Category Archives: Stories

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.

The saga of Philip and Patrick Conway

In Bucks County Court in the 4th month of 1687 Jane Coverdale complained against Philip Conway. Jane said that about three months before, he came to her bed side and said he had sworn he would have her either by night or by day. About a month after that he came to her house and she was so afraid lest he should lay violent hands on her, that she was forced to call back a youth that was newly gone out of the house to stay until Conway left. 1

Eliza Hickman and Elizabeth Ridgway said that about the going away of the last frost Philip Conway came into the house of Richard Ridgway drunk and was very abusive and threw several things into the fire and swore several oaths—four at least—by the name of God, and once cursed the Quakers. He was fined for swearing and behaving contemptuously toward the court.

For attempting to lie with Coverdale’s wife Philip had to give security for his appearance at next court. He posted bond but was held in the jail nonetheless, where he shouted curses at the justices and kicked the door. The court ordered that the 40 pounds he had put up as a bond for his good behavior be forfeited, and that it be levied on his lands and goods.

Philip behaved himself for a few years, but in the spring of 1690, he was back in court, accused with his brother Patrick of stealing from William Fisher. Fisher testified he went to the house of Philip Conway in order to seek a mare of his that was lost, and after he had found her he returned home again and found his house broken up and his chest unlocked. The key was stuck in his chest. When he left the house he hid the key under his bed stead and the only person who saw him hide it there was Patrick Conway. After a search an inkhorn of Fisher’s was found in Philip Conwa’s house.

How did Fisher know to look for his mare at Philip’s house? Sam Rose,  a laborer, testified that he went to haul hay at Fisher’s. When the horse was missed they found tracks of a man and horse, tracked them in the snow between three and four miles and found the track led toward the house of Philip Conway.

Although the evidence looks black against them, the jury found Philip and Patrick not guilty.

But at the same court Patrick Conway was indicted for stealing half a hide of leather. Charles Thomas said that December last year he came to Walter Forrest’s mill with leather to sell and it lay outside two or three days, and he missed one side and William Fisher told him he saw two sides of leather in Patrick Conway’s house. Conway told Fisher that Charles Thomas had sold him one side and given him the other. This time the jury did not believe him. They found Patrick guilty and ordered him to make three-fold restitution.

The next year Philip was back in court again, for stealing a mare from John Swift. Swift testified that he found a mare in the woods four years before and took her up and notified the rangers, but they refused to take her. About three weeks before he saw the mare in Conway’s custody. Nicholas Randall, Swift’s servant, added that Swift put an ear mark on her and that she broke away. After that he saw the mare at Conway’s house and asked about it. Conway said that the governor was not here to claim here and that he himself would have her. 2

But there was even more testimony. William Fisher said that he took up a colt, but that Patrick and Philip Conway came to his house and demanded it. He refused to deliver it. Patrick knocked him over while Philip took away the colt. The jury convicted Conway of stealing the mare and both of them of forceably taking a colt from Fisher. Patrick was sentenced to make restitution and to be whipped. Philip was fined, whipped and banished from the government.

This is the end of them in Bucks County.

But, in Chester County,  just a few months later, they were accused of stealing a horse. Patrick was committed to the county gaol, from which he escaped. Philip was accused of being an abettor in the theft. The horse had been fettered but the fetter and the key to unlock it were both missing. When the constable went to search fo the fetter he searched up and down in Patrick’s house until at last William Woodmansee put his hand in a cask and said, “Here is the fetter.” So they asked Patrick where the key was. He said he did not know, but at last his wife said that he had it, and it was found in his pocket.

It came out in the trial that Philip had coached Patrick to say that the horse was Thomas Kersey’s, and that he had bought the fetters. When Patrick seemed afraid that the theft would be discovered, Philip told him, Thou art the [most] faint hearted man that lives.”

They were found guilty. Philip was sentenced to leave the province within 14 days. After this they disappear from the records of Pennsylvania.

  1.  Conway used a more explicit term in his boast, which is in the court record.
  2. Animals found in the woods with no ear marks for identification were taken up by the rangers and became the property of Governor Penn.

