N ine years before the witchcraft hysteria in Salem claimed two dozen lives, Pennsylvania witnessed its first and only witchcraft trial.
The accused were two Swedish women, Margaret Mattson and Gethro Hendrickson of Ridley Township, now Delaware County. Neels Mattson and Hendrick Jacobson, husbands of the accused, were each required to pay a recognizance of 50 pounds to ensure the women's appearance before the provincial council in 1683.
On the prescribed date, the women appeared before William Penn and a petit jury. Another Swede, Lasse Cock, served as interpreter between the prisoners and the governor. While there is no record of the testimony of, or against, Gethro Hendrickson, Margaret Mattson's accusations and response are recorded and preserved.
The first witness, Henry Drystreet, testified that 20 years previously, he had been told that Margaret Mattson was a witch and that several cows had been bewitched by her. Charles Ashcom took the stand to say that Mattson's daughter reportedly sold her cattle because her mother had bewitched them. The daughter also told Ashcom, he said, of the appearance of a bright light and of the visage she'd seen of an old woman, standing at the foot of her bed, holding a knife. Annakey Coolin testified that, while she and her husband were boiling the heart of a calf they believed died by witchcraft, Mattson entered their home and advised them it would be better to boil the bones.
In her defense, Margaret Mattson denied the testimony calling it hearsay.
At the trial's conclusion, Governor Penn gave the jury their charge. The members found Mattson guilty of having "the common fame" of a witch, but not guilty in "matter and forme as Shee stands indicted." A recognizance of 100 pounds for good behavior was demanded of Margaret; half that was required of Gethro Hendrickson.
According to a researcher at Pennsbury Manor, the former estate of William Penn, the then-governor had two primary concerns about the Mattson case: Swedish and English relations, and what might happen if Mattson was actually found guilty. But Penn never felt this was a ground-breaking case, and in fact, never wrote about it in later years.
As noted by John F. Watson in his 1857 Annals of Philadelphia, the Mattson verdict likely allowed Pennsylvania to escape "the odium of Salem." By trying the case publicly - and sharing the "evidence" (or lack thereof) with the public - William Penn demonstrated just how petty and potentially damaging such charges were. 💀