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Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1982 Volume 20 Number 2, Pages 39–48
The Early Settling of Tredyffrin
Among those who accompanied William Penn to America to settle his new colony were a number of Welshmen. They were part of a group of Welsh gentlemen who had been among those who purchased a 40,000-acre tract of land in Pennsylvania soon after Penn had received his grant of territory from Charles II.
In striking their bargain with the Quaker Proprietor, these Welsh investors had exacted a verbal promise from Penn that these lands would be warranted contiguously, so as to form a Welsh Tract or Barony. This tract of 40,000 acres was surveyed and laid out by virtue of a warrant from the Proprietary and Governor himself, dated the 13th day of the first month, 1684. [Note 1] Within this area lay all or part of twelve townships and four boroughs, across three counties. [Note 2]
Almost from the beginning, there had been difficulties with its settlement. The Welsh were forced to complain to Penn that land within the bounds of the Welsh Tract was being surveyed for English purchasers. Welsh immigration into Pennsylvania had not been sufficiently steady to settle the more remote portions of the Tract. Since only Merion, Haverford, and Radnor were heavily settled, in response to the demands of some English purchasers, Charles Ashcombe, Deputy Surveyor of Chester County, began to survey tracts lying within this unsettled portion. The action was later condemned by the Board of Property, and the surveys disallowed. [Note 3]
However, when the question of the quit-rents owed to the Proprietary was raised in 1691, the Welsh proved unable or unwilling to pay the quit-rent on the whole 40,000 acres of the original survey of 1684, including the vacant as well as the seated lands. The response of the Board of Property was to confirm only the lands of those purchasers in the Welsh Tract who would pay the quit-rent from the time of the first survey, whether they were Welshmen or not.
Thus, the grant of a John Hort, who had received by patent 1,000 acres in the southeastern corner of the township, was among those confirmed. [Note 4] This action opened the Welsh Tract to ownership by non-Welshmen. [Note 5]
Tredyffrin Township was, for some unknown reasons, kept in reserve when the more easterly townships were settled. The first purchasers of the Welsh Tract received quantities of land in Merion, Haverford, Radnor, and Goshen, but much of the land in the Great Valley was not sold for several years, and not settled until nearly 1700. Perhaps the area, known as the "Dark Valley" because of its heavy forest growth, was intimidating to those early settlers, or perhaps they merely preferred the shale-y soil further to the south. We are now too far removed in time to as certain the reason with certainty. In any case, the land in Tredyffrin remained sparsely settled, with much of it owned by absentee landowners.
The Thomas Holme map of Pennsylvania first printed in 1687 [and recently reprinted and reproduced in Quarterly Vol. XX, No. 1] shows the area, now Tredyffrin and East and West Whiteland townships, as predominantly unseated land. It is labelled simply "The Welch Tract". In this vast area only four tracts appear to have been sold at the time the map was published. These are John Hort's 1,000-acre tract, flanked on the east by the 300-acre tract of Anthony Sturgis and on the north by a tract of 500 acres of James Stanfield. To the west of these holdings lay a large tract belonging to the Free Society of Trade, which also comprised a large part of the present East Whiteland Township. The Society's land was then included as a part of Willistown, while those of Hort, Sturgis and Stanfield are shown as a part of Easttown.
It was not until after 1700 that most of the land which was to become Tredyffrin Township was first surveyed for settlement. With the exception of some properties along the western and southern edges of the township, the vast center of Tredyffrin remained unseated until John Kinsey, David Meredith, David Powell and others took it up.
The landowners shown on the 1687 map are not those from whom Tredyffrin titles today descend. The 300 acres patented to Anthony Sturgis were subsequently sold to William Standly. Upon this tract stands that part of Berwyn which lies in Tredyffrin. The historical cartographer Benjamin H. Smith, in his map of early grants and patents in Tredyffrin, shows the John Hort tract, purchased in 1685, as including an area that stretches from Easttown to the foot of the South Valley Hills and from Paoli to Berwyn. This tract was among those for which caveats were en- tered when the Board of Property acted to confirm those grants in the Welsh Tract whose owners agree to pay the quit-rent owed on the land back to 1684.
