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Witch Trial

May 2024
1min read

Maybe it’s my Quaker ancestry (on the paternal side) that has me choosing personally to witness a small jewel of a thing that happened in nascent Pennsylvania on February 27, 1684. Back then, it seems, Quakers were not altogether immune to the witch-mindedness of their day; and here was an elderly woman, doubtless psychotic, on trial for witchcraft. William Penn, creator of the colony and temporarily a resident there, lent his proprietary presence and took part in examining the accused.

“Art thou a witch?” he asked her. “Hast thou ever ridden through the air on a broomstick?” The poor old thing insisted that indeed she had. Penn told her in effect that he knew of no law against it and recommended that the jury dismiss her. So they found her guilty not of witchcraft but merely of having the “common fame of being a witch” and set her free.

To have been there would have shown one what must have been the most benevolent poker face ever seen. Further, this was probably the most civilized thing to have occurred on the North American continent since Columbus’s landing—a spontaneous leap ahead of the terms of the time. And for relish, I don’t doubt the old lady hobbled away pretty huffy about not having been taken seriously.

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