History of Delaware County Pennsylvania - Chapter 11

Created: Tuesday, 12 April 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email



The sparsely-peopled territory, which in the anger of defeat at the removal of the court-house from "Old Chester"—for so the ancient borough now began to be termed, to distinguish it from the newly-born West Chester—had formed a separate county government, now began bravely to organize its local administration, select its officers, and prepared to meet the obligations it had assumed. So bitter had been the quarrel respecting the removal of the seat of justice in the old county of Chester, that in those townships which had been erected into Delaware County, regret for the step taken seldom found utterance, notwithstanding the cost of separate government soon began to be oppressive to the taxpayers. The people unwillingly paid their taxes, scolded the rulers for want of economy in county matters, but rarely reflected that the additional cost had been the direct outcoming of their own action. The burden of maintaining public highways and county bridges particularly bore heavily on the people. The Queen’s Highway from Darby to Chester, and the King’s Highway from Chester to the State of Delaware, formed the direct line of communication to the Southern States, and travel was exceedingly heavy on these roads. The county was unable to keep those thoroughfares in good repair; their condition in winter time was so wretched that the press of that day, as well as travelers’ letters, constantly referred to them in the most uncomplimentary terms. The State, at length, in order that the county of Delaware might be relieved in a measure of the oppressive cost for the maintenance of these roads, which, in the major part, was incurred for the benefit of persons residing without her borders, authorized the county commissioners, by act of Assembly, April 11, 1799, to place toll-gates on the post-road for the term of five years, when the law expired by limitation, and to collect tolls from persons using that highway. The county commissioners, in compliance with the law, placed a toll-gate at the bridge over Ridley Creek, and the following schedule of tolls was observed:

Coach, light wagon, or other pleasurable carriage, with Four wheels and four horses 25 cents.
Coach, light wagon, or other pleasurable carriage, with two wheels and two horses 15 "
Chairs, sulkey, etc., with one horse 10 "
Sleigh, with two horses 6"
Man and horse 2"
Wagon, with four horses 12 "
Wagon, with two horses 8"
Cart and horse 4"
Every additional horse to carriages of pleasure 4"
Every additional horse to carriages of burden 2"

In 1793 the yellow fever raged as a dire pestilence in Philadelphia. It is related that a party of boys in that year, at Chester, went in a boat to a vessel lying in the stream on which were several persons ill with the disease, and in that way it was communicated to some of the residents of the town and neighborhood, but it did not spread, nor was it as fatal as the same malady proved to be five years thereafter. Ninety-four years before the period of which I am now writing, in 1699, when for the first time we have undoubted record of the yellow fever visiting the shores of the Delaware, Chester and the adjacent settlements suffered severely, but beyond that fact very meagre particulars respecting it have been preserved. In 1793, however, the scourge in Philadelphia was so malignant that the city was almost depopulated; those of its inhabitants, as a rule, who had the means, fled for safety to the surrounding country districts. The record of the noble deeds of a few men who remained in Philadelphia in that appalling time to minister to the sick and dying, as well as to give assistance and succor to the poor and needy, in true heroism far exceeds the achievements of the ordinary class of soldiers with whom history deals, who amid the din and smoke of battle sought the bubble reputation at the cannon’s mouth, and for their courage have received the unstinted praises of poets and historians alike. Nor is the cool, calm bravery of the men alluded to the only matter disclosed by the minutes of citizens which is worthy of commendation: in other respects these records present a grand testimonial to the higher and better nature of mankind.