Hort's patent was probably annulled when it was discovered that 500 acres in the same location had also been sold in 1685 to Henry Wright of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.
This fact, however, did not prevent a man claiming to be Thomas Hort, and the son and heir of John Hort, from selling with two partners the 1,000-acre tract to John Worrall and Philip Yarnall of Chester County on September 12, 1699. [Note 6] Determined to possess this property, Yarnall also managed to purchase Henry Wright's tract of 500 acres on March 7, 1702. [Note 7] Yarnall kept the 500 acres until 1719, when he sold 490 acres of it to William Evan, who had previously rented it. [Note 8] The remaining ten acres were sold to Richard Evans, son of William Evan. [Note 9] (Another son of William Evan, Joshua Evans, was the founder of the Paoli Inn in 1769.)
Benjamin Smith's map also shows that the land in the Great Valley had been laid out in long, narrow tracts, stretching from one ridge to the other, from northwest to southeast.
Moving east from the line separating Tredyffrin from East Whiteland, the first was John Griffith's patent of 1686 for 250 acres, sold later to Henry and Thomas Laurence in 1699, and to John Langowrthy Jr. of Radnor in 1709.
Next was Rees Rythry's patent, also of 1686, for 250 acres which he sold to John and Thomas David in 1700. They subsequently divided the land, selling a 165-acre tract north of Valley Creek to Thomas Martin; and the remaining 85 acres south of Valley Creek to Thomas Evans in 1719. Thomas Evans in turn passed his land on to David Evans two years later.
Next to the east lay William Powell's patent for 500 acres laid out in 1688. In 1701 he divided the tract into equal parts, selling one to William Cuerton, and the other to Thomas Jarman. Jarman was the founder of the Great Valley Mill on this site in 1710.
Next came William Mourdant's patent for 500 acres, laid out in 1684 and resurveyed in 1703 as 607 acres, which he sold to Thomas James in 1720. The southern 322 acres of this tract eventually became the homestead of the Wilson family, and remains so to this day.
Next to the east lay the 1340-acre tract which David Meredith received in 1706. Meredith shortly afterward sold, this large tract to David Powell, Deputy Surveyor in the Welsh Tract. Powell subdivided the tract, selling the bulk of it; 800 acres along the present Valley Forge Road to John Havard in 1707, and the 400-acre western section to Lewis Walker in 1708. Walker later that same year sold 300 acres of his purchase to Llewellyn David. Henry Jones also bought 100 acres of land north of this tract, and along the present Yellow Springs Road, from David Powell in 1714. Jones' brother, Griffith John, purchased an adjoining tract of 176 acres from the Proprietary in 1737. These tracts were later owned by the well-known parson William Currie. David Po- well also purchased two tracts south of the Swedesford Road, but still west of Valley Forge Road: one of 300 acres, in 1708, in right of Dr. Thomas Wynne; and the other of 318 acres, in 1706, in his own right.
The former was purchased by John David in 1708, and the latter by Rowland Richard in 1707. Griffith John later purchased portions of both these tracts to form his plantation of 100 acres.
East of Valley Forge Road, Stephen Evans in 1709 purchased the 200 acres Philip Howell had patented in 1705 and sold to Hugh William shortly thereafter. This tract became the ancestral farm of the Stephens family.
John Kinsey patented 539 acres north of the present Walker Road in 1702, of which he sold roughly half to Lewis Walker. It was the next tract to the south, however, 368 acres patented to Davis Powell, also in 1702, which became the homestead of Lewis Walker, lying between Walker Road and Swedesford Road.
Across Swedesford Road, Katherine Morgan purchased 212 acres in right of her deceased husband, Maurice Morgan; it was later purchased by Griffith John.
Elizabeth and Jane Potts sold their patent for 100 acres to James David in 1702. (It was in a farm house which stood on this tract, near the corner of Swedesford and Old Eagle School roads, that in 1752 Eleanor David and her nephew, John Thomas, were murdered and Rachel James severely wounded. The culprits were captured soon after, tried, and executed, except for one who eluded capture.) James David also purchased in 1711 the 352 acres patented by Henry Lewis in 1684, and was also the purchaser of 160 acres south of the Morgan patent which David Powell had sold to Lewis Walker in 1702.
