Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Case of Quaker Elizabeth Richardson and George Washington's Ancestral Lines

In my Quaker research I found this case and will further investigate Elizabeth Richardson and her history in England as a Quaker. 

According to an article published in the Washington Times 17th century Maryland was rich in witchcraft history. There are cases noted in archives and one is a local folk tale that has become Maryland’s most popular witch lore.

These earlier witchcraft cases recorded in the Maryland State Archives* were tragic, some even resulted in executions. The cases were always based on some ridiculous charges of superstition.

However, for Elizabeth Richardson witchcraft was just a convenient cover up to dodge any problems with Puritan authorities. In 1658, the ship Sarah Artch bound for Maryland out of England claimed they a supposive "Sea Witch" on board, but what they really had was a Quaker.   

Edward Prescott, merchant/co-owner and John Greene, ship master ordered the crew to execute Elizabeth Richardson after it was brought to their attention they were ferreting a Quaker.

The laws for any vessel transporting Quakers into the colonies was a 100 pound fine and a major hassle from the Puritan Republic

After "fashioning a hangman's noose slipped around her neck and dropped her from the yardarm"  Prescott and Greene assumed it was smooth sailing

What was not suspected by Prescott and Greene was for passenger John Washington, great grandfather of George Washington, to lodge a complaint for the hanging of Elizabeth Richardson for witchcraft on his ship.
Washington felt it was an outrage, and filed a complaint to Josias Fendall, governor of the Maryland province. Fendall had Prescott arrested and set a court date for October 4 1659 and sent a correspondence to Washington summoning him from Virginia. He desired Washington to bring all witnesses who were present at the execution of Elizabeth. Washington's son was to be baptized that day and requested to have court moved to the next morning and promised to appear. Images from  George Washington Blog

Bottle seal of John Washington found at his original home site in Virginia below
The summons reply from Archives of Maryland Volume 41 Washington to Fendall: Court records from Archives of Maryland Volume 41

Fendall did not change the court date to the following day and followed through with the interrogation of Prescott who claimed although he was the ship owner, Master Greene, along with his crew "were ready to mutiny" and he had no choice. Prescott was acquitted and no further charges were brought against him in this matter.

According to records John Washington came to Virginia as early as July of 1659. He brought a wife and two children, and a son was born in September. It is a pretty straight story that he lodged a complaint against the ship's captain for the execution of a passenger, Elizabeth Richardson, as a witch. Mr. F. A. Winder (London Athenaeum, July 19, 1890) notes that two of the Washingtons had by marriage the name Elizabeth Richardson, one being a grandaunt of the immigrant. 

BUT there is an article "John Washington on a Trading voyage in the East Country," by W. G. Packard

And Next this one

*Other cases of Witchcraft Aboard the Charity bound for Maryland from England hanged an old woman named Mary Lee after she was accused of sorcery. Her supposed crime: summoning a relentless storm that some on board blamed on “the malevolence of witches.” (1654)
Oct. 9, 1685, in Calvert County. Rebecca Fowler was hanged after a jury found her guilty of “certain evil and diabolical arts called witchcrafts, enchantments, charms [and] sorceries.”
Hannah Edwards of Calvert County, was acquitted in 1686 of similar charges.

"17th Century Witches at Sea" William H Cooke
"The Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger Among the Pilgrims" by David Lindsay"Crimes and Punishments in Early Maryland" by Raphael Semmes
"The English Colonization of America During the Seventeenth Century" by Edward Deffield Neill
"The History and Topography of the United States of North America: Brought Down from the Earliest Period"
"Witchcraft A Part of Marylan's Past" Washington Times Sunday, October 10, 2004
Witch Hunts in the DC Area - Older Than You Think
"The Washingtons Of Warton" Tuesday, July 29, 1890 New York Tribune (New York, New York)
"Washington Arms Seen at Warton" Saturday, January 25, 1913 San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California)
"Early Washington's" Sunday, January 4, 1931 Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana)
"Old World Offers us Reminders of Our Heritage" us of Sunday, May 19, 1957 Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts)
"Christ Church Files Stars and Stripes" Wednesday, August 11, 1926 Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey)
The Nation Volume 52


  1. This is tragic...I would like to know exactly what "witchcraft" this woman was supposed to have conducted...and surely she was not traveling across the Atlantic alone...where was her husband and family, also presumably Quakers? The myth of religious freedom in early America is exactly that. D Robbie

  2. What an interesting story. How horrifying for Elizabeth to have experienced this. Anita Hamer

  3. Because early Quakers favored flamboyant street theater (such as walking into church naked to demonstrate Puritan spiritual nakedness), Puritans suspected that Quakers were under the influence of Satan, or perhaps bewitched by George Fox and other Quaker leaders. John Winthrop also mused in his journal that Anne Hutchinson had bewitched her followers in 1637 and following years, luring them away from proper Puritan leadership.

  4. Because early Quakers favored flamboyant "street theater," such as walking into church naked to demonstrate Puritan spiritual nakedness, Puritans suspected that they were bewitched by Quaker leaders. John Winthrop also mused in his journal that Anne Hutchinson had bewitched her followers in 1637 to lure them away from proper Puritan leadership.

  5. I wonder if she's connected to my family.

    kirsty richardson