Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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William Penn Conducts a Witchcraft Trial

{Salem Witch Trials}
Salem Witch Trials

When trials for witchcraft are mentioned, most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, where 19 people were hanged as witches and hundreds were imprisoned, in 1692. The Salem trials were apparently provoked by a minister from Barbados, and it is thought the uproar about witches in America was in part related to encountering the spiritualism of the Indian tribes. Whatever its origins, the issue has been in the background for a long time, and occasionally even surfaces today in accusations of "Satanic rituals."

There were trials for witchcraft in New York in 1664, in West Chester in 1672, and in Princess Ann county of Virginia. But the trial of central interest to Pennsylvania occurred in 1683, when Governor Penn presided over it, himself. Pennsylvania had adopted British laws, including one from James I concerning the crime of witchcraft, so Penn probably had little choice but to hold the trial. His fellow judges were his Council; there is little doubt the outcome reflects his opinion.

The accused were two Swedish women, Margaret Mattson and Yeshro Hendrickson, who pleaded not guilty. Numerous witnesses told vague stories, and Mattson's daughter expressed her conviction of her mother being a witch. Governor Penn finally charged the jury, which brought in a memorable verdict. The defendants were found guilty of "having the common fame of a witch" but not guilty in the manner and form.

There are times, and this was one of them, when it is not useful to be overly precise in your meaning.

Originally published: Thursday, August 30, 2001; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The actual crime they were accused of, if I'm not mistaken, was that they were accused of bewitching cattle. They admitted that they were, in fact, witches. They claimed to be able to bewitch sheep, but bewitching cattle was beyond their abilities. They were found guilty, and released on one or two years of probation during which time they were instructed to be on their absolutely best behavior.
Posted by: Julie   |   Oct 3, 2012 4:44 PM
i am a decedent of Margaret, and am doing a family tree, i have like 2 other witches in the family one is Rebbeca Nurse. she was found guilty and hung in Salem, Ma. i dont know about the other one....i better find out soon.
Posted by: Cathy   |   Oct 2, 2011 9:23 AM
Where is Margaret Mattson buried?
Posted by: Tami   |   Jul 8, 2011 12:55 PM
As a direct descendant also through her g-granddaughter Hannah Matson in my maternal line, I find this fascinating, particularly since my paternal grandmother from Italy associated with "La Stregas" or "witches" - good witches, of course ;-)
Posted by: Valerie   |   Feb 26, 2011 11:05 PM
I'm pretty sure the alleged comment by Wm Penn is folklore, probably not in the trial records. I don't have any way to check that, since I am not in Pennsylvania.
Posted by: Andrew Secrest   |   Nov 24, 2010 7:26 PM
Margaret was an ancestor of mine, I

find the story fasinating.....
Posted by: Edie   |   Aug 24, 2010 3:31 PM
Margaret is an ancestor of mine. i'm finding this story very fascinating.
Posted by: Larry   |   Jan 15, 2009 11:47 AM
im confused..........
Posted by: blare   |   Oct 6, 2008 11:50 AM
i find my name sake pretty cool.i feel for her because of her daugther did what she did to her mother.i am happy to know that she is my relation even the hostorical people even told me she is my name sake. i am very proud of her. peggy
Posted by: peggy   |   May 27, 2008 7:48 PM
In my Colonial American course, my professor told this story, and this article lacks an important, humerous detail. When Penn was questioning Hendrickson, he eventually asked, "Have you ever ridden your broom stick through the skies of Philadelphia at night?" Hendrickson, flustered after a long line of questioning, without a complete grip on the English language, replied, "Yes." Penn looked at his judges and said, "Last I checked, it was not a crime to ride a broom stick through the skies of Philadelphia at night," and that was the end of it, with each woman receiving little more than a slap on the wrist.
Posted by: Tim   |   Mar 12, 2008 12:29 AM
how do you know tere is no real witches? do you know for a fact? [ witches are real].maybe you do know one and he or she will not tell or say to you. witches are so real tey stay to their self,and the witches keep everything hush,hush.just because of te old ways.. wy are people so afraid of what they don't know? the only way i know is because i am a solutary witch,what do you have to say about that? i been since the age of 14 yrs old. and my great,g,g,g,g,g,g,g,g,g, can say it runs in my husband don't mind at all. i am good of what i do. blessing be peggy
Posted by: peggy   |   Sep 22, 2007 12:13 AM
I find the Salem WTa very interesting subject to do a search on.
Posted by: Tristan   |   Mar 10, 2007 10:02 AM
this is so crazy. i'm glade it doesn't happen where i am
Posted by: lil mami   |   Oct 16, 2006 9:12 AM
Why there not real witches anyway
Posted by: Azure   |   Sep 26, 2006 11:12 AM
I think that is messed up
Posted by: Azure   |   Sep 26, 2006 11:01 AM