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The Welsh Tract in Pennsylvania Considered Especially in Regard to

The Causal Inclusion Therein of Easttown and Tredyffrin

 

By Franklin L. Burns

 

Published by Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society

History Quarterly Digital Archives

January 1982, Volume 20, Number 1, Pages 3-11

 

 

This article is an unpublished paper from the collection of the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club. While its author is not indicated, it is believed to have been written by Franklin L. Burns

 

A Note on Welsh Names - "Our social home makes sisters three, Verse, scholarship, and history."  "What ancients teach; The Cymeric speech; All memories of the good and great.  These three must bards perpetuate."  (English translation of Welsh proverbs)

 

When William Penn received the royal charter for Pennsylvania from Charles II, March 4th, 1681, in lieu of a debt due Penn's father, the Admiral, John ap John, the first and chief disciple of Quakerism in Wales, received early tidings of the event, doubtless from George Fox, the English founder of the faith. He thereupon headed a number of Welsh gentlemen, all of the new belief, to interview William Penn, of Worminghurst in the County of Sussex, in May of the same year.  The conferees included these well-known gentlemen:

 

John ap John, Ruabon, Denbeighshire

Dr. Thomas Wynne, Cherwye, Flintshire

Dr. Griffith Owen, Dolserre, Merionethshire

Richard ap Thomas, Whitford Game, Flintshire

Dr. Edward Jones, Bala, Merionethshire

John ap Thomas, Llaithgwm, Merionethshire

Hugh Roberts, Llanvawr, Merionethshire

Thomas Ellis, Dolserre, Merionethshire

John Roberts, Dongelly, Merionethshire

Robert Owen, Tyddyn y Garreg, Merionethshire

Charles Lloyd, Dolobran, Montgomeryshire

Richard ap Davies, Welshpool, Montgomeryshire

John ap Evan, Treferigg, Glamorganshire

Edward ap Richard, Almeley, Herefordshire

Lewis ap David, Llandewy Velfry, Pembrokeshire

William Jenkin, Tenby, Pembrokeshire

John Burge, Haverford-West, Pembrokeshire

 

It is not known in what order individually, or in groups, the above Welsh Quakers arrived to hold conference with Penn, but it may be assumed that they represented the Meetings of which they were leading members, as well as themselves individually. They found that aristocratic Quaker, and favored courtier of the Court, engaged in the gigantic land promotion scheme of the age, anxious to dispose of his land in blocks of 5,000 acres, according to the Dutch plan of patroon concessions or townships, and most willing to promise or ally any reasonable condition the Welsh desired.

 

Therefore, under certain arrangements orally granted, as the Welsh Friends later asserted (and there seems to be no doubt that they exacted conditions even though they neglected to have them reduced to writing and signed and sealed), a syndicate or association of seven companies engaged to take 30,000 acres at once, the sponsors or trustees being in nearly every instance the same as the members of the delegations already mentioned.  Another 10,000 acres were engaged conditionally, with an additional 10,000 acres subsequently sold by Penn's agents, making a grand total of 50,000 acres in the Welsh Tract.

 

Penn's original price was 100 pounds sterling for each 5,000 acres, subject to an annual quit rent of one shilling per 100 acres, payable by or on the first of March, forever. There was some delay in giving the exact location of the grants, though it was understood or agreed upon that the land of the Welsh Friends should be contiguous and, furthermore, according to the purchasers, it should be subject to the local government of the Welsh Quakers, in which they could set up their own laws and regulations in their own language without becoming entangled in the legal verbosity of an unfamiliar tongue.

 

The patents for the original 30,000 acres were nearly all of the same date in September 1681, Seventeen Friends, one a woman, subscribed to the purchase of 5,000 acres for Company 1.  They were the first to arrive, on August 13th, 1682, on the ship "Lyon" at Upland.  The party included Dr. Edward Jones, Robert ap David, William ap Edward, and Edward ap Rees. Their allotment of land was in Merion and Goshen.  The next arrivals were John ap Evan (or John Bevan) and his family and party, on the "Morning Star", on November 16th, 1682.  They were allotted the 2,000 acres of Company 3 in Haverford, Radnor, Marple and Newtown.

