The Impact of “A Rare and Pleasing Thing...” On the History of
David James by: Dr. Larry P. James, J.F.A. Coordinating Researcher


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.