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Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: January 1939 Volume 2 Number 1, Pages 19–24
The Welsh tract
First let us consider the geography of the Welsh Tract, using the map on the second page of this article.
The tract bordered on the Schuylkill for about eight miles from near the Falls of the Schuylkill to a point a mile or so above Conshohocken. The northern boundary was Letitia Penn's Manor and William Penn, Jr.'s Manor. The line crossed Mt. Joy, Valley Forge (about where the observatory stands). From, there it followed the summit of the North Valley Hill range westward. The western boundary was indefinite. The southern boundary starting at the falls of the Schuylkill was about along City Line Road, to the Darby Creek. Then it followed the Darby Creek which formed the western boundaries of Haverford and of Radnor townships to the point of joining of Easttown. From this point westward, the southern boundary was very indefinite.
The first agreement was for forty thousand acres. That would have been a tract about 8 miles square. Merion, Haverford, and Radnor combined are about that size. However, it extended westward through Tredyffrin, as is shown by the early maps [Note 1], and it was extended by the purchase of land by the Welsh, well up into the Brandywine country.
The terrain slopes upward from the Schuylkill River, westward, and upward from the south. In a general way then from the southeastern corner of the tract the terrain of hills and dales gradually rises to a crest in the South Valley Hills. These hills extend from Rebel Hill, elevation 400', (just across the river from Conshohocken), due west across the tract to the Bradford Hills. They reach their highest elevation (598') [Note 2], just west of the present town of Malvern.
North of this Ridge lies the Great Valley of the Welsh Tract, long famed as one of the most beautiful and best agricultural valleys of the world. [Note 3]
The depth of the valley can be understood from the elevation numbers on the map.
1. The Holmes map of Pennsylvania (begun in 1681 by William Penn) shows the Welsh tract extending north and west from Radnor through what is new Tredyffrin, and, with no western boundary, opening out into the Brandywine Valley.
3. From a point just west of Frazer Station on the Pennsylvania Railroad, one
of the finest views of the Great Valley (or Chester Valley) can be had.
General Atterbury, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was one time taking
a party of prominent men over the Pennsylvania Railroad System in a special
train. He had the special stopped at this spot, that the men might gaze at
the long, beautiful valley before them.
THE WELSH TRACT - 1682-4
Map prepared by S. Paul Teamer
This map is based on the U.S. Geographic Survey Map, scaled down. The Welsh tract boundary lines are taken from a blue print, in the author's possession, of a Holmes Survey Map of the Welsh Tract, the original of which was on file at Harrisburg.
STATIONS ON P.R.R.
Numbers 40 - 700 indicate elevation above sea level.
On the north, the valley is bounded by the North Valley Hills, along the summits of which runs the Welsh Tract boundary. They are higher than the South Valley Hills. At the eastern end they rise almost precipitously from the river elevation of 75 feet, to 600 feet. [Note 1]
This long narrow valley between these ranges extends westward, gradually narrowing, to the present city of Coatesville, where the two ranges almost meet; only, however, to gradually open again as they continue westward to form a similar gradually broadening valley that terminates at the Susquehanna River.
The streams that drain the well-watered tract are in the Great Valley-- the Valley Creek flowing eastward to the Schuylkill (I have taken the liberty to rename it the Dee as see later) and the West Valley Creek flowing westward into the Brandywine. The southern slope of the tract is drained by several creeks -- the Brandywine, the Chester, the Ridley, the Crum, and the Darby Creeks.
In the year 1651, a young man studying at Oxford writing to a friend stated, "I have had a great opening of Joy." It is not related what he meant. Perhaps he meant the Quaker religion, for this is about the time George Fox was preaching at Oxford or vicinity. The Quaker emphasis on the value of each personality -- and the wonderful possibilities of intellectual, spiritual, economic, and social development presented were, no doubt, a strong appeal to a young man of about that time to found a Quaker commonwealth of some sort in the new world. In fact, Fox did take preliminary steps to establish a Quaker Commonwealth in the Susquehanna Valley. It did not materialize. However, it is probable that William Penn, for he is the young man quoted, did about 1651 get his first interest in a Quaker Commonwealth.
Thirty years later William Penn was able to put George Fox's plan into operation. Charles II owed Admiral Penn, William's father, twenty thousand pounds, which at the decease of the admiral became part of William's heritage. In 1681 Charles II paid that debt by granting to William Penn the great province of Pennsylvania.
His two main aims in the province were: first, make the province pay him; and, second, to carry on as he called it, a "Holy Experiment." Penn proposed in his Holy Experiment to prove: 1. That men can govern themselves and be prosperous. 2. That men can live without war, and that they can live without oaths. [Note 2] Religious freedom was also included.
