Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 27
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1989 Volume 27 Number 2, Pages 43–52
Valley Friends Meeting
An atmosphere of haste, stress, and frenetic activity dominates the intersection of Old Eagle School and Swedesford roads where the Valley Forge Corporate Center is now located, but those who travel straight ahead north on Old Eagle School road toward Glenhardie will find a five-acre property that suggests peace and serenity.
On this property stands the Valley Friends [Note 1] Meeting House, a two-story building constructed of local stone and covered with stucco. It is painted white and has a low stone wall in front of it. Across from the meeting house is the original burial ground of the meeting. The meeting house site, on high ground, is surrounded by open space on all sides. The lawns are green and cool-looking in the summer, shaded by trees -- yellow pine, Norway maples, red oak, ash, dogwood, sour gum, and white pine.
This building is not the original home of the meeting; the first one was on the other side of the road. And it is with the history of the first meeting house that this account will begin. But even before the Friends worshipped in that house two hundred and fifty-seven years ago, they held their meetings in the houses of members of the Meeting. Valley Friends Meeting was established in 1698 when Radnor Monthly Meeting allowed Valley Friends "to have a weekly meeting among themselves". Radnor Meeting was in Ithan, seven miles away, and was thus too distant for convenient attendance by Friends who lived in the Valley. A fourteen-mile round trip by horse, or by horse and buggy, was a formidable undertaking then, and one that was impossible in bad weather.
Thus Valley Friends began to hold meetings in the houses of Lewis Walker and other Friends, though their membership remained with Radnor. The arrangement, however, seems not to have been formalized until much later. The Radnor minute books have this entry, dated January 11, 1713:
The Friends inhabiting about Perquaming [Perkiomen] and this side Schulkill in ye valley ... att[end] Lewis Walker House ye first day in ye 2nd mo. [Note 2] next and then Every other month at Joseph Richardson House ...
Nine years later John Fothergill, a Friends' "preacher", wrote in his journal, "First mo. 14th, 1722, at Lewis Walker's in the Great Valley, we had a large meeting out of doors and the Gospel Power and testimony went freely forth."
These arrangements were apparently satisfactory until the death in October 1728 of Lewis Walker. At that time the Valley Friends wished to build their own meeting house on land that had been bequeathed for that purpose in Lewis Walker's will: "It is my will to give, grant and confirm unto those of my Persuasion the Grave yard that is upon my land for the use of Friends forever, bounding upon the road [then Meeting House Lane, now Old Eagle School road] and nine perches square every way." The land was on the northeast corner of the present burial ground.
Radnor Meeting minutes included this statement on January 11, 1730:
This meeting after deliberate Consideration Leaves the Valley Friends to their Liberty to Build a Meeting House for Religious worship at the graveyard near Lewis Walker's, deceased, which was left by the said Lewis by his last will for that purpose.
In November of the same year a Radnor Meeting minute stated:
Thomas Thomas [Note 3] & Edward Jones are desired to meet [with] the Valley Friends in order that they may agree unaminously on a place to build a meeting house that may accommodate them & make report at next meeting.
In 1728 Haverford Meeting appointed a committee to assist Valley Friends in choosing a site for the new meeting house. The Committee agreed that it should be built on the land bequeathed by Lewis Walker. Construction of the meetinq house was completed in 1731, at which time Meeting was held in it. The members, however, seem not to have made a Deed or recorded it until 26 years later. Another Radnor Meeting minute, dated September 9, 1756, reported that
Thomas Thomas & Robert Jones is [sic] appointed to assist Valley friends in getting a Deed for their Meeting house and make report at the next meeting.
Four months later, a Radnor Meeting minute written January 17, 1757 stated
The "friends from the Valley, Report that the Deed for their meeting house is Compleated, except being Recorded, which they hope will be done soon.
There appears to be no description of the original building, though it was probably made of logs. Some masonry alterations were probably made, but the basic structure remained in place for 150 years.
Meetings for Worship were held in the meeting house every First Day and also on several week days. The first minute of Valley Preparative Meeting that is available is not dated, but it quoted an extract from Radnor Meeting minutes of August 9, 1810:
A minute from our late Quarter expressing the unity of that meeting with the proposal dividing Radnor preparative meeting was produced and read ... James Jones, Richard Kimber, William Llewellyn, Joseph George and Amos Lukens are appointed to attend the opening of the meeting in the Valley ... and the meeting was accordingly opened the 5th day of the 9th mo. 1810.
