Historical Collections Relating to Gwynedd (Pennsylvania)

By Howard M. Jenkins

Second Edition


Chapter 4. The Arrival of the Welsh Settlers

Two Welsh farmers, William John and Thomas ap Evan, representatives of a company of friends and neighbors in Wales who had decided to emigrate to Pennsylvania, were in Philadelphia at the end of the year 1697. Their presence there was due to a series of circumstances. Fourteen years before the great "Welsh Tract" of forty thousand acres, on the west bank of the Schuylkill, embracing what is now the townships of Lower Merion, Haverford, and Radnor, had been bought and in time occupied by Welsh people, many of them from the northern counties of Wales --principally Merionethshire, Denbighshire, Montgomeryshire, and Flintshire. This large body of immigrants, containing many persons of character, and quite a number of considerable means and cultivation, had prospered in the new colony. The "Welsh Tract", wisely located, including much fertile land, near to the markets of Penn's quickly rising city on the Delaware, became in ten years after its purchase, populous and attractive.

The records of the Friends' meetings at Merion, Haverford and Radnor show the extensive communication between the settlers on this Tract, and their friends and kindred in the old country, between 1694 and 1698. Many new comers brought certificates from home, and several who were here went back on different errands. Undoubtedly, there was much said and thought, amongst the Welsh highlands, of settlement on the Schuylkill. "Now I return, " says Samuel Smith, in his "History of Pennsylvania",

"to give some account of the Welsh settlers. Those that were already arrived were of the stock of the ancient Britons. They came chiefly from Merioneth Shire, North Wales, in Great Britain, being mostly relations and neighbors in their own country, several of them being tenants and having great families. They had heard a good report of Pennsylvania, that lands were cheap, taxes light, clear from oppression as to Tythes and church rates, and most of them were religious men, of good report in their own country. About this time, Hugh Roberts, a zealous minister among the Quakers, of whom we have seen some mention before, went from Pennsylvania to visit Wales, his native country, and had a successful visit to the end of his mission and greatly to the satisfaction of his country-folks, who held him in high esteem."

This visit of Hugh Roberts to his old home was in the year 1697, and to it we may ascribe, largely, the migration of the Welsh company who found their new homes in Gwynedd. Hugh Roberts commanded a large influence among the Welsh Friends. Joining them early, suffering persecution with them, he was a preacher of considerable power, and a man of activity and energy, and he appears to have had more than an average share of wealth. Having come to Merion with the first Welsh immigrants, in 1683, he had bought several tracts of land, and had helped much to promote the contentedness and comfort of the people. He twice visited Wales, after his first removal, it being on his second visit that he gathered the Gwynedd company. Samuel Smith in his "History", already cited, further says:

"1698. Several settlers, as we have seen, have already arrived from Wales, to Pennsylvania. Hugh Roberts, whom we left on a visit there from hence, stayed from this year, when, being about to return, a number of the inhabitants of North Wales, who had resolved to return with him, having settled their affairs for that purpose, they together in the spring sailed from Liverpool in a vessel belonging to Robert Haydock, Ralph Williams, commander, and touching at Dublin, sailed from thence the first of the Third month."

To the success of the Merion colony, therefore, and to the active persuasions of Hugh Roberts, the emigration of the Gwynedd company is largely to be ascribed.

The two "yeomen", William John and Thomas ap Evan, were in advance of the main company. They had come to select a place, and from this circumstance, as from other evidences, we must regard them as the chiefs, so far as business interests are concerned, in the Gwynedd settlement. That they preceded the other immigrants, to choose land, was according to the habit of the Welsh. Speaking of Rowland Ellis, of Merion, Proud says in his "History":

"In 1682, he sent over Thomas Owen and his family to make a settlement. This was the custom of divers others of the Welsh, at first, to send persons over to take up lands for them, and to prepare it against their coming afterwards."

