Category Archives: Stories

Matthew and the practical joke

A group of people from Maryland were drinking at the house of Henry Hollingsworth. Some of them knew Matthew Risley and fell into conversation with him about marriage. They heard that he had married a couple in Maryland and asked whether he would marry a couple now. He told them yes, for twenty pounds. Then he agreed to do it for two pieces of eight. When they asked him, what if she was an heiress, he agreed to do it for a pot of beer. Whereupon they called for two pots of beer to give him and he told them that she must get up very early in the morning and take him with her on the horse and he would do the marriage. But they were in earnest to be married that night, so he went and got a Bible and so proceeded as far as they thought they could well let him, and then one of the company untied the morning gown that the “woman” had on and so discovered him to be a man.

Matthew was hauled into the court for presuming to marry a couple against the laws of the province, and severely punished. 1

  1. Court records of Chester County, 10th month 1698.

He said. She said. An x-rated story from 1693.

A sensational case came before Chester County Court in 4th month 1693. Philip Yarnell sued Moses Musgrave for spreading a scandalous story about him. Musgrave brought witnesses to show that the story was true. Elizabeth Woodyard testified that Philip Yarnell came to her father’s house and asked whether she was a woman. She answered that she was all on as other women, she thought. He said that he would feel and she said that he should not, and he said, “How should he know whether she was all on as other women if he did not feel, since she was to be his wife.” And then he took her hand, being stronger than she, and put into his codpiece and would have her to feel his members how they went limber or stiffer.

Another night he came to her father’s house and asked her sister Mary to keep her up, and Mary said that she would do what she could. When Elizabeth saw him come in, she ran out into another room and caught hold of the bed post. He followed her and caught hold of her and lifted her on the bed and they lay down on the bed. She being awake three nights before was very sleepy, and she fell asleep and thought she might sleep near an hour or thereabouts. As she was sleeping she thought she felt her clothes to go up and her feet to move, and she awakening asked him how he could be so wicked and come from such a good meeting. And then she cried bitterly and at last he wept and asked her for forgiveness, and she said she did not desire any such thing and would never have anything to do with him any more. Further when she did awake she did happen with her arm to strike him and with her hand unawares she felt his members, which did afright her very much. 1

John Jones said that when he was at Yarnell’s house, Yarnell asked what people George Woodyard and his wife was, and Jones said they were civil people for ought he knew. Yarnell said he would go try his daughter Elizabeth, and see what he could do with her, and that if he could not prevail with her he would serve such a trick that she was never served in her life before.

Mary Woodyard said that the plaintiff did force her sister upon the bed. She went away because she thought that he was an honest man. Sarah Smedley said that she heard Yarnell confess that he had been foolish, insomuch as something scattered from him which was his seed.

Finally it was Yarnell’s turn to call witnesses. John Worrolow said that he and Yarnell came to George Woodyard’s house together, and saw the two girls. They asked Elizabeth whether Yarnell had forced her or not,  and she replied that it was odds between a man’s breaking a house and attempting to do it. (Was she implying that he had not succeeded in actually raping her?)

Francis Yarnell said he went along with his brother Philip to George Woodyard’s house, and he asked Woodyard to let them come face to face. But the old woman (George’s wife?) said Elizabeth should not talk to them unless an officer came, because he came to ensnare them. But they did come out of the house and George Woodyard said he wished his daughter had not made words about it. (Did he think her story was false?)

The jury must have believed that Elizabeth’s story was untrue, since they found for Yarnell. Moses Musgrove, thinking himself aggrieved, asked for an appeal. At the same court Yarnell sued Elizabeth and Mary Woodyard for scandal and defamation, but he withdrew the case. The following year Elizabeth married John Turner under the auspices of Chester Meeting, but she died a year later.  Philip Yarnell married Dorothy Baker, also at Chester Meeting.

  1. An Elizabeth Woodyard was found guilty of fornication with Thomas Eaveson in June 1688, and forced to marry him. This Elizabeth was still alive and married to Eaveson in 1693. She may have been a cousin of the Elizabeth in the Yarnell story.


