Holme’s map of the countryside

While Thomas Holme was busy serving in Penn’s government and supervising surveys, he was also working on his map of the countryside, the work for which he is still remembered today. This was more ambitious than his map of the city, covering over 200,000 acres. It was a magnificant achievement – at once a marketing tool, a piece of propaganda, a geographical representation, and a record of land ownership. It has been reprinted in countless state, county and township histories. It purports to show the ownership of most of the land in the three counties, and if accurate, serves as the starting point for the chain of ownership to the present day.

It is not fully clear why Penn wanted the map. It could have been a marketing tool to show prospective buyers, except that much of the land was already sold and settled by 1687, as the map itself showed. Perhaps he wanted it to show absentee owners where their land was situated. As we will see later, a substantial number of the owners on the map did not emigrate, and never saw their land in person. The map also served to promote the colony to potential investors, those merchants who might provide capital for business and trade.

To make the map, Holme got information from his deputy surveyors, although not as much or as quickly as he wanted. Charles Ashcom and Israel Taylor were slow to provide maps or lists of surveys, because Holme was entitled to a third of the fees they earned for each survey, and by documenting their work they would have to pay up.

There were few accurate maps of the Delaware valley at this time (which was one cause of the boundary dispute between Penn and Lord Baltimore). The best available was a map of Maryland made by Augustine Hermann for Lord Baltimore in 1660. It showed good detail, although Hermann complained of his engraver “defiling the prints with many errors.” 1

When he had enough information Holme drew the map, possibly on sheepskin, and sent it to England to be engraved, as there was no one in Pennsylvania at the time with the skill. 2 A letter of Holme’s in October 1686 referred to his intention to send it soon, and by May 1688 it was advertised for sale in the London Gazette. 3. The last survey included on the map was done for Jacob Pellison in February of 1686/87. 4

It was engraved by F. Lamb and published by Robert Green and John Thornton. The maps were five feet wide, came on seven sheets of paper, and cost 10 shillings. They were offered for sale in London, and it is possible that no copies were sold in Pennsylvania at all. 5 There is no record that Holme ever saw a printed copy of his map.

  1. Edward Mathews, Maps and mapmakers of Maryland, 1898.
  2. It is claimed that Holme drew his map of Philadelphia on sheepskin, so he probably did the other map that way as well. Silvio Bedini, Thomas Holme (1624-1695) Pennsylvania’s First Surveyor General.
  3. John Jordan, Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania, p. 340. Jordan believed that the map was published in a series of editions, of which the earlier ones are missing. This is erroneous, according to Klinefelter.
  4. At the time the year started in March, so Holme would have called this 1686, but in modern dates it is 1687. Since Quakers used numbers for the months, instead of pagan names, Holme actually would have called it 12th month 1686.
  5. Walter Klinefelter, Surveyor General Thomas Holme’s “Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsilvania”, in Doud & Quimby, Winterthur Portfolio 6, 1970, pp. 41-74.

How people got their land

New arrivals in Pennsylvania could not just ride out into the countryside and claim a tract for their own. Penn set up an orderly process for laying out land purchases. Many of the emigrants had bought rights to land from him in England as First Purchasers. Others had bought up the rights from a First Purchaser. 1 Once they got off the boat, they went to Penn in Philadelphia and requested a survey, asking for all or part of their purchase to be laid out. Penn sent a warrant to Thomas Holme, asking him to have the land surveyed. Here is a typical warrant from Penn to Holme:

William Penn proprietary and Governor of the province of Pennsylvania and the territories thereunto belonging. At the request of Nicholas Rendal late purchaser one hundred and fifty acres that I would grant him to take up the said land in the county of Philadelphia. These are to will and require thee forthwith to survey or cause to be surveyed onto him the said number of acres in the aforementioned County where not already taken up according to the method of townships appointed by me, he seating  the same according to regulation and make returns thereof into my secretary’s office. Given at Philadelphia the 12th of the fourth month 1684.

For Thomas Holme Surveyor General.

[Holme added a note at the bottom.] 18th ordered T.F. [Thomas Fairman] to lay it out in Warminster Township if room there, to join to his father’s acres. 2

Holme might do the survey himself, or more often would delegate one of his assistants: typically Charles Ashcom for Chester County, Thomas Fairman for Philadelphia County, Israel Taylor for Bucks County. These men would direct the survey, which required a team of men — the surveyor and his chainmen. 3 The chainmen carried heavy chains, of known length, which they laid out according to directions from the surveyor. He used a compass, and possibly other tools such as a theodolite (for measuring angles), a protractor (for drawing angles), and a quadrant (for measuring altitude). 4 The survey was supposed to include an extra 6 percent allowance for roads that might be run through it at some time, although a shady surveyor might add extra land to please the purchaser and increase his fee. The fee was supposed to be shared, with one-third to the surveyor and two-thirds for Holme. 5 In practice the deputy surveyors tried to avoid sending Holme his fees, leading to several lawsuits. 6

Once the land was surveyed the purchaser could live on it, rent it out or sell it. If he did not settle on it in a reasonable amount of time, it could be forfeit to Penn, as in the warrant above, “….seating the same according to regulation.” In practice this was rare.

The final step in the purchase process was the patent. The owner could apply to the land office for a patent giving him full title to the land. After paying a fee he would receive a paper describing the property and documenting his right to it. Because there was a fee for this, owners often didn’t get a patent, and sold the land without one. But a cautious buyer would insist on it, and often a patent was dated just before the sale of the land.

