – Alse Young. The last witchcraft trial in Connecticut took place in 1697 and ended with the charges being dismissed.
In May, Connecticut state senators voted 34-1 to absolve 12 women and men convicted of witchcraft — 11 of whom were executed — more than 370 years ago and apologize for “the miscarriage of justice” that occurred during a dark period of 15 years. of the colonial history of the State.
The resolution, which lists the nine women and two men executed as well as the woman sentenced and granted a reprieve, was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 121 to 30. Since it is a resolution, it does not require the governor’s signature.
For many, the distant events in Boston, Salem and beyond are both fascinating and personal. This includes David Allen Lambert, chief genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Lambert counts his 10th great-grandmother – Mary Perkins Bradbury – among the defendants who were scheduled to be hanged in 1692 in Salem but escaped execution.
“We can’t change history but maybe we can send an apology to the accused,” he said. “It kind of closes the chapter.”
Massachusetts has already made efforts to come to terms with its history of witch trials — proceedings that allowed for “spectral evidence” in which victims could testify that the accused had harmed them in a dream or vision.
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This effort began almost immediately when Samuel Sewall, judge in the Salem witch trials of 1692–93, issued a public confession in a Boston church five years later, accepting “the blame and shame” of the trials and asking pardon.
In 1711, colonial leaders passed a bill clearing the names of some convicts 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 popular hysterical fear of the Devil in the community.”
In 2001, Acting Governor Jane Swift signed a bill exonerating five women executed during the Salem witch trials.
In 2017, Salem unveiled a memorial for the victims. The ceremony took place 325 years to the day when Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Wildes were hanged at a site in Salem known as Proctor’s Ledge. Nineteen were hanged during the Salem witch trials while a 20th victim was pressed to death.
In 2022, lawmakers exonerated Elizabeth Johnson Jr., clearing her name 329 years after she was convicted of witchcraft in 1693 and sentenced to death during the height of the Salem witch trials. Johnson is believed to be the latest accused Salem witch to have her conviction overturned.
Other states have struggled to deal with similar stories.
HOUSE LINKED TO 1692 SALEM WITCH TRIALS RISE FROM NEAR RUIN
In Pownal, Vermont, a town bordering Massachusetts and New York, a dedication ceremony was held last month for a historic monument recognizing the survivor of Vermont’s only recorded witch trial. The widowed Krieger is said to have escaped drowning in the Hoosic River when she was tried as a witch in 1785, according to the Legends and Lore marker.
The accusers thought the witches were floating, but Krieger sank and was saved, the marker says.
The Sept. 16 dedication ceremony included a witches’ walk, during which people dressed as witches walked across a bridge to the marking site along the Hoosic River.
“I’m sure Widow Krieger would have been very happy to join our witch walk today, in defiance of those who feel they have the right to accuse someone who they think looks different, acts differently or has a personality that they might find strange, being a witch,” said Joyce Held, a member of the Pownal Historical Society, who worked with the Bennington Museum to obtain the marker.