The Morton Mortonson House in Prospect Park before it's restoration c.1930. It is the oldest house in Penna.
Some early Colonial Trials
The documentary sources from which we must gather our knowledge of the criminal and civil procedure enforced among the Swedish settlers presents as has been happily said, “a mere traced, fitful at best and rendered more faint by the days of time.” That remark will apply with equal force to the Dutch domination for the Hollander has handled down to us little as to those matters in the fragmentary records, correspondences and official reports now at our command. While this is true, time has not wholly obliterated all the circumstances associated with the noted criminal trials in our early annals before the territory, of which Delaware county is part, came under the rule of the crown of Great Britain. When New Amsterdam and the south River (Delaware) colonies passed into the ownership of James, Duke of York, the heir apparent, the records of Upland Court, together and the Duke’s “Book of Laws” preserve to us comparatively full information as to the criminal and civil code enforced as well as set forth the kinds of tribunals, which dispensed justice among the rude forefathers of their commonwealth. It is my purpose to recall several of the celebrated cases of the old times, selecting, save in one instance, trials that were, had prior to the coming of William Penn to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1682.
FIRST CRIMINAL TRIAL –The first criminal trial which occurs in our annals was at Tinicum, and arose from circumstances which happened in the winter of 1645-6. It was a charge of arson. The inhabitants of the Swedish Colony, over which Col. John Printz acted as governor at that time did not in all number two hundred souls. On the evening of November 25, 1645, between the hours of 10 and 11 o’clock, Fort Guttenburg was discovered to be on fire. The flames spread so rapidly that the sleeping garrison and the people gathered within that structure of “groaner” logs, which Governor Printz had completed only two years before, had barely time to escape “naked and destitute” from the conflagration, which consumed everything in the form of buildings connected with the fort, excepting the dairy. The winter had set in early with unusual severity, the cold was intense and the streams were frozen, while the drifting ice in the river prevented all communication with the main land by boats.
The situation of these people, who were planting the seeds of empire on the Delaware was most distressing, for the report of Governor Printz informs us that “the sharpness of the winter lasted until the middle of March, so that if some rye and corn had not been unthrashed, I, myself, and all the people with e on the island, would have starved to death. But God maintained us with small quantities of provisions until the next harvest.”
No wonder was it that the public mind was highly inflamed against Swen Wass, the gunner, who had set fire to the fort, although the act was accidental and the result of intoxication on the part of the accused. He was tried for the crime, but the nature of the tribunal before which he was arraigned is unknown as is also the procedure that was used on that occasion. We have no further information as to the case save that which appears in Governor Printz’s report dated February 20, 1647, and that day forward by the Golden Shark to Sweden. He states that “the above mentioned incendiary, Swen Wass, I have caused to be brought to court and to be tried and sentenced; so I have sent him home in irons with the vessel, accompanied by the whole record concerning him, submissively committing and referring the execution of the verdict to the pleasure of Her Royal Majesty and Right Honorable Company.”
UNDER HOLLAND’S RULE – When the next important criminal trial, which has been presented to us in official documents, presents itself, the flag of Sweden had been supplanted by the standard of their High Mightiness of Holland and while the case did not in its incidents come within the present commonwealth of Pennsylvania, yet the criminal proceedings were held within the territory which was subsequently known as Pena’s three lower counties.
In 1661 Alexander D’Hinojassa was acting governor of that portion of the present state of Delaware extending from the southern bank of the Cristiana River to Cape Henlopen, he asserting that the City of Amsterdam, by reason of its purchase from the Dutch West Indies Company, had acquired absolute jurisdiction over the territory before designated, hence he stoutly refused to recognize the authority of Governor Stuyvesant in anywise within those boundaries. D’Hinojassa was a rash, impetuous, headstrong man and in would brook no interference on the part of any one with his prerogatives, the particular case to which I am now referring are unusually interesting. A vessel had been wrecked on the coast near the present breakwater and one of the sailors, a Turk, reached the shore where he was taken prisoner by a party of Indians, who sold their captive to Peter Alrichs. Peter among other things was a slave dealer and was chiefly instrumental in fitting out the ship Glide which brought the first cargo of slaves from Africa to the shores of the Delaware.