 

Charles Lloyd, of Company 2, did not leave home, but conveyed his interest to his brother Thomas, a lawyer, who became the keeper of the Great Seal for Penn and later proved the most contentious for his rights and those of the Welsh Friends.  He, with Margaret Davies, a widow, received land in Merion.  The Quaker evangelist, John ap John, also did not come over, but Dr. Thomas Wynne, of Company 4, found their land variously apportioned from Merion to Middletown, Goshen and Tredyffrin. Wynne had been a cooper by trade, but he related that when he was learned enough to set up a human skeleton with some assistance, the doctors thought fit to license him to practice medicine.

 

Lewis ap David, gentleman, of Company 5, had his 3,000 acres in Haverford, Marple and Radnor.

Richard ap Thomas, of Company 6, died shortly after his arrival, and his son Richard Thomas, a lad of ten years when he landed November 16th, 1683, lost his allotment in Newtown by bad surveys, sold his part in Goshen, and eventually settled on the balance of his inheritance in Whiteland.  

 

Finally, Richard ap Davies, of Company 7, also did not leave home, but his purchase was located in various tracts in Merion, Radnor, Newtown and Goshen.  Thus the "First Purchasers" or early Welsh emigrants flocked to the western shore of the Delaware and were thrust out into the wilderness, without even an Indian trail to guide them to parts of their land.  They were a sturdy, worthy people, perhaps more clannish, argumentative, and less progressive than the English, and it has been hinted that some were constitutionally opposed to hard labor.  Few of them were satisfied with the situation of their land. Many protested the parceling of their tracts in remote sections of the province, and complained of the failure to define clearly the boundary lines of the Welsh purchase.  Belatedly, on the 13th day of the 1st month, 1684, Penn gave Thomas Holmes the authority to make a survey, with these instructions:

 

 

"Whereas Divers considerable persons among ye Welsh Friends have requested me yt all ye Lands Purchased of me by those of North Wales and South Wales, together with ye adjoining counties to ym as Herefordshire, Shropshire and Chesire, about forty thousand acres, may be ley'd out contiguously as one Barony, alledging yt ye number allready come and suddenly to come, are such as will be capable of planting ye same much within ye proportion allowed by ye custom of ye country & so not lye in large useless vaciencies,

 

"And because I am inclined and determined to agree and favor ym with any reasonable Conveniency and priviledges:- I do hereby charge thee and strictly require thee to lay out ye sd tract of Land in as uniform a manner as conveniently may be, upon ye west side of Skoolkill river, running three miles upon ye same, and two miles backward, & then extend ye parallel with the river six miles, and to run westwardly so far as this ye sd quantity of land be Completely surveyed unto ym."

 

 

It is not known why the surveyor failed to follow the instructions of his superior insofar as the bounds were concerned.  Perhaps the allocation of land had so dispersed the Welsh settlers that he feared to leave any considerable number on the outside.  Under the Surveyor-General's instructions, his deputy, David Powell, laid out the Tract in the method of townships later decided by the Governor, at five thousand acres, more or less, for each township. But it was not until the 25th of the 5th month, 1687, that the exact bounds were defined and made known to the public.  

 

This survey included Lower Merion, a part of Upper Merion, Haverford, Radnor, Tredyffrin, Easttown, Newtown, Willistown, East and West Whiteland, East and West Goshen, and a part of Westtown townships in the so-called Welsh Barony.  Of this area, the Welsh Quakers controlled politically only Merion, Haverford and Radnor.  The shrewd system of Penn's Land Commissioners had placed some of the land grants of the Welsh Quakers in Marple, Middletown, and elsewhere outside of the area of the Welsh Tract, while they had granted land in Easttown, Newtown, Willistown and other townships within the Welsh Tract to English Quakers, and thus prevented the consolidation the Welsh Friends desired and claimed. Perhaps it could not have been avoided.

