Category Archives: Holme’s map

Identifying the people on Holme’s map

To understand the people you need to know who they are, identifying each one specifically.  It is not useful to generalize.  Once we know who they are, we can ask questions. Did they emigrate or were they absentee landowners? Were they largely Quakers? How did they make their living? Where were they from? This study is similar to other research that studied individual people, such as ship passengers (Marion Balderston), passengers on the Welcome (George McCracken), early residents of Philadelphia (Hannah Benner Roach), the Swedes along the Delaware (Peter Stebbins Craig), participants in early courts (Jack Marietta), the lawmakers of Pennsylvania (edited by Craig Horle and Marianne Wokeck). 1 Much of their work has been helpful in the process of identifying the people on Holme’s map.

Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn published a list of the people in the third volume of the Papers of William Penn. They were missing a few such as Thomas Dungan, Edward Jones, and Joseph Milner. Otherwise their list was very thorough, including a location key for each name. 2

The first step in identifying the people was to match the names as spelled on the map with people or families known at the time. In most cases this was straightforward. Many of the names on the map were spelled like their modern equivalents, exactly or with minor changes such as Sweeft to Swift or Kerk to Kirk. Other names could be recognized with more substantial change, such as Banbrig to Bainbridge or Brainton to Brinton. These had to be verified with records to make sure that they were spelling variants instead of distinct names. In some cases apparent variants were actually different families. Hort is not the same as Hart. Blunston is not the same as Blinston.

The early population was not a large one, but in many cases two apparently unrelated people shared the same last name, for example Samuel Allen and Nathaniel Allen, William Bennet and Edmund Bennet, the various Colletts. 3 Sometimes only the last name was placed on the map, but the fact that they are placed in a particular location provides a powerful clue to which person was meant. Families usually emigrated together, settled near each other, and sometimes associated in land dealings. An interesting exception was the two men named Thomas Cross, settled in different counties. Their relationship is clear since the son (a carpenter of Chester County) died first and the father (a wheelwright of Philadelphia County) administered his estate. 4

Some names on the map needed to be deciphered. The English engraver probably introduced some errors when reading Holme’s manuscript: for example “Woolinne” for Woolman, “Braber Eli”, for Elizabeth Barber, “Sardarlan” for Sandelands, “Jo Nowell” for John Worrall, “Bowger” for “Bowyer”, “Darte” for “Darke”. In other cases the odd spelling reflects how the name was pronounced: Haukis for Hawkins, Brumadgam for Birmingham,  Hurst for Hayhurst and Frist for Forest. Philip Theodore Lehnmann, Penn’s private secretary, wrote his name as “Philip Th Lehnman”. The middle Th was often misread and his name appears on the map as Thlehnman and Taluman. There are a few errors that were probably Holme’s such as “Mouns Toker” for Mouns Stake, the Swede. 5.

The process of identifying the names was a lengthy one, requiring a search of many types of records. As more records were found the biography of each person sharpened and became more detailed. The goal was to find the key facts of origin, emigration, occupation, religion, and death. This meant finding one or more records of the person’s activity: typically emigration, marriage, death, land transaction, church membership, or court appearance. The sources included published records such as Quaker meeting minutes, land deeds, tax records, probate and more. Some genealogical research was also used, published or available online. This varies in quality, ranging from Gilbert Cope’s professional work to web pages with no evidence cited. These sources were not used unless there was evidence of careful research, typically by citing sources, preferably primary records.

Next: Using church records


  1. See Walter Sheppard, Passengers and Ships prior to 1684; George McCracken, The Welcome Claimants; Hannah B. Roach, Early Philadelphians; Peter Stebbins Craig, 1671 Census of the Delaware and 1693 Census of Swedes on the Delaware; Jack Marietta & G. S. Rowe, Troubled Experiment; Craig Horle and Marianne Wokeck, editors, Lawmaking and Legislators, especially volume 1.
  2. One name that should not have been on their list was that of “N Von” in Kingsessing. This was a misreading of the last name of the Swede Jonas Nelson.
  3. Other family names with unrelated branches include Atkinson, Bailey, Baker, Barnes, Bond, Brown, Buckley, Carter, Chamberlain, Clayton, Cook, Cox, Ellet, Ellis, Gibbons, Hall, Harding, Harrison, Hastings, Howell, Hudson, Johnson, Jones, King, Lloyd, Marsh, Martin, Mason, Moore, Noble, Palmer, Pickering, Potter, Powell, Richards, Roberts, Robinson, Simcock, Smith, Sneed, Swift, Taylor, Turner, Wheeler, Wood, Worrall.
  4. Perhaps as carpenters they did not wish to compete with each other.
  5. As will be discussed later, a few names were not identified and may represent errors by either Holme or the engraver

Holme’s map: What’s on it.