How much examination the two agents gave to the land offered them before they made a selection is not known. There is no distinct evidence that they ever saw the Gwynedd tract, before purchasing it, but we may presume they did. That they rode up from Philadelphia for the purpose, --or possibly came across from Merion, with some friend and guide, --is a reasonable presumption. There is a tradition that they passed through Whitemarsh, but declined to buy there because the heavy timber on the limestone lands of that township would make the labor of clearing too severe. But while it may easily be that they looked at Whitemarsh, this explanation of a choice elsewhere seems questionable; as a matter of fact, the Gwynedd lands were heavily timbered, as the descriptions by metes and bounds of the several tracts show. I can easily see strong reasons, entirely aside from this, why a purchase in Whitemarsh would not suit: in that township prices of land had already risen, and there remained no large undivided tract, such as the Welsh party required. They desired to settle together, and therefore would wish to buy an extensive and compact body of land.

The land at Gwynedd was owned by Robert Turner, of Philadelphia. How it happened to be his is fully recited in the confirmed titles which the settlers subsequently acquire by patents from William Penn, in 1702, and though it cumbers this chapter, and interrupts my narrative, I think it best to present at this point the full text of one of these confirmatory patents, --that to Thomas Evan, or Evans. It is as follows:

William Penn true and Absolute Proprietary and Governor in chief of the Proviance of Pennsylvania and Territories thereunto belonging.

To all to whom these presents shall come Greeting --

Whereas by my Indenture of Lease and Release bearing date the two and twentieth and three and twentieth days of March in the Year One thousand Six hundred and Eighty-one, for the consideration therein mentioned, I granted to Robert Turner his heirs and Assigns Five thousand acres of land in this Proviance under the Yearly quitrent of One Shilling Sterling for Every hundred acres forever and by my Indenture bearing date the fifteenth day of August in the Year on thousand Six hundred and Eighty-two for the Consideration herein mentioned I released to the said Robert Turner his heirs and Assigns forty-five Shillings Sterling part of the said yearly Rent, to the End that five shillings only should remain and be paid Yearly for the said Five thousand Acres for Ever;

And Whereas by Severall Like Indentures of Lease and Release bearing date therein mentioned I granted to John Gee of the Kingdom of Ireland his heirs and assigns Two thousand five hundred acres, to Joseph Fuller of the said Kingdom his heirs and Assigns Twelve hundred and fifty acres and to Jacob Fuller also of the said Kingdom Twelve hundred and fifty acres under the Yearly quitrent of one Shilling Sterling for Every hundred Acres thereof forever, which said last recited severall parcells of Two thousand five hundred Acres, Twelve hundred and fifty Acres, and Twelve hundred and fifty acres the said John Gee, Joseph Fuller and Jacob Fuller by Several Indentures of Lease and Release duly Executed did grant and make over to the said Robert Turner his heirs and Assigns To hold to the said Robert his heirs and Assigns forever, By which said severall hereinbefore recited Indentures the said Robert became Invested with a right to Ten thousand acres of land in the said Province, part of which being laid out in several parts therof the remainder and full Compliment of the said quantity, being Seven thousand Eight hundred and twenty Acres, was laid out by Virtue of several warrants from myself in one tract in the County of Philadelphia in the said Proviance, AND WHEREAS the said Robert Turner by his Deed poll duly executed bearing date the tenth day of the first Month March One thousand Six hundred and Ninety-Eight, for the Consideration herein specified did grant and convey the whole Seven thousand Eight hundred and twenty Acres of land to William John and Thomas Evan both of the County of Philadelphia, Yeomen, to hold to them their heirs and assigns forever a certain part of which Seven thousand Eight hundred and twenty Acres of land Reputed to contain Sevewn hundred acres of land in the actual possession of the said Thoma Evan then being, was Resurveyed by Virtue of a general warrant from my now Commissioners of Property bearing date the Nine and twnetieth day of September last past and found to be situate and bounded and Containing as follows viz.: Situate in the Township of Gwinned in the County of Philadelphia Beginning at a stake standing at the Corner of Edward ap Hughs land from thence running by a line of Marked trees South East two hundred perches to a corner, Marked Hickory tree growing at the corner of the Land of Cadwallader ap Evan South forty-four degrees and a half West Nine hundred perches to a corner Marked hickery tree, fomr thence running North west one hundred and Seventy-six perches to a Marked tree growing at the corner of Robert Johns land, from thence running by said Land of Robert John and the said Edward ap Hughs land North forty-three degrees and a half East Nine hundred perches to the first Mentioned Corner Stake, being the place of beginning. Containing one thousand and forty-nine Acres, to Seven hundred acres whereof the said Thomas Evan having a right as aforesaid and seventy acres more being allowed in measure, and requesting to purchase of me the remaining two hundred and Seventy-nine acres and thereupon a confirmation of the whole One thousand and forty-nine acres of land at the Yearly quitrent of one English Silver Shilling for ever under my great Seal of the said Proviance.

