Friday, May 27, 2016

The Benefits of Primary Sources

Polly Drummond's 1838 purchase of her tavern property
As I mentioned recently both here and on the Facebook page, I've had access the past few weeks to a great many new (to me) primary sources. So far, the most helpful of these have been the Delaware land records and will/probate records. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to this new world open to me. On the up side, I can mine data and facts from the original sources with out relying on things like Scharf and Runk, which, while well-intentioned, are riddle with errors. On the down side, it provides even more of a chance for me to get distracted and taken off course.

Some of the distraction part is sort of baked into the cake -- deeds can be thought of as individual links in a longer chain. Each one gives you not only information about the next one (this one's buyer is the next one's seller) but, as I've found, very often loads of information about the previous ones. In order to prove that the seller (or, grantor. buyer is the grantee) has legal claim to the land in question, the deed often gives background information on the property. Usually it's along the lines of "being the same tract or parcel granted by so and so by indenture dated such and such a date." Once in a while the chain of ownership is complicated enough that it may go back several steps or include other information. Needless to say, this can be enormously helpful.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Montgomery Follow-Up with New Resources

First Page of Moses Montgomery's 1848 will
I want to start by saying that this is not a paid endorsement, I'm just passing along information to those who might be interested. A few months ago I was tipped off (thanks, Walt) to the fact that now includes a whole slew of Delaware land records, as well as will and probate information. Even though it's not cheap (at least to someone like me), my wife and I decided to treat ourselves to a subscription to see if it would be of use (she's doing a lot of genealogical research right now). I'm still figuring out exactly how to use it, but I've already come up with some information that I never would have had before, considering that I really don't have the time to schlep down to Dover to look for this stuff in person.

The land records are not complete, and I'm still learning to decode one and two hundred year old legalese, but a few new things have come to light already. I actually started out looking up something else, which happened to be connected to another branch of the Montgomery family. Somehow, I quickly ended up back on the same Montgomery land I just left. One of the more interesting things I've found is the Last Will and Testament of Moses Montgomery, first written in 1848 (and amended a few years later).

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Montgomery Family Cemetery

The Montgomery Family Cemetery
Whenever you're doing genealogical or historical research, one of the best sources of information has to be cemetery records. Whether you're looking for a birth date, death date, denominational affiliation, or just the correct spelling of a name (at least at the time), there's no better way to get the information than literally written in stone. I use this all the time (with the help of sites like Find-A-Grave) in my Mill Creek Hundred research.  The churchyards at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian, White Clay Creek Presbyterian, Ebeneezer Methodist, St. James Episcopal, the three Friends Meeting Houses (Hockessin, Mill Creek, and Stanton), and others have loads of great information on the past residents of MCH.

The problem, though, is that not everyone can be found at these official, church cemeteries. While most people chose to be interred in hallowed ground, some chose to remain closer to their beloved homes. Especially earlier in the history of the area, some families created and used private family cemeteries on a portion of their property. I don't think anyone knows how many of these family cemeteries there were, and I don't think we will.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In Memory -- Gertrude Mitchell Bell and Anna Mae Hedrick

I don’t usually do obituaries here, but there are two recent notable passings that I thought I should mention. Both were wonderful people, had been mentioned in posts in the past, and had long-time links to the area. In fact, between the two of them they had over 200 years’ worth of connections to Mill Creek Hundred.

Our first loss occurred back in February, when Gertrude Mitchell Bell passed away at the age of 103. She was the daughter of John C. Mitchell and the granddaughter of John Mitchell. It was John Mitchell who, in 1868, purchased the Cox-Mitchell House (aka Ocasson) on Old Wilmington Road east of Hockessin. Trudy grew up in Hockessin, long before it was the Hockessin we know today. When I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago (I think she was “only” 99 at the time), I swear she remembered more about the Hockessin of the 20’s and 30’s than I remember of last year. She was a sweet, kind woman, a trait passed down to the rest of her family. And speaking of which, I can report that the now 290 year old house will remain with the family. They have a great deal of love and respect for the home, which bodes well for the future of the house I call The Birthplace of Hockessin.

The second notable passing, occurring earlier this week, was Anna Mae Hedrick of Marshallton. Ann had just turned 100 in January, and with the exception of the last few years in a nursing home had lived her entire life in her beloved Marshallton. She grew up, fell in love, and raised her family all there in the village which she saw greatly change over the course of her life. As she tells it, Marshallton was “out in the country” when she was young. I first met Anna Mae through the Friends of Brandywine Springs, where she was the last remaining member of the group who had actually attended the amusement park. She enjoyed showing off the scar on her arm that she got from the slide in the funhouse. She was also a longtime member of the Mill Creek Fire Company, even driving the truck during World War II.