Holme’s map covered over 200,000 acres, from New Castle to the falls of the Delaware, about 55 miles across and 33 miles north from the river. 1. He plotted rivers like the Delaware and the Schuylkill, streams like the Neshaminy and the Poquessing, and marshes along the rivers. He showed the counties of New Castle, Bucks, Chester and Philadelphia, the outline of the city of Philadelphia and a few towns like Calcoon Hook. Of the twenty-one named rivers and creeks, one was an error, almost certainly by the engraver. “Filpot River” should be Shelpot Creek, a tributary of the Brandywine. Some of our waterways still keep the names on the map: the Delaware, the Schuylkill, the Brandywine, Frankford Creek, and Poquessing Creek among them.

Holme included the manors, large chunks of acreage that Penn reserved for his own family, to generate income through land rental and sales. 2 There were five in Penn’s name (Springettsberry, Rocklands, Highlands, Pennsberry, and Gilberts), one for his wife Gulielma (Springfield), and one each for his daughter Laetitia and son William (Mount Joy and Williamstadt). Other large tracts were granted to Penn’s relatives the Lowthers and to Nicholas More, president of the Society of Traders. 3

The special feature of Holme’s map is the names of landowners, each one placed on his or her land, about 780 names in all. This type of cadastral map, showing surveyed tracts of land, was unusual, almost unique for the early American colonies. 4 Many people owned more than one tract. There were about 620 unique personal names.

Holme omitted names of many who owned land at the time. Some tracts were not precisely known to him, like the land in the Northern Liberties, where he left out the settlers like Jurian Hartsfelder, Peter Cock, Swen Lom and others. He left out many of the Swedes who owned land along the two rivers before the English came, partly because he did not know exactly where their lands were, and partly because some of them lived in settlements like Chester and Marcus Hook, where the town lots were too small to show. The only place he expanded with an inset map was the city of Philadelphia itself.

Holme labelled several townships without any individual land holdings. He did not have the surveys for Haverford and Radnor, because his dishonest deputy Charles Ashcom had refused to give him exact returns of surveys. (Ashcom often surveyed larger tracts than he was supposed to, since he got paid as a proportion of the acreage.) Ashcom left for Maryland around 1686, and Holme simply left the Welsh townships blank.

Germantown was a special case. It had been settled in October 1683 by a group of thirteen families from Krefeld on the Rhine, and laid out like a European town with closely grouped lots strung along Germantown Road. The town lots were too small to be labeled with owners’ names, so once again Holme simply called the whole thing “German township Jacob Vandewall and company”. 5

It has been said that, “All maps are ideological statements about the world”. 6 Because most of the Welsh, Swedes, and Germans were omitted from the map, it has the effect of making the province seem more English. The tracts so neatly outlined and labeled make the land seem settled, tamed. The wilderness and its native inhabitants have been pushed back to the margins. The land has been advertised as safe for Englishmen, both settlers and investors.

  1. Klinefelter
  2. Lemon, Best Poor Man’s Country
  3. Technically the owner of a manor had feudal privileges like holding a court-baron, but no one in Pennsylvania used these in practice. See Soderlund, page 49.
  4. The Manatus map of New Amsterdam was very early and showed names of some landowners, but it is quite different from Holme’s map in content and design.
  5. For the unique nature of Germantown, see Urban Village by Stephanie Grauman Wolf.
  6. John Overholt, curator of rare books and manuscripts at Harvard, “Harvard finds 1769 New Jersey Map…”, New York Times, January 2, 2016.

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.

Laying out the countryside

William Penn had definite ideas for how Philadelphia should look. He also knew how his countryside should look. Instead of scattered farms on widely separated plots, he wanted the people grouped together into communities, for “Society, assistance, Busy Commerce, Instruction of Youth, Government of Peoples manners, Conveniency of Religious Assembing, Encouragement of Mechanicks, distinct and beaten roads”. 1

Penn specified one way to accomplish this.  “We have another Method … “Five hundred acres are allotted for the Village, which among ten families, comes to fifty acres each. This lies square, and on the outside of the Square stand the houses, with their fifty acres running back, where ends meeting make the Centre of the 500 acres as they are to the whole. Before the doors of the Houses lies the High way, and cross it, every man’s 450 acres of Land that makes up his complement of 500, so that the Conveniency of neighborhood is made agreeable with that of the Land.” 2

This is not very clear, but the idea might be something like the layout of Newtown township in Bucks County.