Margaret Mattson was hauled before the Provincial Council in 12th mo 1683, accused of being a witch. 1 Penn presided over the case and a grand jury was called. They found enough evidence to bring her to trial and a parade of witnesses came forward. Margaret did not speak English and Lasse Cock was called to interpret. Henry Drystreet testified that he was told 20 years before that she could bewitch cows. James Sanderland’s mother said that her cow was bewitched, but later said that it was someone else’s cow that would die. Charles Ashcom testified that Mattson’s daughter sent for him one night because she saw an old woman with a knife in her hand standing at the foot of the bed.

Annakey Vanculin and his husband John believed that their cattle were bewitched, and in order to prove it took a heart of a dead calf, and boiled it. (There was a superstition that this made the witch feel the burning pain, and that she would have to come to them to break the spell.) In fact Mattson did come in and asked them what they were doing. When they told her, she said “they had better they had boiled the bones,”  which was considered “unseemly”. Mattson in her defense denied going into their house, said she was never out of her canoe. She also pointed out that the other evidence against her was hearsay, saying, “Where is my daughter? Let her come and say so.”

The jury went forth and on their return brought in a verdict that she was guilty of having the fame of a witch but not of witchcraft. Her husband posted bond for her good behavior for six months, and that was the end of it.

  1. This was the only trial for witchcraft in Pennsylvania. But in Bucks County Court in 1690 Thomas King was tried for defaming Joan Searle. King had spread a report that there was a witch nearby. Being asked who it was, he said he suspected Francis Searl’s wife for she was an ugly ill favored woman. The jury found King guilty of defaming her.

The loss of Captain Stiles

5th June, 1693. Minute of the Provincial Council.

The Lieut. Governor and Council being informed of the arrival
of the Brigantine Ann from Barbados, and that the Master George Stiles was Lost at sea, did call before them the brigantine’s Company, and passengers, to give an account of his death, whether it was casual, or whether any on board was instrumental therein.

Emanuell Marius, a Spaniard, deposed that being sailor aboard the brigantine, came out from Barbados about five weeks ago, their Company consisting of the Master, another seaman, who was pressed from them by a man of war three days after they came thence, Christopher Hodges and the deponent; when they were in sight of Land, eight leagues southward of the capes of Delaware, wind southeast, they gybed, and the boom knock’t the Master overboard, and the deponent saw him in the sea, and immediately they cut the boat lashes and got out after the Master and saw the sharks bite his hat, and as they came up to him with the boat, he sunk. Marius said that the Master had no wife, and nothing on board but a few old clothes and instruments, and that he, the deponent, cannot take an observation, and knows only the North Star.
Christopher Hodges deposed that this accident happened of the
25th day of May last, between the hours of 4 and 5 in the afternoon,
after they had made land and ran to it, and came below the Inlet, and then the Master did bid us get ready the anchor and drop it,
thinking it was the Whorekill. Ned Burch, a passenger, and shoe-
maker by trade, being at the helm where the Master, as he was showing him which wind to keep, brought the sail to gybe and struck
Burch, whose head was a little above the deck in the steerage, and
struck the Master, who was standing aloft, quite overboard; and that
this deponent saw his heels turn over his head, and so fell overboard
and cried to bring the vessel to, which they did, and got out the
boat, and flung out a barrel, and the passengers flung out ropes, but
he could get hold of none of them; they saw him swim, and at
last sunk, just as they got to him.

Later that month, Edward Burch petitioned that when the Master was knocked overboard and lost, to the hazard of the ship, goods and passengers, the people on board desired him to go ashore, which he did, at great hazard of his life, and agreed with a person to pilot the ship to a safe harbor for £20. After an easy and speedy passage into the Whorekills, the pilot was willing to take £10, which Burch paid him. Now Burch wanted the owner or present Master of the ship to repay him and to allow him some reasonable reward for his extraordinary service and danger. Jasper Yeats, to whom the vessel was consigned, agreed to repay the ten pounds. The Council could not help with Burch’s assertion that the passengers had promised him 40s each for his care. They told him to take his remedy at law for it.