Later that year, in a Valley Meeting record dated October 3, 1810, it was reported that
Isaac Walker and Daniel Richards are appoint[ed] to unite with Radnor Friends in dividing the books, [and] the property of Radnor and the Valley Preparative Meeting.
The Walker and Thomas families played a prominent part in the history of Valley Friends Meeting. Lewis Walker had left Wales in 1686, arriving in Pennsylvania, by a southern route, in 1687. He went first to Radnor, where he bought 300 acres of land and rented 200 more. Radnor was a part of the Welsh Tract, settled mainly by Friends who had purchased from the Proprietors 40,000 acres of land on the west side of the Schuylkill river, an area that included Merion, Havertord and Radnor. By 1690 there were about thirty Welsh families, mostly Friends, in the Radnor area.
Lewis Walker married Mary Morris, whom he had met during the voyage, at Haverford meeting house in February 1693. They lived for several years in Radnor, and many of their children were born there. However, on one of his hunting trips, Lewis Walker saw a densely wooded hill, beyond which was a pleasant valley with plenty of water and fertile soil. The Schuylkill was close at hand so that harvests could be floated to city markets. He bought a farm in the Great Valley and the family moved there, though Mary Walker was reluctant to leave the security of Radnor for the remote wilderness that was to be their home. Lewis Walker is considered to be the first settler of Tredyffrin township. The name is Welsh --Tre or Tref (town) and Dyffrin or Duffryn (a wide valley). In old writings, the township was sometimes called Valleytown or Valleyton; the latter name appears in a Deed by which Lewis Walker later conveyed some of his land to Llewellyn Davis in 1708.
The first Walker house was made of logs. After it burned, a stone house replaced it, and the property was named "Rehobeth". The house was built near one of the many springs on the property, high on a sunny slope where walnut and sycamore trees grew. It was an unusually large dwelling, well-suited for holding meetings. One of the lower rooms was divided by a movable partition so that the men and women of the Meeting could hold their separate monthly meetings for business.
As the Walker's eight children grew and married, nearly all of them lived on farms near Rehobeth. Married children of other Friends in the Valley also lived on land given or bequeathed to them by their parents. It was extremely important to Pennsylvania Friends to acquire as much land as possible.
Large land holdings were not desired for the purpose of gaining wealth or achieving gentry status, but so that Friends could provide their children and grandchildren with property and thus save them "from the world". A majority of first-generation Friends who settled in the Valley had at least 400 acres, most of it unimproved, and several had a thousand acres or more. At the end of the seventeenth century, unimproved land cost about a half shilling an acre, but by shortly after 1700 a 300-acre unimproved tract in a settled area cost around 70 pounds. Second generation Friends were able to give or bequeath less land to each of their children than the children of the first generation had received, but, of course, it was more valuable.
Second generation Valley Meeting Friends showed no inclination toward luxury. Still, though the work of clearing and farming land and managing households was as strenuous as it had been for their parents, they lived better. They had clocks, cupboards, tea sets, and pewter, but not even the richest had a rug on the floor or a picture on the wall. More Friends continued to settle in the Valley, among them the Connard, Moore, Stephens, Roges, Davis, Famous, Baines, Morris, Potts, Jones, Cowgill, Roberts, and Richards families.
Daniel Walker, the eldest son of Mary and Lewis Walker, inherited Rehobeth. He was also one of the original owners of the Valley Forge, first called Mount Joy Forge, built on property originally owned by Letitis Penn. (The two high wooded hills on either side of Valley Creek are said to have been named by William Penn. Having lost his way on one of the hills, he called it Mount Misery; when he was found, after much wandering, on the other hill, he named it Mount Joy.)
Isaac Walker, another son of Mary and Lewis Walker, was granted a license in 1730 to keep a tavern: "Isaac Walker," the license stipulated, "is allowed to sell Beer and Syder by small measure at Tredyffrin in the house where he dwells until August Court next ..." Actually, he apparently did not "keep a tavern", but sold apples and cider as farm products. Beer was brewed every day at most farm houses, but was not generally sold since it could not be kept over for the next day.