Know Ye that as well in Consideration of the severall hereinbefore recited grants and conveyances as of the sum of Sixty-one pounds Eight pence three farthings Silver money of the said proviance to my use paid by the said Thomas Evan for the purchase of the Two hundred and Seventy-nine acres and for Redeming the quitrent as aforesaid, and in full of all arrears of quitrent for the said on thousand and forty-nine acres to the first day of this instant first Month called March the Recept of which Sixty-one pounds Eight pence three farthings I doe hereby acknowledge and thereof and of every part and parcell thereof I doe acquitt, release and by these presents forever discharge the said Thomas Evan his heirs, Executors and Administrators, I have given granted released and Confirmed and by these presents for me my heirs and successors do give grant release and confirm unto the said Thomas Evan his heirs and Assigns forever All that the said one thousand and forty-nine Acres of Land as the same is now set forth bounded and limited as aforesaid with all Mines Minerals, quarries Meadows pastures Marshes Swamps Cripples Savannas Woods under-woods Timber and Trees, Ways passages Yards Houses Edifices Buildings Improvements, Waters Water Courses Liberties Proffets Comodoties Advantages Hereditaments and Appurtenances whatsoever to the said One thousand forty-nine acres of Land as to any part or parcell thereof belonging or in any wise appertaining and Lying within the bounds and limits aforesaid, and also all free leave right and Liberty to and for the said Thomas Evan his heirs and assigns to Hawk Hunt Fish and Fowle in and upon the hereby granted land and Premises or upon any part thereof (three full and cleer fifth parts of all Royal Mines free from deductions and Repisalls for diging and refining the same only Excepted and hereby reserved);

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the said one thousand and forty-nine acres of Land and all and singular other the premises hereby granted with their and Every of their appurtenacnes (Except before excepted) to the said Thomas Evan his heirs and assigns forever. To be holden of me my heirs and Successory Proprietaries of Pennsylvania as of our Manor or reputed Manor of Springetsbury in the siad County of Philadelphia in free and Commaon Succage by fealty only in Lieu of other services, Yealding and paying therefor Yearly form the first day of this instant first Month called March to me my heirs and successors at or upon the first day of the first Month called March in every year forever thereafter at Philadelphia on English Silver Shilling or value therof in Coyn Currant to such person or persons as shall be appointed from time to time to receive the same.

In Witness I have (by Virtue of My Commission to my Proprietary Deputies hereinafter named for the said Proviance and Territories bearing date the Eight and twentieth day of October which was in the Year of our Lord One thousand Seven hundred and one) Caused my great Seal of the Proviance to be affixed hereunto.

Witness Edward Shippen Griffith Owen Thomas Story and James Logan, my said Deputies or any three of them at Philadelphia the Eighth day of the first Month called March in the Second Year of the Reign of our Soverayn Queen Ann of England &c. and the three and twentieth of my Government Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and two.