I have just narrated the difficulties encountered by the inhabitants of this section in meeting the expenses of the county; but when the cry of distress went up from Philadelphia it awakened a responsive sympathy throughout our territory, and from people in all condition of circumstances contributions freely came. It is an interesting fact that the first donation from Delaware County, which was received Oct. 4, 1793, was from "Widow Grubb, of Chester," who presented "eighteen bundles of shirts and shifts for the use of the orphans under the care of the committee." On the 12th of the same month, John Pearson, of Darby, informed that body that a sum of money had been collected for the use of the orphans, and the same day Benjamin Brannan, of Upper Darby, gave notice that the people of Delaware County were raising money for the relief of the sick in the hospital and for persons in distress. On the 15th the committee was notified that £161 6s. 6d. had been collected in Delaware County; that Nathaniel Newlin, of Darby, was ready to pay that sum to any person authorized to receive it. The letter also stated that further contributions might be looked for. Henry De Forest was instructed to go to Newlin’s house, near Darby, and receive the money, which he did. October 16th Mathew Carey and Caleb Lownes met Isaac Lloyd at Weed’s Ferry, on the Schuylkill, from whom they received $1448.21, being part of the subscription made by citizens of Philadelphia residing in the neighborhood of Darby, to be applied to the use of the sick and poor of that city. Two days thereafter, the 28th, Mathew Carey and Caleb Lownes by appointment visited Nathaniel Newlin’s house, and received $641.91, a further donation from Delaware County, while the same day Thomas Levis, of Springfield, sent $13 for the like purpose. On December 1st, John Pearson, of Darby, paid £12 10s., an additional sum raised by our people, and on Jan. 18, 1794, the committee acknowledge $34.69 from citizens of Philadelphia residing in and near Darby. The contribution from Delaware County amounted in all to S1291.57, a record of which this locality may justly be proud, when it is remembered that at that time the population was less than ten thousand persons all told. The sum just stated was exclusive of the donations "from citizens of Philadelphia residing in and near Darby," which fund was contributed, among others, by Col. Thomas Leiper, of Ridley; John Wall, a large real-estate owner in our county; Edward Tilghman, that distinguished lawyer, who refused the chief-justiceship of Pennsylvania, that it might be bestowed on his kinsman, William Tilghman, and whose country-seat was in Nether Providence, where Samuel C. Lewis now resides; Raper Hoskins, who then owned the estate, and spent his summers at Greenbank, more recently the Porter House, at Chester, and others deserving prominent places in the history of Delaware County, as well as in that of the city of Philadelphia.

In 1798 the yellow fever visited Philadelphia again, and once more the people fled, many carrying with them the seeds of the disease in their systems, to spread it at the places of refuge they sought. Mrs. Deborah Logan records that a woman from Philadelphia, dying of the fever in Chester, "exacted a promise from some of her friends that her body should be brought back to the city and buried in consecrated ground, and that in consequence of this bad vow the infection was first caught in the borough (Chester), where it spread with frightful rapidity, and depopulated whole families and streets."* On Edgmont Avenue, from Fourth Street to the river, there were then only seventeen houses within the space mentioned; more than thirty persons died, while in one of those dwellings** all the family excepting a boy of five years fell a victim to the plague. Indeed, it is stated that almost one-fifth of the population of Chester was swept away before the fever had subsided. At Chester Mills, now Upland, it was very virulent. Richard Flower, the owner of the mills, was so severely attacked that he was believed to be dead; but when the burial party was about to place him in the coffin he spoke, and subsequently recovered, to live nearly half a century thereafter. The cooper-shop at that place was made a hospital, and it is traditionally asserted that three dead bodies at one time were then awaiting interment. Only thirty persons constituted the entire population. In other localities near by the disease was equally fatal.