The unfortunate Turk was sold by Peter to an English planter in Maryland. Subsequently the Turk and four other slaves escaped to Delaware, but, were pursued and captured. While they were being conveyed in a boat to New Castle, when near Bombay Hook, the Turk made a desperate fight for Liberty and during the struggle and before he could be subdued he wounded two Englishmen seriously and a third slightly.
In the confusion which followed, he sprang overboard and succeeded in reaching the shore but he was shortly recaptured and taken to New Castle where he was heavily ironed and imprisoned. D’Hinojassa refused when the application was made to him to deliver the prisoner to the English claimant but declared that as the Turk had committed a crime within the jurisdiction of the City Colony, he must be held on that charge. He thereupon ordered him to be arraigned before Van Sweeringham, who sat as the judge at the trial.
The prisoner, practically ignorant of the language in which he was called to make his defense was convicted of having resisted and wounded his captors. Although the laws of Holland applicable to the colonies provided that in criminal cases where the punishment was capital five judges must actually preside at the trial, the miserable Turk notwithstanding that violation of law was sentenced to be hanged.
On Sunday, October 19, 1662, the sentence was carried into execution. The Turk was hanged at Lewes, his head being afterwards “cut off and placed on a post or stake at Hare Mill.” This incident is also memorable because it is the first case of capital punishment in the Delaware River settlements.
THE LONG FINN – The next case to which I shall call attention is that of the “Long Finn.” At that time the red crossed banner of St. George had supplanted the colors of Holland, as the symbol of soverenty in the Delaware River colonies. This was a charge of treason against the government of His Majesty – King Charles II of England, and the chief actor was Marcus Jacobson, alias John Brinckson, etc., but better known as the “Long Finn,” because of his lofty stature.
The arrogance of the Englishmen in authority, had aroused a spirit of restlessness among the Swedish settlers, hence when the “Long Finn” toward the middle of the year 1669 began to whisper among those people, a project looking to the overthrow of English authority in the colony, he found little difficulty in imposing on the credulity of his hearers. By birth he was a Swede, who had found his way to England, where, for some crime committed by him there, he had been convicted and sentenced to transportation to the Maryland plantations, where he was sold for a term of years.
Escaping from servitude he made his way, it is believed to Upland, now Chester, and located in the town or its neighborhood. Here he represented himself as the son of Count Konnigsmack, a noted general of Sweden, and in interviews with the Swedish settlers, he informed them that a fleet of Swedish vessels of war had already been dispatched to the Delaware and were actually then lying in the bay, under instructions at the proper time to wrest the province from the British crown. He had, he also told them, been commissioned to go among the Swedish people and encourage them to aid in the effort to shake off the foreign yoke, to rise in arms and stay the hated English as soon as the Swedish armed vessels made their appearance in the river.
PLOTTING A REBELLION – Among those he enlisted to his proposed rebellion was Henry Coleman, a wealthy Finn, who it is conjectured, resided in the neighborhood of Marcus Hook. He also persuaded Armgard Papagoya, the daughter of Governor Printz, who then resided at Printzdorp, facing Chester Creek and the river, an estate she subsequently sold to Robert Wade, in whose house Penn made his first stop in this Province of Pennsylvania, to look with approval on his project. Rev. Lawrence Lack the former Swedish chaplain, then resided in the old house which his heirs subsequently sold to David Lloyd. The original building was destroyed by fire on a first day, while Lloyd and his wife were in attendance at meeting, compelling the Chief Justice to erect, in 1721, the dwelling known to us a the Porter mansion, which was destroyed by an explosion on Friday, February 17, 1882, accompanied with a frightful loss of life. The Rev. Lack was the ancient document tells us, designated to play, “the trumpeter to the disorder.”
Powder, shot and other munitions of war were procured for the outbreak and then a supper was announced to which most of the Swedes within reach were invited. After the guests had eaten their fill and liquor had done its part, the “long Finn” made an address to the men recalling the injustices that had been practiced upon them by the English; how partly by force and partly by fraud large tracts of land had been illegally taken from the Swedish owners, ending finally by demanding whether under those conditions, their allegiance was due to the Swedish or the English crown.
