Historical Collections Relating to Gwynedd (Pennsylvania)

By Howard M. Jenkins

Second Edition


Chapter 18. Affairs Before the Revolution

Few other than Welsh settlers made their appearance in either Gwynedd or Montgomery, before 1734; a small number from England were the only exceptions. The greater part of them were, or soon became Friends; a minority, chiefly settlers in Montgomery, were Baptists. But as they were all originally members of the Established Church of England, they were the objects of concern from Rev. Evan Evans, the Welsh missionary preacher sent out by the Bishop of London, in 1700. He wrote to the bishop, in 1707, describing the Welsh settlers at Radnor and Merion:

"There is another Welsh settlement called Montgomery, in the county of Philadelphia, twenty miles distant from the city, where there are considerable numbers of Welsh people, formerly in their native country of the communion of the Church of England; but about the year 1698, two years before my arrival in that country, most of them joined with the Quakers, but by God's blessing some of them were induced to return, and I have baptized their children and preached often to them. I visited them since, and prevailed upon them to meet every Lord's-day, about forty in number, where on that can understand the language well, and is a sober, discreet man, reads the prayers of the church, the proper psalms and lessons, omitting the absolution etc., what properly belongs to the priest's office, and then reads some portion in a book of devotion to the people."

By "Montgomery" he evidently means the whole settlement including Gwynedd. But it is difficult to see where a congregation of forty could have collected from among the settlers, between 1700 and 1707, for the Established Church. Such a gathering certainly was not maintained. Some members of St. Thomas's church, at Whitemarsh, may, at so early a day, have belonged in Gwynedd or Montgomery, but they must have been very few, and there was no other Episcopal church within their reach for many years.

The Baptist meeting in Montgomery, the oldest of the denomination in Montgomery county, and the fourth oldest in Pennsylvania, owed its humble beginning to the zeal of a handful of the Welsh settlers. June 20, 1719, ten persons formed the society, - John Evans, and Sarah, his wife; John James, Elizabeth his wife, and their three sons, William, Thomas, and Josiah; James Lewis, David Williams, and James Davis. John Evans, who heads this list of organizers, came into the township, it is said, in 1710, and was from Carmarthenshire, Wales. He and his wife "had been members of a Baptist church there, of which James James was pastor." In 1711 John and Elizabeth James arrived. They had been "members of the Rhydwillym church in Pembrokeshire, of which John Jenkins was pastor." A log church was built in 1720, on an acre of ground conveyed later (1731) by Jenkin Evans. This lot has since been, at different times much enlarged. In 1731 a stone church was built, 42 by 24 feet, with a gallery. It had in 1770, "a stove and two fire-places"; a school-house also stood on the lot. In 1816 this building was taken down and a new one erected 55 by 50 feet, "with a gallery all around." In 1883 this was enlarged, "the walls being raised, the length increased 15 feet, and a basement story provided."

Since 1720 thirteen pastors have served the church: (1) Benjamin Griffith, the zealous though uneducated pastor of the first flock, who served from 1720 to 1767, when he died, aged 84; (2) John Thomas, who had been assistant minister for many years, and who had sole charge from 1768 until 1781; (3) David Loofborough, under whose pastorate, in 1783, the church was regularly chartered by the Legislature, and who remained from 1782 to 1787; (4) Joshua Jones, who was pastor from 1795 to 1802, when he died on the day after Christmas, aged 82; (5) Silas Hough, M.D., an earnest and able man, who acted as pastor from 1804 until 1822, and at the same time practiced as a physician through the country 'round. He died May 14, 1823; (6) Samuel Smith, who was pastor four years, from 1822 to 1826; (7) James B. Bowen, who was pastor from 1830 to 1831; (8) Thomas T. Robinson, who closed his service of seven years by his death, May 27, 1838; (9) William A. Matthews, who continued ten years from 1840 to 1850; (10) George Higgins, who took charge May 1, 1850, and continued until his death, March 9, 1869; (11) Norman B. Baldwin, from November, 1869, to July, 1887; (12) Joseph L. Plush, from April, 1888, to July 1893; (13) Charles Henry Pinchbeck, who assumed charge January 1, 1894.

The Montgomery Baptist Church was the parent of the church at New Britain, 1744, and of that at Hilltown, about 1781. All three were formed largely of families of Welsh descent. Theophilus Cornell, some of whose progenitors are buried in the graveyard at Montgomery, has recently left to the trustees of the church about $12,000, the income of which (excepting $25) is applicable to maintainence of the church. A new parsonage has been built out of the accumulations of this fund.

