Breta Johnson, Wife of an Executed Murderer

Dateline: 1694, Philadelphia. The earliest Americans, even peaceful Quakers, supported the death penalty—that’s for sure.

I don’t know in which county Derrick Johnson murdered a man, but if I did, I could look up the trial records, if they’re available. But in any case, the concern here is with his widow and three children.

They felt his absence keenly.

24th May, 1694 (it looks like the Council is getting away from Quaker dating)

At a Council held at Philadelphia

Modernized transcription begins:

The petition of Breta Johnson was read, setting forth that she is the widow of Derrick Johnson, who was executed for the murder of a man etc. whereby his estate, real and personal, became forfeited to their Majesties [William III and Mary II], but by the clemency of the Lieutenant Governor [Wm Markham], the petitioner was ordered one moiety thereof, for her and her children’s subsistence, but could not get possession of any of the movables, only the moiety of the land and house and is now in very low conditions, having three children to maintain;

And therefore, requesting his Excellency [Governor] to consider her condition and reverse the judgment which was executed on the other moiety of the land and in his clemency and charity, order the restoration of the moiety which is not in her possession, for a further support to her present necessities.

The above said petition was referred to Wm. Salway and Geo. Foreman, Esquires, to report what they judge proper to be done in answer thereto; and they having reported that by the law the widow hath a right to half the personal estate and desired with the rest of the Council that his Excellency will grant the other half for the maintenance of herself and children, his Excellency ordered that the same be granted for her that use, she paying all reasonable charges and fees.

Transcription ends.

So her petition for relief from financial stress was answered. The Council showed mercy and bent the rules.

Maybe she could experience practical redemption down here on earth and in heaven. I hope he did too in heaven, before he died.

Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700, (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852), p. 442

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