A ‘Strange’ Woman Arrives in Colonial Philadelphia

Dateline: Philadelphia, 21 May 1701. Gov. William Penn, who was a skeptical Quaker about the supernatural elements in Christianity, hears a strange tale. What did he do?

The case is clear enough without an introduction.


The Proprietary and Governor, William Penn

Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, Griffith Owen, Thomas Story, Humphrey Murray, Caleb Pusey, all Esquires.

Modernized transcription begins:

A petition of Robert Guard and his wife being reviewed, setting forth that a certain strange woman lately arrived in this town [of Philadelphia] being seized with a very sudden illness after she had been in their company on the 17th Instant and several pins being taken out of her breasts, one John Richards, butcher, and his wife Ann, charged the petitioners with witchcraft and as being the authors of the said mischief;

And therefore [they] desire their accusers might be acquitted, they suffering much in their reputation and by that means in their trade.

Ordered that the said John and Ann Richards be sent for, who appearing, the matters was inquired into and being found trifling was dismissed.

Transcription ends.

What do pins in breasts mean? A human voodoo doll, or dysfunctional self-mutilation, like cutting?

In any case, it looks like the local neighborhood got stirred up, and John and Ann Richards did the stirring, but suffered in their business. “We won’t go into their butcher shop! Witchcraft!” Or maybe the neighbors just laughed at the Richards.

Maybe the council dismissing the case as trifling restored the Richards’ reputation and business.


Quakers Investigate Witchcraft in Colonial Philadelphia

Adultery, Black Hat, and Dark Arts in Colonial Philadelphia

Bible Basics about Satan and Demons and Victory Over Them

Satan and Demons: Personal

Satan and Demons: Theology

Satan and Demons: Origins

Bible Basics about Deliverance

Magic, Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Fortunetelling


Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg Theophilus Fenn, 1838), p. 15.

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