John Rambo and the rough wooing

In 1685 Peter Cock and his daughter Bridget sued John Rambo for breach of promise and for ruining Bridgett’s reputation. The court testimony was sensational. Bridget’s sister Catherine said that one winter night she heard a noise about midnight, and a plank opened and John Rambo jumped down into the room and then came into the bed where she was with her two sisters. It was pitch dark but they recognized him by his voice. He jumped into the bed. There was no room so Catherine and Margaret got out of the bed and left Bridget there, and they lay on the floor until daybreak.

John asked Bridgett if she would have him. She answered no at first and then when he asked her again she said yes. He swore “the devil take him if he would not marry her”. And in the morning he heaved himself out of the bed and left.

William Orion said that when Andrew Rambo was married to Peter Cock’s other daughter, he heard John Rambo, between the dwelling house and cow house, about midnight, say to Bridgett Cock, “God damme me my brother hath gott one sister and I will marrie tother.”

And Lasse Cock, brother of Bridget, deposed that about the end of February last, his sister Bridget went to the mill with corn, and they saw John Rambo. Bridget said, “John Rambo you are going to cheat me”, and he answered “God damme me I shall never marrie another woman but you.”

The jury found Rambo guilty. Bridget’s father Peter was fined five shillings for swearing in court.

But it did not work out quite as smoothly as that. A year later they were back in court.

In the meantime Bridget had borne a child, which John refused to maintain, and he was trying to marry another woman. Bridget sued him for 150 pounds damages. He claimed that he never offered to marry her. She produced the records of the earlier court.

It would seem a cut-and-dry case in her favor. But Lawrence Hiddings, a neighbor of the Cock family in Kingsessing, testified that Bridget had refused to let him have the child when he offered to maintain it, saying that it was more than he was able to do and that he did not have a nurse ready. The  jury found for him.

What happened?

The ending is a surprise. John and Bridget married and had eleven children. They moved to West Jersey where John became quite respectable—a justice of the peace and delegate to the assembly.  Let’s hope that Bridget got what she wanted.

David Davies the Welshman of Neshaminy

David Davies was a Welshman, son of the wealthy Richard Davies. David came in 1683 and settled in Neshaminy, far away from his countrymen in the Welsh Tract. The next summer his father wrote to Penn, glad that his son had arrived, because many on the Morning Star had been sick with dysentery. Davies wrote, “I was som time under great Exercise by Vistions that I had seene that maney of them were cast {in}to the sea but … but my wife was all along wel satisfied of the wel being of her sonn.” 1

David had written to his father that some of his neighbors were agitating to choose him for the Assembly, though Richard was hoping that this would be put off until David had his plantation in better order. Richard added to Penn that, “I am glad that his servants writts soe wel of him and that they serve him in love and that he is carfull of them.”  By then Davies’ neighbors were complaining that his dog was running loose and attacking their hogs. Middletown Monthly Meeting sent a committee to deal with him, and force him to pay a fine to widow Walmsley for the loss of her sow. 2

In 1685 David was accused of killing one of his servants. Five of Bucks County’s most important Quakers were appointed to try him. There is no record of the trial, but Davies must have been acquitted.

Soon after Davies was in trouble again with the Middletown Monthly Meeting. His servant Margaret Evans was summoned before the women’s meeting because of her disorderly behavior. She claimed she tried to leave him, but being his bound servant and he very unwilling to set her free, she was forced to stay with him. The men’s meeting took over and summoned Davies before them. He said that he would marry her, contrary to their advice, probably since she was not free to object.

He did marry her, and he died twenty days later.

She had a son and named him David.

Two years later she asked for a certificate of clearness, intending to go back to England.

The story is a wild one, yet we don’t know the things we most want to know. Why did this young man die just after his marriage? And why did Margaret name her son after him?

  1. Dunn and Dunn, Papers of William Penn, volume 2.
  2. Middletown Monthly Meeting, men’s minutes, 1st month and 7th month 1684.