(HMJ note: A good historical sketch of Montgomery Baptist Church, by Rev. N.B. Baldwin, then pastor, was embodied in the Proceedings of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, 1884, and since then Edward Mathews has written and A.K. Thomas has published (Ambler, Pa., 1895) a substantial pamphlet, giving the church records, lists of members, and historical notes of much value. My own references to this church in the first edition of "Gwynedd" I have now [1896] considerably enlarged, and have corrected several particulars. There is more on this congregation in the chapter on Montgomery township)

Towamencin township, which had been unorganized, and regarded as a part "adjacent Gwynedd," was created in 1728. At the March session of the Court, in Philadelphia, a petition was presented, which is thus minuted on the record:

"Upon the petition of divers Inhabitants between the townships of Gwyneth and Skippack Creek, on the north-easterly side of Providence, setting forth that a great many families are settled upon a large tract of land containing about 5,500 acres, whereof a Draught is to the said petition annexed, praying this Court would erect the same into a Township, the Court taking the said Petition into consideration do erect the said Portion of land into a township as the same is laid out and described in the Draught....and that the same be called by the name of Towamensing.

The petition above mentioned bears this memorandum: "The desire of the subscribers is that the township may be called Towamensen [that] being the Indian name of the creek yt springs and runs through the same." The signers of the petition are twenty-eight in number. Several of the signers are undecipherable, the remainder being as follows:

Jacob Hill

Joseph Lucken

Gaetschalck Gaetschalck

Cadwalader Evans

Abraham Lucken

William Evan

Daniel Morgan

Lorenz Hendrich

John Edwards

Daniel Williams

John Morgan

Lennert Hendrich

P. Wench

Edward Morgan

Hugh Evan

Henry Frey

Jan Gaetschalcks

Peter Tagen

Henry Hendrich

Herman Gaetschalck

Christian Wever

The Schwenckfelders, forming a compact body of German settlers, came into Pennsylvania, in 1734, and while most of them secured lands in the adjoining townships on the north-west, especially Towamencin, some came into Gwynedd, either in 1734, or within a few years afterward. Their settlement in the western corner of the township, adjoining their meeting house in Towamencin, has since grown to cover a dozen or more farms, and to include about that number of families. Their religious views, especially their opposition to war, made them, like the Mennonites and Dunkers, congenial settlers in Penn's province, and friendly neighbors with the Quakers in Gwynedd. The Schwenkfelders, one of the most interesting of the German Protestant bodies, were early dissenters from the Roman church, followers of Caspar von Schwenkfeld of Silesia, born in 1490, died in 1561. They had been bitterly persecuted for almost two centuries. They were sheltered, 1726, on his estate at Berthelsdorf, in Saxony, by Count Zinzendorf, the Moravian father, and in April, 1733, a party of nineteen set off from there for Pennsylvania, arriving in Philadelphia September 18 of that year. The next year a larger party, the main body, came in the ship Saint Andrew, John Stedman master, reaching Philadelphia September 12, O.S. There were in this party eighty-nine males above sixteen years old, and forty-one under, with 133 women and female children, making 261 altogether. Among them were several of those whose family names have since been common in Gwynedd, including George and Melchior Hubner, George and Melchior Kribel, George Anders, Balthazar and George Hoffman, Christopher and Melchior Scholtze (Schultz) and others. Their arrival is still piously celebrated each year, by their descendants, at the meeting-house in Towamencin, as "Gedachtniss Tag". [HMJ note: Tobias. Hartranft was one of this party of emigrants, and the ancestor (great-great-great-grandfather) of Gen. John F. Hartranft, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1873-79. A careful historical study of the Schwenkfelders has been undertaken by Prof. Chester D. Hartranft, of Hartford, Conn., another of the descendants of Tobias. A Historical Sketch, by Judge Christopher Heydrick, Franklin, Pa., is included in a volume of Genealogical Records of the Schwenkfelders, published 1879.]