1. This high hill just west of the Valley Creek is called Mt. Misery. The Horse Shoe Trail (hikers and riders) leads right up the side of this hill. It is a hard breath-taking climb of over 500 feet. But it is worth it. From prospect points along this trail, the magnificent views are to be had of the Great Valley, the South Valley Hills, and across them far down the rolling country toward the broad Delaware. A prominent ornithologist on first standing at the highest of these prospect points, exclaimed, "Shenandoah Valley!"
2. Living without oaths, referred, I think, not to the subject of profanity, but to the practice of taking oaths to tell the truth in court, etc., that is, "to affirm" rather than "to swear." A man's personality and character being valuable, his simple word should be as good as his bond.
Editor's Note: In the paragraph that follows, the original text uses the word "expensively", but perhaps the word "extensively" might be more appropriate.]
Penn advertised his new province expensively in Europe, and particularly among oppressed and persecuted peoples. In Penn's day religious war and religious persecution were rife. It is very difficult for us, today in Pennsylvania, to grasp the outrageousness, and the extent of the religious persecution of that day. One of the peoples suffering religious persecution were the Welsh Quakers. They were forbidden to hold meetings, and penalized for doing so by imprisonment and fines. The latter were often so heavy, that they eventuated in complete loss of property in sheriff's sales. In 1682, a committee of Welsh Quakers visited Penn at London and made arrangements with him for a tract of land in Pennsylvania, of 40,000 acres for exclusive purchase and settlement by the Welsh Quakers.
The first party of Welsh to come over were known, as the "Merioneth Adventurers." Their leader was Dr. Edward Jones. Prominent also were William of Edward, Edward Rees, William John, and Cadwalder Morgan. They arrived on the ship Lyon, August, 1682. Penn himself did not arrive until October of that year. On the Holmes map, 1661, the five thousand acre tract along the Schuylkill and just north of City Line Road is marked "Edward Jones and Company, being 17 families." The tract is marked with a 1 on our map. It is the Bala-Cynwood area of today. The purchase price was equivalent to ten cents an acre. In addition to this, however, a quit rent of twenty-five cents per 100 acres, per year, was to be paid forever.
Editor's Note: The original text states "Bala-Cynwood", the area now known as "Bala Cynwyd."
Settlement went on rapidly. In the remainder of the calendar year 1682, many families settled and a meeting house was built. It stands today at the intersection of Meetinghouse Lane and Montgomery Avenue. It is the oldest church building in Pennsylvania. [Note 1] Enough families had settled in Haverford to justify the building of the Haverford Meetinghouse in 1683. This is the present Haverford meeting, located at Ithan. It stands today. The settlements spread rapidly out across Radnor. In the year 1686 the Radnor Meetinghouse was built.
The Welsh Tract in which these settlements had been made, was a tract set aside for exclusive use by the Welsh. It had the nature of a Manor of a Baron. It was often spoken of as the Welsh Barony. The people in the Barony had great freedom under the rule of the Baron as will be seen in the extract following. The exclusiveness of the grant was never taken very seriously by the proprietor's agents. The Welsh did not settle the land very rapidly, so the agents asked them to show cause why land in the tract should not be sold to others than Welsh. A careful reading of the following extracts will give a clear picture of the Welsh ideas about the tract. This statement made In 1890 was of no avail, however. Others than Welsh were sold land, and settled within the boundaries.
From Pennsylvania Archives, Volume 1 of First Series.
"Wee, the Inhabitants of the Welch tract, in the Province of Penna, in America, being descended of the Antient Britains, who always in the land of our Nativity, under the Crown of England, have enjoyed that liberty and privilege as to have our bounds and limits by ourselves, within the which all causes, Quarrels, crimes & titles were tryed & wholly determined by officers, magistrates, Juries of our own language, which were our equals."
