Zachary Levi learns his ancestor was put on trial for witchcraft: 'That's so insane'

Shazam! star Zachary Levi was shocked to learn that his paternal 10-times great-grandmother, Elizabeth Clawson, was accused of being a witch in the year 1692, the same year as the Salem witch trials, when he appeared on Sunday night's episode of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?.
"That's the year of the Salem Witch Trials. There is the outbreak in Salem. There's only one other outbreak of witchcraft, and it's here. So this is a perilous time for your family," said Ann Little, Professor of History at Colorado State University.

While Clawson lived in Fairfield, Connecticut, not Salem, Massachusetts, Clawson was still sent to trial, where she would potentially get executed if found guilty. Back then, during the witch trials, women who were accused of witchcraft were ducked – bound hand and foot and put into water – as a way to establish whether the suspect was a witch or not. It was believed that "a pure, good-hearted Christian would sink," so when she floated, they thought she was a witch.

"To find out that my 10-times great-grandmother was essentially accused of being a witch is just so mind-blowing and also, like, troubling and sad and surreal. It's always difficult to try and put yourself into somebody else's shoes, but 1692, my 10-times great-grandmother gets thrown into this pond, with her hands and feet bound into one another. She knows the gravity of the situation. She understands what happens to someone who's accused of and convicted of being a witch. I mean, that's death. I would imagine she was scared and angry and confused. I can imagine being in this spot, being surrounded by a bunch of people that you thought were your friends," shared a heartbroken Levi, as he stood by the pond she was ducked in.

However, after more digging into her history, 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. This was a relief to Levi, who prior to learning about his paternal ancestry, had learned that all the men on his maternal side had been abusive and alcoholic. Fortunately, Levi received some better news when he learned that Elizabeth Clawson was, ultimately, found not guilty.

In the end, Levi shared of his journey: "You learn so much about who you are by learning about your family, about your past, because that is you. You are a product of that long line. It's very uplifting to have an example of a man within my lineage, my 10-times great-grandfather, who had that kind of courage and the love of his wife, and was quite, you know, essentially willing to die, if that's what it came to. It's empowering, and I'm grateful to know that that lives within me in my DNA. And then hearing, ultimately, that Elizabeth Clawson wasn't convicted and was set free, that feels very good."

Video Transcript

ZACHARY LEVI: This is one of the most intriguing things I've ever learned about my entire family history. I have got to know what happened to my 10 times great grandmother.

KYLIE MAR: On "Who Do You Think You Are?" Sunday night, "Shazam" star, Zachary Levi, was shocked to learn that his 10 times great grandmother was accused of being a witch in the year 1692, the same year as the Salem witch trials.

ZACHARY LEVI: Elizabeth Clawson is complained of and accused of-- oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, guilty of witchcraft. Oh my gosh.

KYLIE MAR: While Levi's paternal ancestor, Elizabeth Clawson, lived in Fairfield, Connecticut, not Salem, Massachusetts, Clawson was still sent to trial, where she would potentially get executed if found guilty.

- There is the outbreak in Salem. There's only one other outbreak of witchcraft.

ZACHARY LEVI: And that's here?

- And it's here. Oh my gosh. That's so insane.

- So this is a perilous time for your family.

KYLIE MAR: Levi found it sad and surreal that his 10 times great grandmother was accused of being a witch. However, after digging more into her history, the actor discovered a petition signed by 76 people defending Clawson against the accusations.

ZACHARY LEVI: Do we know, based on this, what ultimately happened with my 10 times great grandmother, Elizabeth?

KYLIE MAR: And ultimately learned the outcome of her fate.

ZACHARY LEVI: Not guilty.

- Not guilty

ZACHARY LEVI: Not guilty, not guilty. Oh man. Oh my gosh, I was really hoping for that. That's great news. That's really great news.

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