Peter Kock, who subsequently figured prominently in our annals, saw through the design of the demagogue and declared that inasmuch as the King of Sweden had surrendered the province to the English monarch he proposed to hold allegiance to the latter’s rule. Thereupon Kock hurriedly opened the door of the house, there seems to have been only one, went out, and closed it, holding it firmly shut, while he called for assistance to arrest the Long Finn. The latter from within vainly strove to pull or push the door open and succeeded in forcing his hand between the door and the jamb. Knock, knowing that the strength of his opponent would succeed ultimately, unless he was made to let go his hold, with his knife hacked the fingers of the Long Finn until the latter was compelled to relinquish his grip. A moment after, however, with a sudden burst the Long Finn forced the door open and succeeded in making his escape for the time being. Subsequently he was apprehended and by order of Governor Lovelace he has heavily ironed and imprisoned at New Castle.
Henry Coleman, the wealthy Finn, who appears to have contributed largely to the proposed rebellion, when he learned that a warrant had been issued for his arrest, abandoned all his holdings on the Delaware and fled for protection to the Indiana, with whom he was very friendly and influential and was never heard from more.
Governor Lovelace appointed commissioners to try the case, who sat at New Castle, December 6, 1669, and, as expected, the jury rendered a verdict of guilty as against Jacobson the Long Finn. The sentence, which was prepared by Governor Lovelace before the case was brought to trial reads as follows:
THE FINN’S SENTENCE – ‘Long Finn deserves to die for the same, yet in regard that many involved be in the same premunitee, if the vigor of the law should be extended, and amongst them divers simple and ignorant people it is thought fit and ordered that the said Long Finn shall be publicly and severely whipped and stigmatized or branded in the face with the letter R. with an inscription written in great letters and put upon his breast; that he receive the punishment for attempted rebellion, after which he be secured until he can be sent and sold to the Barbados or some other remote plantations.”
On January 25, 1670, the Long Finn was put on board the ship Fort Albany for transportation to the West Indies after which all record of him, so far as we now have information, ceased. His accomplices were sentenced to forfeit to the king one-half of all their goods and chattels, while a small fine was imposed on those of lesser note who had taken active part in the proposed insurrection. The case of the Long Finn will always be of interest for therein is the first recorded trial of a criminal charge under English procedure on the Delaware, in which a prisoner was formally indicted, arraigned and a jury of twelve men empaneled, subject to challenge by the prisoner, and charged to render a verdict in accordance with the evidence.
SANDELAND’S DOUBLE HOUSE – In the early part of the eighteenth century on the west side of Edgmont Avenue below Third Street, in the city of Chester, could be seen the foundations of an old building which is the period associated with Penn, was known as James Sandeland’s double house. It was the most imposing building in Upland and therein Penn convened the first General Assembly that ever sat in the province of Pennsylvania. The house had been built with mortar made of oyster shell line, which proved so utterly worthless, notably because of defective burning that in the course of twenty odd years the structure showed such signs of decay that it became untestable, full late ruins and gradually the materials made in its construction were received. Shortly after 1800, even the foundations were buried in the accumulation of evil that has taken place during a century. In time its very existence was forgotten, hence tradition for many gave credit to the Friends’ old House, which stood on the adjoining lot, as the place where the first Assembly met.
In August 1892, while excavations were being made for the row of commission stores, the foundations of Sandeland’s double house were unearthed. An accurate survey of them was made by Walter Wood, assistant City Engineer, giving the precise order of the old structure and the distance from the intersection of Third and Edgmont Streets. William B. Broomall, Esq., had Mr. Nyemetz take a photograph of the unearthed walls for which act he will receive the thanks of coming generations.
In the double house in its pristine glory James Sandelands kept tavern, for the pretentious word, hotel, had not then found its way in the English language. Early in 1675, Sandelands, in ejecting a drunken Indian from his premises, had used such violence that the savage died shortly after, and it was asserted his death was caused by the injuries he had received on that occasion. The incident it appears, aroused such feeling among the Indians that there were fears of an outbreak on their part, hence, Captain Cantwel, the Deputy Governor on the Delaware, wrote to Governor Andross at New York, respecting the case and in answer was instructed to take such action that Sandelands, if guilty, should be punished for the deed.