 

Easttown and Tredyffrin townships, in the very heart of the Welsh Barony, had few or none of the Welsh Friends as their first purchasers.  Easttown was entirely in the possession of three English speculators, while Tredyffrin was held in reserve for some reason.  Land in Merion was most in demand, and the early settlers, perhaps for the reason it lay contiguous to Penn's "Greene Town", considered it the most desirable.  While Upland, or Chester, was the principal place of debarkation for the earlier settlers, rumors that Holmes would recommend that the principal town be located further up the Delaware at the Swede's farm called "Viccaco", brought about a rush of immigrants to locate within or near by the future city of Philadelphia.

 

Many were content to purchase 500 acres or less from the speculators, and the more affluent were attended by trains of needy relatives, ostensibly as servants, who were eager to partake of Penn's bounty of 50 acres and his guarantee of religious liberty.  Here they set up their family altars without interference, and for a time well might Maria Jones, their poetess, sing "I hear Jehovah's praise in Cymric's native tongue", for the Society of Friends sooner or later erected meetinghouses in every township within the Welsh Tract, save only Easttown.  Preaching in Welsh took place in Merion, Haverford, Radnor, and perhaps other townships.  In these same meeting houses the Welsh Quakers also conducted the business of local government, unofficially, by their elders, as well as the conduct and spiritual welfare of their people.

 

A resolution was passed by the Provincial Executive Council as early as April 1st, 1685, in which Haverford and Radnor were separated from Merion, with the former placed in Chester County and the latter remaining in Philadelphia (now Montgomery) County.  Pending Penn's approval, however, it was not enforced until March 25th, 1689 when, during the absence of President Lloyd, it was reaffirmed by the Deputy Governor Blackwell, and the majority of the Council.  It was a tremendous blow to the Welsh Quakers, since it rent in twain politically the most populous townships of the Welsh Tract.  The people of Haverford and Radnor refused to submit to the authority of Chester County, voted for candidates in the Philadelphia district, and for a time caused much unpleasantness.  It was a practical demonstration of another Welsh proverb,

 

"Handsome slices can we make

When we cut our neighbor's cake."

 

 

The Land Commissioners (Markham, Turner, Carpenter and Goodson) dealt the final blow to the Welsh Quaker domination of the area when, on October 25th, 1690, they passed a resolution,

 

"Resolved, that notice be given unto David Powell, or some other purchaser concerned in said trust, that they show cause why the land, not laid out, or not seated and improved, within said tract, according to regulation, may not be disposed of as other Lands, within the Province."

 

Owen Griffith and others replied at length, in a quaint and dignified manner, of which the following contains the gist:

 

"Wee, the inhabitants of the Welsh tract in the Province of Pennsylvania, in America, being Descendants of the Ancient Britons, who always in the land of our Nativity, under the Crown of England, have Enjoyed that Liberty and priviledge as to our bounds and Limits to ourselves, within which all Quarrels, Crimes, and Tittles were tryed and wholly Determined by officers, Magistrates, Juries of our own language, which were our equals,

 

"Having our faces toward these Countrys; made the motion to our Gov'r that we might Enjoy the same here, which thing was soon granted by him, before he or we ever came to these parts.  And soon the 40,000 acres were Surveyed out, and by his own warr't Confirmed by several orders from the Commiss's of ye Property and Settled upon already with near four score Settlements, and, as we had good grounds to believe, if the way had been clear from troubles, there might have been so many Settlers upon it, by this time, as in Reason it could Contain.

 

"For we can declare, with an open face to God and Man, that we Desired to be by ourselves for no other End, or purpose but that we might live together as a Civill Society, to endeavor to decide all Controversies and debates amongst ourselves in Gospell order, and not to entangle ourselves with Laws in an unknown Tongue, as also to preserve our Language, that we might ever keep Correspondence with our friends in the land of our Nativity.

 

"Therefore, our request is, That you be tender, not only of violating the Governor's promises to us, but also of being Instrumental of depriving us of the thing, which were the Chief Motives and Inducement to bring us here. ... And then we shall with all readiness become responsible for the Quit-rent accruing to the Proprietor, the Commencement thereof we shall refer and submit to his Consideration, and if our reasonable desires be not answered, but our antagonists Gratified by our being exposed to the uncertainties that may attend, wee shall chose, rather than Contest, to suffer and appeal our Cause to God, and to our friends in England."