  1. They could also buy land from Penn once they arrived.
  2. Warrant #2071. Warrant and Survey Book 1, Philadelphia City Archives
  3. In later years the team also included axmen, who cleared trees and brush along the boundaries of the tract. In the early years when Holme had fewer helpers, the chainmen probably doubled as axmen.
  4. Corcoran, Thomas Holme, p. 35
  5. Munger, Guide to Pennsylvania Land Records.
  6. Holme sued Taylor in 10th month 1686 (Court records of Bucks County) and Ashcom in 7th month 1690 (Court records of Chester County).

John Tatham, alias Gray: the secret Catholic

A Catholic in a land of Quakers, a man with a suspicious past, a target of dark rumors, builder of a palatial house – John Tatham stands out as unusual. He bought land from Penn in London and emigrated in 1685. Penn knew that he was Catholic and distrusted him. Penn wrote to Thomas Lloyd in 1685, “… he is subtile and prying and lowly… be sure to pleas him in his land…”. 1 Tatham built a large house in Bensalem, traded as a merchant, and soon ran into trouble with his neighbor Joseph Growdon. Growdon was a wealthy landowner, who wanted to assemble a manor of 10,000 acres, although Penn was reluctant to let him have so much in one place. Tatham’s Bensalem land stuck into Growdon’s like a thorn, and they soon began to squabble over land sales and money owed. They were in Bucks County court in 1686, and Phineas Pemberton called it the “most railing revileing business” he had ever seen, adding that they only behaved to “befoole them selves”. 2. The suit continued for years.

By 1686 Tatham had moved to New Jersey where he built a grand house that some called a palace. 3 At this time Penn learned astonishing news about Tatham. He was a former Benedictine monk who had left his order!  Penn’s suspicions about Tatham grew after an irregular survey made to Charles Pickering and Tatham over a tract supposed to include a silver mine. Penn was furious over this and threatened to fire Thomas Holme for allowing the survey. 4

Tatham’s power and influence grew when he was appointed as agent for Daniel Cox, the wealthy investor and absentee governor of West Jersey. Tatham worked with James Budd, Cox’s surveyor, but when Budd died under suspicious circumstances in 1690 Tatham was suspected of poisoning him. John Budd, James’ brother, accused Tatham, and Tatham sued Budd for defamation. The courthouse was packed with a great press of people, so that some witnesses could not be heard. The testimony was sensational. Jonathan West said that “James Budd after hee was dead swelled and looked black, and wrought in his belly and att his mouth, and that after hee was put into the coffin he swelled much.” William Budd, another brother, said that he met James walking in Burlington, who told him that he was under great trouble, with a letter in his pocket that meant his death. Nicholas Martineau added that Budd said his heart was “almost broke” because John Tatham would not pay him money necessary for his business. Elizabeth Bosse added darkly that Budd “dyed not the common death of all men”, but died of poison. The court must not have believed these tales, since it ruled for Tatham and awarded him damages. By then Tatham was on the council of Proprietors of West Jersey, had served as its president, and had also served on the Assembly. Although the Budd family was influential and well-off, he was more so. 5

The obvious question is how a former monk was able to build two grand houses, acquire merchandise to sell, and set himself up as one of the wealthiest men in either province.  The answer begins with his background from a well-to-do family in Yorkshire. He was sent to Douai University in France as a youth to study for the priesthood, and became a Benedictine. In 1676 he returned to England as Father Bede Tatham. In 1678 a supposed Popish plot to kill King Charles inflamed hysteria against Catholics. Perhaps at this time Tatham left his post and took the name John Gray. He must have married around 1680 since he had a daughter born around 1680 to 1682. 6 In 1684 he bought land from Penn and sailed to Pennsylvania, with his family, a large library and merchant goods. Perhaps the money came from his family, but he apparently also absconded with church money! Penn wrote in 1686 that “the congregation has spoak to the King about him, and to me.” The king commanded that Tatham be sent back to England by the first conveniency. 7  Obviously no one bothered to do that.

Tatham died in 1700, about 58 years old, leaving his pregnant wife Elizabeth, and three children. His will was dramatic. He left his daughter Dorothy “one piece of eight if demanded and no more”, for her “graceless and shameless rebellion”. 8 She had married a man named Robert Hickman, in custody of the sheriff in Burlington as a suspected pirate. They married clandestinely at Elizabeth Basnett’s tavern in February 1700, for which Basnett lost her tavern license. Tatham’s inventory included two crucifixes, gold church plate, seven slaves, a silver rapier, 478 books, and his grand house. He left everything to his wife Elizabeth, but she died soon after him. Their son John continued the suit against Growdon; it was still plaguing the court in 1713. 9

Bisbee asked whether Dorothy’s rebellion hastened his death. Whether  it did or not, the more interesting question is whether he rested easy in his conscience. If some of his wealth came from theft from his church, did that weigh on him?

  1. Henry Bisbee, “John Tatham, alias Gray”, PMHB, 1959, 83(3)
  2. Quoted in Lawmaking and Legislators, vol. 1, the entry on Joseph Growdon
  3. Gabriel Thomas, “An account of West Jersey and Pennsylvania”, quoted in Bisbee.
  4. Minutes of the Board of Property, series 2, 1687
  5. Burlington Court Records. Bisbee, p. 257
  6. Dorothy was of marriageable age in 1700.
  7. Quoted in Bisbee.
  8. A printed abstract in Publications of the Genealogical Society of PA, vol. 3, has “one piece of dirt”, but this is incorrect
  9. Martin Griffin, “Early Catholics of Bucks County”, Papers read before the Bucks County Historical Society. Also Minutes of the Board of Property, series 2.