Thomas Symmons' patent of 222 acres, in 1718, lies next to the south. South of that tract lay the 200 acres of John Roberts, which was patented to him on John Taylor's warrant in 1753. Both of these properties were purchased by Thomas Robinson; the Symmons tract in 1742, and the Roberts tract in 1754. By the time Thomas Robinson died in 1773, he had put together a very valuable estate which included a farm of 688 acres in Tredyffrin, farms in Bethel and Chichester townships, Chester County, and several pieces of riverfront property along the Delaware River in Marcus Hook. [Note 10]
Along the boundary line with Radnor Township lay the 400-acre tract of William Beach which he took in 1684. He sold this land to Benjamin Davis in 1701.
Henry Jones and John Weale each took 200 acres in the panhandle region of Tredyffrin, patented and warranted on the same day in 1684. There is some evidence suggesting that these two tracts, along with the adjoining tract in Upper Merion Township patented to William Lovell, were known at one time as the "Barbados Tract". [Note 11]
The settlement and growth of Tredyffrin in its earliest years may thus be seen, as it can in every other part of Pennsylvania, through its early land records.
Despite the number of patents for the land at the western and southern areas of the township, the land remained relatively vacant, possessed in large holdings by a few men. Many of the first owners of these tracts in fact actually lived elsewhere.
It may be said with some accuracy that the first dwellers on a number of the early farms were either renters or squatters. One common form of land conveyance used especially by William Penn were Deeds of Lease and Release. A man would lease a certain tract of land for one year; at the end of the year the owner would then release the tract to him for a certain previously agreed upon consideration. Some or all of the lessee's crop for the year would no doubt go towards the payment of this consideration.
Lewis Walker, of Pembrokeshire, is commonly said to have been the first settler of land in Tredyffrin. He came into the Great Valley in 1698 or 1699, planted his crops, and built his house. It was not until 1702 that he purchased any land in the area in which he dwelled, however. It is likely that Walker took his land by consignment from David Po- well, the patentee, or by informal lease, just as many of his neighbors did.
Lewis Walker was soon followed by a number of others: John David, Rowland Richard, Llewellyn David, James Davis, and Henry John, to mention several, all of whom purchased land which David Powell originally patented or purchased. David Powell, though he lived in Blockley Township in Philadelphia County (now West Philadelphia), played a very important role in the formative settlement of Tredyffrin, as well as several other townships, through his activities as a surveyor and land promoter. Whether his role as a land promoter was officially sanctioned by the Property Commissioners has not yet been fully studied.
Nevertheless, the area in Tredyffrin which David Powell purchased and sold, the center of which is roughly the present intersection of Valley Forge and Swedesford roads, formed the earliest small community in the township. A village was later to spring up at this corner and came to be known as Walkerville. Here in the midst of these early farms would be blacksmith and wheelwright shops, a few houses, and the first licensed tavern in the township, for which Isaac Walker petitioned the County Court in 1738. [Note 12]
By 1705 the land in the Great Valley was beginning to fill up. Tredyffrin and Whiteland were the last two townships to be erected from the Welsh Tract. Whiteland Township is considered to have been erected in 17O4 when David Jones was appointed Constable by the County Court. [Note 13] The exact date of the founding of Tredyffrin is not known. Futhey and Cope state that its founding was prior to 1707, since in that year Thomas David represented Tredyffrin as Constable. However, the name "tredyffrin" and its Constable do not appear in the County Treasurer's reports until 1715, when James David is mentioned as Constable. [Note 15]
The Constables named for Whiteland by the County Treasurer, William Martin, are: Edward Kennison 1708, Thomas David 1709, James Tarry 1710, James Thomas 1711, Griffith John 1713, and Lewis Williams 1715. [Note 16] One list of early Tredyffrin office-holders includes as Constable Griffith John 1703, Thomas David 1709, Rowland Richard 1710, John David Thomas 1712, Owen Gethen 1713, and Stephen Evans 1715. [Note 17] That Tredyffrin and Whiteland were once governed in common may be doubted until one reads of an old legal paper, a memorandum dated May 5, 1712 in the possession of a descendant of Lewis Walker, in which Walker describes himself as "of Whiteland in the County of Chester and Province of Pennsylvania yeoman" yet agrees to sell 100 acres of land definitely in Tredyffrin to one John Evans. [Note 18]
A speculation of events would indicate that the valley section of the Welsh Tract developed more slowly than the rest of the Tract. By 1705 there were two hamlets at either end of the valley; one of the Walkers and their neighbors near the eastern end, and the other near the Thomases near the present Whitford at the western end. When the valley became more settled, it would appear that it was divided into two parts of about the same size and erected into townships.