 

On May 2nd, 1691, the day appointed for the final answer, there appeared Griffith Owen, Hugh Roberts, Robert Owen, John Sevan, and others of the First Purchasers who stated that they were willing to pay henceforth quit-rent for the whole 40,000 acres, but not since the date of the survey.  This was the bone of contention.  Their answer not being satisfactory, it was resolved that the land already laid out in said tracts unto other purchasers be confirmed unto them.

 

In "D. Powel's Acct. of ye Welch Purchasers in Genl" he lists forty-one grants in his "Account of the purchasers Concurned in the Welch Tract Granted by Generall War't by wich the Tract was laid out and such lands as hath bin laid by war'ts Dulle Executed within same and ist of ye said English Parishes, The whole Comp'nt 50,000 acres". Powell's own allotment in lieu of cash for surveying, is given as 1,000 acres in Radnor, and he secured in Tredyffrin alone, between 1704 and 1708, seven tracts, in aggregate 2,036 acres, most of which he no doubt disposed of at a profit. (For although his spelling may have left much to be desired, his calling was favorable to a shrewd estimate of good farming land.)

 

The Welsh Quakers were not alone in their desire to establish an all-Welsh community.  In 1718 and 1719, a number of members of the St. David' s Church, including Philip David (or Davies), William Davis and Thomas Edwards of Easttown, removed to the Conestoga Valley and established an Episcopal Church at Churchtown in Lancaster County, in a second attempt to be alone.

 

The Land Commissioners gave the death blow to a possible clan of hyphenated citizens of the great Welsh Tract, even though the Welsh had dwelt for ages in proximity to the English and had managed to preserve their own peculiar language, a tongue forgotten here in less than three generations. The English language has certainly proved to be more apt and expressive, or many Welsh words would have survived among the numerous descendants of the Welsh settlers.  It is true that we have some beautiful geographic names derived from Welsh sources - Cynwyd, Bala, Llanerch, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Radnor, Berwyn, Duffryn Mawr, Tredyffrin - but I know of only one word commonly used in a corrupted form; it is "pink", from the Cymeric "pwne", meaning "acme", as in "the pink of perfection".

 

It should be remarked that the Welsh Quaker companies never controlled a square foot of land in Easttown, and only a part of Tredyffrin, although both townships were in the heart of the Welsh concession, and later saw a preponderance of Welsh owners and inhabitants.  Easttown was apportioned early.  A surveyor's line, the well-known Welsh line, extended across the township in a line from the middle of the Newtown Street Road, and into Tredyffrin as far as Swedesford Road.  In Easttown some 1050 acres were alloted to James Claypoole, a friend of Penn's [a member of the Free Society of Traders, and the first Prothonotary of Philadelphia] as part of his 5,000 acre grant.  The remainder of the township (all west of the Welsh line) was taken by William Wood, later of Marple, and William Snarlow, a prosperous merchant of London, a total of 3,330 acres.  Thus these three English speculators became the owners of the township in its entirety.

 

"East Town", as it was originally written, was so called from its position in the county, and like Tredyffrin, it is complete in name without adding the superfluous and reiterative "Township".  Tredyffrin is Welsh, from "Tre" (town) and "dyffrin" (a wide cultivated valley), and hence was Valleytown in old English writing.  It was written "Treyrdyffrin" in 1715, "Tre:yr:Duffrin" in 1722, "Treddyffryn" in 1737, and "Tredytsryn" in 1760, and also as "Treardyffrin" and "Tudyfrins" as it appears in corrupted state on documents and tombstones of colonial time.

