On Who do you think You Are? on Sunday, Shazam! Star Zachary Levi was shocked to learn that his 10-times-great-grandmother Elizabeth Clawson was accused of being a witch in the year 1692, the same year as the Salem witch trials.
“It’s the year of the Salem witch trials. It’s the outbreak in Salem. There’s only one other outbreak of witchcraft and it’s here. So this is a dangerous time for your family,” said Ann Little, professor of history at Colorado State University.
While Clawson lived in Fairfield, Conn., not Salem, Mass., Levi’s ancestor was still sent to trial, where she would potentially be executed if found guilty. During the witch trials, women accused of witchcraft were dunked – tied by the hands and feet and placed in water – as a way to determine whether or not the suspect was a witch. It was believed that “a pure, good-hearted Christian would sink,” so when she floated, they thought she was a witch.
“Finding out that my 10-times-great-grandmother was basically accused of being a witch is just so mind-blowing and also, like, disturbing and sad and surreal. It’s always hard to try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but 1692 , my 10 times great grandmother is thrown into this pond, her hands and feet tied together. She knows the gravity of the situation. She understands what happens to someone accused and convicted of being a witch. I mean, it’s death. I can imagine she was scared and angry and confused. I can imagine being in this place, being surrounded by a bunch of people who you thought were your friends,” a devastated Levi said as he stood by the pond she was ducked in.
However, after digging more into her story, Little and Levi discovered a petition, written by Clawson’s husband, Stephen Clawson, and signed by 76 people defending Clawson against the accusations of witchcraft.
“The community, in supporting Elizabeth Clawson, assumed something of a risk because of the fear of guilt by association in defending an accused witch,” Little explained. “And Stephen certainly took a risk in seeking support for his wife. We’ve seen both in England and in New England husbands being accused of witchcraft when they try to defend their wives against the accusation of witchcraft. So he did something very unusual and very brave.” This was a relief to Levi, who before learning about his father’s ancestry had learned that all the men on his mother’s side had been violent and alcoholic. Fortunately, Levi got some better news when he learned that Elizabeth Clawson was finally found innocent.
Finally, Levi shared about his journey: “You learn so much about who you are by learning about your family, about your past, because that’s you. You’re a product of the long line. It’s very uplifting to have an example of a man in my family, my 10 times great grandfather, who had that kind of courage and love for his wife and was quite, you know, actually willing to die, if that’s what it came to. It’s empowering, and I’m grateful to know that it lives in me in my DNA. And then to hear, finally, that Elizabeth Clawson was not convicted and set free, that feels really good.”
Who do you think You Are? airs Sundays at 7 p.m NBC.
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