The Friends in the Valley had never had any troubles with the Indians who came down to Chester County from less settled areas of Pennsylvania. When Philadelphians thought their city was in danger from war parties already in Lancaster, they called upon citizens from the surrounding counties to supply money or men to fight. Valley Friends, however, refused to provide any assistance, saying that they had always dealt honestly with the Indians, who, in turn, had never disturbed their families or property. No official action was brought by the Governor's Council against them because of their refusal, though Friends who lived in Philadelphia were attacked by mobs when they too would not make war on the Indians.
The refusal of Friends to participate in the attacks on the Indians diminished their once great influence in Philadelphia and in the Commonwealth. While the Friends had been the dominant force in the Valley from 1680 to 1730, here too subsequently their worldly influence declined, especially after the War for Independence began. However, they continued to "hold the respect of all responsible persons".
During the war, the Friends were neutral as to the fighting, and evidence shows that they refused to spy for either the British or the Americans. Unfortunately, however, some spies who were working for the British dressed in Quaker garb so that they could move easily among both armies, and thus the Friends were in some disrepute among credulous people. In response to a letter from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, General Washington promised that no Friend would be compelled to perform military service.
They were not spared by either army when the Valley was "roughly visited" by both sides after the Battle of the Brandywine. Hessian troops passed through the Valley, destroying and pillaging extensively. During the British encampment in the Valley prior to the capture of Philadelphia, General Sir William Howe, commander of all the British forces, made his headquarters at the house of Samuel Jones, a neighbor of Joseph Walker, a son of Isaac Walker and grandson of Lewis Walker. (Joseph Walker was born at Rehobeth in 1731, and had married Sarah Thomas, a relative of General Anthony Wayne.)
Valley Meeting House, of course, was located near the edge of the Continental Army's winter encampment at Valley Forge. General Wayne made his quarters in Joseph Walker's house. General LaFayette was quartered with Samuel Havard's family, and frequently visited at the Walkers'. General DuPortail quartered with John Havard, and Baron DeKalb lived in the home of Abijah Stephens.
The original meeting house was used as a hospital for sick and wounded soldiers. Friends from nearby farms cared for them and gave them food and such medical supplies as they had. Old chests were searched for warm clothing and blankets, and all available yarn was knitted into stockings for the cold and hungry soldiers. It is not known how many sick and wounded soldiers died within the meeting house, but mounds can still be seen close to the place where the west wall of the meeting house stood.
Later General Washington observed that before he had wintered at Valley Forge he had looked upon Friends as sympathizers with the British, but during the winter of 1777/1778 he found them to be extraordinarily kind and completely reliable.
Sarah Thomas, the daughter of Thomas Thomas and Sarah Jarman, married Joseph Walker in 1752. She was one of those who had helped care for the soldiers, though she must have been very busy managing her own large household in a time of scarcity and danger. Her son Lewis remembered those difficult times. He described, in his "Recollections", one incident that, among others, demonstrates his mother's deep compassion as well as her strong will. When five deserters from the Continental Army were caught, brought to the Walker house, court-martialed there, and sentenced by General Wayne to be shot, Sarah Walker had the General summoned from his rooms and told him firmly, "This must not be. Poor fellows, hungry, cold and almost naked. If I were a soldier, I would do so too!" General Wayne, who had at times captured hundreds of British soldiers with as few as twenty men of his own, found disagreeing with Sarah Walker required more courage than he could summon: the men were pardoned.
Valley Friends, as did members of other meetings in the area, gave food and forage from their dwindling supplies, although firmly opposed to war. They did not feel a "leading" to part with their old family possessions, however. One day a party of Hessian soldiers stopped at the house of the Stephens family, members of Valley Meeting. The very elderly and absent-minded Stephens grandmother, Mary Davis Stephens, was determined to save some spoons by hiding them in her apron pocket. While the soldiers were searching the room, she pointed to her pocket and said loudly to her daughter, "Prissy, does thee think the spoons are safe here?" The Hessians, fortunately, did not understand English!
Another farmer who belonged to Valley Meeting, realizing that he could not save his livestock from raiding soldiers, at least managed to hide a small bag of coins underneath his smokehouse. Unfortunately for him, one of the soldiers chased a hen beneath the outbuilding, followed it, and emerged happily with the coins.
