Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 21
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: October 1983 Volume 21 Number 4, Pages 127–132
The "Original" Wilson Home
The house and property on the Swedesford Road to the east of today's Wilson Farm is what I call the "original" Wilson homestead. For it was here that John Wilson - the first Wilson that we know of in this country - lived with his wife and children. In fact, they never did live in the house now known as the Wilson "homestead", slightly to the west, on a portion of this original property that was sold by John Wilson to his son, Captain David Wilson, in 1779.
These first Wilson ancestors, my fourth-great grandparents, were John and Judith Scott Wilson. Their remains are in the Presbyterian graveyard a short distance to the west along the Swedesford Road. There stand three tombstones of King of Prussia marble, all with the same identical outline to them. They stood right behind the original church, which was later supplanted by a second church, and then by a third one out along the road. But the early church was up in the midst of the graveyard. (You can tell where it stood by the earliest graves, which were plotted around the church. I believe the pulpit of this original church is now marked by the grave of the Rev. William Latta,)
On the first of these three stones the inscription reads:
"Here lyeth the Body of Jane Scott
The second, in the same style of design and carving, says:
"Here Lieth the Body of Judith Wilson, Wife of John Wilson,
Guarded by Christ this Mortal lies.
And the third stone of this small trio reads:
"In Memory of John Wilson,
Humble & honest he walked through Life,
We Wilsons do not know when or from where these forebears came to Tredyffrin Township. They first appear on the tax lists in Tredyffrin in 1760, the very year that John Wilson bought this property, but on the deed he is listed as being "of Tredyffrin".
In 1760 John Wilson purchased this property, which included 322 acres of land, at a sheriff's sale. By deed dated September 13, 1760 and recorded September 17, 1760 (Book L-11, p. 493) Benjamin Davis, the Sheriff of Chester County, conveyed to John Wilson this "tract of land in the Great Valley" to satisfy an unpaid mortgage. The former owner, a John Kinkade, had mortgaged the property to a Lewis James, who was also a former owner. Lewis James, in turn, assigned the mortgage to a Robert Moore. When Moore died, his only son and heir, William Moore, foreclosed the mortgage to settle his father's estate.
A few months before the sheriff' sale, it appears that John Wilson had obtained from this same John Kinkade a large loan, in the amount of 600 pounds, promising to pay 100 pounds in each of six successive years. It would thus appear that Wilson paid for the property lost by Kinkade at a sheriffs sale with the same money he had earlier borrowed from Kinkade! (They may have been in cahoots somehow, as Kinkade was the minister at the Great Valley Presbyterian Church. Traditionally, he was not very well liked at the church, and he left in some disgrace to become a "camp follower" - which, I think, means that he was a chaplain in the Revolutionary War.)
Whether Kinkade lived in the house, or in a manse owned by the church, I do not know, but it may well be that John Wilson, in the deed described as being "of Tredyffrin", may already have been living in the house prior to his purchase of the property. His great grandson, Winfield Scott Wilson (who was my great grandfather) recorded in a biographical sketch published in Wiley and Garner' Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Chester County that John Wilson lived here "almost all" his life. That would place him in this house quite far back. He also pointed out that David Wilson, John Wilson's son, was born in Tredyffrin in 1745, some fifteen years prior to the Wilsons' acquisition of the property at sheriff's sale in 1760.
The house then consisted of only the eastern section of the house, the western wing being added in 1791. It was a two-story house, with a small room at the back, which I think may be very much older. The house was probably one of the oldest buildings along the Swedesford Road, and possibly is about contemporary with the building of the road. The reason I say it is this old is not just its small size, but also the fact that in it is preserved a stone sink, with an opening through to the outside for the water to run out. The only other house that I know of in Tredyffrin Township with a similar sink is an old house on Contention Lane, which I understand is one of the very earliest houses in the Valley.
When he purchased the property in 1760 John Wilson was already past middle age. From his tombstone we have learned that he was born in 1713, and his wife in 1719. She was Judith Scott. We believe the Jane Scott beside her was her mother, but we know nothing about her except the date of her death. Probably she lived here with the Wilsons.
Quite possibly, the Wilsons' children were also born in this house. They had seven children. The first one was born in 1740, a daughter named Jane Wilson, who was married by 1760 to a William Hazlet, of Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church. A second daughter was born in 1742, Violet Wilson, who married Abel Rees who lived nearby in the valley on the farm now known as Tory Hollow Farm. Next was a son or daughter with the initials "J.W." but whose name we do not know, and who apparently died in infancy; perhaps it was a son named John. Next was another daughter, Judith, who married a man named Hamble, and then one James Morrell, of Philadelphia. (Morrell was a grandson of the early Cloyds, who lived on the Swedesford Road near Malin Hall. Cloyd's wife was Margaret Wilson, who could also have been a sister of John Wilson.) Then there was a son, David Wilson; the youngest daughter, Mary Wilson, who married Wayne William Hunter; and, finally, the youngest son, William Wilson, who after the Revolution moved down to Botecourt County in Virginia, where he had two iron furnaces; one called Jane, for his grandmother Jane Scott, and the other called Rebecca, for his wife Rebecca, whose surname is not known.
