The Impact of “A Rare and Pleasing Thing...”
On the History of David James
by Larry P. James
In 1977, the late Katharine Hewitt Cummin wrote the premier treatise on the early demographic history of Radnor Township, Pennsylvania entitled, “A Rare and Pleasing Thing: Radnor Demography (1798) and Development.” This work, published by Owlswick Press of Philadelphia, was a thorough study of Radnor based principally upon well preserved public land records and remains to this day an excellent source of early Radnor history.
In 1996 I attempted to contact Ms. Cummin for clarification of the information in her work pertaining to the early history of the James family. I was sadly disappointed to learn that Katharine had passed away and regretted not being able to discuss with her the fascinating history of early Radnor. Of particular interest to many James family historians such as myself is the passage in Katherine’s work pertaining to distant James family ancestor David James appearing on page 389 which states: “To Mrs. Thomas Potts James, daughter-in-law of Isaac James, there was no question. of the [James’] house’s antiquity when she wrote the Memorial of Thomas Potts Jr. (Cambridge, 1874). She.mentioned date stones hidden even in her day and assumed the first David James of Radnor ([parcel no.] 106) to have settled on the property in the 1680’s and to have fathered Evan James. Since the first David James died before 1702 and Evan’s father bought land ([parcels] 97-105) in 1718 they cannot be identical, although possibly related.” Although I do not believe that Ms. Cummin could have more accurately framed the issue of the two Davids given the public land records she was working with, I do regret her choice of words in drawing the conclusion that “they cannot be identical.”
Many inquiries have been received here at the Archives from family members asking us to reconcile Ms. Cummin’s statement with the records that suggest these two Davids were in fact one in the same. In April of 1997, I received a letter from a distant cousin of mine, Grover Buxton of Marietta, Ohio which read in part, “Some years ago on a visit to Pennsylvania I talked to Katherine Cummin, hoping that she could sort out the various David Jameses who seemed to thrive in the Welsh Tract. Unfortunately she was of no help.” After reading Ms. Cummin’s work, I have come to the conclusion that she was working with a tremendous amount of data pertaining to the early settlers of Radnor when she wrote her book. So much data, in fact, that it would have been impractical for her to dig too deep into the particular history of any one given Radnor family.
Had Ms. Cummin dug a little deeper into the history of the James family, she may have also learned that the first of these two David’s was a Quaker, whereas the second was a Baptist. Moreover, family records tend to suggest that the first David was born in 1660 and the second in 1669. There are a few interesting facts, however, that we have learned over
the past few years that help to give us a better understanding of the events that took place in Radnor Township in the late 1600’s and that may explain, or at least help us to understand some of the inconsistencies in the history of David James.
The first is the origin of the report of David’s death in 1702. This record, from which Ms. Cummin derived her information, originated with the Land Commissioner’s that William Penn left behind to manage his holdings after his return to England. The primary responsibility of these men and their record keeping was to ensure that William Penn would receive the land payments, fees and taxes that he levied upon the inhabitants of Pennsylvania after his return to England. It is no secret that the individuals who originally purchased land from William Penn and his distributors were very bitter about Penn’s attempt to tax them after they had already paid him once for the value of their land. It is also well documented that these earlier settlers attempted to avoid this taxation when and where they could.
The report of David’s 1702 death originally comes from one such record. That is, David’s 1702 death was originally recorded by Penn’s Land Commissioners in a transfer record between his daughter Mary and an individual by the name of Stephen ab Evan. One question I am presently exploring is whether land sales transfers between individuals during this time were taxed as well. The consequence of such a practice would have meant that if David wished to transfer land to his daughter Mary as a dowry prior to marriage and if Mary wished to sell that land to acquire the dowry, the land may very well have been subject to a double land transfer tax. However, if the land had been “inherited” from her father, it may have only been taxed on the single sales transfer from Mary to Stephen ab Evan. That is to say, I have not yet found evidence of an inheritance tax scheme in place in Pennsylvania during this time. Perhaps it so aggravated our early James family to be taxed twice on the transfer of land from David to Mary to Stephen ab Evan, that it was worth the trouble of fraudulently reporting David’s premature demise. Of course these are only questions presently without adequate answers. What is even more interesting, however, is where David’s 1702 death record does not come from. I find it very interesting that the report of David’s 1702 death does not originate from a tombstone, records of the local Quaker Monthly Meeting or from a family Bible.