American soldiers, as well as British troops, foraged for food for themselves and for their animals. Joseph Walker had given freely to Colonel Clement Biddle, the American Commissioner for Forage, and had also been heavily plundered by the British. Impressed by the integrity, probity, and reputation of the Walker family, the Commissioner issued a decree on December 11, 1777 that the Walker family be given protection. Sarah Walker showed great kindness to the rotating guards, sending her eleven-year old son to them every day with a generous amount of corn meal mush and milk, scarce items that could have been used by her own family.
In the spring of 1778 the soldiers at the encampment craved nothing more than some greens, having had only salted food with an inadequate supply of bread since the previous fall. The Walker meadows were full of dock and pokeberry, plants whose leaves are pungent and nutritious in early spring. A guard who was on the property would not let the soldiers enter the meadows until Sarah Walker told them they might take all the greens they wanted. It is recorded in a Walker family Bible that when Sarah Walker died in 1792 over a thousand people attended her funeral.
Limitations in space permit mention of only a few of the many members of Valley Meeting who contributed generously of their time and energies to the growth of both the Meeting and the community in later years. Thomas Walker, the son of Joseph and Sarah Walker and great-grandson of Lewis Walker, was married in 1787 to Margaret Currie, the granddaughter of the Reverend Mr. William Currie, of St. David's Episcopal Church. Thomas Walker was disowned for "marrying out" of meeting, but he and his wife continued to attend Vallev Meetinq all their lives. Over half of the graves in the Meeting's burial grounds are those of their descendants. At the time of Margaret Walker's death in 1858 she had 11 children, 77 grandchildren, and 187 great-grandchildren. One of them, Joseph Thomas, born in 1834, established the Thomas Nurseries in 1853; the nursery, on Old Eagle School road, is still in business, now operated by one of the grandsons of its founder.
William West, born in 1830, was descended on both sides from the Quaker families of Yarnall, Howell, Bartram, and others, and was related to the renowned artist, Benjamin West. He was apprenticed to his uncle, Thomas West, to learn the trade of tanner and currier. He worked for his uncle for two years, but then chose to return to his farm at King of Prussia, on which he worked for the rest of his life. He was a director of Wayne Title and Trust, Berwyn National Bank, and the Merion Building and Loan Association. It is amazing that he also found time to take his produce and meat, which he butchered himself, once a week to his stall at Spring Garden Market in Philadelphia. He went to bed early the night before each trip to the city, sleeping until midnight, at which time he left home in order to reach the market early in the morning. Meanwhile, his wife Rebecca, a daughter of Charles and Ruth Thomas, had been working until midnight packing the two-horse Dearborn wagon. Both William and Rebecca West were active members of Valley Meeting, attending Meeting for Worship on both First day and Fourth day, and also entertaining hundreds of visiting ministers and Friends who attended Quarterly Meeting when it was held at Valley.
William Keeney was born at 16th and Arch streets in Philadelphia. His father could remember when a town pump was next to their house, and cornfields bordered their property. He was graduated from Friends Central School in the first class to receive diplomas. His daughters, Virginia and Dorothy Keeney, are well remembered for their work with Valley Meeting's First Day School.
William West and Edwin Thomas, a grandson of Joseph Thomas, were members of Valley Meeting in a period when the number of persons who regularly attended was very small. These two men were the only persons in Meeting for Worship for a time, and thus they kept the Meeting alive.
In 1870 Valley Meeting began a series of Sunday afternoon meetings. Noted Quaker "preachers" came from Philadelphia and even more distant places. As the meetings became increasingly successful and enthusiasm for them grew, it was apparent that the old meeting house was too small for the crowds, too cold in winter, and, in the opinion of many members, too old-fashioned. Yet the Meeting was divided on the question of pulling down the old building and constructing a new one, with some opposing the proposal. However, it was at last decided to proceed with the project.
The site for the new building was purchased from Joseph Walker for $100. A two-story building was constructed and, regrettably, the old meetinghouse was torn down. It took only a little over a year to complete the new building, and it was opened for worship on April 23, 1872, completed and furnished.
Members and neighbors, some of whom were not Friends, donated a great deal of labor and materials. Joseph Walker gave stone, John Kennedy contributed the lime, and Thomas Walker lent his teams. Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting minutes for November 5, 1872 show that the value of materials and labor contributed was $9,145.80. This figure includes money contributions of $4,153.32: $3,000 contributed by Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting; and $1,025 as the evaluation for volunteer labor and the use of old materials in the construction. This is the building that stands today, at the location described at the beginning of this article.