I have not made careful studies as to the precise time when the Schwenfelder families came into the township, but the Heebners, Kriebles, and others doubtless came early. Melchior Krieble is said to have come 1735. Christopher Neuman, or Nieman, a Schwenkfelder, who came to Philadelphia in the immigration of 1734, was in Gwynedd before 1751, for in that year he bought 225 acres in the western conrner of the township (afterward, in 1768, purchased by Philip Hoot, ancestor of the family of that name), from the executors of Edward Williams, and he is described in the deed as "of Gwynedth." Neuman's wife was Susanna Muehmer; their daughter Rosina married Heinrich Schneider, --changed, later, to Henry Snyder, -- and had a large family: Rosina, George, Christopher, Henry, Christian, Abraham, Isaac, Susanna, John and Regina. The father was a Lutheran, when he courted Rosina (and ran away with her, at night, after she descended from her window upon a ladder, Mr. Mathews says), but he and his family became Schwenkfelders subsequently.

Previous to 1734 there were substantially no German settlers in Gwynedd. The list of freeholders furnished in that year to Governor Thomas Penn, "according to the uncertain returns of the constables," shows forty-nine names of Gwynedd landholders, and of they only one, Leonard Hartling, is apparently a German. Five, John Wood, Peter Wells, John Chilcott, John Parker and Thomas Wyat, were probably English. The other names are unmistakably Welsh. The whole list is as follows:

Evan Griffith

William Roberts

Robert Parry

John Griffith

Evan Roberts

Jenkin Morris

Hugh Griffith

Edward Roberts

John Chilcott

John Jones, penman

Robert Roberts

Leonard Hartling

John Jones, weaver

Edward Foulke

Peter Wells

John Jones, son of Robert

Evan Foulke

John Harris

Cadwallader Jones

Thomas Foulke

Elizabeth Roberts

Hugh Jones, tanner

John David

John Parker

Robert Hugh

Thomas David

Catherine Williams

Rowland Hugh

Lewis Williams

Thomas Evans, junior

Owen Evans

William Williams

Cadwallader Evans

Evan Evans

Robert Humphrey

Robert Evan, ap Rhiderth

Thomas Evans

John Humphrey

Gaynor Jones

Hugh Evans

John Wood

Rees Nanny

Robert Evans

Theodore Ellis

Hugh Jones

Morris Roberts

Rees Harry

Thomas Wyat

Appended to this list, in the original document, is the following memorandum, explaining why the numbers of their respective acres did not accompany the names:

"The Townsp: of Gwindedeth have hitherto refused to give the Constables an Account of their land, for which reason it is not known what they hold."

Others of the early German settlers will be here named. John Frey, son of Henry Frey, of Towamencin, whose name is on the petition for the erection of that township, bought a hundred acres from Jane Jones, William John's widow, in 1735, its location being about a mile southeast of Lansdale. (Most of the tract, in recent time, in the ownership of Abraham Krieble.) Frey sold the place in 1742 to Paul Brunner, another German, from Salford, whose widow subsequently married (about 1757) George Gossinger, a German "redemptioner," who had learned the trade of tanner, and so passed the place into his control.

Philip Hoot, who had been living in New Hanover, came into Gwynedd in 1768, and bought the Neuman farm, 225 acres, alluded to above, of David Neuman. (Philip died 1798, aged 68 years and 4 months, and was buried at Wentz's church, in Worcester. He left his homestead to his son Peter, who married, 1792, Barbara Kriger.)

Abraham Danehower, ancestor of the family of that name, bought 136 acres, in 1762, of David and Sarah Cumming. This was the present [1884] homestead of George W. Danehower, occupied by Frank Myers, and the original residence of William John. Abraham was born in Germany, September 27, 1772, came to Pennsylvania between 1740 and 1755, and died May 9, 1789, and was buried at St. John's, Whitpain. Beside him rests his wife, named Catherine (b. 1724, d. 1798). Their children included George, who died in 1793, in his 45th year; Abraham jr., who bought a farm on the Bethlehem road, just above the Spring House, of Samuel Evans; Henry, John, Catherine, who married Jacob Snyder; Elizabeth, who married Philip Hurst; and Sarah, who married Philip Fetterman.

In the summer of 1745 a fatal disease, the exact nature of which we can now only conjecture, visited Gwynedd. The meeting records show that from the 4th to the 31st of July, 24 members died, and from the 4th to the 24th of August, 15 died. On one day, the 4th of August, three deaths are recorded. This, in a population of at most but a few hundreds, was a heavy death-rate. Most of the victims were children, but a number were from among the elders of the community, and few families escaped. Among those who died at this time were Evan Foulke, the immigrant (son of Edward), and three of his children; the father, first, on July 25th, one child on the 29th, and two others on August 4th and 5th.


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