Elizabeth Shorter and the absolute cheat

Elizabeth Shorter was a widow and a glover from London, who emigrated with her grandson Isaac. She settled in Abington, next door to her son-in-law John Rush, a blacksmith. In 1685 she bought his house and a narrow strip of land around it for £35. Most of this was to paid directly to other people, and only £10 to Rush himself; he must have been in debt. If this was a favor on Elizabeth’s part to her son-in-law, he repaid her badly. The following spring, in 2nd month 1687, he brought her a paper to sign, purporting to be a letter of attorney, but actually an extraordinary deed of gift conveying everything she owned to “my beloved son John Rush”.

It read in part, “For my special naturall favour which I bear toward John Rush of Philadelphia my beloved son and for divers other good causes. I do grant all my lands, goods, chattells, leases, deeds, ready money, plate, household stuff, appearall, utensills, brass, pewter, bedding and all other my substances whatsover, moveable and immoveable, quick and dead, of what kind nature quality or condition … freely and quietly without any manner of challenge claim or demand.”  She signed with her mark.

It must have been a shock to her when she found out what she had signed. But she knew exactly how to deal with it. She went straight to the governing body for the province, the Council in Philadelphia. At their meeting on 3rd month 1687, she appealed for help. “The Petition of Elizabeth Shorter, Widdow, was read, complayning that John Rush, her son in Law, instead of a Letter of Attorney that shee was to signe, prepared a Deed of gifft of all her Estate, with power of Atturney, to one Samll Atkins, to acknowledge the same in Court.” When the witnesses were examined, they admitted that the paper was not read to her, and that she could not read or write. “….so that it appeared to this board to be an Absolute Cheat.”  She was clearly able to get the fraudulent deed anulled, since later that year she sold one of her city lots, and she owned her Abington land until 1699. There is no record of what happened to John Rush.

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