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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *