Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Abel Jeanes -- A Strong and Complicated Man

Abel Jeanes' 1880 Death Certificate
A couple months back, I wrote a few posts dealing the the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln District. In the first of these posts, I indicated that at the time, I did not have very much detailed information about Abel Jeanes, one of the founders of the business there. I did actually have one more piece of information, but decided not to include it in the post (I will include it here). In fact, I didn't even know exactly when Jeanes died, so I assumed that he had died in the early 1840's, around the time that Joseph Eastburn took possession of Jeanes' home. (Joseph, if you'll recall, was the son of David Eastburn, Jeanes' brother-in-law and business partner.) This assumption, I've now found out, was incorrect. Thanks to some excellent research done local resident (and feeder of fascinating information to this blog) Donna Peters, we can begin to piece together the complicated picture of Abel Jeanes. (Incidentally, the reason for Donna's interest in the subject? David and Elizabeth Eastburn are her 4th-Great Grandparents, making Abel Jeanes her 4th-Great Uncle.)

Abel Jeanes (1795-1880) was born in Plymouth Meeting, PA, to Joseph and Mary Jeanes,  the youngest of 12 children. It's still not exactly clear when he bought his property along Pike Creek, but Jeanes did later give 1816 as the beginning date for his lime business. Three years later he married Priscilla Brackin (1801-1893), the daughter of William and Elizabeth (Evans) Brackin. (Priscilla was the cousin of the William Brackin who ran the Peace and Plenty hotel, and was the niece of the brilliant, but ahead-of-his-time, inventor Oliver Evans.) Abel and Priscilla had four children: Elizabeth, Mary, Priscilla, and Joseph. We'll leave his personal life for a while, though, and take a look at a few interesting tidbits relating to Jeanes' business ventures.

While a general overview of the lime business was given in an earlier post, a couple of interesting pieces have been brought to my attention since then, and I think they give a little insight into the entrepreneurial drive that Abel Jeanes quite obviously possessed. The first one dates to fairly early in his residence along Pike Creek (1824, to be exact), and shows that he had more than just lime on his mind. It seems that after eight years of mining limestone from his property, Abel Jeanes decided that he wanted to see if there might be any coal there, too. Whether he had any reason to think there was, or if he just decided it was worth it to look, we don't know. In any case, in a brilliant stroke, he was able to explore his property for coal without using any of his own money. He was successful in getting the state legislature to allow him to hold a lottery to raise $2000 to fund his expedition. What exactly the money (a sizable sum) was for, I don't know, but I think it's safe to assume the venture was ultimately unsuccessful.

In 1833, Jeanes again requested the blessing of the state, this time for an infrastructure improvement to his property. It seems that he needed permission to construct a railroad on his property, because it crossed a public road. The act doesn't give any specifics, but my thought is that this "railroad" was most likely a set of tracks to help haul the excavated limestone and burnt lime around on the property. I envision something along the lines of mining ore carts. And since the quarry was on the west side of Pike Creek Road, and the bank of kilns was on the east, the tracks would need to cross the road. He was allowed to build his tracks, so long as they did not obstruct traffic along the road. I'd be interested to know, A) if these tracks were in fact built and used, and B) if there is any trace of them remaining today.

But whereas a forceful, headstrong personality may be a positive in the business world, it can be a negative in other areas. While Abel Jeanes was a Quaker (or at least, he was raised as one), he was hardly an abolitionist like Thomas Garrett, Thomas Worrell, and countless others. In fact, Jeanes was pretty much the opposite of them. It seems that he was in the habit of kidnapping blacks in the area with the intent of returning them to slavery, without particular regard as to whether or not they were, in fact, escaped slaves. There's no way to tell how many times he did this, or how many times he kidnapped free men and women, but we did find records of at least two instances where this occurred, and for which he was arrested. It doesn't appear that he was ever convicted of anything, and this case seems to have hinged on whether blacks were presumed to be free or slaves, and how the law allowed people of color to prove their freedom. I don't know what became of the case below. Needless to say, it's unlikely that these actions made many friends for Jeanes in the black community or the Quaker community.

Newspaper clipping, July 1843
The last aspect of Abel Jeanes' life that we now have a better understanding of concerns his personal and family life, and his life after leaving Mill Creek Hundred. From all indications, Jeanes was not an easy partner to get along with in business, or in love. There is reason to believe that even before his brother-in-law David Eastburn's death in 1824, their business partnership had ceased. I think the most likely reason would have been the major personality clash between the brash Jeanes and the staid Eastburns. David Eastburn wasn't the only one Jeanes had differences with in a relationship, though. There's no way to know how long they had problems before this, but by 1835 Priscilla Jeanes had filed for divorce from her husband, on the grounds that he had been unfaithful to her with a woman named Mary Ann Thompson. In this particular case, the petition was denied. Sadly (and even the judge who ruled against her called him an "unworthy husband"), law at time (if I'm reading it correctly) basically said that if the wife forgives the adultering husband and takes him back once, then she cannot use (even future) infidelity as grounds for a divorce. Or something close to that.