THE INDIAN CASE – The preliminary proceedings were followed by a special court which convened at New Castle on May 13, 1685, at which Governor Sir Edmund Andross presided in person, assisted by three commissioners especially appointed to hear the case. The bench, the old record relates, was “called over and placed on the Governor’s left hand; Governor Philip Carteret of New Jersey, on the right with Mr. Daniel Edsall, Mrs. James Wandall, Mr. Joseph Smith, Mr. John Jackson, Mr. William Osborne.” Distinguished visitors, it would seem in those days, were accorded seats on the judge’s platform as was done within recent years in England during the Baccarat trial While the Duke of York’s laws were not then applicable to the Delaware settlements, for it was not until September 25, 1676, that Governor Andross, extended the operation of that code to this territory, the jury, in Sandeland’s case consisted of seven freemen in accordance with the Duke’s laws in criminal trials.
The court being in session, James Sandelands was “brought to answer a presentment by the sheriff for suspicion of being the cause of the death of an Indian.” After the presentment was read the prisoner entered a plea of not guilty. Sandelands, the accused, was the first witness called to the stand and he related “the whole story of the Indian being at his house and him putting him out of doors.” The aboriginal witnesses who were then called did not agree in their testimony. One stated that the man died five days after his fall, while others made the interval of life after the ejection from the tavern six and eight weeks. A peculiar fact which appears on record is that while the Indians were giving their testimony, Sandelands, by leave of the court, went “and had a talk with them.” The jury, after being charged by the court, withdrew and finally returned a verdict that appears on record, thus: “They found the prisoner not to be guilty. He is ordered to be cleared by proclamation.”
IN THE PENN REGIME – I will allude only to one case that was tried after William Penn had acquired actual possession of the province. The proceedings were to recover damage on a suit for defamation and the trial took place at Chester on the 7th day of the second month, which would be May 1, 1685. The space that is accorded to this trial I the old docket at West Chester, indicates the intense public interest which the details excited among the people of this section of that day.
Henry Reynolds who settled at Marcus Hook in 1680, where he kept a tavern in which he sold liquor with license when he secured the approval of the court and without when the justices withheld their approbation, brought suit against Justa Anderson for an alleged slander. Reynolds was a man of quick temper and in the heat of his anger was swift to strike those who had offended him. From the meagre records preserved to us it appears that towards the end of the preceding year, 1684, he had bound servant girls in his household, whom, in his rage, he would whip severely. After one of these beatings the girl died.
The defendant, Anderson, spoke openly of the occurrence and public opinion was unusually excited that James Kenneelly, the first Coroner in the history of Chester County disinterred the body and held an inquest thereon. When the suit, instituted by Reynolds, was tried, the plaintiff showed by James Sandelands, James Brown and William Hawkes, that Anderson had stated in their hearing “that he (the plaintiff) beat and kicked his maid and that he (the defendant) saw her alive no more.” In justification of his words, Anderson called Thomas Pearson to the stand, called Thomas Pearson to the stand, who testified that he was at Reynold’s house when the latter picked up the tongs and threatened to strike the girl “for not eating such things as were provided for her.”
SOME OF THE TESTIMONY – Wooley Rosen, who then lived just below Naaman’s creek in Delaware, stated that he was at Reynold’s Inn and the maid had asked her master for some milk, whereupon in a rage he struck her “one blow with a broom staff, asking her whether there was not victuals enough in the house.” William Connell, who was also witness to the act said he saw Reynolds “beat his maid with a broom staff and afterwards kicked her as she was by the fire.”
William Moulder appears to have seen the girl subsequent to Connell for he testified that “he saw the mail sleeping by the fireside and afterwards she went to bed, after which a revelation came to him that the maid would die that night.” She did die, but like the modern prophets, Moulder told no one of his prophetic vision until after the happening of the event he seemed to have foretold. The plaintiff, in rebuttal produced his mother-in-law, Prudence Clayton, who had been sent for to lay out the corpse and she testified that she “did not remember that she did see any manner of hurt about her.”
The jury, however, found in favor of the defendant. The matter did not end immediately. Coroner Kennelly had before the trial on the third day of first month, obtained an order of court directing that “execution be granted against Henry Reynolds for the Cronnor’s fees, charges of inquest and taking up the said Reynolds maid, with all other charges whatsoever thereunto belonging.” The sheriff on this execution had levied on an ox, and Reynolds at the next court had to pay 4, 10 shillings when “the court ordered him his ox again.”