"Having our faces towards these Countries, made the motion to our Gov. that we might enjoy the same here, whh thing was soon granted by him before he or we ever came to those parts, and when he came over, he gave forth his warrant to lay out 40,000 acres of land to the intent we might live together here, & enjoy our Liberty & Devotion in our own Language as afore in our Country, & on the 40,000 acres was Surveyed out and by his own warrt Confirmed by several Orders from the Commrs of ye Propriety, and settled upon already with near fourscore Settlements"
The first road through the Welsh Tract was the Conestoga Road. It led out from Philadelphia from City Line Road on the present Old Lancaster Road into Montgomery Avenue past the Merion Meetinghouse (located Montgomery Avenue and Meetinghouse Lane.) It continued along Montgomery Avenue to Bryn Mawr where it left the Montgomery Avenue line and crossed to the present Route 30 and then south from Route 30 in Bryn Mawr, along the Conestoga Road of today (so marked with signs, Route 301) to Ithan, the location of the Radnor Meetinghouse. The road continues westward, joins Route 1 just west of Wayne, near Spread Eagle Inn, continues on Route 30 to twenty feet west of the next railroad bridge over Route 1; turns to the right (north) and proceeds westward on a course generally parallel to Route 1. In Berwyn it is the road that forms the northern boundary of the high school grounds. One half mile west of Berwyn the Conestoga of today ends in the Old Lancaster Turnpike. The line, however, continues; crosses the railroad and Route 30 and passes through Daylesford about 100 yards south of Route 30. It continues parallel to Route 30 on the south side for about one mile. At the Tredyffrin Country Club in Paoli, the line joins Route 30 and follows it for about three miles. About three hundred yards after the second railroad bridge, after leaving Paoli, (in the vicinity of the Admiral Warren) it branches off to the north (right) and is again marked by signs Conestoga Road (Route 401). It crosses Great Valley and goes out of the Welsh Tract over the North Valley Hills. It leads eventually to the Conestoga Indian Villages on the Susquehanna below Harrisburg. Thus, it derived its name. In the year 1720, after Lancaster had been settled by the Pennsylvania Germans, a road was ordered surveyed, due west from the Conestoga Road at the Admiral Warren vicinity to Moore's Mills (Downingtown on the Brandywine). The road became known as the Lancaster Road. Later that name was applied to the road clear into Philadelphia. This gives rise to confusion even today. From the Warren to Philadelphia, the Old Lancaster Road and the Conestoga are one and the same. A later road, the Lancaster Turnpike (completed about 1800) between Lancaster and Philadelphia, is substantially Route 30 of today (except for recent straightenings). It is difficult to fix a date for the Conestoga Road. Its beginnings date 1682.
The Old Gulph Road [Note 1], 1690, ran from Letitia Penn's Manor (Valley Forge today) through the King of Prussia, through the South Valley Hills ridge at Gulph Mills and under "Overhanging Rock" at Rebel Hill and through Merion to join the Conestoga (Montgomery Avenue) about one-quarter mile west of the Merion Meetinghouse. The Darby Road (very early), led out from Philadelphia, followed the Darby Creek, ran up through Easttown to join the Conestoga Road at the Paoli. The Goshen Road (1700) led off from the Darby Road near the Old Radnor Hunt Club grounds, west, crosses the creek on a big dark stone bridge; called Norris Road today). It crosses the Newtown Street road at Central Square (Old Square) and on to Goshenville and on "to the settlements in the Brandywine country." The Swedesford Road (1700) ran through the middle of the Great Valley from the vicinity of the White Horse (Planebrook) through
Valley Store, Howellville, New Centerville, and King of Prussia to the Swedes' Ford on the Schuylkill (Norristown). The East Valley Road (Old Eagle Road - Route 652), 1719, led north from the Conestoga (west of Spread Eagle Inn) crossed the Swedesford Road and led to the Great Valley Meetinghouse (1714) at the Lewis Walker property (settled 1705).
Merion, Radnor, Haverford, and Tredyffrin are all Welsh words. On the Evans map of 1749, the name marked on the Great Valley is Duffryn Mawr. Mawr means great, Duffryn means valley. Bryn means hills, so Bryn Mawr means the great hills above the valley. Tredyffrin - Tre means township; dyffrin (or duffryn) again means valley, so Tredyffrin means township in the valley. Continuing westward in the tract we find Caln, Welsh Mountains and Nant Meal, Nant means springs of water, Meal means sweet. So, Nant Meal means Sweet Springs. When the Scotch-Irish settled at the Welsh Mountains in Nant Meal, they called their settlement Honeybrook, the town so-called of today. In Merioneth, Wales, the Berwyn Mountains overlook the valley through which flows the River Dee. Since so many names in the Welsh Tract are the same as those of places in Wales--Merion, Haverford, etc.--would it not be fitting to rechristen Valley Creek, the beautiful stream that flows through the heart of the Great Valley below Berwyn on the hills above, the Dee?
The early churches: St. Peters, [Note 1], 1700; St. Davids, [Note 2] 1700; the Great Valley Presbyterian built in 1710 on the Swedesford Road; the Great Valley Baptist built in 1711; Valley Friends Meeting, 1714, on East Valley Road.
The first mill was Great Valley Mills, 1710.
The first settler in the Great Valley was Lewis Walker; born in Redstone, Pembrookshire, Wales; came to Pennsylvania in 1687; settled in Radnor; bought 300 acres, rented 200; moved into the Great Valley about 1705. It is marked 1-A on the map. His house was the first stone house in the Great Valley, It is standing today, as part of the Charles Walker house. It stands opposite the Great Valley Meetinghouse. It is clearly visible from the intersection of Swedesford and East Valley Roads.
Typical Welch Family names are Lloyds, Roberts, Johns, Ellis, Echly, Griffith, Davis, Wood, James, Morgan, Owens, Powell, David, Evans, Jones, Thomas.
2. The present St. David's Church building dates from 1715. But services were held before that in the vicinity, probably in a log block house at Signal Hill, south of Berwyn. Mr. Evans, of Philadelphia, reports that he held services in Montgomery and Radnor four years before 1704.
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