Biography of Thomas James (1690-1753)
By Larry P. James
Thomas James was born around the year 1690 although the exact date of his birth is unknown. He was the son of David James, a Welshman and a Quaker, who immigrated from Radnorshire, Wales with his wife Margaret and arrived in Philadelphia on October 28, 1682. Thomas’ presumed mother, Margaret, is reported to be of the Mortimer family. The Mortimer family was English and they were descendants of the former Earls of March. Thomas’ father David settled lands in Radnor Township, which is located in present day Chester County but then was part of Philadelphia County and originally referred to as the “Welsh Tract.” His father worked the land upon which he settled until the time of his death on June 7, 1739. It was here in Radnor Township that Thomas is believed to be born.
Thomas was the eldest son and second of six known children. There are no known records concerning Thomas’ childhood, but his elder sister Mary who would marry John David or “Davies” was reportedly born in Wales and made the journey across the Atlantic with her parents David and Margaret in 1682. Thus, it would stand to reason that Thomas was the first child born to David and Margaret in the Welsh Tract. Four more siblings followed Thomas and they include Rebecca who is known to have married John Miles, the son of Richard Miles and Sarah Evans; Sarah who is known to have married John Thomas, a Baptist Minister who preached in neighboring Montgomery Township; a brother named Isaac; and another brother named Evan who is known to have married Margaret Jones, the daughter of Griffith and Catherine John. In addition to his siblings, Thomas had several cousins born form the marriage of his aunt Margaret James to Samuel Miles who also immigrated to Pennsylvania and settled in Radnor Township within the Welsh Tract. These cousins included Thamar James Miles; Phebe Miles and Ruth Miles.
Thomas was married twice during his lifetime. His first wife, Mary Jones, was the sister of Margaret Jones mentioned above and also the daughter of Griffith and Catherine John. Thus it appears that the Thomas and his brother Evan married sisters. Thomas marriage to Mary Jones occurred around the year 1738. Mary bore Thomas three children including Enoch, born circa 1739; Leah, born circa 1743; and, Elias, born circa 1745. According to the records of Isaac Cleaver, Clerk for the Great Valley Baptist Church in Devon, Pennsylvania, Mary died on February 18, 1745, the same year she gave birth to her third and final child, Elias James. Mary was only 29 years old at the time of her death and was laid to rest along side her parents in the cemetery of the Great Valley Baptist Church.
Thomas second marriage to Sarah Henderson occurred around the year 1749. Thomas would have been about 59 years old at that time. Sarah was the daughter of Alexander and Jane Henderson of Upper Marion Township, Philadelphia County. Prior to his demise in 1753, Sarah bore Thomas two more children: Daniel James, born circa 1750; and Jonathan James, born in July of 1751. Sarah survived Thomas and would go on as a widow to marry Andrew Crawford and through him bear at least two more children as identified in the last will and testaments of their grandparents. These children included Alexander Crawford and Sarah Crawford.
Upon their arrival in Pennsylvania in 1682, Thomas’ parents David and Margaret James were respected members of the Society of Friends. Thomas’ ancestors had been Quakers for several generations and according to the works of Besse had even been persecuted for their nonconformist faith. This was the tradition from which his family came. Thomas’ formidable years as a child saw the influence of profound events and personalities that would reshape and redirect James family religious affiliations. Throughout this period of change, however, Thomas and his family nevertheless maintained a solid foundation in Christ and the Church.
Within the Great Valley Baptist Church in Devon, Pennsylvania are the original manuscripts of one of the Church’s most prolific record keeping clerks, Isaac Cleaver. According to his records of the early days of the Great Valley Baptist Church both Thomas and his brother Evan James married the daughters of Griffith and Catherine John. Evan James married Margaret Jones on June 8, 1739. However, by that date Thomas was already married to Margaret’s sister Mary Jones who gave birth to their first child in that same year. Precisely when Thomas married Mary is not known, however, the two did appear as husband and wife at the wedding of Evan and Margaret.
According to the annals of Isaac Cleaver, Griffith John or “Jones” as he was known upon the books of the church and among the Welsh who settled the Great Valley made and received deeds of conveyance of land under the name of Griffith Jones. He made his will by the name of Griffith John. On his tombstone he is called Griffith Jones. From a bequest he received in the name of Griffith John, Jr., it was assumed that his father in Wales was also called Griffith John. Griffith was, before his immigration to America, an ordained deacon of the Rhydwill M. Church of Caermarthenshire, Wales. He was well known to Reverend Hugh Davis, the first pastor of the Great Valley Baptist Church who emigrated in 1710 and to the other original constituent members. Griffith arrived in Pennsylvania in February 1712, just 10 months after the church was constituted.
