Early owners of Abington: sharp-dealing merchants

Quakers could be very good people, with benevolent religious beliefs, but they could also be sharp merchants. Most of them believed that there was no contradiction between being a good Quaker and being successful in business.  Samuel Cart was an active member of Abington monthly meeting, one of the trustees for the meeting house, and prominent in the early meeting minutes. Yet he was willing to cut a harsh deal with a poor man seeking to emigrate. In 1699 Samuel Hadden went before the Council and complained that Samuel Cart had encouraged him to immigrate, saying that if he could procure seventeen passengers, then his own passage would be free and his wife and four children would come for £15. So Hadden sold his effects, travelled 70 miles to Bristol with his family and the agreed-upon seventeen passengers, and loaded his goods on board, only to face a demand from Cart that he pay another £25. Hadden tried to remove his goods from the ship but Cart would not let him. He only had three pence left, and was forced to sell two of his children into indentured servitude or “stay in England, when his whole substance was Caried elsewhere”.  He petitioned the Council to return his children to him. Cart appeared and debated the issue with Hadden, and in the end the Council ruled that Cart had to return Adam Hadden to his father and pay £10 for the passage, while Hadden had to pay £8 to Cart.

Another of Cart’s neighbors also got into trouble with the Council for his business dealings. William Powell was a cooper from Southwark, Surrey. He immigrated, and did not live on his Abington land, but leased it out and lived on the Schuylkill River. The Council had granted Philip England the rights to ferry people and horses across the river, and erect landing places on both sides. Powell bought a boat and muscled into the business, violating the monopoly granted to England. The Council reprimanded him in the summer of 1693, and he tried to evade the restriction by selling the boat to a group of local Welshmen who hired Nathaniel Mullinax to be their ferryman. In 1694 England complained to the council again. The Council read Powell the minutes of the previous reprimand and made him promise to get out of the business; they threw Mullinax in gaol until he gave security for his good behavior.

The early merchants were often over-extended financially, with their money tied up in land or ships. If they happened to die early, as William Stanley did in 1689, they could leave substantial debts. Stanley had grand hopes for his 500 acres in Abington, calling it Mount Stanley. But he died before March 1690 when Walter King took Stanley’s widow Rebecca to court for a debt of £128. The sheriff according to the custom took twelve honest men and appraised Stanley’s various lands, awarding Mount Stanley to King to cover the debt. King promptly sold it to Peter Baynton, a scoundrel who cared more for his fortune than his family, and who specialized in marrying wealthy widows. Baynton first married Rebecca Stanley, but she died in childbirth in 1691. The next year he married Anna Keen, widow of James Sandelands, a merchant of Uplands. Baynton absconded to England in 1694 with the moveable proceeds of Sandelands’ estate, leaving Anna and the children in Pennsylvania. In 1698 he wrote a letter to her saying that he did not intend to return, that he had taken another wife in England, and that he planned to remove the remainder of the estate to England. She promptly went to the Council and pleaded to be allowed to sell the Pennsylvania properties in order to support herself and the children, which the Council granted. Baynton later returned to Pennsylvania, outlived Anna, and left his fortune to his daughter Rebecca.

Early owners of Abington: the women

There were four women who owned land in Abington in their own names: Catherine Martin, Sarah Fuller, Mary Broadwell, and Elizabeth Shorter. Three of them were widows, one was unmarried. At that time married women did not own property; any property a woman owned became her husband’s when they married. Widows, on the other hand, had some economic freedom if they inherited land at the death of their husband. In most cases they could dispose of it as they pleased, buying and selling in their own name.

Catherine Martin arrived in September 1682 with her husband Isaac and daughter Elizabeth. Isaac, a felt-maker from London, died the following May, leaving his land to Catherine. She shared it with their daughter Elizabeth, giving Elizabeth the tract in Abington. Elizabeth married Joseph Farrington, but died soon afterward, possibly in childbirth, and he sold the land.

Sarah Fuller and her stepfather John Barnes were from Sussex, two miles from Penn’s estate of Warminghurst. They probably worshipped with Penn there. Barnes was a tailor in Sussex and a farmer in Abington. He must have done well and is sometimes referred to as the wealthy tailor. He bought land for himself and for Sarah, perhaps as a dowry, She married a saddler, William Dillwyn, in 1687 and lived in the city with him. Barnes later donated part of his Abington land to Abington Meeting.

Another tract in Abington was owned by a woman at the time the map was finished, although the name on the map was William Chamberlin. He owned the land for a few years, and sold it to Mary Broadwell in 1685. She owned it for ten years. Mary Broadwell was remarkable. When she died on January 2, 1730 it was claimed that she was aged one hundred years and one day. The Pennsylvania Gazette noted that “Her Constitution wore well to the last, and she could see to read without Spectacles a few Months since”. At a time when many people did not live to see grandchildren, she named great-grandchildren in her will! A midwife, she also kept a shop in Philadelphia.

