The Richardsons: Dysfunctional Quaker Family

Dateline: 1683 to 1700, Pennsylvania and West Jersey. The head of household served in the highest level of government of the Province of Pennsylvania, but his own really bad behavior brought him down.

Comments are inserted after the dates, to introduce the main issues.

15 Mar 1683

Drunk and disorderly. Not a good beginning for Councilman John Richardson in the fledgling government.

Council: William Penn, Proprietor and Governor of Pennsylvania and counties annexed.

Capt. Wm. Markham, John Simcox, Wm Clarke, Capt. Thos. Holmes, James Harrison, John Moll, Capt. Edmund Cantwell, John Hilliard, Wm. Clayton, Ralph Withers, John Richardson, Francis Whitwell, Christopher Taylor.

Ordered that John Richardson pay five shillings for being disordered in drink and be reproved. (p. 60)

9 Sep 1687

Here the Council replace John Richardson in Kent County, which belonged to Philadelphia at that time, but is now in Delaware.

Ordered that writs issue forth for the choosing of two members of the Provincial Council, one for the County of Kent, in the room [place] of John Richardson, who for his non-appearance, according to law and character, and his seeming unwillingness to serve, is removed. (p. 210)

19 May 1688

His sister was a murderess.

Upon the reading of the petition of John Richardson, in behalf of his sister Judith Roe, who had sentence of death passed upon her the beginning of this month, in a provincial court held in Kent County, humbly beseeching that the governor would be pleased to grant to said Judith Roe a reprieve.

It is ordered that a warrant should be sent to the sheriff to suspend her execution till further order. (p. 227)

4 Mar 1688/9 (1689 by our time)

Let’s continue the storyline about his sister.

It appeared to be granted upon the petition of John Richardson, brother to the murderer, which petition was read. It appeared also that a sentence of death had passed upon her in a provincial court held in the County of Kent, where the fact was committed and that the said provincial court was duly authorized by the then President and Council by commission under the lesser seal, dated 2 April 1687.

Upon consideration of the petition, etc. it was ordered by the President and Council the 19 May 1688 that the sheriff should suspend the execution till further order upon the whole matter. It was ordered by the Governor and Council, the secretary only dissenting, that the said order of suspension be of no further force and that the sheriff of the said County of Kent do cause execution to be done according to the tenor of the judgment passed by the Provincial Court and the day for doing thereof be on the fifteenth day of this present first month, commonly called March, and the Mr. Clark be desired to take care of the order for execution be delivered to the sheriff for that purpose (p. 253)

She was executed, probably by hanging, on March 15, 1689 (our dating). The earliest Quakers believed in the death penalty.

Anyone want to find the court record in Kent County, Delaware? Look for her case in April 1687.

13 May 1690

Records for his misbehavior don’t pop up until seven years later, but it is a sure thing he did misbehave, between 1683 and this next record. It is not clear (to me) that Samuel and John are related, but they probably are.

On the above date, it was reported that he beat his wife within an inch of her life.

Council: Thomas Lloyd, President

Councilmen: Samuel Richardson, Griffin Owen, Bartholomew Coppock, Griffith Jones, Johannes D’Hayes, William Stockdale, John Brinkloe, John Curtis, Arthur Cook, John Simcock, Luke Watson, Thomas Duckett, William Clark, William Markham, Secretary.

Credible information being given to this board that John Richardson, the Elder, [Sr.] of Kent County, has behaved himself so violently and inhumanely towards [his] wife that it is much feared he may be her death; whereupon it was ordered that a warrant be sent down to the justices of that county to make a thorough examination into the matter, with direction that upon sufficient proof, to bind him over to his good behavior and secure him in prison until he find good and able security (p. 337)

30 July 1690

Now John Sr.’s misbehavior works its way down to his son John Jr. and prevents him from getting a license for an Ordinary. The family brought the refusal on itself.

Ordered that notice be given to the magistrates of Kent County that the Council have thought fit—upon ill character of John Richardson, Jr., to make void he had to keep Ordinary and that they are desired to take care to be suppressed accordingly (pp. 341-42)

1 Nov 1700

Finally, we get some resolution—maybe. He has been subjected to an attainder. This law survived from the Medieval Age and was done by parliament, in this case the Pennsylvania Council, often without trial. It means “corruption of blood.” That is, a man behaves so badly that the law and especially the law of inheritance do not apply to him. In this case the Council removed his land and rights, and his heirs could not inherit. At least we now know Richardson is dead.

Click on Glossary of Medieval Terms: A to Z (the seventeenth century is past the Medieval Age, but often the ideas are still retained).

How to remove the attainder?

In the p.m. post meridian or afternoon:

At which time Griffith Jones, in behalf of _____ [sic] Richardson, son of John Richardson of the County of Kent, decd., brought a draft of a bill for taking off the attainder of the said John Richardson, decd. and the said Griffith Jones, having been heard how he could make good the reasons of his request in said bill contained; the Governor [William Penn is in town now] and Council, after perusal thereof, committed the further perusal of the same to Thomas Story and ordered him to report the reasonableness thereof tomorrow.

Adjourned to 2nd instant. (p. 619)

2 Nov 1700

We don’t get resolution. William Penn himself presided over this Council meeting.

At a Council held at New Castle, Sabbath Day, 2nd Nov 1700.

W. PENN, Proprietor and Governor and same members as before [Caleb Pussey, Thomas Story, Humphrey Murray, Phineas Pemberton, John Blunston, William Biles]

Thomas Story gave [handed] in to the Governor and Council the Bill for taking off the attainder aforesaid, with amendments, which was read and debated.

I can’t find how things worked out. Was the attainder lifted? Maybe another record will tell us. Incidentally, the councilmen worked on the Sabbath–Saturday.


Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700, (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s