Streams of blood upon the wall

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Craig, 1693 Census of Swedes

Richard Crosby the fortune teller

Richard Crosby was a thorn in the side of the Chester County courts for years. In the summer of 1687 he was found drunk and unruly. Philip Denning testified that he was disordered by drink and very abusive. William Goforth said that while he was drunk Crosby challenged the Swedes or English or any other man at cudgels, wrestling or any other such violent exercise, and furthermore did strike him upon the head and did trip up his heels twice. Johannes Friend heard Crosby say that the Swedes were rogues and did take part with the Indians against the English. Before the jury went out Crosby submitted himself to the court and was fined 5s.

He appeared regularly in lawsuits between 1689 and 1693.

Late in 1696 he was in serious trouble again. At the house of James Cooper in Darby, Crosby called the magistrates knaves and rogues, adding that they “bought and sold us”. He called many of the people beggarly dogs and fools. He boasted that he and his son “knew more of the mathematical arts than any of us”. He claimed that he could tell fortunes and who had stolen goods and where they were. He said James Cooper’s kinswoman Sarah Cooper had drunk herself blind. The foreman of the grand jury said that this was gross abuse of the living and dead, some of whom bore “no small figure in this province.”

At the next court session even more testimony emerged. Crosby had called Justice Blunston a pitiful sorrowful fellow who “sold us and now was going to redeem us again”. This abuse of a magistrate was taken seriously and Crosby was fined for his words. But the grand jury had a new crime to present. Crosby had ranted, at the house of Joseph Wood, that the grand jury were all perjured rogues, and that if the sheriff came to get the fine from him “he would be the death of him”. For this Crosby was found guilty. But he was not finished. He menaced the justices and called them all felons and threatened to “make Pennsylvania shake again before he had done”. After all that he was committed to prison for a year.  (It hardly seems necessary to add that Crosby was not a Quaker.)

Tracking through the swamp

In Chester County in the summer of 1690, John Martin, a weaver and servant to James Brown of Chichester, was indicted for stealing fourteen dressed deer skins from Thomas Brown John.

In the morning that the skins were stolen, Martin seemed to have a great color in his face, and his master James Brown said to him, “Thou are guilty”, to which Martin replied, “If I should confess then I should bring myself to publick shame.” But he seemed to have guilt in his face.

Thomas Brown John had gone to the sheriff George Forman when he discovered the loss and that his house was broken open. Forman gave him a warrant to search through the neighborhood but he found nothing. So Forman suggested that Brown John go back to his house and look for tracks. He went and immediately found a print of a shoe, with nails and clamps in the shoe. Then Forman gathered a search party and they tracked the prints, along the side of the fence and along the swamp until they came upon William Clayton’s new clear field and there in the swamp in a hollow tree they found the dressed skins. Then they went to James Browne’s house and took along with them the measure of the print of the shoe and measured John Martin’s and it seemed to be the very same and Martin seemed to be startled when they took his shoe off.

Francis Chads, the shoemaker, declared that he mended John Martin’s shoes with two nails and two pleats toward the toes.

The jury found Martin guilty and judgment was passed that he was to be sold into another province for eight years, to cover three-fold damages, and also damages to his master James Browne for service due on the indenture to him.

Slander and a hog in a barrel

In Chester County in 1686 Mouns Peterson sued Hans Urin for slander. The witnesses presented a damning picture of Urin. Thomas Bowles of Tinicum Island declared that Urin came among his carpenters and stole his nails and gave the carpenters a pot of rum not to call him a thief. (Bowles himself was not a spotless character. The following year he was in court himself for allowing people to be drunk at his house.)

Bowles went on to say that, coming some time after to Tinicum, Urin spread the report that Mouns Peterson had gotten all his estate by privateering and murdering of men and that Bowles should have a care of him. Robert Brothers being attested declared the same. Samuel Weight added that Urin offered him two pigs to stop his evidence.

The jury found for Peterson with twenty shillings damage and plus the cost of the court suit.

Urin must have held a grudge, since the next year he was an accomplice when Morton Mortenson, Mouns Peterson’s son, beat his father bloody with a paddle. Mortenson and Peterson were both neighbors of Urin.

In 1694 Urin sued Mounce Staker, another of his neighbors, for defamation, when Staker called him a rogue and a hog thief. Plenty of witnesses heard Staker say it. It stemmed from an incident when Urin was constable. Henry Taton said that as constable Urin had taken a pig from Mounce Staker and put it in a barrel, and that Staker got a warrant against Urine, and the Justice of the Peace John Blunston ordered Urin to give the pig back to Mounce. In the defamation matter the jury found for Urin with 12d damages, a minimal amount.

