|Abel Jeanes' 1880 Death Certificate|
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|
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.