Philadelphia in the seventeenth century had little in common with the city of today. People lived in caves--both normal citizens and Rosicrucians, taverns and abolitionists. Yellow fever was a danger, and the city was half swamp. OK, maybe it wasn't that different.
But Philadelphia, that religious haven, that American Athens, that "greene countrie towne", had one significant difference between itself and its neighbors to the north.
It didn't hang its witches.
Philadelphia was already home to strange religious sects, who found the Swedish, Dutch and English settlers rather happy to have the eccentric scholars around, since they were good herbalists. So it's not surprising that Philadelphia's witches found little trouble, even among authorities.
Margaret Mattson was a Swede; she and her husband had a farm at what is now Ridley Creek, west of Philadelphia. Her daughter accused Mattson of sending a demon to possess her. Mattson was soon arrested.
On December 27, 1683, Margaret Mattson was brought before the Provincial Court, consisting in this case of William Penn, the attorney general, a 21-person grand jury, and a "petit jury" of twelve persons. Of all these, only one was a fellow Swede, the rest English.
During the trial, Mattson was accused of various forms of witchcraft--betwitching geese, cattle, and people. Her daughter testified that her mother was in league with the Devil. It was the typical accusations.
A verdict was reached that afternoon. She was found "Guilty of having the Comon Fame of a Witch, but not Guilty in manner and Forme as Shee stands Endicted."
Supposedly, she had the following exchange with Penn himself:
Penn: "Art thou a witch? Hast thou ridden through the air on a broomstick?"
Why she said "yes" is a subject of some debate--was she simple-minded? Sarcastic? Or did she indeed practice folk magic--something not unheard of even among the most conservative Pennsylvanians?
Penn then reportedly said that as it was not against the law to ride upon a broomstick, Mrs. Mattson had every right to ride one, and he ordered her discharge.
Thus ends the only witchcraft trial in Pennsylvanian history, though not the only occult trial. One Philip Roman of Chichester, a contemporary of Mrs. Mattson, was found to have practiced astrology, and was asked to give it up. He complied. His brother Roger was accused of practicing geomancy and was also asked to give it up. After he refused, he was fined £5.