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In the March of 1789, John Carcaddon made a grisly discovery beneath the floorboards of Hanna’s Brew House in Newtown. Stuffed into a drain beneath the floor was the month-old body of a dead child. He later testified:
he took up a pine Board of the floor to throw the water into it being a drain, and after throwing of a considerable quantity of Water off, the passage appeared to be stopped and upon examining the cause found a hair Cloth under which I found the Infant wrapped in an old piece of Calico
The coroner called an inquest, and a jury was convened to determine the circumstances of the child’s death. Witnesses were called, and suspicion soon fell on a woman named Phebe Stover. Catherine Clucker was called before the jury and testified:
that Phebe Stover was taken Ill in the night about a Month ago, that her husband proposed sending for a Doctor, that she would not consent to it, next day she came into my room continued Ill, that Doct. Torbet was sent for, that he came two different times, that Doct. Asked her how long she had been with Child she answered about four Months and a few days—that she and her Husband frequently quarreled—that she [illegible] this deponent that she thought she had miscarried but would not tell her
The doctor, Samuel Torbet, confirmed her story, reporting:
that he was called upon by the Husband of Phebe Stover that he went with him and found her very Ill, her symptoms I thought were such as threatened a Miscarriage—and found she had been in that situation for some time—and proceeded to treat her as one in that situation—she told me she had been pregnant about four Months and a few days to the best of her knowledge—that he saw no symptoms of her having Miscarried that he told her if she had not already Miscarried she certainly would
It seems clear that the Phebe Stover miscarried, but it’s a mystery why she would attempt to dispose of the body in this disturbing manner.
Today, the County Coroner looks into the death of anyone who dies without being attended to by a doctor. In the early years of Bucks County only exceptional deaths were investigated, and the early coroner’s records are far less frequent and are mostly dedicated to violent, accidental, or otherwise suspicious deaths.
(Source: Bucks County Coroner’s Reports, #20, March 13th, 1789. In the collection of the Bucks County Historical Society)
Pennsylvania’s First Murder
On March 3rd, 1692, the body of an unknown person was found near the mouth of the Neshaminy Creek. When the coroner examined the body, he determined that the victim had been “willfully murthered” about six weeks earlier.
Suspicion fell on Swedish ferryman Derrick Jonson (alias Clawson) when large blood stains were found in his house. The court record states:
upon a due examination of things it appeared that a Considerable Quanty of blood on the wall and on the bed of one Derrick Jonson als Clawson about the Supposed time that the above murthered person lost his life was discovered & the Said Derrick refused to give any account of how the Said blood Came there
He was arrested and imprisoned by the sheriff. During the interrogation, Jonson claimed that the blood came from a man that he’d hired to thresh grain for him three years earlier, and that he’d shown the blood to various people since then, “fully as much as it was.” This story is doubtful. When the coroner examined the blood at Jonson’s house, he reported that “it had run in Several Streames down the boords on the wall which Streames Continued untill they went behind the planks that lay on the ground floore.” Regardless of the circumstances, the person that lost that much blood surely died.
When his wife Brighta was interrogated, she claimed, “the blood Seen on the wall was discovered between day and sun rising & that there was a Sheete hanged on the out Side of the bed in a manner of a Curtaine & that there was no blood on the bed.” She also claimed that she hadn’t put fresh straw in the bed since the previous year, implying that if someone was murdered in the bed there would be blood in the straw.
Jonson plead not guilty, but after a year of imprisonment without trial the court convicted Jonson of the murder. While the case was circumstantial, it seems clear that someone was killed in that bed, and that Jonson destroyed evidence by replacing the straw and attempted to conceal the stains by hanging a sheet over the bed. He was hanged on July 9th, 1693, making him the first criminal executed by the government of Pennsylvania. There wouldn’t be another execution in Bucks County for 40 years.
If the murder case doesn’t make Jonson seem scary enough, it might help to picture him decapitating wolves. At the time there was a bounty of wolves, and the standard practice was to deliver their heads as evidence that you’d killed one. In 1688, Jonson (under the alias Derrick Clawson), filed a complaint that “he delivered to Arthur Cook & James Harrison 3 wolves two of them bitches & one dog,” and that he hadn’t received the full bounty. In this case the court ruled in his favor.
I don’t know what to make of this photograph. I was first drawn to it because I liked the veil worn by the woman on the left. When I was cleaning up the scan, I noticed that the man was wearing two rings that appear to be wedding bands, one on each hand. He’s also posed with his hands in front of him, as if to display the rings. His fully buttoned jacket on what appears to be a summer day is also odd. I purchased in it Quakertown, but I have no idea where it was taken. Click to zoom in.
The artist’s stamp on the back indicate that the photograph was taken in Harleysville, Montgomery County, PA. Purchased at an antique store in Quakertown, PA.
Next weekend I’ll be leading a tour at Solebury Friends burial ground. It was a big hit last year, with about 80 people in attendance. The press release is below. Hope to see you there!
Quaker Cemetery Tour
WHEN: Sunday, October 27, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., rain or shine
WHERE: Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery
2680 North Sugan Road
New Hope, PA 18938
Local historian Jesse Crooks will lead us through the fascinating stories of those buried at Solebury Meeting Cemetery, which opened in 1809. Along with seeing the burial plots of many locally famous Quaker families like Reeder, Eastburn, Paxton, Ely, Comfort, and Kitchen, we will visit the plot sites and learn the histories of freed slaves and the unknowns in Stranger’s Row. Insightful points of Jesse’s talk cover daily elements of people’s lives and how they dealt with the great issues of the Civil War, slavery, pacifism, and the poor.
Please join us for this very popular, free event. Donations, however, are welcome!
Light refreshments will be served.
QUESTIONS? Call 215 297 5091 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This photo came from an album belonging to the Fellman family. A note with the original photo identifies two of the students. The first student on the left in the first row is Horace Fellman. The first student in the second row is Walter C. Fellman. Click for a larger version. The schoolhouse still stands today, but has been converted into a church.