Randall and Draycott: a tale of lechery and greed

It all began when Israel Taylor, the doctor, was accused in 1688 of defaming Francis Swift, wife of John Swift. Taylor had been spreading the story that Nicholas Randall, Swift’s servant, had been lying with Swift’s wife. Taylor justified himself by saying that he believed the story to be true and that in his conscience he did God good service in telling it. The story had been spread about Bucks County.

But was the story true? Andrew Dunk said that he heard Israel Taylor tell Michael Bucher that Gabriel Shallow said Nicholas Randall would lay his head upon his mistress’ lap until 12 a clock at night and then they would go together into the barn. Benjamin Jones said that Gabriel Shallow said Nicholas Randall would sleep with his mistress’ head in his lap and she sleep with her head in his lap and that he called John Swift a cuckoldy rogue and that his mustard pot would work when he was from home and that they would go together into the barn in the night.

The grand jury must have found this to be too much hearsay, for they bound Taylor over for trial. The next month John Swift did not appear, maybe fearing more discussion of his wife’s behavior, and the case was dismissed.

If this was not bad enough, Nicholas married into a family with its own court troubles. His wife was Elizabeth Willard (the younger), step-daughter of Ralph Draycott. Ralph had come over as a servant to Henry Maddock of Chester County. Elizabeth Willard (the older) was widowed when her husband died in 1685, and she soon married Ralph. Her brother-in-law George Willard gave her and Ralph a piece of land to support her children—Susanna, Elizabeth and son George.

But Susanna was not a proper Quaker maiden. In 1688 she became pregnant, with no husband, and was hauled into court to answer for it. The child was born dead, and she was let off with a fine. Perhaps she persuaded the father, one John Bradshaw, to pay it. In 1690 things were more serious. She was pregnant again, this time delivering a son. And the father was her step-father Ralph Draycott!

As the court put it, she bore the child “to the high dishonor of God and great scandal of the Government”.  She and Ralph were each to forfeit half their estates. He had to pay to maintain the child and to find sureties for his good behavior, since he had broken out of jail while awaiting trial. George (the elder) stuck by his family, deeding another piece of land to Ralph so he could support the family.

Time passed, and the Draycotts and George Willard the elder moved to Bucks County. Elizabeth married Nicholas Randall, while Susanna married John Shaw, an English Quaker, who had moved from Chester to Bucks County about the same time. When George made his will in 1706, a few months before he died, he left bequests to Susanna and John’s children, also to Draycott’s son Philip, who may have been the son of either Susanna or Elizabeth (the elder). He made his nephew George (the younger) and John Shaw the executors. This was a big mistake.

A few years later Elizabeth Draycott complained to Middletown meeting that John Shaw was cheating her son George in his dealings with the estate. The meeting sent the usual committee to meet with Shaw but were unable to persuade him to give George his proper share. Three years later Shaw was disowned for acting “contrary to the trust reposed in him by George Willard.”

Some years later,  William Tidmarsh complained in court that he had bought a lot in Philadelphia from George Willard Jr and John Shaw, as executors of the estate. It was discovered that George Willard the elder had sold the lot in his lifetime and that neither George Willard the younger nor the said John Shaw had any title to it. The court allowed him to sell the remainder of the estate to recover his loss. It looks as though George and John were both a bit grasping.

That was not quite the end of the chicanery in the family. In December 1712, Ralph Draycott was dead. In his will he left a cow and calf to Elizabeth Randall, Nicholas’ daughter, when she came of age and the rest of his estate to his son Philip, “to maintaine my wife handsome and descent [decent] as she ought for to be during her life.” He did not mention Susannah Shaw, although she was still alive and in the process of bearing ten children with John.

Ralph died owing money to John Swift. Nicholas Randall was the administrator, but he was detaining the debt, keeping the estate’s money for himself, so Swift took him to court and the sheriff sold 178 acres of Draycott’s land to pay the debt. Ralph’s son Philip bought the land.

