|Main Street in Stanton, courtesy Ken Copeland|
It is well-documented in the historical record (and recently brought up by a commenter on another post) that in the 18th Century, the village near the confluence of the Red Clay and White Clay Creeks was known as "Cuckoldstown". Not surprisingly, this indelicate moniker has raised quite a few questions over the years, but no answers -- until now. After a surprisingly brief bit of research, I believe I have finally figured out where the name came from, and in the process discovered another surprising fact -- Cuckoldstown was not the village's original name. Now, after at least two and a quarter centuries, we can finally restore to MCH's first town, its first name.
The discovery of an earlier name for Stanton is actually not just an interesting side-note to the story, it's the reason that no one was ever able to determine the origin of "Cuckoldstown" before. Everyone got too held-up on the oddness and salaciousness of the name, and kept looking for a juicy story to explain it. (For anyone unfamiliar with the word, a cuckold is "A man whose wife has committed adultery, often regarded as an object of scorn".) Because of this, I think people were expecting to find some tale about an early family in the area, or possibly the existence of a local inn with a less-than-upstanding reputation. My theory holds that none of these things ever existed, and that the name's origin is much less soap opera-y than that (which does make me a little sad -- I like a good story as much as anyone).
The key to unlocking this particular mystery came when I discovered that in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, there was at least one other village in the colonies with the name of "Cuckoldstown". It was located on Staten Island in New York, and was later renamed Richmondtown. Unlike with Stanton, the origin of Richmondtown's early name has been preserved, and I think there is a very good chance that our village came upon its name in the same way. The trick is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the word "cuckold", except that over time, the original pronunciation of the name changed to sound like it.
And now for the unveiling .... I believe that, like Richmondtown, NY, Stanton's real original name was Cocclestown (or, Cocklestown). And like the Staten Island town, the name was likely derived from the presence in the area of an abundance of cockles, a type of clam. With several creeks and a large marshy area nearby, it's reasonable to think that the early settlers in the region would have harvested clams in the area (they may or may not have been actual cockles, but that's what they would have been familiar with from back home in Great Britain). Another possibility hinted at in New York is that the first Europeans here may have seen evidence of cockle shells discarded previously by Native American inhabitants (there are several known Native American settlements in the Stanton area).
|The First Namesake of Stanton?|
Now, I admit that at this point, this is all speculation. Just because this happened in another location doesn't necessarily mean that that's what happened here. Probably the only way to verify this theory would be to find some written record from the period that refers to "Cocclestown". Or at the very least, we'd need to find the earliest reference we can to "Cuckoldstown". I don't think there has been anything produced so far dating from before the 1740's showing a name for the village. As tenuous as this theory is, it sounds to me to be much more plausible than people naming their town after after someone with a "friendly" wife. I hope that someday we're able to definitively prove or disprove the Cocclestown theory, and finally know for certain the first name of the first town in Mill Creek Hundred.
Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
- I should note that there seems to have been one other, closer Cuckoldstown/Cocklestown, with a slightly different story attached to its name. An area near Berwyn, PA was once known by those names, but the people there think the name came from the corncockle plant, once a common weed in wheat fields. While it's possible this is accurate for Berwyn, I still think the bivalve cockle is the more likely inspiration for MCH's Cocclestown.