In the spring of 1692 a stranger was found dead near the mouth of Neshaminy Creek. The Bucks County coroner held an inquest and determined that he was murdered. The only clue was a large quantity of blood on the wall and bed in the house of Derrick Johnson (or Claesson) that appeared about the supposed time of the murder. The coroner saith that when he went to view the blood on the wall he perceived that it had run in several streams down the boards on the wall, which streams continued until they went behind the planks that lay on the ground floor. 1
In court Johnson said that he showed the blood on the wall to Edward Lane and his brother Claus Jonson and to his neighbor Mary Boyden. He also said there was no blood on the bed but was bled by a man that came to thrash for him three years ago. The evidence of his wife Brita seemed to contradict his story, though the record leaves out crucial information. She said that the blood was discovered between day and sun rising [which day?] and that there was a sheet hanged on the outside of the bed as a curtain and that there was no blood on the bed [when?]. Being asked when they put fresh straw in the bed she said she was not certain but she thought about the latter end of March or beginning of April. [Was there blood on the straw or not?]
The following month, 8th month 1692, Clawson asked to be let out on bail until his trial. It had been supposed at the beginning of the court session that he would be tried quickly, but the judges, “believing it to be more discretional to defer the trial until spring to see if some thing further might not be discovered”, and since it was the winter season, ordered that bail be posted for his and his wife’s appearance at the next Quarter session. He posted bail of £100 and Claus Jonson and Peter Rambo each posted £50. 2
In March 1693, Clawson and his sureties did not appear at he court. He did come the following month to hear the grand jury present him for murdering an unknown person. He pleaded not guilty and asked for more time for his trial. The grand jury also presented his wife Brita and sister Elizabeth Jonson for aiding and assisting in the murder. They also pleaded not guilty.
Now the case was becoming serious. In April 1693 Derick petitioned the Provincial Council, complaining that he, his wife, and sister, were committed in close prison, upon suspicion, where he had continued for twelve months, without the benefit of a trial. (This seems to contradict the Bucks County court record that he had been released on bail.) In any case, his strategy was not successful. The Council ordered an immediate trial. He was found guilty and condemned to death.
His relatives, friends and neighbors petitioned the Council, casting some aspersions on how the trial was conducted. The Council rejected the petition. “The petition, containing in it reflecting matter…, was rejected, which the Lieutenant Governor and Council imputed to the drawer of the petition (supposed to be John White) and not to the petitioners, whom the Lieutenant Governor and Council excused, because of the ignorance.” They were more favorable to Brita’s petition asking for some support for herself and her children.
By the end of July, Clawson had been hanged, and the focus now shifted to the seizure of his estate. The Council summoned Israel Taylor, sheriff of Bucks County, to account for the estate and whether he had observed the law relating to persons executed for murder. “And why he left town without taking full instructions about the said estate. And why he had disposed of some parts of the estate contrary to his instructions.”
Taylor did not respond well to the questions. “To all which he answered, that he had not inventoried the said whole estate; and that he had taken some part of it, but had not meddled with the widow and children’s half part; and that he had disposed of some of the movables; and that he had paid no fees but conditionally, to be repaid him if demanded; and that he had great trouble about it; And that he had procured to himself many enemies on the account of his office; and after a peremptory manner, desired to be dismissed from the same.”
He was promptly dismissed, and ordered to bring in an inventory of the estate and a detailed account of how he had disposed of it. He promised to do so. Brita married John Enoch the following year and had more children with him. 3 The identity of the stranger or motive for the crime were never found out.
- Derrick was the son of John Claessen, the “paerde cooper” or horse trader. Derrick was sometimes called by his patronymic Johnson and sometimes by Claessen. ↩
- There is a story that the judges were hoping he would simply run away and save them the trouble of a trial. See Davis’ History of Bucks County. ↩
- Craig, 1693 Census of Swedes ↩