Gwynedd Friends Meeting Historical Notes

Historical Collections of Gwynedd

by Howard Jenkins (1897)

Chapter 3. Traces of the Indians

Of those inhabitants of Gwynedd, few or many, who were here before the Welsh settlers came, we know but little. They have left us but few evidences of their occupancy. That the place was not entirely a solitude is proved by the discovery here and there, of some of the stone implements and weapons such as it is known the Indians used. These, however are comparatively rare, and though I cannot claim to have made a thorough examination or inquiry concerning every part of the township, yet I feel safe in saying the aboriginal remains in Gwynedd are only sufficient to show that the place was visited by the Indians, and may have been, at times, occupied by small numbers of them. This, indeed, might be predicted of the place from a knowledge of its situation and natural features. The Indians of south-east Pennsylvania were not a large body of people, and they did not make their homes in the high grounds, but in the lower, along the large streams, and where fertile, open spaces made it easy to plant their crops. But Gwynedd would have been a place resorted to by hunting parties, and occupied occasionally, or even permanently, by a band under some minor chief. The arrow-heads and other objects that have been found in certain places suggest the latter; they indicate by their number more than a passing chase, or even a brief stay at that point.

Of record evidence, concerning the Indians in Gwynedd, there is next to nothing. I have met with but one allusion in print which is worth attention. In the memorial of Gwynedd Monthly Meeting concerning Ellen Evans, wife of John (son of Cadwallader the immigrant), who died in 1765, it is recorded that she delighted to converse with our uninstructed Indians about their sentiments of the Supreme Being; and often said she 'discovered evident traces of divine goodness in their uncultivated minds.' "

Nor are the traditions concerning them very numerous. One of the most interesting is that of the Indians who brought coal to the smith's shop, where Mumbower's mill now stands, on the Wissahickon. The story is this: This mill property was owned from 1777 to 1794 by Samuel Wheeler, a blacksmith, and apparently something of a cutler and tool maker (It is said that he made swords during the Revolutionary time.) To his ship there came, one day, some Indians who wanted repairs made to a gun. Wheeler said he could not make them, as he had no coal, when an Indian, departing for a short time, returned, bringing with him enough coal for the purpose. This tradition is ascribed to a daughter of Wheeler, a Mrs. Johnson of Germantown, who many years afterward used to occasionally visit Gwynedd. (The question with Wheeler was as to the place where the Indians got the coal, but it had doubtless been brought from a distance, probably the upper Schuylkill.)

Mrs. Sheive, the mother of Mrs. John B. Johnson, who died at a very advanced age, say thirity years ago, spoke of the time "when the Indians went away" from the neighborhood, and said that one of them, an old woman, stayed behind and continued to live, by herself, in a hut or "wigwam," in what was known, in later times, as the "back woods" on Johnson's farm.

Mr. Mathews, in his articles on Gwynedd, says that in the eastern corner of Thomas Layman's farm, half a mile southwest of North Wales, there have been and may be found a great number of arrow-heads and other Indian relics. "Tradition relates that here was the scene of a battle between two hostile tribes of Indians, in which the missiles of destruction flew thick and fast." [JQ-Thomas Layman's farm was located in the 1880s north (east) of Old Church Rd. in Upper Gwynedd, halfway between Prospect Ave. and North Wales Rd.]

The same idea of a battle has been formed concerning a locality on the Treweryn, near Ellen Evans's. David C. Land, who has made a collection of Indian relics, says he found many, including axes, spear-heads, and arrow-heads, at this place, and he thought the presence of so large a number indicated a hostile encounter. [JQ- Ellen Evans place in the 1880s was near the corner of Evans Rd. and Sumneytown Rd.]

But it is natural that the stone relics should be found along or near the streams. There is where the Indians would fix their lodges, convenient for fishing, and also to utilize a sunny open space for their corn fields. And in such a place, after they had thus been encamped for a season or a longer time, their arrow- and spear-heads, etc., would naturally be discovered. John Bowman says that he found many arrow-heads and some other relics in the meadow along the run, east of his father's house; and on the Treweryn, Thomas Scarlett found an axe, "with a hole neatly drilled through it," the finest axe, I am told, discovered in the township.

