Several years before the witchcraft hysteria and trials hit Salem, Pennsylvania had its own witch trial - the only one in its history. In December, 1683, two old women, Yeshro Hendrickson and Margaret Mattson, both Swedes, were tried for witchcraft by none other than William Penn himself. The details of Yeshro Hendrickson have faded into history, but much is known about Margaret Mattson, still known today as “The Witch of Ridley Creek.”
Margaret and her husband Nils were among a group of Swedish settlers who eventually ended up owning land along Crum Creek and Ridley Creek in the area of Upland, now known as Eddystone, Delaware County. They were successful farmers, owned a vast amount of land, much of which was particularly desirable due to its location near the river. Not surprisingly, this led to some jealousy and soon there were accusations against her that she had bewitched some farm animals, as well as a few people.
On December 27, 1683 she was tried in Philadelphia before William Penn, his Attorney General, and two separate juries. The trial took only one day. According to the minutes, there was testimony from many witnesses, including one Charles Ashcom who claimed he had heard from Mattson’s own daughter-in-law that Mattson had conjured a “great light” and an apparition which frightened her. Margaret stated to the court that she “denyeth all things and that the witnesses speake only by hearsay” and said her daughter-in-law should come and give the testimony herself if it were true.
William Penn recognized that the trial was more than likely the result of jealously and ignorance and was skeptical of the witchcraft hysteria that was quickly spreading across England and the colonies. He was reported to have asked Mattson “Art thou a witch? Hast thou ridden through the air on a broomstick?” Confused, probably because she didn’t speak English very well, Margaret answered “Yes.” Penn quickly diffused the situation by saying that he knew no law against her riding on a broomstick and that she had a perfect right to do so. After a quick deliberation, the court found her "having the Common fame of a witch, but not guilty in manner and forme as Shee stands Indicted." In other words, she was guilty of being considered a witch and not guilty of actually being one. Her husband paid a 50 pound bond as a promise of her good behavior for six months.
Mattson lived out the rest of her life quietly, but the legend of The Witch of Ridley Creek lives on. If you are passing through Eddystone, look for the Baldwin Locomotive Plant – it’s on the property that belonged to Nils and Margaret Mattson.
A re-enactment of the trial of Margaret Mattson will take place on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum. Arrive early and be on the jury!