Siren #142: The Witch of Ridley Creek

Siren #142: The Witch of Ridley Creek

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Neals and Margaret Mattson arrived from Sweden in 1654 and built a plantation on 100 acres of the richest farmland at the mouth of Ridley Creek near the Delaware River.  Their farm was part of New Sweden, originally settled by Swedes in 1637, extending from what is now northern Delaware to north of Philadelphia.

The Dutch and English arrived a few years later and discovered that the best farmland had already been claimed.  Their jealously over this, along with an inability to communicate with their Swedish neighbors who didn’t speak much English, led to many rumors and accusations. 

In 1683, when Henry Drystreet’s cows stopped producing milk, he accused his neighbor, Margaret Mattson, of cursing his cows and casting spells. Margaret went on trial, along with another neighbor, Gertro Hendrickson, with William Penn as judge.  Henry Drystreet testified was that he had once been told Margaret was a witch, and that one of his neighbor’s mothers thought Margaret had put a spell on her cow, but then realized her cow was fine and it was somebody else’s cow that had died.  Margaret’s own daughter-in-law testified that she had been woken by an apparition of Margaret with a knife at the foot of her bed threatening another neighbor.

After listening to this and other equally compelling testimony about Margaret’s witchcraft from others, William Penn asked two final questions - first asking Margaret if she was a witch, which she denied, and then asking if she ever flew around on a broomstick.  She seemed to answer this affirmatively, possibly due to her limited understanding of English.  Penn, who was skeptical of the witchcraft hysteria that was just starting to spread in the colonies, declared that there was no law in the Province against flying around on a broomstick, so she couldn’t be charged with this.  At the end of the day, Margaret was found guilty of having a reputation of being a witch, but not guilty of actually being a witch. 

Less than a decade later, the Salem witch trials ended much differently, with 20 executions and more than 100 people imprisoned over the course of a year of witch-hunting.  Many credit William Penn with defusing the situation in Pennsylvania in a single day; Margaret and her co-defendant, Gertro Herdrickson, were the only alleged witches ever brought to trial in Pennsylvania.  Margaret and her husband lived out the rest of their lives relatively quietly, but the legend of The Witch of Ridley Creek lives on.

This turn-of-the-century witch’s hat horn would have been used with an early Edison cylinder phonograph or Columbia graphaphone.  She stands 30” tall with a 16.5” bell. Our witch is married to a reclaimed floor joist base from Plays & Players Theater on Delancey St. in Philadelphia.  Plays & Players Theater was built in 1912, and (among other things) was the stage where Kevin Bacon made his debut as a child actor in 1974.  The base is finished with Betty’s Board Butter (beeswax & mineral oil).  You may want to re-oil the base occasionally.

The Witch of Ridley Creek lives with Machele Kortum at Lux and Roses, about a mile and a half from Margaret’s home.

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