It some point, though, the Jeanes' did get divorced. Abel ended up marrying ... Mary Ann Thompson. I guess it's safe to say he didn't end the affair. I haven't found when exactly Abel and Mary Ann married, but I would think that the divorce and remarriage probably coincided with his leaving the area. Sometime around 1844, Jeanes sold his house on Pike Creek Road and moved to Philadelphia with his new wife (16 years his junior). On the 1850 census he was listed as a "Segar Maker", and in 1870 was a "Gravel Merchant". One of the only other clues we have of his time in Philly is this short article from 1868 showing that he was still on the lookout for new business ventures.

Abel and Mary Ann appear to have lived the remainder of their lives in Philadelphia, dying less than ten weeks apart in early 1880. Priscilla, on the other hand, never remarried. It appears that soon after the divorce she, Joseph, and Priscilla (the daughter) moved to a home north of Newark, then eventually to Wilmington. Joseph, Mary, and (maybe) Elizabeth all married (not to each other), and Joseph (interestingly, I think) worked as a photographer (or "Ambrotypist", as one directory listed him). Even in death, though, Abel Jeanes was still not without controversy. Since his wife Mary Ann had predeceased him by a couple months, Jeanes had probably recently rewritten his will. After his death, as this newspaper article states, the children contested the will, which granted each of them $1000, but gave the remainder of Abel's estate to his housekeeper. The children claimed their father "was of unsound mind, and that he was under the control and influence of others" when making the will. I don't know what ever became of this, but somehow it's a fitting end to the story of what certainly was a strong, smart, but difficult man.


  1. Do you think Mary Ann Thompson was of the (I would assume) the Thompson Station Rd/ Thompson Bridge Thompsons?

  2. I wish I knew. It looks like there were a bunch of Thompsons in and around northern and western MCH, but I can't find where Mary Ann fits in. Censuses (Censi?) before 1850 only list the head of houshold, so you can't find her with her family that way. I haven't found her listed on any geneaology websites, either. If anyone can find who's her Daddy, let me know.

  3. LARRY T,
    I think that the Thompson family you are refering to lived in Christiana Hundred. They of the Thompsons' Bridge lore. They lived in the Montchanin area and were friends and contemporaries of my wife's GG-Parents. I Know this from diary entries around 1880 or so.

  4. James Thompson (1712-1779) and Sarah Worsley Thompson lived in the current Penn Manor Farm off Doe Run Road. James later married Elizabeth Hadley (a granddaughter of Simon Hadley). Ten known children in total. The 1868 property map shows the farm still in the hands of a "J. Thompson". These Thompsons were practically neighbors, so I'd consider this line first.

    I have the names of the 10 children and their marriages, but never took them forward. Could be looking for James' granddaughter. There may be an earlier connection to Thompsons on the Brandywine, I just don't know.

    Scott, when I figure out how, I will get a user name. I'm fascinated by your work. Thanks.

  5. Sorry, I confused Thompson Station with Thompsons Bridge. And Mary Ann would more likely be a great-granddaughter of James.

    Per Scott's data, Mary Ann Thompson was born about 1810, at least two generations before Thompson Station came into existence. It may all be the same Thompson Family, but a much earlier connection. I'll see what I can dig out.

  6. There is a direct connection between James Thompson of Penn Manor Farm and Thompson Station. James and Sarah's oldest son Daniel married Elizabeth Chambers (1764). Their son Eli then married Elizabeth Wilson (1798) and had a son Joel Sr. It was Joel Thompson Jr. that provided the right-of-way and land for Thompson Station in 1873. So it was James' g-g-grandson that founded the station.

    The offspring of James Thompson are fairly well documented on the web based on multiple sources, with much reliance on the records of New Garden MM. Many descendants migrated to North Carolina. I covered every male offspring but could find no child named Mary Ann that might fit the bill as Abel's second wife. With this research you never know.

    But I did find a tantalizing surprise. There is a record of Mary Ann Thompson, age 20, arriving in the Port of Wilmington on 27 May 1833. She was aboard the "Lady of the Lake" arriving from Londonderry, Ireland and is identified as a spinster. Funny that Abel had marital issues in 1834 and 1835.

  7. Hey Walt, you wouldn't happen to drive past this Thompson house twice a day, would you?

  8. Probably more than that Larry. I don't get a view from my front step... :)