The power of the Federal government to impose taxes, or in any wise to act within the limits of the several States, was during Washington’s administration very imperfectly understood, and from that ignorance the difficulties in Western Pennsylvania, known in history as the Whiskey Insurrection, had their origin. The settlers of that part of our commonwealth were largely Scotch-Irish, and naturally in traditions descended from fathers to sons recitals of the oppressive acts of the excisemen in the mother-country in discharging their official duties, which narrations had so moulded the opinions of their descendants that, throughout all our colonial and early State history, any excise tax was regarded with open disapproval by a large class of citizens. During the Revolutionary war the whole people submitted to the levying of duties on distilled liquors, yet at the conclusion of that contest those who were opposed to the measure combined and secured the repeal of the act of 1772 providing for the tax. Hence when Congress, on March 3, 1791, at the suggestion of Secretary Hamilton, imposed a duty of four pence per gallon on distilled liquors, the law was openly defied in Fayette, Alleghany, Westmoreland, and Washington Counties of this State. President Washington, on Sept. 15, 1792, issued a proclamation requiring all persons to cease their resistance and submit to the law, which failed to have the desired effect. On June 5, 1794, Congress amended the law, which action on its part, instead of satisfying those hostile to the tax, merely resulted in making them more clamorous for its absolute repeal. Deputy marshals and collectors, who had theretofore only been tarred and feathered, were now fired upon by large bodies of armed men and compelled to promise they would not attempt to exercise their authority. The Federal government, however, determined to enforce the law, and instructions were issued to indict those distillers who refused to pay the duties. These instructions on the part of the administration were productive of widespread disorder and organized open defiance. President Washington, on Aug. 9, 1794, published another proclamation, requiring all associations whose object was resistance to the excise law to disperse on or before the 1st of September following, at the same time directing a force of nearly thirteen thousand men to be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia to suppress the insurrectionary movement, which body of soldiers was required "to be held in readiness to march at a moment’s warning."

On the same day Governor Mifflin called for the quota assigned to Pennsylvania, five thousand two hundred men, directing them to be armed and equipped as quickly as possible. The number of troops required from Delaware County was twenty cavalrymen and sixteen artillerymen, which force was to compose part of the Second Brigade of the Third Division, under command of Brig.-Gen. Thomas Proctor.*** The call, however, was not responded to with alacrity, for Secretary Dallas, in his report to the Senate of Pennsylvania, says, "Returns from the County of Delaware, dated the 6th of September, 1794, stating a variety of difficulties that leave little hope of procuring by regular drafts the quota of this county," and he reiterated that assertion in his "report relative to the want of promptness of the militia,"(4*) dated Jan. 16, 1795. Indeed, from a letter written by Attorney-General Ingersoll to Governor Mifflin, May 25, 1795, it appears that in order to raise the quota in both Chester and Delaware Counties three thousand three hundred and ninety-six dollars had to be paid in bounties, Secretary Dallas pledging his personal credit to procure the amount expended.(5*) Why the quota of Delaware County was placed at only thirty-six men is difficult to understand, when we remember that in May of the same year, under the call of the President for ten thousand seven hundred and sixty-four militia in Pennsylvania to be held in readiness during the threatening difficulties on the frontier, our county was required to furnish two hundred and sixty-two men. And it is equally incomprehensible why any difficulty was had in raising thirty-six men in the Whiskey Insurrection, when it is considered that in May, 1794, Governor Mifflin had ordered Adjt. Gen. Harmer to immediately organize and equip the militia of Philadelphia and the county of Delaware to be in readiness, if needed, to prevent any breaches of the neutrality laws by the cruisers of England or France within this State, or the equipment of any privateer at Philadelphia by either of the belligerent powers.

However, Capt. William Graham, a lawyer, of Chester, raised a company of cavalry, the greater part of the organization being recruited or drafted from the neighborhood of Chester, and the quota of Delaware County was filled. When the troop was ready to march the ladies of Ridley township presented it with a white silk flag, trimmed with fringe of like material. On it was painted a figure of Washington in full military costume, to whom an American eagle was descending bearing in its claws a sprig of laurel, while from its mouth was a ribbon with the motto, "Liberty or Death." The allegorical picture was surrounded by flags, drums, cannons, and other military emblems.(6*)

Governor Henry Lee, of Virginia, as chief commander of the army, took up the line of march for the scene of tumult, and an imposing body it was when we recall that Governor Thomas Mifflin led the Pennsylvania troops, Governor Richard Howell, of New Jersey, those from his State, Governor Thomas S. Lee those from Maryland, and Gen. Daniel Morgan those from Virginia. President Washington, accompanied by Gen. Knox, Secretary of War, Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, and Judge Richard Peters, followed the army. In the mean time the more conservative part of the inhabitants of the offending counties, when they learned that the overwhelming force was coming against them, dispatched a committee to visit the President. An interview was had, and the campaign finally ended without further bloodshed. A few of the leaders in the insurrectionary outbreak were subsequently tried, and convicted of treason. They were, however, pardoned by Washington, and the rebellion, which at one time promised to be difficult of suppression, melted away before the determined action of the Federal government.

The general history of Delaware County, until the declaration of war between Great Britain and the United States, is very meagre of stirring incidents, and little took place excepting those matters which belong to the story of the several townships, or judicial narrative, which will be related under these headings, so that it is unnecessary to refer to those events in this summary of the county’s annals. Dr. Smith has so admirably portrayed this placid period in our history that a reproduction of his statement will sufficiently represent the quiet but certain progress of that day. "Owing to the European war that raged during this period," he says, "the commerce of our country was benefited, and there was an increased demand for its agricultural products. Our county fully shared these advantages, and the result was an effort on the part of our farmers to improve their lands, and thereby to increase their products. These lands in many places had become exhausted by a system of bad farming that is generally adopted in new countries, and it was not then uncommon to see large tracts abandoned for agricultural purposes and left uninclosed. These exhausted tracts generally received the appellation of ‘old fields.’ The use of gypsum and lime as manures now began to be introduced; the former at first worked almost miracles by the increased productiveness it imparted to the soil. It was soon discovered, however, that its effects were greatly diminished by repeated application, and, as a consequence, it became less used; while lime, though slow in developing its benefits, soon became the general favorite with our farmers, and deservedly so, for it cannot be denied that it was owing to its extensive and continued application, combined with a better system of farming, that much of this county has been brought from an exhausted condition to its present state of fertility and productiveness."

* Mrs. Deborah Logan’s manuscript "Reminiscences of Chester," contributed as notes to John F. Watson’s "Visit to Chester in 1827," in collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

** The house adjoining on the north, the present residence of Jonathan Pennell.

*** In William Whitehead’s "Historical Sketch of the Borough of Chester" (Directory of Chester, 1859—60) it is stated, "Chester sent a company of infantry to the scene of disturbance, under the command of Capt. William Graham." Dr. Smith merely says that Delaware County furnished a company under Capt. Graham, and refers to the Directory of Chester as authority for the statement. An article written in 1854 by William H. Dillingham, and published in the West Chester Republican (quoted at large in Martin’s "History of Chester," pp. 169—170), entitled "Reminiscences of William Graham, Esq.," says, "He commanded a troop of cavalry in the western expedition." Benjamin M. Nead, Esq., of Harrisburg, in a sketch of the life of Brig.-Gen. Thomas Proctor (Penna. Mag. of History, vol. iv. p. 466), states that "on August 7, 1794, Gen. Proctor was placed in command of the First Brigade, which marched with 1849 men, 96 of which were from Delaware county." The foregoing statement is the only one wherein the gross number of men is given, other than that which is presented in the text. The latter I derived from various papers (in the fourth volume, second series, Pennsylvania Archives) relating to the Whiskey Insurrection. Yet Mr. Nead may be correct in the number mentioned, for he is a gentleman whose assertion on an historical point is always worthy of respect and consideration. Unfortunately, I cannot find on record, at Media, the election returns for the year 1794. The troops called into service voted in the fields, and the duplicates for that year, if they could be found in the prothonotary’s office, would give the names of every man from this county, and, of course, to obtain the number would be a simple matter of addition.

(4*) Penna. Archives, 2d series, vol. iv. p. 306.

(5*) Ib., p. 532.

(6*) In 1840 this flag was in the possession of Dr. Joseph Wilson. It was carried in the great Whig procession, at Chester, on July 23d of that year by the delegation from Springfield.

Source:  Page(s) 83-86, History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, by Henry Graham Ashmead, Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co. 1884