Thief Peter Stewart Is Caught in Philadelphia

Dateline: Philadelphia, 1688: Peter Stewart was a yeoman who was accused of stealing a lot of money and other valuables from John Wickham. But Wickham was no angel, either. This short post reveals what daily life was like at our founding—or at least the daily life of some people.

Let’s look at the court records, by date.

3rd day 8th month, 1688 (October 3, 1688)

Modernized transcription begins:

The said jurors also present Peter Stewart of the said County of Chester, yeoman, the 22nd day of the 7th month, last past, feloniously did steal and carry away from John Wickham of the said County, to wit, out of the said John Wickham’s chest, then being at William Clayton’s house [not our direct line, but William Clayton Sr.’s oldest son] the sum of ten pounds, Spanish money; forty shillings, Boston money; two gold rings, priced 40s; one silver watch priced about 6£; and one silver spoon, priced about 12s and has not restored the same against the public peace and against the law in that case made and provided, etc.—a true bill, Robert Taylor, foreman.

Upon which he is called to the bar and pleads not guilty and refers himself to God and the country.


Witnesses whose testimonies was attested in writing before John Bristow, one of the king’s justices at several times—John Wickham, William Clayton, Jeremy Collett, Richard Buffington

John Wickham being again attested in open court declares that out of his chest at William Clayton’s he did lose 40s Boston money, 10£ Spanish money, two gold rings and 1 brass ring, 1 watch and one silver spoon; he does also declare that he knew a certain piece of 8/8 taken out of the prisoner’s pocket which he says was in the till of the chest.

William Clayton [not our direct line, but William Clayton Sr.’s oldest son] being attested in open court declares that John Wickham having put a chest into his house and upon moving him[self] out of one room into another he found the chest to be loose and broken which he informed John Wickham of who [sic] told him that he had in the chest 10£ Spanish money, two pounds Boston money, 2 gold rings, 1 brass ring, one silver watch and one silver spoon which when the said Wickham came to examine he found wanting [missing or absent] and this deponent says he does believe no other person had the opportunity to break it open but this prisoner;

Jeremy Collett being again attested in open court declares that coming down to Chichester with John Wickham he the said John immediately put his hand into the chest and said he was undone, for he left those things which before William Clayton had attested the same and while they sent for the constable he did conceive that the prisoner was surprised with fear and troubled;

Richard Buffington being again attested in open court declares that when he took the money out of the prisoner’s pocket, the prisoner told him that he brought the pieces 8/8 out of Jamaica which afterward the said ____ [?] told John Bristow he had from Thomas Budd’s son and further the prisoner said he would prove the same;

The court adjourns until the next morning the 7th hour and met according to adjournment;

We of the petty jury do find Peter Stewart to be guilty of the presentment and we do value the whole sum to be eighteen pounds;

Upon which judgment is granted that if the said Peter Stewart do not pay unto John Wickham within two months next ensuing the sum of 25£ and 12 s to the said Attorney General that then he the said Stewart shall remain a servant unto the said Wickham or his assigns, for the full term of 9 years ensuing from this instant;

Transcription ends.

3rd day, 10th month, 1688 (December 3, 1688)

Modernized transcription begins:

We [the Grand Inquest] likewise present John Wickham of Chichester for having clippings of money which he owned to be his;

Transcription ends.

3rd day, 1st month, 1688/9 (March 3, 1688/9)

Modernized transcription begins:

John Wickham was called to the bar to answer the presentment of the Grand Inquest the last court;

The testimony of the evidence (viz.)

Francis Little being attested declare that upon taking of Peter Stewart they found about him clippings which he says was clippings of Spanish money which he the said Peter Stewart said was John Wickham’s;

James Saunderlain being attested says that Nathaniel Lukin having taken Peter Stewart, John Wickham’s servant and brought him to George Foreman’s house where this deponent looking over the goods which the said Peter took away with him amongst the rest, found a parcel of clippings of coined money about the thickness of pieces of eight which John Wickham owned to be his and took the same into his possession;

Nathaniel Lukin being attested declares that when Peter Stewart was taken and examined before a justice of the peace on the other side of the river, he found upon him some clippings of Spanish money which after he the said Peter told this deponent did belong to John Wickham and that the said Wickham did at Chichester own the same to be his;

Randall Vernon being attested declares that he was meeting with John Wickham at Walter Faucett’s, he asked him how he came by the clippings of money, who told him that when he was at York there was a man clipping a candle [?] or saucer which after he took up and further saith not;

John Eldridge was attested, but his evidence being insignificant was set by;

Jeremy Collett being attested declares that he did see a parcel of clippings which he believes was Spanish money delivered at George Foreman’s to John Wickham’s which said Wickham owned to be his;

The court adjourns

Richard Buffington, constable of Chichester, being attested, declares that when he went down to Chichester about the levies, John Wickham did swear if anyone should levy anything upon him he would have a time of him;

Who being upon the same called to the bar again: upon his submission to the court and his petition for pardon he is remitted the contempt; ordered he pay 5s for swearing for a fine;

Transcription ends.

John Wickham had his money stolen by Peter Stewart, but Wickham clipped some of it, maybe to melt it down to get more money.

He also threatened a tax collector, who were often selected as citizens, not as a professional.

It takes a thief to catch a thief. Both Peter Stewart and John Wickham deserved each other.


Record of the Courts of Chester County, Pennsylvania, begun the 13th day of September, 1681, ending the 10th day of March 1696-7, pp. 135-36; 141; 147-48.

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