 

In 1740 Lewis Evans recorded upon his map the region between the two ranges of hills, now known as the Great Chester Valley, as "y Duffryn Mawr" (the Great Valley).  The original Welsh Quakers, members of the Companies concerned in the purchase of the Welsh Tract, were granted a part of their land in Tredyffrin, which in the aggregate equaled an average township in size.  Penn's agents shrewdly threw in some badland with the good, so all the valley farms also had wood lots on the North or South Valley Hills, land considered useless for farming purposes.  Few of the original grantees made actual settlement in Tredyffrin.  The list, so far as known, included:

 

Richard ap Thomas' right to 5,000 acres, 1681, transferred 1705 to Richard Howell  200 A.

Dr. Thomas Wynne's right to 5,000 acres, 1681, transferred 1708 to David Powell  350 A.

Lewis David's right to 3,000 acres, 1681, transferred 1706 to Henry Lewis   352 A.

William Mordant (or Mordaunt), 1681       500 A.

William Powell, in right of his 1,250 acres, 1681      500 A.

Richard Hunt's right, 1681, transferred 1684 to William Beach    400 A.

John Taylor's right to 750 acres, 1681, transferred to John Griffith    250 A.

Cadwalder Jones, by right of his mother       100 A.

John Cadwalader (described as a Yoeman of the Great Valley)    500 A.

John Weale, 1682         200 A.

John Kinsey, 1684, patented 1702 and sold the same year to Lev/is Walker   539 A.

Henry Jones, 1684         200 A.

Rees Rhythry, 1684         250 A.

Elizabeth & Jane Potts, 1684        100 A.

John Hart, 1685          1,000 A.

 

A goodly proportion of the above were of Welsh origin, and of these there appear a number of well-known Quakers.  It is not known definitely, but it is presumed that a large proportion of the early grantees of land in this, the largest township in the county, forfeited their rights according to the contract because of non-settlement.  It is also possible that the syndicate over-estimated its ability to settle and improve all the land it had contracted for.  It is well known that this was not the only Welsh Tract, and that their countrymen were being diverted to land east of the Schuylkill River also.

 

The Welsh had been accustomed to stout walls of stone in the land of their birth, and in the New World they lost little time before exchanging the log cabin for a home of stone, snug and comfortable against a northern bank if possible, and with a great chimney and cellar within.  Their countrymen were not famous for any distinctive style of architecture, yet their farmhouses seemed to fit into the landscape as typical of the Colonial period in Pennsylvania.  Even after the passing from the father to the son of the burden of labor, and the necessary addition (or additions) to the original house, the whole managed to retain a pleasing style.

 

The Welsh Quakers were never able to settle Easttown and Tredyffrin with more than a minority of their own sect; the larger part was inhabited by Welsh Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Baptists, and with an ever-increasing English speaking population.  The history, the social, and the spiritual life of these early Welsh settlers rest in the records of the Valley Friends, Great Valley Presbyterian, Great Valley Baptist, Radnor and Montgomery (St. David's and St. Peter's) Episcopal meeting houses, for the settlers were too busy felling trees and harvesting the lush crops to record passing events.

 

It was a hardy race of settlers who, after a week or fortnight of hard labor, found time to make their long arduous way through the backwoods to the their place of worship of their own creed, to make even these records available today.

 

A Note on Welsh Names

 

After the establishment of Christianity in Wales, many Biblical names were adopted by the Welsh. A proud Welsh gentleman possessed of a retentive memory might, thus, be identified personally by a recitation of his pedigree, as, for instance, "James ap (son of) John ap Hugh ap Thomas ap David" etc., in a seemingly endless genealogy.

 

When family names or surnames were adopted, the transition was simple enough in many cases: James ap John became James John, Thomas ap David became Thomas David.  When many of the names later became Anglicized, John in turn became Jones, David became Davis or Davies, Hywel was changed to Howell, Harry to Harris, Gryffydd to Griffith, Llew to Lewis, Llwyd to Lloyd, C-wain to Owen, Rhys to Rees, Rholyn to Rowland, and so forth.

 

In a similar manner, ap Richard became Pritchard or Prichard, ap Evan was changed to Bevan, ap Harry to Parry, ap Hugh to Pugh, ap Howell to Powell, etc.  Thus many Welsh names are simply a reflection, sometimes Anglicized, of a part of the family tree.