BOSTON (AP) — 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 working to understand the extent of its legacy of witch trials.
The latest effort comes from a group dedicated to clearing the names of all those accused, arrested or accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts, whether the accusations ended in hanging or not.
The Massachusetts Witch Hunt Justice Project, made up of history buffs and descendants, hopes to persuade the state to do a more thorough examination of its early history, according to Josh Hutchinson, the group’s leader.
Hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft in what would become the Commonwealth of Massachusetts between 1638 and 1693. Most escaped execution.
While much attention has been paid to clearing the names of those executed at Salem, most of the people caught up in witch trials throughout the 17th century have been 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 Hutchinson, who noted that he counts both accusers and victims among his ancestors. “We would like an apology to anyone accused, charged or arrested.”
For now, the group has been collecting signatures for a petition, but hopes to take their case to Capitol Hill.
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 city’s North End neighborhood, describing her as “the first Catholic witch.” martyr in Massachusetts.” It is one of the few physical reminders of the city’s witch trials history.
The witch justice group helped spearhead a successful similar effort in Connecticut, home of the first person executed for witchcraft in the American colonies in 1647: Alse Young. The last witch trial in Connecticut took place in 1697 and ended with the charges being dismissed.
In May, Connecticut state senators voted 34-1 to acquit 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 who were executed and the only woman who was convicted and received a pardon, was approved by the House of Representatives by 121 votes in favor and 30 against. Since it is a resolution, it does not require the governor’s signature.
For many, distant events in Boston, Salem and beyond are fascinating and personal. That includes David Allen Lambert, chief genealogist for the New England Historical Genealogical Society.
Lambert counts her 10th great-grandmother, Mary Perkins Bradbury, among the defendants who were supposed to be hanged in 1692 in Salem but who 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.
That effort began almost immediately when Samuel Sewall, judge in the Salem witch trials of 1692-1693, issued a public confession in a Boston church five years later, taking “the guilt and shame” of the trials and asking for forgiveness.
In 1711, colonial leaders passed a bill clearing the names of some convicts at Salem.
In 1957, the state legislature issued an apology of sorts for Ann Pudeator and others who “were accused, tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed” in 1692 for witchcraft. The resolution declared that the Salem trials were “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 dedicated a memorial to the victims. The ceremony came 325 years to the day that 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 twentieth victim was pressured 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 at 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 worked to confront similar stories.
In Pownal, Vermont, a town bordering Massachusetts and New York, a dedication ceremony was held last month for a historical marker recognizing the survivor of Vermont’s only recorded witch trial. The Widow Krieger was 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 believed the witches were floating, but Krieger sank and was saved, the marker states.
The September 16 dedication ceremony included a witch walk, in which people dressed as witches crossed a bridge to the marker site along the Hoosic River.
“I’m sure Widow Krieger would have been very happy to join our witch walk today, challenging those who feel entitled to accuse someone who they feel looks different, acts different or has a personality that could harm them.” to look strange, to be a witch,” said Joyce Held, a member of the Pownal Historical Society, which worked with the Bennington Museum to obtain the marker.
AP reporter Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont, contributed.
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