Except for its plain functional style and wide covered porches on the front and two sides, the building does not resemble the customary one-story meeting houses found in the Delaware Valley. It is at least as large as some in the center of Philadelphia. The main room, used for Meetings for Worship, has a high ceiling. A gallery above two sides of the room is reached by a graceful curving stairway. The windows are plain glass; there are no pictures on the white walls. The white pine floor boards have a soft glow that comes with age and careful rubbings and polishing. Two rows of wooden benches provide seating in the main room and in the gallery, as well as on a raised facing bench at the front of the room. A room almost as large adjoins the main room, and removable panels make it possible to open the two rooms into one.
Three years after this meeting house was opened, the Women's Meeting suggested that a Friends' elementary school be established since the building was large enough for classrooms. The minutes of the Women's Meeting for June 3, 1875 show that their proposal had been approved. At the July Monthly Meeting for Business it was decided that "A joint committee of men and women [be] appointed to make necessary recommendations, select a teacher, and ascertain the number of scholars that can be procured." The minutes of July 1, 1875 reported that "a suitable teacher" had been found. Lydia M. Martin, presumably the "suitable teacher", was engaged at $50 per month to teach. Mary J. Walker, Mary P. Thomas, and Joseph R. Walker formed the committee that was in charge of the school. That September the school opened with 29 pupils. Tuition was $25 for the ten-month term and there was an additional $10 fee for instruction in Latin. The school flourished for ten years, but was later discontinued because of a lack of pupils. A number of Valley Meeting children attended it, some of them later being graduated from Swarthmore College.
In the 1920s and 1930s some alterations were made to the building. The low stone wall was put up. The north half of the meeting house became a social room, and rooms on the second floor were converted to class rooms for First-day school. Three more rooms were added by building an addition at the rear of the meeting house. A modest kitchen was installed at the very back of the building. A paved driveway, with a separate entrance and exit, was put around the building, with the original buggy sheds on the far side of the rear driveway and a large parking area behind them.
The social room and the addition on the north side are used for committee meetings and other activities, and children who attend the Valley Friends Meeting Cooperative Playschool, which meets every weekday morning except during the summer, also use these rooms.
In 1920 the Meeting purchased an additional 2.6 acres to the south and east of the original property. Subsequently, another parcel, located across the road from the meeting house and adjoining the burial ground, was bought from the estate of Mrs. Edgar Hires, who owned the old Lewis Walker farm, and in the late 1960s another 1.4 acres were obtained in an exchange with a developer. In addition, the Allstate Insurance Company gave the Meeting a 50-foot by 50-foot corner area on the south and west, to be held as long as it is used by Valley Meeting, in order to straighten the property line. Thus Friends now owns 5.5 acres of open land that will not be built upon.
Work is now in progress to have the grounds and building registered as an historic place.
Members of Valley Friends Meeting extend a warm welcome to visitors who would like to attend Meetings for Worship on Sundays. They are held from 11:15. a.m. to noon from mid-September through May, and from 10:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. in the summer. A forum is held from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. in the fall, winter, and early spring. Friends have no formal creed or clergy. After a Meeting for Worship has "gathered in", any one present may feel a call to bring a message, a prayer, or a "concern" to those in attendance.Top
1. "Friends" are persons who are members of the Religious Society of Friends, a movement that was begun in the mid-seventeenth century in England by George Fox and those who shared his beliefs. They were usually called "Quakers" then, and that term has persisted to the present, though most now prefer to be spoken of as "Friends".
2 .Friends very early decided not to use the traditional words for months and days of the week because they were derived from the names of pagan gods. The system of plain numbering has now been largely abandoned.
3. One sees the same first and last names, variously arranged, over and over in the generations of Valley Meeting members. This due in part to the ancient custom by which children of Welsh parents took the first name of their father as their own last name. It was this practice that led to such names as Thomas Thomas, Ellis Ellis, Evan Owens, Owen Evans, and so forth.Top
Jacob, Norma, ed.
Leach, Robert J.
Street, Priscilla Walker, comp.
Walker, Evelyn E.
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