Elizabeth Shorter was a widow and a glover from London, who immigrated and settled in Abington. Her son-in-law John Rush also bought 250 acres, laid out in Abington adjoining her land. In the spring of 1687, he brought her a paper to sign, purporting to be a letter of attorney, but actually an extraordinary deed of gift conveying everything she owned to “my beloved son John Rush”. It read in part, “For my special naturall favour which I bear toward John Rush of Philadelphia my beloved son and for divers other good causes. I do grant all my lands, goods, chattells, leases, deeds, ready money, plate, household stuff, appearall, utensills, brass, pewter, bedding and all other my substances whatsover, moveable and immoveable, quick and dead, of what kind nature quality or condition … freely and quietly without any manner of challenge claim or demand.”  She signed with her mark.

It must have been a shock to her when she found out what she had signed. But she knew exactly how to deal with it. She went straight to the governing body for the province, the Council in Philadelphia. At their meeting on 3rd month 1687, she appealed for help. “The Petition of Elizabeth Shorter, Widdow, was read, complayning that John Rush, her son in Law, instead of a Letter of Attorney that shee was to signe, prepared a Deed of gifft of all her Estate, with power of Atturney, to one Samll Atkins, to acknowledge the same in Court. The Wittness to ye Deed were severally examined; They all Confest the writing was not Read to her, nor Could shee Ever write or Read herselfe, so yt it appeared to this board to be an Absolute Cheat.”  It is clear that she was able to get the fraudulent deed anulled, since later that year she sold one of her city lots, and she owned her Abington land until 1699. [1] There was a large family of Rush in Byberry, starting with John Rush, “the Old Trooper”, who had fought with Cromwell and who emigrated with his wife and sons about 1683. He apparently had a son John, and it is possible that John Rush of Abington was the son of the Old Trooper, but there are no records connecting them.

Rush had been accused of a serious crime several years before. In 1683 Charles Pickering and two accomplices were brought before the Council and questioned about counterfeiting—coining Spanish silver bits with copper added. They admitted to adding more copper alloy than usual, but said their money was “as good Silver as any Spanish money”. Pickering added that he heard John Rush swear that he spent half his time making bits. Rush was a blacksmith, who would have the skills to work with metal. When sent for and examined, Rush positively denied this, and he was not punished by the Council. Pickering was found guilty by a jury, and sentenced to make full restitution to anyone who brought in one of his “base and counterfitt coynes”, and fined forty pounds toward the building of a court house.

Early owners of Abington: the lecher, the surveyors, and the secretary

Samuel Clarridge owned the largest single tract, over 2500 acres, almost a quarter of the township. He never came to Pennsylvania. A wealthy Dublin merchant, he became a Quaker and was thrown into prison more than once, along with other Dublin Friends like Robert Turner and Thomas Holme. When Penn opened up the land in Pennsylvania for purchase Clarridge bought 5000 acres, as a gesture of support and in hopes of  a profit. With properties and a family in Dublin he probably did not consider emigrating. His good standing with Friends was seriously threatened when his maid became pregnant and he sent her to England to have the child, earning him a sharp reprimand. Clarridge sold his Pennsylvania land to Thomas Holme. 1

Thomas Holme, the map-maker and Surveyor General, was a colorful character, with a different background than many of the emigrants. As a soldier in Cromwell’s army he helped to conquer Ireland. One of his services was to rebuild a castle devastated in the fighting; he also surveyed the county of Kerry. After the war he bought land in Waterford and raised his family there instead of returning to England. Perhaps repelled by the devastation he became a Quaker. As a Quaker he was persecuted for his beliefs; he was fined and thrown into prison like so many others. But in 1682 he set off for Pennsylvania to be Surveyor General for William Penn’s new province. Holme came in September 1682 on the Amity, along his grown children, several indentured servants, and William Crispin’s son Silas. William Crispin, a cousin of Penn, had been Penn’s first choice for Surveyor General, but he died on the voyage and was replaced by Holme. Silas Crispin inherited his father’s lands, including two large tracts in Abington.

Another tract belonged to Thomas Fairman, a contentious and difficult man, whose services were valuable to Penn and Holme in the early days. When Penn and his commissioners arrived in 1682 Fairman rented out his house, billing Penn for the cost of putting them up. While Holme was staying with Fairman he must have recruited Fairman as one of his surveyors, since there was too much work for one man. Fairman incurred Holme’s anger for some sharp dealings as a surveyor, but Holme needed him even though he distrusted him. Thomas’ brother Robert invested in Pennsylvania land, including a tract in Abington, but he never immigrated, and Thomas sold his lands for him.