The story goes on into the next generation. Is it any surprise that in 1754 Philip had to buy 28 acres that the sheriff was selling for debts of Philip’s son Ralph? Or that in 1757 John Shaw (the son of the first John Shaw) sued Philip Draycott for debt, and the sheriff sold 150 acres of Philip’s to pay it?

In 1750 one of the Draycotts, either Philip or Ralph, discovered “black lead”, possibly graphite, on the farm of John Naylor. He kept it a secret from Naylor, quietly extracted the lead, and sold it in Philadelphia. When Naylor discovered it, instead of taking Draycott to court, he allowed him to continue in this business.


  1. It is perhaps a little embarrassing to have these people as ancestors. The best character in the family might belong to Elizabeth Shaw, granddaughter of John and Susanna. About 1750 she married John Randall, grandson of Nicholas. After John died Elizabeth married John Banes, and divorced him before 1792, an unusual early divorce, and one that might have required some strength of character. He had run away and left her and married another woman! Even before then he may have run up debts. Her father’s will of 1771 left her money specifically “for her own separate use and maintainance, esclusive of her husband, who is to have no power to dispose of or intermeddle with the same; neither is it to become liable to her husbands debts or incumbrances.”

John Anderson and the headless hog

In March 1682 in Chester County Court John Anderson stood accused of theft. He requested a trial by jury and got a jury of six Swedes and six Englishmen. Richard Noble deposed that he, with several others, found several pieces  of burnt pork or bacon in Anderson’s house. They also found hidden and unfrequented places in an out house of Anderson’s, where (as an Indian had before then informed them) Anderson used to hide pork. Furthermore Anderson threatened the officers who came to search. Francis Walker deposed that a person who bought a piece of pork from Anderson told him the pork had a bullet in it.

Since Anderson had a headless hog, he was asked where the head was. He said he left it down the river, and his boy said, “No, the hog’s head is upon the mill at home.”

While they were at it, they examined the suspicious circumstance of a stranger who stayed at Anderson’s. This came to nothing. The jury found the prisoner not guilty and he was discharged. The court record did not show whose hog may have gone missing.

This was not the only prominent case of hog theft. In December 1686 Joshua Hastings sued Francis Yarnall for stealing his hog. A jury was summoned and a parade of witnesses began.

Allen Robenett said that he knew the boar of Hasting and to the best of his knowledge it was the same boar. Francis Baldwin agreed. Randal Malin added that the boar was bitten in the stone by David Ogden’s dog. John Hastings said that he with his own knife marked Hastings’ boar and that boar was at home all one summer and the winter following and that he saw him no more until he saw him at Francis Yarnall’s and that he knew it to be Hastings’ boar. William Malin saw a sandy colored boar but he knew not whose it was. Judith Calvert said there was a boar that kept company with their swine but afterward she heard it was Hastings’ boar and it went from thence and was away some time and when it came again it had been bitten on the stones.

But other witnesses supported Yarnall’s claim to the boar. George Maris said his mark was Yarnall’s mark, and in every respect both of growth and shape it was Yarnall’s boar. John Calvert said Yarnall’s boar was about three months at his house and afterward Yarnall took him away and the boar was bitten on the right side of the stones. John Fox said the boar had one stone hanging down lower than the other and that he was bitten by the dogs on the right side of the stones. Jane Calvert was not sure. Margaret Hollingsworth said that the boar was a right boar before he was bitten and that he was supposed to be Joshua Hastings’ boar by the neighborhood and was there most of the winter.

Caleb Pusey said that Yarnall asked him whether there was a boar about his house with one stone. Thomas Bristow said that he certainly knew the boar and that it was the very boar of Francis Yarnall. John Maris said he knew Yarnall’s boar and when the boar was again by Yarnall he knew it certainly to be the same boar. George Maris the younger said he knew Yarnall’s boar and it was the same boar that Yarnall brought to them to view when he fetched him home. John Hallowell said the boar was at his house and that is was the same boar which he saw at the end of the summer and that the boar was at Jacob Simcock’s and he believes it was the Yarnall’s boar.

The jury must have had a hard job of weighing this inconclusive evidence. In the end they found for Joshua Hastings and fined Yarnall 25s with the cost of the court suit. Yarnall was not pleased and said he would appeal to the court of equity.