Letter to Juanita Mahoney of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania from
Larry James of Sacramento, California dated June 5, 2005
Regarding Visit to Radnor United Methodist Church, May 27, 2005
Dear Mrs. Mahoney,
Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me on May 27, 2005 and sharing with me your knowledge of the history of Radnor United Methodist Church and the James family who helped establish the Church in 1790. It was certainly a delight to tour the Church premises, wander the grounds and explore its early history. Although I was aware that distant great grand uncle Evan James and his wife Margaret had donated the land in the heart of the former James plantation to the Church, I was not previously aware of how involved the James family was in the Church after its formation. I cannot adequately express how delighted I am to have met you, your fellow Church historians and how excited I am about the prospect of returning in November to join you to celebrate the Church’s 225th anniversary.
As we discussed, the Radnor Methodist Church is situated in the heart of the former James family property originally settled in 1682. The property can be identified today as that tract bounded to the north by Lowry’s Lane; to the east by the Delaware/Montgomery county line; to the south by Robert’s Road; and to the west by Beechwood Drive and Dreer Lane. It is interesting to learn that this neighborhood today is referred to as Rosemont.
When Evan’s father David James arrived in North America in 1682, the James family included David, Margaret and Evan’s older sister Mary. Evan had not yet been born and he has, over the years, been frequently mistaken with the Seaborn Oliver, the son of Evan Oliver who was born during the two month journey across the Atlantic Ocean onboard the Bristol Factor which left Bristol, England in August 1682 captained by Roger Drew together with the sailing ships Welcome and Unicorn. William Penn was onboard the Welcome. You see, the James family was included as beneficiaries on a certificate of passage that was issued to Evan Oliver and thus Seaborn Oliver has frequently been mistaken over the years as the son of David James.
When the family set foot in North America at what is today known as Penn’s Landing on October 28, 1682, the family had very little information concerning the precise location of the 100 Acres originally purchased by David James from William Penn’s land agent Richard Davies. When they arrived in the territory identified as Radnor Township, there was no precise way of knowing exactly where their parcel lay. As the first detailed surveys of the land had yet to be performed, the family had to employ dead reckoning to identify their land. David James was also given a "city lot" in Philadelphia in 1683 incident to his purchase in 1682. His name is on the map of the State House grounds on Chestnut St. in Philadelphia and is one of the lots upon which Philosophical Hall stands directly opposite Independence Hall.
In the winter of 1682/1683, the James family’s principle concern was shelter from the elements. According to family history, David James took up residence in a “cave” situated near a “hill” along an indian trail where there was located a spring for fresh water. I believe this to be the hill upon which the Radnor Methodist Church stands today, however, I am unable to confirm that. This was their home during the winter of 1682/1683.
In the spring of 1683 David began clearing land and establishing a farm. It was not until the first surveys of the area were performed in the 1690’s and early 1700’s that it was discovered the property settled by the James family lie within a parcel actually laid out for David Meredith. Mr. Meredith, however, did not arrive in Chester Valley until the following year, 1684, and settled on property located in neighboring Whiteland where he is reported to have resided until his death in 1754. The conflict was not revealed until the first two surveys were complete. As it turned out, the parcel actually purchased by David James in the summer of 1682 and set aside for the James family in the wilderness of the Welsh Tract Barony was located immediately to the south of that land actually settled. In 1718 the James family formally purchased the property they had settled in 1682 from David Meredith thus resolving the cloud over their title once and for all.
Although David James was a Quaker upon his arrival in 1682 he is believed to have accompanied Richard Miles in his departure from the Society of Friends in Radnor incident to the schism within the Society led by George Keith in 1692. The two men were involved in the formation of the Welsh Tract Baptist Church around 1706 which initially met at the home of Richard Miles. Richard Miles was an original resident of Radnor and the father of David James’ son-in-law John Miles who married Evan James’ sister Rebecca. On April 22, 1711 the Great Valley Baptist Church was officially established. David James died in 1739 and is buried in the Great Valley Baptist Church near Berwyn having bequeathed a tidy sum to the construction of the rock wall that now surrounds the cemetery. His head stone is one of the oldest still legible in the Church cemetery.
According to records of Isaac Cleaver, Church secretary in the early 18th Century, both Evan and Margaret James were baptized in the Great Valley Baptist Church in November 1733. Prior to the passing of David James, Evan’s older brother Thomas was given a plantation by their father David known as “Small Springs” in Upper Merion. Evan’s older brother Thomas also held land situated near the Valley Forge encampment known as “Mt. Joy.” This is why Evan inherited the family homestead originally settled in 1682. As you are already aware, the descendents of Evan James would go on to become quite reputable physicians, scientists and political figures including Thomas Potts James, the father of North American Bryology.
Thank you again for sharing your valuable time with me on the 27th. It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with you discussing the early history of the Radnor Methodist Church and the James family. I have been in contact with other members of the family located in Bedford County and shared with them your warmth and hospitality. They too have expressed an interest in joining with you and other members of the Church in November to share in the Church’s 225th Anniversary. With all due respect and appreciation for the heritage we share, I am…
Very sincerely yours.
Larry P. James