Both of these women had a special connection to their particular corners of MCH, and their presence will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to each of their families, but both can take comfort in knowing the effects that each of the special women had on countless others during their enviably long lives.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Abel Jeanes Wants a Road

Whenever I'm researching history (or even just watching a show or reading about it for fun), one of the truisms I try to keep in mind is the reality and humanity of the people who populated that past. They weren't just one-dimensional characters, they were real people, the same kind of people we have now. There were good people and bad people, generous people and greedy people, quiet people and outspoken people. And just like today, everything that they did they did for a reason. Sometimes those reasons were kind and magnanimous, sometimes they were petty and self-serving.

All this came to mind recently when I was looking back over an old newspaper article forwarded to me a while ago by Donna Peters. It originally appeared in the March 1, 1825 edition of the Wilmington paper the American Watchman, and was really more of a letter to the editor than an article. The piece, written by "A Citizen of White Clay Creek Hundred", dealt with the county's Levy Court's reconsideration and approval of an earlier denied request for a road located in western Mill Creek/northwestern White Clay Creek Hundred. The writer seems less than thrilled with the idea of the county footing the bill for the road in question.

Under normal circumstances, the Levy Court's consideration of whether or not to fund a public road would not be all that exciting or noteworthy -- it was one of its regular functions. However, in this case the story is more pertinent to us due to the identity of the petitioner for the road -- Abel Jeanes. As we've seen in several previous posts, Jeanes, co-founder with brother-in-law Joseph Eastburn of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns, was quite a forceful personality. He was undoubtedly a good businessman, but he didn't seem to be all that concerned with being a well-liked businessman.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Boat in a Race

In this post we'll be examining the photograph seen here, which comes to us from the collection owned by the Boulden family. When I first saw this picture, I thought, "OK, nice, it's three people standing in a rowboat." My biggest reaction was to think how brave they were to be standing on a rickety little boat in such nice clothes. However, the more I looked at it, the more it caught my interest.

I decided that I needed to figure out where the picture was taken, if I could. As it turns out, I'm sure that I do know where they are, and you'd never know it today. I can't say the location makes this photograph unique, but I'd be willing to wager that there aren't too many others like it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Mount Pleasant Inn

Possibly the semi-original Mount Pleasant Inn, maybe
A few months ago I wrote a post about the Montgomery family, and in it promised some additional posts to come regarding them. Well, here's the first one. Towards the end of that original post there was mention made of a tavern situated on the western portion of the southeastern part of the original Montgomery tract. Operating under at least three different names and numerous owners and innkeepers, a tavern was in existence here for more than a century. From the 1770's until the 1880's, the establishment last known as the Mount Pleasant Inn housed, fed, and entertained weary travelers along what is now known as Old Wilmington Road.

As I had noted in the Montgomery post, although the inn was well-known to historians not much in-depth research had ever been done on it (to my knowledge), especially relating to its early history. I am now very happy to say that that is no longer the case. The subject of the Mount Pleasant Inn caught the attention of Walt Chiquoine, and he ran with it in a fantastic way. In fact, I'm going to do something that a writer normally wouldn't do, and tell you not to even bother reading the rest of this post. Instead, go directly here and download Walt's detailed account of the history of this MCH establishment. It's informative, well-written, and meticulously researched. Absolutely well worth your time.

But, for those who can't or choose not to check out Walt's article, I'll give you my own slightly abridged version of the story, which is honestly based mostly on Walt's work. If you'll recall from the original post, John Montgomery arrived in Mill Creek Hundred about 1730 with his three sons -- Alexander, Thomas, and Robert. He purchased a large tract of land surrounding the intersection of Brackenville and Old Wilmington Roads. The southwest portion of the tract first passed from John to son Alexander, then upon Alexander's death in 1746 it went to his son John. It was this John Montgomery who may have operated the first tavern on the site.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Impressions of the Current State of the Springer-Little Farm

Remains of the south and west barn walls 
Finally, not long ago, I was able to get over to the site of the Springer-Little Farm highlighted in the recent post. Along with good friend of the blog Walt Chiquoine, I went to take a look to see what is still there, and to see how it has changed since the 1998 excavations undertaken by DeDOT. It was only right to do this, since it was the presence of these ruins and being told about them that started all this in the first place.

The short version of the story is that yes, there are still structural remains there. Although it appears that the DelDOT team rightly back-filled much of what they had excavated, there are still three separate sites readily visible. I know what two of them are and I think I know the third. From what I can understand of the 1998 report, though, there are two main ruin locations that have disappeared. What makes being sure so difficult is that starting a few years ago, DelDOT began redacting the online versions of their archaeology reports, removing many of the maps and diagrams originally included. Specifically here, the online version (which can be found here) is missing the maps showing the locations of the ruins relative to each other and to the road. However, with a careful reading and a better understanding of the site having been there, I think I know what's what.