William Penn knew Thomas Holme and Silas Crispin personally, and he certainly came to know Thomas Fairman. But there was one Abington purchaser whom he relied upon and worked with intimately. This was his private secretary Philip Theodore Lehnmann. Lehnmann probably came with Penn on the Welcome in 1682. He attended the Council sessions, handled correspondence, and stayed behind when Penn returned to England in 1685? to defend his colony against the boundary claims of Lord Baltimore. But when Penn arrived in London and looked for the evidence he needed, he made a discovery that gave him a shock. Lehnmann had forgotten to pack the all-important depositions. As Penn put it, “Phil Lemain has most carelessly left behind ye York papers [that] Lloyd brought and should have come as the ground and very strength of my coming so yt I am now here with my finger in my mouth, he could not have done me a worse injury nor Balti[more] a greater service, if he had had ye bribe of 10000 to do it.” 2 Needless to say Penn fired Lehnmann after that. Lehnmann died, a widower and childless, in 1687. He left many debts and part of his Abington tract was seized by the sheriff and sold to pay them.

Next: the women of Abington

  1. Dublin’s Quaker Merchant, by Richard Greaves, a biography of Clarridge’s associate Anthony Sharp.
  2. Papers of William Penn

Early owners of Abington township

When the English Quakers came over in fifty boats in 1682 and 1683 they settled in Philadelphia and in an arc of rural townships, from Chester County through Philadelphia County and eastward to Bucks County. Abington township lay in the middle of this arc. It was good farmland, well-watered by streams and creeks, and not too far from Philadelphia, an important feature for farmers who might take their surplus to the market to sell. It was also the seat of Abington Monthly Meeting, one of the earliest, largest, and most influential of the Quaker meetings.

Abington was typical of the townships settled early by English Quakers. It was not a “linear village” like Germantown or a proprietary manor like Springfield. It was not owned by a single purchaser like Nicholas More’s Manor of Moreland, nor was it dominated like a single family like the Growdens in Bensalem. Instead Abington, like many townships in lower Bucks and Chester Counties, was cut up into tracts for the first purchasers, most of whom bought their land in England from William Penn in 1681. At first the land in the township was owned by these early purchasers, but as the years passed, it was divided into smaller tracts. Some of the early purchasers did not settle on their tracts, but bought them as speculation. They settled instead on lots in the city, if they came to Pennsylvania at all. Of those who immigrated, some lived on their city lots; some sold them and lived in the country. As we will see, the early owners of Abington were a mix of immigrants and speculators.

The township was not originally called Abington. When Thomas Holme made his map in 1687, it had no name. In early deeds it was described as “the county of Philadelphia” or sometimes “Pemmapecca” (by any of several creative spellings). Holme drew a dotted line across his map dividing it into a northern and southern half, suggesting that it was originally meant to be two townships. The upper half was sometimes called Hilltown, and the lower half was sometimes called Dublin. When the township boundaries were finally laid out, Abington was formed from Hilltown and the northern part of Dublin, while the remainder of Dublin became Lower Dublin.[1] Abington township is quite large compared to other townships, over 10,000 acres. It touches Cheltenham, Upper Dublin, Moreland, and Lower Dublin, and touches (or almost touches) Springfield, Horsham and Oxford at the corners.

Pennypack Creek flows south through much part of Abington, crossing from Moreland and flowing south and southeast on its way to Lower Dublin and the Delaware River. It is a strong flowing stream and in the 1700’s was dotted with mills. Frankford or Tacony Creek also flows through Abington, on a path parallel to the Poquessing and west of it, through Cheltenham and so down to the Delaware. One large tract in the middle of Abington, originally Sarah Fuller’s land, had streams that drained into both the Frankford and the Poquessing Creeks.

Who were the first purchasers in Abington? They were an interesting mix—Wasey  the sea captain captured by Barbary pirates, Clarridge the Irish lecher, Lehnmann the careless secretary, Mary Brodwell the midwive who lived to be a hundred, Elizabeth Shorter the glover, John Rush her deceitful son-in-law, the good Quaker farmers and the sharp-dealing Quaker merchants. By studying early records—land deeds, Penn’s letters, minutes of the Council, and more—we can find the stories hidden behind the names on the map. The next post will begin to tell those stories.

[1] The township of Upper Dublin lies north of Abington and, confusingly, does not touch Lower Dublin. The two Dublins were not derived from subdivision of one township, and currently lie in two different counties. When Montgomery County was split from Philadelphia County in 1784, the county line was run between Abington (in Montgomery) and Lower Dublin (in Philadelphia).