Newtown in sepia

You see the plots radiating out from the center. You also see that the neat geometry that Penn imagined was interrupted by the natural geography, in this case Neshaminy Creek. Other factors could also interfere with the idea of neat rectangles. The townships along the Delaware River had tracts that were particularly long and skinny, to give more settlers access to the valuable river frontage. Germantown grew up as a linear village, strung out along an existing road. 3 Some land in Chester and Philadelphia Counties had to accommodate existing rights of the Swedes, whose lands were sometimes irregular in shape.

The three counties — Philadelphia, Chester and Bucks– were laid out early, although their precise boundaries were not specified at first. Some of the townships were laid out and named early as well, especially those in the southern part of each county, where settlement was densest. Penn wanted a one-tenth share in each township reserved for him, but Holme admitted to Penn that he had neglected this under pressure from settlers who wanted the land.

The other requirement for Penn was for contiguous settlement, with no gaps between tracts as the land was laid out. His surveyors were to start with existing lots like the ones along the rivers and to proceed inland in an orderly way. For the most part, settlement proceeded as he wished, with one notorious exception that almost cost Holme his job. In 1686 Charles Pickering, a Philadelphia merchant who had been convicted of counterfeiting in 1683, learned from an Indian of mineral deposits in northern Chester County. The word got around, and John Gray, a colorful character who may have been a lapsed Benedictine monk, tried to get a survey for the deposits. He persuaded Thomas Fairman, one of Holme’s assistants who looked out for his own interests, to lay out the survey, far beyond any existing surveyed land. Holme found out and determined to follow Penn’s instructions. He ran a series of surveys in a chain, leading north from existing tracts and ending up in Pickering’s site. When Penn found out, he was furious at the irregular survey, partly because he wanted land with lucrative mineral deposits reserved for him. He wrote to the commissioners that “Thomas deserves … to loose his office if I am rightly informed.” 4 Holme wrote to Penn (who was back in England at this time) and placated him. In any case, after all the furor, the mine came to nothing.

  1.  Albert Cook Myers, Narratives of Early Pennsylvania West New Jersey and Delaware, “A Further Account of Pennsylvania”, p. 263.
  2. Myers, p. 263
  3. S. G. Wolf, Urban Village
  4. Minutes of the Board of Property, Book C, in Penna. Archives, series 2, volume XIX, p. 7.

The green country town that never was

In 1681 William Penn was “extraordinarily busy” on behalf of his new colony, but he was not yet ready to leave England. He needed someone to deal with the land in his place, so he appointed commissioners. They had to select a site for the town, negotiate with the Indians and buy the land, begin to sell and lay out land to the purchasers. It was a big responsibility and he chose men he trusted, seasoned older men with experience—his cousin William Crispin, Nathaniel Allen, John Bezer, and William Haige. They prepared to sail to Pennsylvania and assume their new job. 1

“His Philadelphia was to be a city such as the world had never seen (and never would see).” 2

Penn had a vision for his town. It would be as unlike London as possible. A line of country houses, each one on its spacious plot, surrounded by orchards and fields, set well back from river — this was his idea, “a green country town which will never be burnt and always be wholesome.” Any Londoner Penn’s age would remember the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. His spacious green city would not suffer such a fate. 3


He had promised the First Purchasers that they would get a bonus lot in the city, one acre for every fifty acres purchased. To keep his promise if all 500,000 acres were sold, he would need 10,000 acres. He sent the commissioners with detailed instructions for picking out a suitable tract. It was to be in a place where the Delaware was navigable, and the bank “high, dry and healthy”. Marshy places would breed disease and offer poor moorage for ships. Ships should be able to load and unload at the river bank, and there should be a creek for smaller boats to unload. Preferably it would be open land, not taken up and settled already, but if the most convenient place was already taken up, the commissioners were to persuade the owners to trade some waterside land for land further back. This was the charge Penn gave the commissioners as he sent them on their way in the fall of 1681. 4

As it turned out, being one of Penn’s commissioners was not a healthy thing. William Crispin never reached Pennsylvania and died on the way. To replace him, Penn turned to Thomas Holme, an Englishman who had fought in Cromwell’s army when it subdued Ireland. Holme stayed on after the campaign ended in 1653 and became a Quaker. As a soldier he worked as an engineer and a surveyor. As a Quaker he spent time in Dublin prison with Quaker merchants like Samuel Claridge and Robert Turner. Penn made Holme his Surveyor General, with broad responsibility. Holme sailed in the summer of 1682 on the Amity with his children and servants, ready to join the other three commissioners and to lay out the province. 5