Another very interesting event in Radnor’s early history that has bearing on the inconsistencies in the history of David James and the divergent reports of his faith is the Keithian Schism in the Quaker Church occurring in the last few years of the 17th Century. As reported on previous occasions, Samuel Miles of Radnor Township was the husband of Margaret James, the alleged sister of the David James who arrived in 1682. Both Samuel Miles and his brother Richard Miles are reported to have been “Keithian” Quakers prior to the point in time that George Keith abandoned his Quaker followers and joined the Anglican Church. Both the families of Richard Miles and Samuel Miles are reported as abandoning their Keithian division of the Quaker Church and counted thereafter as among the founders of the Great Valley Baptist Church which is located in present day Devon, Pennsylvania. In fact, the home of Richard Miles which was located in the heart of Old Radnor Township is where the local Baptist congregation met prior to the construction of their Church in Devon in 1711. It is also known to us that John Miles, the son of Richard Miles, married Rebecca James, the daughter of the David James that was buried in the Great Valley Baptist Church in 1739. It is very possible that David James the Quaker and his family turned from the Society of Friends and joined the church that the rest of his family was quickly adopting as their own. How this transition might have affected David’s dealings with Penn’s Land Commissioners in 1702 who were still predominantly Quakers is definitely something to consider. Was David James ostracized from the community he had originally known in Radnor Township when he abandoned the Quakers and joined the Baptist Church. As Ms. Cummin stated in her book, the Quakers were “[t]he oldest and most severe of local religions.”
Finally, it is worth noting that despite the very thorough nature of Ms. Cummin’s work in “A Rare and. Pleasing Thing,” Ms. Cummin was not completely informed. of “all” the land holdings of either the David who arrived in 1682 or the “other” David who purchased his parcel in Radnor in 1718. For example, in her work Ms. Cummin quite rightly mentions the fact that the early inhabitants of Radnor Township also owned “lots” in Philadelphia proper. These urban lots accompanied the first purchases of land in Radnor Township. What Ms. Cummin failed to note in her book was the fact that the David James who arrived in 1682. owned a lot on the north side of Walnut Street, Philadelphia, between Fifth and Sixth Street and between the lots of his brother-in-law Samuel Miles and a Mr. William Davis. It is important to note here that an individual by the very same name “Old William Davis” is mentioned in the will of the David James that died in 1739. The lot of Richard Miles was located one block to the south. In fact, the first David James was taxed for his ownership of this lot in 1689-90 under the Blackwell Rent Roll of 1689. Mr. Blackwell was another of the Land Commissioners left behind by William Penn to tax the people of Pennsylvania. These records of the additional land holdings of the first David James are absent from Ms. Cummins’ work.
Likewise, although Ms. Cummin was aware that inhabitants of Radnor Township held additional land outside Radnor, she was apparently unaware that the second David James who purchased a south-east parcel in 1718 also owned another plantation in neighboring Upper Marion called “Small Springs.” Nowhere in her account does she mention the fact
that on December 30, 1735, David James of Radnor, Yeoman and his wife Jane deeded to son Thomas James the Small Springs plantation in Upper Marion as recorded in Philadelphia Deed Book H on pages 12 and 283. It is still unknown to us the date when David James acquired this land, but the nature of Ms. Cummin’s work tends to suggest that the second David James did not arrive in the area until his purchase of the Radnor land in 1718. Although we know for a fact that this was not the only land the second David James owned, one could easily interpret Ms. Cummin’s language this way. The important question remains, was the Small Springs plantation acquired by David prior to the 1718 purchase in Radnor. It is unfortunate that Ms. Cummin drew her conclusions with such limited information.
It is understandable that when David James arrived in 1682 with wife Margaret and daughter Mary, it must have been extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the land purchased in Radnor Township given the fact that the land had not yet been surveyed and was sparsely populated. According to the accounts enumerated in the work of the late Mrs. Thomas Potts James entitled, “Memorial of Thomas Potts, Junior,” the first priority of the James family upon arrival in Radnor Township was locating shelter and a fresh source of water. Shelter would have been sought on higher ground and a fresh source of water would have been sought in a location away from the swamps and stagnant water that were prevalent in Radnor in the late 1600’s. Interestingly, the land eventually purchased by David James in 1718 possessed both of these geographic conditions, that is, a hill upon which was located both a cave for shelter and a fresh water spring frequented by the native Americans on their journeys through this land. Moreover, the actual land subject to the 1682 purchase was both a “lowland” and crisscrossed with small creeks and very likely a marsh - conditions not wholly desirable given the concerns upon arrival.
