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Massachusetts Clears Five 'Salem Witches'

November 14, 2001  | 

BOSTON — More than three hundred years after being accused, tried and hanged as witches on Gallows Hill in Salem, Mass., five women have been officially exonerated by the state. The act, approved by the Legislature, was signed on Halloween by the acting governor, clearing Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd and Margaret Scott. The five were among 20 men and women put to death during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. "We've had an awful lot of descendants that have been out there working for it," said Shari Kelley Worrell of Barrington, Ill., an eighth great-granddaughter of Susannah Martin. The Puritan leader Cotton Mather called Martin one of the most "impudent, scurrilous, wicked creatures in the world." Worrell said she felt pity for her distant ancestor, who could have lived had she admitted to being a witch. Although most of the victims of the 'Salem Witch Trials' and the hysteria surrounding them were exonerated in 1711, some descendants did not come forward until many years later. In 1957, a state resolution exonerated Ann Pudeator and "certain other persons" who were unlisted. The recent bill formally exonerated those unnamed women. "These people were victims of hysteria, and they paid deeply with their lives," said Mr. Tirone, whose wife, Sharon, is a descendant of Sarah Wildes, who was exonerated in 1711. The history lesson, he said, is one that modern Americans should keep in mind in the wake of Sept. 11 if they are tempted to eye their neighbors with suspicion. "Sometimes when things like this happen we need to take a breath, and look at it," Mr. Tirone said. "We just can't paint blame with a wide brush."

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