On Who do you Think You Are?, Sunday night, Shazam! Star Zachary Levi was shocked to learn that his 10-time paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Clawson, was accused of being a witch in 1692, the same year as the Salem witch trials.
“This is the year of the Salem witch trials. There’s the outbreak in Salem. There’s just one more burst of witchcraft, and it’s here. So this is a dangerous time for your family,” said Ann Little, a history professor at Colorado State University.
While Clawson lived in Fairfield, Connecticut and not Salem, Massachusetts, Levi’s ancestor was still being tried in court, where she might have been executed if found guilty. Back in the days of witch trials, women accused of witchcraft were crouched — bound hand and foot and submerged in water — to determine whether the suspect was a witch or not. It was believed that “a pure, good-hearted Christian would perish,” and when she floated they thought she was a witch.
“To learn that my great-grandmother of 10 was essentially accused of being a witch is just so overwhelming and also disturbing and sad and surreal. It’s always difficult trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but in 1692, my great-grandmother of 10 times is thrown into this pond, hand and foot tied together. She knows the seriousness of the situation. She understands what happens to someone who is accused and convicted of being a witch. I mean this is death. I could imagine she was scared and angry and confused. I can imagine being in this place surrounded by a bunch of people you thought were your friends,” Levi shared, heartbroken, as he stood by the pond she was dunking in.
However, after digging more into their story, Little and Levi discovered a petition written by Clawson’s husband Stephen Clawson and signed by 76 people defending Clawson against the witchcraft allegations.
“Fearing common guilt, the community took a certain risk in supporting Elizabeth Clawson to defend an accused witch,” Little explained. “And Stephen certainly took a risk by asking for support for his wife. We have seen in both England and New England that husbands are accused of witchcraft when they try to defend their wives from witchcraft charges. So he did something that’s very unusual and very brave.” This was a relief to Levi, who, before learning of his paternal lineage, had learned that all the males on his maternal side had been abusive and alcoholic. Luckily, he received Levi got better news when he learned that Elizabeth Clawson was ultimately found not guilty.
At the end, Levi shared of his journey: “You learn so much about who you are by learning about your family and your past, because that’s who you are. You’re a product of that long lineage. It’s very uplifting to have an example of a man of my lineage, my great-grandfather of 10, who had that kind of courage and his wife’s love and was essentially willing to die when it came to it. and I’m grateful to know that lives in my DNA within me. And then finally to hear that Elizabeth Clawson wasn’t convicted and was released feels very good.”
Who do you Think You Are? airs Sundays at 7 p.m ABC.
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