John Wilson was a farmer. He was evidently of some wealth, though how we do not know as we don't know anything of his origins or where he lived prior to his coming to Tredyffrin. (There were some ten John Wilsons in the tax lists of Chester County at that time, but as their wives' names are not given, we cannot identify which one was this John Wilson.)
His wealth is indicated in part by the fact that he held positions of honor. He evidently was on the first committee named to select a new county seat for Chester County, though this committee was later replaced with a second committee that actually chose the Turk's Head, now West Chester, as the site. We know that our John Wilson was also an innkeeper, and that when a John Wilson petitioned to run a tavern in East Caln Township in 1771, it appears that the signature on the petition to the Court is exactly the same signature as that on our John Wilson's will. (In the petition he stated that he had rented a house "formerly occupied by Andrew Culbertson as a Tavern and there has been a Tavern at Said house Ever Since". The petition is signed only by residents of East Caln Township; no one from around here signed it.)
Another indication of John Wilson's wealth and prominence is found in his will of 1792, a long detailed will such as one rarely finds. (It is also a most helpful document to a genealogist, since he named not only his six surviving children, but also 26 grandchildren, as well as his property! Not only were the grandchildren listed by name, but many of them were arranged by family group. What happened to all of them I do not know; I suppose some of them migrated to the southwest and west through Kentucky and Tennessee and on west. But all the Wilsons, who were so numerous in this area until a few years ago, are descended from just one of them!)
John Wilson's sons, David and William, were appointed the executors of the will. In addition to monetary and other bequests to his children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren (including larger bequests for all those named John, after him), he also provided in his will that "My Mulatto Wench called Kate I do manumit & set free from and after the 1st day of January 1796, until which time she shall be a servant to my son William ... and her male negro child now about a year old living with my son William I do also manumit & set free from and after he shall arrive to 28 years of age". (He also specified that to his grandson David Haslet he was leaving "my Horse Saddle and Bridle on condition that he immediately purchase at his own expense and have put to his Fathers grave a Marble Head and Foot stone, otherwise they shall be sold for such a purpose"!)
Certainly the Wilsons lived in the house until 1785, when they sold it and the "plantation" to a Frederick Houseman. (Actually, shortly after Wilson had purchased the property in 1760 he had sold a portion of it, some 20 acres, to his neighbor Isaac Davis, whose daughter Sarah later married David Wilson. In 1779 John Wilson had also sold almost a third of the property, 112 acres, for 600 pounds to his son David, a captain in the Revolution. It was he who built what has ever since been called "the Wilson homestead", on this portion of the property.)
For the remaining parcel of 190 acres and the house, Houseman paid 2600 pounds. Since Wilson had originally bought the entire 322 acres for 500 pounds, he made a handsome profit out of his purchase. He was obviously a shrewd business man!
With this profit, Wilson was able to buy a property on Sixth Street, between High (now Market) and Chestnut streets in Philadelphia, diagonally opposite Independence Square and known by the name of the Sorrel Horse Tavern. He lived there until the time of his death, in 1792. He also owned property on the west side of Second Street, between Walnut an a Spruce streets, which he held "in right of Lewis James", who had also preceded both John Kinkade and John Wilson as the owner of the house in Tredyffrin.
Houseman lived in the house until his death in 1800. It was he who added the wing on the west. His heirs included his widow; a son, also named Frederick Houseman; Catherine, who married Dewalt Wanner; Elizabeth, who married Henry Baugh; Susanna, who married George Beaver; Sarah, who married Francis O'Neil; Mary, who married Samuel Rossiter; Christian; Marshall; Daniel; and John - a huge family. No wonder he added the wing in 1791 and enlarged the house to its present size!
The purchase and sale of this property by John Wilson were actually only two of at least forty-three transactions pertaining to the property between 1681 and 1944, according to a title search made in the latter year by the late Howard S. Okie. Twelve of these transactions had occurred when Wilson bought the property at the sheriff's sale.
The title begins with a patent or grant from William Penn, to a man named William Mordaint, alias Mordaunt, who was from Cornwall in England. It was dated October 24, 1681, and was for an unlocated tract of 500 acres of land "somewhere in Pennsylvania". (In fact, the patent read "in Philadelphia".)
This number of transactions, with changes in ownership with almost each generation, is most unusual for properties in this area. Most of these properties in the valley stayed in one family through succeeding generations, as, for example, did the farms of the Wilsons, the Davisesj the Baughs, and the Walkers, all around the property. We do rot know if the house is haunted or what - but whatever the reason, this property, as shown by the title search, the "original" Wilson homestead, has changed hands almost every generation over the years.
Page last updated: 2009-07-29 at 14:31 EST