When the commissioners arrived and looked for sites for the town, they did not find virgin land on the river. The land on the Delaware had been settled for almost fifty years by a mix of Swedes and Finns, part of a little colony sent out from Sweden in the 1630s. There were only a few hundred of them when the Quakers arrived, but their lands were spread out along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, leaving no large tract unsettled between New Castle and the falls of the Delaware near later-day Trenton. To get a large tract on the Delaware the commissioners would have to bargain with landowners. Looking for the best option, the commissioners chose a site owned by Swan Swanson and his sons, on the Delaware north of Upland. It was well provided with small streams, heavily wooded and had a high bank. In addition it had a cove where small boats could be moored. To buy out the Swansons the commissioners offered twice as much land up the Schuylkill. This would give Penn 300 acres for his city, with a fine high bank along the Delaware. Another purchase, from Peter Cock and Peter Rambo, extended the tract to 1200 acres. Why didn’t the commissioners buy more land? The answer was probably in Penn’s instructions to them, where he urged them to “Be as sparing as ever you can.” Penn did not want to spend more than he needed to, and buying 10,000 acres on the Delaware would have meant buying out many more owners. 6

Because the tract was smaller than the 10,000 that Penn originally planned, he could not give the First Purchasers the bonus lots he had promised them.  The solution to this problem was to give the bonus land in two pieces — a city lot and a larger tract north and west of the city, in what is now the Northern Liberties. There is no record of what the First Purchasers thought of this compromise, but their actions spoke for them. Many of them sold their rights in the Liberties to others, keeping the valuable city lots instead.

With the site chosen and the promise of bonus land kept,  the plan of the city was set, and the way was clear for people to claim their lots, build houses and wharves and warehouses, and begin the process of making Penn’s green town into a bustling center of trade and commerce.

  1. Jean Soderlund, William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania, p. 82.
  2. Richard Ryerson, “William Penn’s Commissioners”, PA Genealogical Magazine, 1981-82, vol. 32.
  3. Soderlund, p. 85. The image is from the Wikipedia entry for the Great Fire. The painting is by an unknown artist.
  4. Soderlund, pp. 83-85.
  5. Silvio Bedini, Thomas Holme (1624-1695) Pennsylvania’s First Surveyor-General
  6. Hannah Benner Roach, “The Planting of Philadelphia part 1”, PA Magazine of History & Biography, 1968, volume 92, pp. 13-15, 23. Soderlund, p. 204.

How it all started

In 1682 William Penn was in the business of selling land. He had a lot to sell, having received the province of Pennsylvania as a grant from King George the year before. Penn needed to raise money to cover his debts, and he wanted settlers for the land, especially Quakers, who were battered by persecution in England. Hauled into court, thrown into prison, and pestered by fines and seizure of their goods and crops, many were eager to leave for the freedom of Penn’s province.

Others were intrigued by Pennsylvania land as an investment. Wealthy merchants, some Quakers and some not, did not plan to emigrate themselves, but wanted land to place settlers on or as a base for commerce. A few had dreams of commercial empires based on fur trading and whaling.

The buyers, whatever their motivation, wanted to see what they were getting. Penn needed something to show them, and after a few years’ delay he finally got what he needed—a map. His surveyor general, Thomas Holme, drafted it and sent it to England to be printed. Penn and his business agents were pleased, and future historians were delighted, for this map was unique and wonderful. It showed the geography of the province, with its rivers, the mighty Delaware and flowing Schuylkill, and many streams. But it also laid out the land owners. By 1685 much of the lower counties, Chester, Philadelphia, and Bucks, had been bought from the Indians and sold to the settlers. The map showed their holdings, in tidy blocks, each one labelled with a name.

Who are the names on the map? With some digging through records it is possible to pin down their identity, find whether they were Quaker or not, see whether they emigrated and what they did for a living. This paints a rich and fine-grained portrait of the early landowners. But there is something missing — the people who are not on the map. Holme lumped the Germans together into the German township without naming them, did the same with the Welsh in Radnor and Haverford, and did the same with the Swedes along the Delaware River. This had the effect of making the province seem more homogeneous and English, whether Holme intended this or not. More seriously, the map largely omits the women, the servants, the slaves, and the native peoples. They are the faces hiding behind the white male landowners.

This study will look at everyone: the landowners, the unnamed Germans and Swedes and Welsh, the women, the slaves and indentured servants, the native Lenni Lenape. It will use data to tell a collective story, and individual stories to bring characters to life, like Elizabeth Shorter, cheated by her son-in-law, or Philip Theodore Lehnmann, Penn’s hapless private secretary, who almost caused him to lose the city of Philadelphia in the boundary dispute with Lord Baltimore.