Those hearty souls who first ventured into what must have been a "howling wilderness" found no roads and few paths to guide them. All that existed for travel through the area were the narrow overgrown paths which had been used by the Indians. In Tredyffrin, two paths proved to be most useful, but even these suffered at the hands of farmers who found a road across their lands to be an inconvenience. Many of the early petitions to the Justices of the County Court deal with the problems created by fencing in, and stopping up, roads by the landowners through whose land they passed. To insure that the roads would remain open, many of the early roads in Tredyffrin were laid out along property lines. This is particularly evident in the old Swedesford Road, Yellow Springs Road, and in Walker, Thomas, and Richards roads in the northeastern corner of the township.
The path which became known as the Conestoga or Lancaster Road earlybecame a major thoroughfare between Philadelphia and the country to thewest. Just as this had been a major Indian trail, so too it became aprincipal road - a King's Highway - to the rest of Pennsylvania tothe west. Conestoga Road is considered the first formally laid out road, being first laid out in 1721, and again in 1741 when the road was extended from Downing's Mill to Lancaster. [Note 19]
Also of an early age is the Swedesford Road between the old Swedes' Ford on the Schuylkill near Bridgeport and the Conestoga Road in East Whiteland. This road was established sometime before 1713 due to the energy of two men, Lewis Walker of Tredyffrin, and Matts Holstein of Upper Merion, who wanted an easy conveyance from the settlements in the Great Valley to the Schuylkill River and on down to Philadelphia. Their task was finally completed with the formal laying out of the road in 1724. [Note 20]
From time to time, the inhabitants of the area would petition for a new road from one place to another. A road jury would then be selected by the County Court.
Since it was important to all farmers of Tredyffrin to have good and convenient roads between "market, mill and meetinghouse", no one individual was forced to assume too much of the burden of keeping a road. Unfortunately, until after 1800, roads, and particularly by-roads, were little more than passageways through the woods, the roadway being only opened and cleared, but not constructed. What maintenance there waswas only perfunctory, and occasional at best. This made even short travel difficult and adventuresome. [Note 21]
Tredyffrin is home to one of the earliest mills in the state. Great Valley Mill, on North Valley Road near Paoli, was founded by Thomas Jarman in 1710, and was continuously operated for more than 200 years. By 1759 there was another grist mill competing with it, begun by Joseph Mitchell on Mill Road near Howellville; a fulling mill that processed woolen goods owned by James Davis and his sons Jacob and Israel Davis, north of Paoli; and a saw mill run by the Walkers on their farm near Walkerville (now New Centerville). [Note 22]
The early settlers of Tredyffrin were very religious people. The township was settled for the most part by sectarian groups who came to the Pennsylvania colony together and settled near one another. Two such groups were the Welsh Baptists and the Welsh Presbyterians. Members of both groups were among the earliest settlers in the township and formed their congregations in the same year, 1710. The Baptists built a small, log meetinghouse on donated ground on Valley Forge Road, up the hill from what is now New Centerville, while the Presbyterians built their log chapel on Swedesford Road in the western part of the township. Both these institutions are recorded as the second oldest churches of their denomination in Pennsylvania.