It is very difficult to see how David James could have known the exact location of the land he actually purchased in Radnor in 1682. Remember, the actual purchase itself took place in Wales prior to David’s arrival in North America. Was the land he actually settled upon and began working the same land that was eventually purchased in 1718? It is very possible that after the first surveys were completed in Radnor, David soon realized that the land he had cleared, built his home upon and had begun to till was a little to the north of the land he had actually purchased. This would have been a wholly understandable mistake for anyone that has ever attempted to pinpoint land in the middle of a wilderness without the benefit of a prior survey. Just imagine yourself in 1682, or the present for that matter, wandering through a wilderness attempting to pinpoint the exact location of your land holdings. And would these early pioneers have abandoned the land they had cleared and settled once the first surveys revealed that the actual locations of their holdings were a few hundred yards away? I think not. What I believe is more likely the case is that once David learned that his plantation was situated upon the land of another, some sort of arrangements would have been made to compensate the actual owner for David’s use of the land.
Beginning in the late 1680’s, a number of very interesting land transactions took place involving three men, David Meredith, Stephen ab Evan and David James - all of which appear in Ms. Cummin’s work. It appears that on March 24, 1687, 150 acres of lowland within the area originally purchased by David James between 1682 and 1683 was sold to David Meredith by the agents of William Penn. On March 26, 1689, the neighboring land to the north that David James probably settled on in 1682 was sold to David Meredith by Penn’s agents. On May 20, 1691, the 150 acres originally sold to David James between 1682 and 1683 by Penn’s agents and then sold to David Meredith in 1687 by Penn’s agents was sold by David Meredith to Stephan ab Evan. Thus, David Meredith probably received the proceeds from the sale of land originally sold and belonging to David James.
On October 22, 1702, Mary James, the daughter of David James also sold her right to the same 200 acres that had been purchased by her father between 1682 and 1683. It appears that Stephan ab Evan had to purchase this land twice - quite possibly because two families had a claim to it. Thus Stephen ab Evan ended up with all the land originally purchased by David James between 1682 and 1683 with David Meredith arguably receiving the proceeds from the sale of at least part of this land. Finally, on April 17, 1718, David James. purchased the 200 acres immediately to the north that was originally sold to David Meredith in 1689 - land possessing the same geographic features as those described as the homestead of the David James who arrived in 1682. Between the years 1687 and 1718, there appears to be a steady rearrangement and reshuffling of the ownership interests in the land of south-easten Radnor Township - precisely what one would expect to find as the actual locations of the various parcels and their boarders were more clearly defined. According to Ms. Cummin, David James and Stephen ab Evan were the only two of these three men to have actually settled in south-eastern Radnor as David Meredith reportedly resided in nearby Plymouth Township. In addition, Stephen ab Evan may not have arrived in Radnor until 1691 when David Meredith sold him the 150 acres he had purchased in 1687 and originally sold to David James in 1682. For at least five years, David James would have been able to improve his land relatively free of interruption and completely unaware that he was actually situated on the land of another. And because David Meredith did not settle in south-eastern Radnor after his acquisition in 1687, there would have been no immediate conflicts of interest.
To understand this reshuffling of land interests between these three men, one needs to sit down and actually map out these transactions and compare them to one another in chronological order. This is something that the late Ms. Cummin did not do because her energy was focused on providing a brief history of all the parcels located within Radnor Township at the time. Had she the time or inclination to examine closely the relationship between these three men it is very likely that she would not have leapt to the conclusion she did. Today, the 1718 purchase and quite likely the land originally settled in 1682 can be quite easily identified by the roads that boarder the old property. In the very middle of the
property sits the parcel donated to the Radnor Methodist Church by David’s son Evan. To the South of the parcel is a small road called David’s Lane. The old Lancaster Turnpike splits the parcel in two.
There is still, of course, such unresolved issues as the conflicting reports of when David James was born. His tombstone in the Great Valley Baptist Church suggests that he was 70 years of age when he died in 1739. That would have placed his year of birth in 1669 and would have made him only 13 years of age when he crossed the Atlantic with wife Margaret and daughter Mary. The report from Admiral Dudley suggests that David was born in 1660. This would have placed him at a more realistic 22 years of age when he came to America. If this proves to be the case, then the inscription on David’s tombstone indicating his age was 70 years at the time of his death would be in error. Given all the evidence I have examined to date, I believe it is more likely that the David who arrived in 1682 with wife Margaret and daughter Mary is the same David that died in 1739 and fathered the Evan James mentioned in Mrs. Thomas Potts James’ book, Memorial of Thomas Potts, Junior.