Edward Shippen

Griffith Owen

Thomas Story

James Logan

[Recorded 26th 1st Month, 1703]

It will be seen that Robert Turner had acquired his title to the lands which we are considering as the net result of several purchases of rights to locate, and that he was presumed to have in the tract no more than 7820 acres. On Home's "Map of Original Surveys," the drafts of which were begun about 1681, but which were continued and added to, for some time afterward, the locality of Gwynedd is shown divided lengthwise about equally, the north-eastern half being marked "John Gee & Company" and the lower, or south-western, "Robert Turner." At the time, therfore, when this part of the map was made, the transactions between Gee and Turner, by which, as recited in the patent, the latter acquired the entire title, had not been completed; and at what date their completion was effected is left uncertain. But it was before 1698; when the two Welshmen, in Philadelphia were seeking for land, Turner's large and compact tract drew their attention and he, doubtless, having waited a good while for a purchaser, cheerfully bargained with them.

The title of Turner was passed to John and Evans, as appear by the recital in the patent, on the 10th of First month (March), 1698. No doubt they entered immediately into possession, but a to this we have no certain knowledge. The most definite account we have of the time when the settlers actually entered upon their lands, is that given by Edward Foulke, --which I will quote in full later, --and he was one of the main company of immigrants, who did not reach Philadelphia until July. (On March 10th they had not set out from their homes in Wales. It was the 3d of month following that Edward and his family left Coed-y-foel, to take the ship at Liverpool.)

But it is fair to presume that the two representatives lost no time in repairing to their purchase. It was a wooded upland. The timber was well grown, --oaks, hickories, chestnuts the most conspicuous and useful. Of Indians, there were few, if any. Of neighbors there were some in the township below, but none in those beyond Gwynedd. Horsham had been taken up soon after Penn's first visit, and Upper Dublin received some settlers a little later. In Whitpain, the family of that name had located as early as 1685, and other settlers in the interval. But Montgomery, Hatfield and Towamensing wer unoccupied, and the Welshmen, as they began to ply their axes, waked the echoes of the undisturbed wilderness. They were on the frontier of civilization, at this part of the line.

The main company of immigrants sailed from Liverpool on the 18th of April. Their ship was the "Robert and Elizabeth", its mster Ralph Williams, its owner Robert Haydock, of Liverpool. They touched at Dublin, before proceeding on their voyage, and it was not until the 1st of May, that they finally spread the ship's sails for the new world. Precisely who were on board, besides Edward Foulke and his family, it is unsafe to say, but Hugh Roberts, returning from his visit, was with the company, and it is safe, undoubtedly, to regard the three brothers of Thomas Evans, --Robert, Owen and Cadwallader, --Hugh Griffith, John Hugh, and John Humphrey, with their families, as of the number. As to the others who are known to have been first settlers, we can only suppose them to have been aboard this particular ship because the company is commonly spoken of by all authorities as coming together; and I expressly reserve Robert John from the list, because I think it extremely probable that he was first a settler in Merion.

Forty-five of the passengers --a very large part, doubtless, of the whole number, --and three of the sailors, died of dysentery. It was not until the 17th of July, eleven weeks to a day after they had left Dublin, and fifteen after starting from their homes in Wales, that they reached port in Philadelphia, and set foot in the land of their adoption. Edward Foulke's narrative shows that they were kindly received, as we feel sure they would be, by the Welsh settlers who already were settled here; and the women and children found homes for several weeks in Philadelphia or at Merion, until the men had prepared shelter, and laid in food for the winter. It was "at the beginning of November", that Edward Foulke says he "settled" in his new home, and "divers others of our company, who came over sea with us settled near us at the same time." This is explicit enough; the interval from the middle of July to the beginning of November had been occupied in the erection of houses, and probably the gathering of such crops as had been planted by William John and Thomas Evans, after getting possession in the spring. Something might have been done, indeed, by the settlers, after their arrival in July, to secure provisions for the winter. They could have made a crop of buckwheat, and they could have saved some forage for their cattle from the natural meadows along the streams. In August the blackberries would be ripe, and later the chicken- and fox-grapes, the chestnuts, shellbarks, and walnuts. But their great dependence, naturally, was of two sorts; the crop of Indian corn, such as it might be, which William John and Thomas Evans had procured to be planted; and the supplies of food seucred from the settlers in adjoining townships. Nor can we doubt that their old countrymen west of the Schuylkill gave them liberal aid, without money and without price. To have failed in this would have made them unworthy the name of Welshmen.

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