The Episcopalians who lived in Tredyffrin early joined with others in Easttown, Radnor, and Newtown in a log chapel near the intersection of present-day Waterloo and Church roads in Easttown. When this burned to the ground in 1710 or 1711, those who lived at the lower end of the parish built a fine stone church known as St. David's Church - Radnor. Those in the upper end of the parish similarly built a chapel under the shoulder of the North Valley Hills. It was replaced by a stone structure in 1744 and dedicated as the Church of St. Peter in the Great Valley. The two churches had the same rector for many years. [Note 23]
The Quakers, who dominated the population of the Welsh Tract (and elsewhere in Pennsylvania) for many years, were also much in evidence in Tredyffrin. Lewis Walker and his family were Friends, and so Walker very early gave a part of his land for a burying ground "for the people called Quakers". Later his son Daniel Walker formalized this grant by deed in 1756. The first meeting house was constructed on this ground in 1731.
Another institution which played an important role in the lives of local people during Colonial times was the inn or public-house. The public-house was the one place where all neighbors in an area would gather from time to time.
Most men, whatever their station or condition of life, spent some time in the barroom of their favorite inn or tavern. There he mingled with his neighbors, exchanging news and gossip, discussing the issues of the day and the problems common to them all. Travelers and other passers-by would add their perspectiveto the discussion. The inn-keeper himself often became a pillar inthe community, and well-known to all the vicinity.
Among the earliest taverns in Tredyffrin was Isaac Walker's, already mentioned. More famous and continuing were such taverns as the BlueBall on the Lancaster Road, begun by Thomas McKean in 1741; the Georgethe 2nd, begun by Joseph Mitchell on the Swedesford Road where it met the road from Paoli; the General Paoli, founded by Joshua Evans in1769; and the Bull, better (and later) known as the Black Bear on the Lancaster Road at Bear Hill Road, started by John Philips in 1782. [Note 25]
The most famous of these taverns was the General Paoli. Although theEvans family continuously owned it, the Paoli, like most taverns, was frequently leased to others. The Paoli, for example, was leased to William Clayton until the military activities of 1777-1778 drove him away, at which time Richard Robinson took over the lease and kept the inn until into the nineteenth century. [Note 26]
The Blue Ball Inn has a fascinating story to tell, as it served as thepoint of organization and embarkation for the Forbes Expedition of 1759that reduced Fort Duquesne. Thomas McKean, its first host, was an uncle of Thomas McKean, Governor and Signer of the Declaration of Independence. McKean's successor, Conrad Young, changed the name to the King of Prussia Inn, but kept the lease for only five years. For many years thereafter it was owned by the VanLeer family who originally lived in Marple Township. [Note 27]
Howell's Tavern was kept by Mitchell until 1762, by David Howell until 1777, then by Mary Howell until 1785, and by others afterwards. Herewere the quarters of Major General Charles Grey, who led the attack on Wayne's troops at the Paoli Massacre, when the British were encamped in Tredyffrin in September 1777.
The first village that grew up in Tredyffrin was on the Lancaster Road near where it was crossed by a road which led from the valley to Newtown. Cockletown, as it was called, had two taverns; the Drove, and theFox, and a small group of log and stone houses inhabited by people who farmed small acreages while following a trade. When the Turnpike was laid through in 1794, it put Cockletown off the main road; a new village called Reeseville grew up nearby and later absorbing the old Cockletown settlement.
The Welsh were not the only group which lived in the Welsh Tract. In addition were Englishmen, who moved into the area almost as soon as the Welsh,ruining the Welsh dreams of independent self-government. The two main roads, the Swedesford Road and the Lancaster Road, brought many travelers through the township. Waves of immigrants from both northern Ireland and Germany to Pennsylvania soon gave the area a more culturally diversified population.
The coming of the Revolutionary War, and especially the maneuvering ofthe two armies during the Philadelphia Campaign of late 1777 also disrupted to a great extent the peaceful repose and gradual growth of the township. Tredyffrin residents, in common with their neighbors in other townships, found much hardship that winter. Invading troops had plundered them of much of their crops and possessions. What remainedhad to be shared as best they could with the starving soldiers at Valley Forge.
After peace was declared and independence secured, once again new people came into the township to live. The Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, laid out in 1794, was forever to change the character of the township.Top
(2) The townships of Lower Merion, Upper Merion, Haverford, Radnor, Tredyffrin, Easttown, Willistown, East and West Whiteland, East and West Goshen, and the boroughs of Narberth, West Conshohocken, Malvern and West Chester, in the counties of Delaware, Montgomery and Chester
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