Merion Friends Meeting
The Witch of Ridley Creek

As part of the 2007 Welsh Tract celebration in Lower Merion, Merion Friends Meeting staged an original play, The Witch of Ridley Creek. The play is based on the minutes of the only witch trial held in Pennsylvania, presided over by William Penn himself. The defendant was Margaret Mattson, a Swedish farm wife from an area now part of Eddystone, PA. Her neighbors brought complaints against her after some of their cows died. Her own daughter claimed she was in league with the devil.

Tradition holds that during that trial, Penn asked Mattson, "Art thou a witch? Hast thou ridden through the air on a broomstick?" Unfortunately, English was not her native language, and for whatever reason, she answered, "yes" to the question. Penn then proceeded to inform the jury that there was no law in Pennsylvania against doing so.

Pennsylvania was still under British law at the time, and England did have a law against witchcraft. But the jury found Mattson guilty of "having the common fame of a witch, but not guilty in manner and form as she stands indicted." She was fined and had to promise six months good behavior,i.e., to stop acting so much like a witch.

The minutes of the trial are not a verbatim transcipt such as is produced in modern trials, so unfortunately there is no way to confirm Penn's famous broomstick remark. (No way we were leaving it out of the play, though!)