Hannah Salter and her notorious past

Hannah Salter came with her husband Henry in 1677 and settled in Salem, West Jersey. They owned 10,000 acres there, an enormous tract, much of it salt marsh around Lower Alloway Creek.  They were active as traders, Hannah as much as Henry. When Henry was sued by John Shackerly in 1678, for not fulfilling a sale of silver plate that Hannah made, Henry admitted that she bought and sold goods as much as he did, and the court found for Shackerly.

Henry died the following April, leaving his land to Hannah. They obviously lived a wealthy life. His inventory six embroidered chairs, “Turkey work”, a silver watch, a silver case and tooth picker.

Hannah moved across the river to Tacony and settled into the life of a real estate speculator. She bought and sold land in both West Jersey and Philadelphia County, over ten transactions. She was active in the courts. She sued people and they sued her, mostly over debts and land. She made her will in 1688 and died a week later. It must have been something infectious; her son John died the same week.

Here’s the back story that makes Hannah’s later life so unexpected. Before she married Henry, she had been a follower of James Nayler, leader of a Quaker splinter group. His small group of followers, mostly women, thought he was the Messiah. In October 1656 Naylor rode into Bristol on a donkey, with the women surrounding him, singing and strewing palms in his way. Mainstream Quakers were appalled. The authorities saw it as blasphemous. Naylor was tried and imprisoned for two years. Hannah acknowledged her fault, continued as a Quaker and ten years later married Henry Salter. What a pity she did not leave a memoir.

Hannah Day and her suitors

In 1692 John Day, a prosperous Quaker merchant of Philadelphia, was intending to go to sea. He wrote his will, left, and was never heard from again. He left a widow Hannah. She may have mourned for John but after a time she turned her eye toward remarriage.

Three years after John disappeared, the stern Friends of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting advised Richard Sutton that he should not be too forward in getting into the affections of Hannah Day in order to marry. They told William Rakestraw the same thing. They advised Hannah not to entertain William Rakestraw, Richard Sutton nor any other person in order to marry until a certain account shall come of her husband John Day’s death.

Hannah tried again in 1699 with James Atkinson. By now it was seven years since John had left. The women’s meeting approved their proposal and brought it to the men, but the men’s meeting declared that, “There was no proof that  her late husband John Day is certainly dead, although long absent, therefore it is the advice of this meeting that they cannot proceed to marry among friends.” Hannah and James went ahead and married anyway; she died as his widow.

The meeting was not just hard on women. In 6th month  1687 Philadelphia meeting heard the appeal of the carpenter Thomas Marle. He explained that his wife Eleanor had been gone from him this eight or nine years, and desired their advice relating to his marrying again, as he was willing to change his condition. The monthly meeting put him off, and sent the question up to the Quarterly meeting, who sent it to the yearly meeting. The yearly meeting said that he could not take a wife among Friends if his wife might be yet living. He moved to another meeting and married a woman named Margaret. Since Thomas apparently ended up with ten children, he certainly did change his condition. 1

  1. It is not clear by which wife he had the children, but some of them must certainly have been by the second wife.

John Tatham, alias Gray: the secret Catholic

A Catholic in a land of Quakers, a man with a suspicious past, a target of dark rumors, builder of a palatial house – John Tatham stands out as unusual. He bought land from Penn in London and emigrated in 1685. Penn knew that he was Catholic and distrusted him. Penn wrote to Thomas Lloyd in 1685, “… he is subtile and prying and lowly… be sure to pleas him in his land…”. 1 Tatham built a large house in Bensalem, traded as a merchant, and soon ran into trouble with his neighbor Joseph Growdon. Growdon was a wealthy landowner, who wanted to assemble a manor of 10,000 acres, although Penn was reluctant to let him have so much in one place. Tatham’s Bensalem land stuck into Growdon’s like a thorn, and they soon began to squabble over land sales and money owed. They were in Bucks County court in 1686, and Phineas Pemberton called it the “most railing revileing business” he had ever seen, adding that they only behaved to “befoole them selves”. 2. The suit continued for years.

