Boston – October 31, 2023
In 1648, “Margaret Jones,” a midwife, was the initial person in Massachusetts and the second in New England to be subjected to capital punishment on charges of witchcraft. This marked a dark precursor to the infamous “Salem witch trials.” Fast forward nearly four centuries, and the Massachusetts Witch-Hunt Justice Project is committed to righting the wrongs of history by seeking justice for all those accused, arrested, or indicted for witchcraft in the state, regardless of the ultimate fate of their allegations.
The Massachusetts Witch-Hunt Justice Project, comprising history enthusiasts and descendants of those involved in the witch trials, seeks to shed light on the broader scope of witch trials in the region. Led by Josh Hutchinson, the group is urging the state to fully reckon with its early history and provide closure for the countless individuals wrongfully accused of witchcraft.
Between 1638 and 1693, hundreds of individuals faced accusations of witchcraft in the future Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with most fortunate enough to escape execution. While significant attention has been given to those who met their demise in the Salem witch trials of 1692-1693, many others who were entangled in witch trials during the 1600s have largely been forgotten. This includes five women who were hanged for witchcraft in Boston between 1648 and 1688.
Josh Hutchinson, the group’s leader, emphasized the importance of correcting historical injustices, noting that both accusers and victims are counted among his ancestors. “We’d like an apology for all of the accused or indicted or arrested,” Hutchinson stated.
The Massachusetts Witch-Hunt Justice Project is currently collecting signatures for a petition but aspires to take their case to the Statehouse in hopes of achieving justice for those who were wrongly accused and suffered the consequences.
Among the notable accused of witchcraft in Boston was Ann Hibbins, who was executed in 1656 and happened to be the sister-in-law of Massachusetts Governor Richard Bellingham. Hibbins would later serve as inspiration for a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Another Bostonian, known as Goodwife Ann Glover or Goody Glover, met a similar fate in 1688.
A plaque honoring her is now displayed on the front of a Catholic church in Boston’s North End neighborhood, recognizing her as “the first Catholic martyr in Massachusetts.” It remains one of the few physical reminders of the city’s witch trial history.
The Massachusetts Witch-Hunt Justice Project has already made significant progress in its efforts, as it previously spearheaded a successful campaign in Connecticut. In Connecticut, the place where the first documented witchcraft execution in the American colonies took place in 1647, state senators voted with an overwhelming majority to exonerate 12 individuals, both women and men, who had been found guilty of witchcraft, with 11 of them ultimately meeting their fate through execution. This legislative resolution also included a formal apology for the “miscarriage of justice” that transpired during a grim 15-year period in the state’s colonial history.
The historical events in Boston, Salem, and other locations hold a unique blend of intrigue and personal significance for many. David Allen Lambert, serving as the chief genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, can trace his lineage to Mary Perkins Bradbury, who found herself accused of witchcraft and was slated for execution in Salem in 1692, only to narrowly escape that dire fate. He shared, “We can’t change history, but maybe we can send the accused an apology,” emphasizing the closure that this endeavor could provide.
Massachusetts has made previous efforts to confront its witch trial history, acknowledging the use of “spectral evidence” in trials where victims could testify that the accused had harmed them in dreams or visions. Samuel Sewall, a judge from the Salem witch trials of 1692-1693, issued a public confession taking responsibility for the trials and asking for forgiveness just five years later.
In 1711, colonial leaders passed a bill clearing the names of some convicted in Salem. The state Legislature issued an apology in 1957, and in 2001, acting Governor Jane Swift signed a bill exonerating five women executed during the witch trials in Salem. In 2017, a memorial was unveiled in Salem to commemorate the victims of the witch trials.
In the year 2022, legislators in Massachusetts officially absolved “Elizabeth Johnson Jr.,” bringing a 329-year-long quest to vindicate her name to a close. Elizabeth Johnson Jr. had faced accusations of witchcraft in 1693, a period characterized by the peak of the Salem witch trials.
This effort to acknowledge and rectify past wrongs is not unique to Massachusetts. In Pownal, Vermont, a historical marker was unveiled to honor the survivor of Vermont’s only recorded witch trial, Widow Krieger. This event, held last month, included a witches’ walk in which people dressed as witches paid tribute to Widow Krieger’s resilience.
Joyce Held, a member of the Pownal Historical Society, summed up the sentiment of these efforts, saying, “I am sure Widow Krieger would have been quite happy to join our witches’ walk today in defiance of those who feel they have the right to accuse someone they feel looks different, acts different, or has a personality that they might find odd, of being a witch.” These initiatives serve as a reminder that even centuries later, it is never too late to seek justice and recognition for those who were wrongly accused of witchcraft.