Ellwood Roberts, now of Norristown, but for several years a resident on the State road, just up the hill westward from the Wissahickon, made quite a collection of arrow-heads, spear-heads, etc., picked up on the fields in the vicinity. He has kindly furnished me drawings and descriptions of several specimens. One is a hammer, which he thinks may have been used "in fashioning the flint implements, by pounding on a rude knife of bone or horn." His arrow-heads are mostly white flint; one spear-head is jasper. Some articles that were found, he says, were unfortunately not preserved; "among the rest I remember a small fragment of stone hollowed out, no doubt part of a mortar used for pounding hominy in. I also have a dim recollection of a stone that had been used as the pestle." All these objects, Ellwood says, "were found on the upland, near the house in which I lived," and not along the creek in the meadows; but he adds: "I have always believed, from certain indications, that the right bank of the Wissahickon, just above the State road, where 'the old fulling mill' formerly stood, is rich in such remains, but as it has not been plowed within my recollection, I have had no opportunity of verifying my conclusions.

Charles L. Preston has shown me some arrow-heads and other relics. They were to be found, he says, in plowing the fields of the Foulke estate (Dr. Antrim's) near the meeting-house. David C. Land gave an axe, found along the Treweryn, to the son of the author; and John Bowman gave me a curious implement, in form something like an axe, but with a point, rather than sharp edge, and one end ground off obliquely, and with perfect smoothness, near the grooved place where the handle has been fitted. John also had a round pestle such as was used by the squaws for pounding corn in the mortar. Charles F. Jenkins, besides the axe given him, as stated, has a small collection of other objects, mostly arrow-heads. Some of these are very perfect. Usually they are flint, but one is a fine jasper, and one is of the softer bluish gray stone found in the township. Prof. Brunner, of North Wales, describes to me two arrow-heads, found by Benjamin Bertolet, in 1889, in a field adjoining the Stony Creek Railroad, on the farm now owned by Seth Lukens (formerly the Pope farm). One of these is a white flint, and the other is a flint of greenish tinge.

It will be seen from the details I have given that the Indian relics of the township are moderately numerous, and found in all parts of it, but more frequently along the streams; and that they are such as have been studied and classified by collectors in other parts of south-eastern Pennsylvania -- the general habitat of the tribes to whom such Indians as were hunters, or visitors, or dwellers in Gwynedd belonged. The list includes arrow-heads for the chase, or for war; the larger spear-heads, which may have been used as weapons, or as knives for skinning animals, cutting up their flesh, etc.; the heavy flat axes, grooved around the handle; the other axes, more round than flat, which may have been used to gouge out the charred interior of a tree, set on fire to cause its fall, or make it available as a boat, -- and indeed for many other purposes; the mortars and pestles for pounding corn; and perhaps some others. I have seen no bone relics, nor any of pottery, found in the township.

I conclude my notes on the subject with some details furnished me by my friend Hugh Foulke, concerning an interesting locality, associated with the Indians by tradition. In a letter, written in the autumn of 1883, he says: "more than fifty years ago, my father took me to Yocum's woods, and pointed out a clearing of perhaps half an acre, which he told me was called 'the Indian Garden.' I afterwards visited it several times. It then impressed me as something quite phenomenal, being entirely free from underbrushes, or any other growth, save the monotonous furze grass which one sees on poor worn-out land. As I remember, it was a perfect square of about half an acre, and was surrounded by dense woods. I think it is about half a mile from the Spring House, and in a direction a little west of north. From it the ground descends to the Treweryn, which is a few rods distant. It was not far from the lands of Jacob Danenhower (now George H.), Peter Lukens, and Wm. Buzby; but I think it belonged to Reuben Yocum." [JQ this would be somewhere across Bethlehem Pike from the Lower Gwynedd township offices.]