In April 1711, the Great Valley Baptist Church was organized and the members were careful to choose two ruling elders but omitted to choose a deacon. As the church book states, the members made use of Alexander Owen, one of the ruling elders, to be deacon until Griffith John came from the Church of Christ at Rhydwillum. There, Griffith was already an ordained deacon and was received as such upon his arrival. Griffith was born in the year 1671 and died November 25, 1753. He was forty years of age when he and his wife Catherine arrived in America. Thomas first wife Mary would not be born to Griffith and Catherine John until 1716, four years after their arrival.
Upon his arrival, Griffith immediately settled in the Great Valley within less than a mile of the place where the meetinghouse of the Great Valley Baptist Church stood. On this farm he remained until his death. This is where Thomas first wife Mary Jones was born and where she grew up prior to her marriage to Thomas. Griffith’s wife Catherine John died on February 4, 1748. Both Griffith and Catherine were buried in the cemetery that surrounds the Great Valley Baptist Church. Their tombstones can be still located there, side by side, to this very day.
The church records of Isaac Cleaver kept at the Great Valley Baptist Church also report several other important events and dates concerning Thomas and his family. For example, the records of Isaac Cleaver report that both Thomas and his brother Evan were baptized in the Church. Although the date of Thomas baptism is not given, it appears that Evan was baptized in 1733. The record also reveals that Thomas first wife Mary was baptized in the church as well. Mary is reported as having died on February 18, 1745, the same year she gave birth to her third and final child, Elias James. Mary was only 29 years old at the time of her death. The church records kept by Isaac Cleaver also report that Thomas himself died on January 15, 1753, a date that corresponds with known estate and court records.
In 1737 both Thomas and his father David James are listed on a document entitled “A Subscription Towards the Supporting of ye Ministry in ye Great Valley In the Year 1737.” Both men are listed as contributing three pence to the support of the ministry at the Great Valley Baptist Church.
IV. Recorded Events:
On June 8, 1739, as noted above, Thomas and his first wife Mary attended the wedding of Thomas’ younger brother Evan James and Margaret Jones, the biological sister of Thomas’ wife Mary. The wedding took place at the Baptist Church in the Great Valley situated in Devon, Pennsylvania. John Davis, Minister for the Church, solemnized the couple’s vows. Present at the wedding were several friends and family including Thomas’ father David James and the parents of Thomas’ wife Mary, Griffith and Catherine John. Also present at this wedding was Thomas’ sister Rebecca who was married to John Miles. Quite likely Thomas’ other two sisters were also present, Mary and Sarah.
Noticeably absent from the list of individuals present at the wedding of Evan and Margaret was the then present wife of Thomas’ father Jane. According to the records of Isaac Cleaver, Jane James, widow of David James died on January 25, 1751.
V. Land Holdings:
Prior to his father’s passing Thomas was given lands by his father known as “Small Springs” in Upper Merion Township. Upon this land consisting of approximately 200 acres, Thomas would build his plantation. Thomas is also reported to have held land situated near Valley Forge in the vicinity of Mt. Joy. It is clear that Thomas did not inherit the land his father settled in 1682. Rather, the land his father settled in Radnor Township was passed down by his father to his younger brother Evan who inherited the original family homestead.
According to the inventory of his estate dated January 29, 1753 at the time of his death Thomas James owned land and a plantation “computed to be 220 Acres” situated in Lower Merion in the County of Philadelphia. Included among his assets was a “note of hand from Alexander Henderson (his father-in-law) for 10 pounds, 4 shillings, six pence; a bond from Edward Powel for 100 pounds; and another bond from “T.” Powel for 125 pounds. Thomas` entire estate at the time of his death was appraised to be worth a total of 842 pounds, 18 shillings and 6 pence. The reason an inventory of Thomas’ estate was required was due to the fact that Thomas died without leaving a last will and testament, that is to say, Thomas died intestate. This was quite unusual for a man of Thomas’ wealth and suggests that his death may have been sudden and unexpected. It was very common for men such as Thomas in their elder years to prepare a last will and testament so that his estate would be distributed according to his desire upon his demise.
Very soon after Thomas death there was some quandary as to what would become of his five minor children. Three of Thomas’ children: Enoch aged fourteen years, Leah aged ten years, and Elias aged eight years were not the biological children of Thomas’ wife Sarah Henderson at the time of his passing. These were the children from Thomas’ prior marriage to Mary Jones who predeceased Thomas. Thomas’ two younger sons, Daniel aged three years and Jonathan who was about eighteen months old at the time of his father’s death were the biological children of Sarah. Consequently, the widow Sarah petitioned the Orphan Court of Philadelphia to assign guardians to Thomas’ three eldest children and requested that she be allowed to retain custody of the two youngest. Pursuant to Sarah’s petition the Court appointed John Davis, Benjamin Davis and Sarah as guardians to Leah, Elias, Daniel and Jonathan. Thomas’ eldest son Enoch James personally appeared before the Orphan Court and requested that Isaac Rees of Upper Merion Township, Yeoman might be appointed his guardian. This request of Enoch was granted by the Court.