Today, the Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin remembers when William Penn presided over the only witchcraft trial in Philadelphia, 334 years ago.
From the History of the Swedish Baptists in Sweden and America by Gustavus W. Schroeder, published in 1898:
William Penn and Witchcraft.
It seems that those evils had affected the Swedish colonists who had come to New Sweden, near Philadelphia, to settle. Bancroft, in his Colonial History of the United States, volume 2, pp. 41 and 42, says:
“The Scandinavian emigrants came from their native forests with imaginations clouded by the gloomy terrors of an invisible world of fiends; and in February, 1684, a turbulent woman was brought to trial as a witch.”
Penn presided, and the Quakers on the jury outnumbered the Swedes. The grounds of the accusation were canvassed, the witnesses calmly examined; and the jury, having listened to the charge of the Governor, returned this verdict: “The prisoner is guilty of the common fame of being a witch, but not guilty as she stands indicted.”
I doubt if Solomon could have rendered a wiser judgment. It would seem that if the Swedes had had their way, the fair fame of Philadelphia would have been shared with that of Salem in this respect.
The historian adds, that “in Penn’s domain, from that day to this, neither demon nor hag ever rode through the air on goat or broom stick; and the blackest arts of conjuration went no farther than to foretell fortunes, mutter spells over quack medicines, or discover by the divining rod the hidden treasures of the buccaneers.”
The History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania by George Smith, published in 1862 provided the description of the trial of Margaret Matson for Witchcraft in February 1684 in the words and spelling of that era:
Persons charged with the higher grades of crime were not tried by the County Courts.
The imaginary crime of Witchcraft was in those days placed among the most heinous; and hence it was that the celebrated Pennsylvania witch trial took place before Governor Penn and his Council, sitting as a Superior Court at Philadelphia.
The parties, who, in that case, were the victims of this most stupid of all superstitions, resided near the mouth of Crum Creek, were in good circumstances, and for aught that is known to the contrary, were quite as respectable as their accusers.
The following is the record of the trial copied from the published minutes of the Council, “held at Philadelphia ye 27th of the 12th month, 1683.” [February, 1684.]
“Margaret Matson’s Indictmt was read, and she pleads not Guilty, and will be tryed by the Country.
“Lasse Cock attested Interpriter between the Proper and the Prisoner at the Barr.
“The Petty Jury Impanneled; their names are as followed: — Jno. Hasting, foreman, Albertus Hendrickson, Robt. Piles, Robt. Wade, Nath. Evans, Edwd. Carter, Wm. Hewes, Jer: Collet, Jno. Kinsman, Jno. Gibbons, Walter Martin, Edwd. Bezar.
“Henry Drystreet, attested, saith he was tould 20 years ago, that the Prisoner at the Barr was a Witch, and that several cows were bewitcht by her; also that James Saunderling’s mother tould him that she bewitcht her cow, but afterwards said it was a mistake, and that her cow should doe well again, for it was not her cow but another Persons that should dye.
“Charles Ashcom, attested, saith that Anthony’s Wife being asked why she sould her cattle; was because her mother had Bewitcht them, having taken the Witchcraft of Hendrick’s Cattle, and put it on their oxen; she myght keep but noe other cattle, and also that one night the Daughter of ye Prisoner called him up hastely, and when he came she sayed there was a great Light but just before, and an old woman with a knife in her hand at ye Bedd’s feet, and therefore she cryed out and desired Jno. Symcock to take away his Calves, or Else she would send them to Hell.
“James Claypool attested interpritor betwixt the Propr and the Prisoner.
“The affidavid of Jno. Vanculin read, Charles Ashcom being s witness to it.
“Annakey Coolin, attested, saith her husband tooke the Heart of a Calf that Dyed, as they thought, by Witchtcraft, and Boyld it, whereupon the Prisoner at ye Barr came in and asked them what they were doing; they said boyling of flesh; she said they had better they had Boyled the Bones, with several other unseemly Expressions.
“Margaret Mattson saith that she values not Drystreet’s evidence; but if Sanderlin’s mother had come, she would have answered her; also denyeth Charles Ashcoms attestation at her soul, and saith, where is my daughter; let her come and say so.
“Annakey Cooling’s attestation about the Gees, saying she was never out of her Conoo, and also that she never said any such things concerning the calve’s heart.
“Jno. Cock attested, sayth he knows nothing of the matter.
“Tho: Baldings attestation was read, and Tho: Bracy attested, saith it is a true copy.
“The prisoner denyeth all things, and saith that ye Witnesses speake only by hear say.
“After wch ye Govr gave the Jury their Charge concerning ye Prisoner at ye Barr.
“The Jury went forth, and upon their Returne Brought her in Guilty of haveing the Comon fame of a Witch, but not Guilty in manner and forme as she Shee Stands Indicted.
“Neels Matson and Antho. Neelson enters into Recognizance of fifty pounds a piece for the good behaviour of Margaret Matson for six months.”
It is to be regretted that the charge given by the Governor has not been preserved, as it may fairly be presumed that it was upon his suggestions that the jury based their very righteous, but rather ridiculous verdict.
The Pennsylvania State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal, circa 1897, of a young William Penn.