By 1686 Tatham had moved to New Jersey where he built a grand house that some called a palace. 3 At this time Penn learned astonishing news about Tatham. He was a former Benedictine monk who had left his order!  Penn’s suspicions about Tatham grew after an irregular survey made to Charles Pickering and Tatham over a tract supposed to include a silver mine. Penn was furious over this and threatened to fire Thomas Holme for allowing the survey. 4

Tatham’s power and influence grew when he was appointed as agent for Daniel Cox, the wealthy investor and absentee governor of West Jersey. Tatham worked with James Budd, Cox’s surveyor, but when Budd died under suspicious circumstances in 1690 Tatham was suspected of poisoning him. John Budd, James’ brother, accused Tatham, and Tatham sued Budd for defamation. The courthouse was packed with a great press of people, so that some witnesses could not be heard. The testimony was sensational. Jonathan West said that “James Budd after hee was dead swelled and looked black, and wrought in his belly and att his mouth, and that after hee was put into the coffin he swelled much.” William Budd, another brother, said that he met James walking in Burlington, who told him that he was under great trouble, with a letter in his pocket that meant his death. Nicholas Martineau added that Budd said his heart was “almost broke” because John Tatham would not pay him money necessary for his business. Elizabeth Bosse added darkly that Budd “dyed not the common death of all men”, but died of poison. The court must not have believed these tales, since it ruled for Tatham and awarded him damages. By then Tatham was on the council of Proprietors of West Jersey, had served as its president, and had also served on the Assembly. Although the Budd family was influential and well-off, he was more so. 5

The obvious question is how a former monk was able to build two grand houses, acquire merchandise to sell, and set himself up as one of the wealthiest men in either province.  The answer begins with his background from a well-to-do family in Yorkshire. He was sent to Douai University in France as a youth to study for the priesthood, and became a Benedictine. In 1676 he returned to England as Father Bede Tatham. In 1678 a supposed Popish plot to kill King Charles inflamed hysteria against Catholics. Perhaps at this time Tatham left his post and took the name John Gray. He must have married around 1680 since he had a daughter born around 1680 to 1682. 6 In 1684 he bought land from Penn and sailed to Pennsylvania, with his family, a large library and merchant goods. Perhaps the money came from his family, but he apparently also absconded with church money! Penn wrote in 1686 that “the congregation has spoak to the King about him, and to me.” The king commanded that Tatham be sent back to England by the first conveniency. 7  Obviously no one bothered to do that.

Tatham died in 1700, about 58 years old, leaving his pregnant wife Elizabeth, and three children. His will was dramatic. He left his daughter Dorothy “one piece of eight if demanded and no more”, for her “graceless and shameless rebellion”. 8 She had married a man named Robert Hickman, in custody of the sheriff in Burlington as a suspected pirate. They married clandestinely at Elizabeth Basnett’s tavern in February 1700, for which Basnett lost her tavern license. Tatham’s inventory included two crucifixes, gold church plate, seven slaves, a silver rapier, 478 books, and his grand house. He left everything to his wife Elizabeth, but she died soon after him. Their son John continued the suit against Growdon; it was still plaguing the court in 1713. 9

Bisbee asked whether Dorothy’s rebellion hastened his death. Whether  it did or not, the more interesting question is whether he rested easy in his conscience. If some of his wealth came from theft from his church, did that weigh on him?

  1. Henry Bisbee, “John Tatham, alias Gray”, PMHB, 1959, 83(3)
  2. Quoted in Lawmaking and Legislators, vol. 1, the entry on Joseph Growdon
  3. Gabriel Thomas, “An account of West Jersey and Pennsylvania”, quoted in Bisbee.
  4. Minutes of the Board of Property, series 2, 1687
  5. Burlington Court Records. Bisbee, p. 257
  6. Dorothy was of marriageable age in 1700.
  7. Quoted in Bisbee.
  8. A printed abstract in Publications of the Genealogical Society of PA, vol. 3, has “one piece of dirt”, but this is incorrect
  9. Martin Griffin, “Early Catholics of Bucks County”, Papers read before the Bucks County Historical Society. Also Minutes of the Board of Property, series 2.