Friday, September 21, 2012

The Inexplicably Famous Polly Drummond

Polly Drummond's Tavern today
Several times previously here on the blog, we've (directly or indirectly) uncovered the origins of, and the people behind, various road and place names in Mill Creek Hundred. We've hit things like Duncan Road, Brackinville Road, Little Baltimore Road, Loveville Road and McKennan's Church Road. Usually, the person behind the name is either a major landowner nearby, or a prominent figure in the community (like a preacher). This time, we'll look at a name (first and last) known by pretty much anyone who's spent any time living in or passing through Mill Creek Hundred -- Polly Drummond. And while she did live for a while in the area that bears her name, she was not a large landowner (by "large", I mean her property -- I have no idea about Polly's size) nor did she live there very long. Assuming the name started to be used while she was there, it's now been around almost ten times longer than she was.

The very short version of this post is that Polly Drummond, for a time, operated a small tavern on the hill that now bears her name. The dual challenge here is to A) find out more about who Polly Drummond was, and B) figure out why her name came to be attached to a hill that already had a name (the road, of course, was later named after the hill). For the first part, I think I've done a pretty good job of collecting more about Polly Drummond in one place than any other place I know of. I can pretty much follow her from cradle to grave, and I even have some more information about the tavern that made her "famous". As for the second part -- we can only speculate. Not surprisingly, though, I do have a few thoughts about it.

The first trick to learning anything about Polly Drummond is to know that when she was born, she was named neither "Polly" nor "Drummond". Mary Evans, however, was born in June 1789, probably in eastern Mill Creek Hundred, somewhere near Faulkland. Her parents were Theophilus and Esther (Barker) Evans. Theophilus (I'm sorry, but I just love that name) Evans happens to have been the brother of Oliver Evans, America's first great industrial inventor. At the time Mary was born, Theophilus, Oliver, and brother John all jointly owned a grist mill along the Red Clay, in which they had installed Oliver's new automated milling system. The site of this historic mill would later be the home to the Fell Spice Mill.

Mary (and in case you didn't know, "Polly" is a nickname for "Mary" -- actually it's a derivation of "Molly", another nickname for "Mary") probably grew up in eastern Mill Creek Hundred, and in August 1817 married James Drummond, with whom she had three children. Her children were Evan (1818-1843), Mary (1820-1890) and John Wesley (1825-1889). Mary and James had only just shy of nine years together, though, before James Drummond died in 1826, leaving Mary as a widow with three small children. The very first mention I've ever seen of Polly Drummond in the historical record comes from this time, just a few years after her husband's death. It comes from someone mentioned in the blog several years ago.

Marriage Certificate of James Drummond and Mary "Polly" Evans
 Rev. Patrick Kenny was a Catholic priest, born in Ireland, who almost single-handedly helped to establish the Catholic Church in Delaware. His home -- and home church -- was located at Coffee Run on Lancaster Pike, between Wooddale and Loveville. Among other things, Fr. Kenny kept a diary, portions of which were published in the late 19th Century. The pioneering priest mentioned Polly Drummond in at least two separate contexts. In late May 1829, he wrote, "Polly Drummond plagues me to sell her a strip to build a house...", which he was reluctant to do since "my remnant of land is so small". He did end up selling Polly two acres, although sadly I know nothing more about this.

 A few months earlier, in March 1829, Fr. Kenny writes, "My next Grog shop, Molly Drummond's sent me a note to stop the amount of chalks against M[ary] Cremer by deducting 79/100 from her, M. C.'s wages". I think this has to do with money Mary Cremer, Fr. Kenny's housekeeper, owed to Polly. A "Grog shop" would be a tavern, and I wonder if it was incorrectly transcribed, or if he meant "My next door Grog shop". The next year, on April 2, 1830, he wrote, "Patrick Haw [his handyman and a heavy drinker] asked me for horse Paddy to go to Polly Drummond's store to pay debts and drink whiskey". When he says "store", I'm not sure if he means she also had a general store, but it seems obvious that prior to moving to western MCH, Polly Drummond did run a tavern somewhere near, and most likely on, Lancaster Pike near Coffee Run. It's not clear whether she owned it or just ran it, or whether it was originally James Drummond's or if Polly started it after his death. (However, the Drummond entry from the Orphans Court Extracts would seem to imply that James didn't own a tavern when he died.) In any case, this seems like an exciting find, since I've not seen this fact mentioned anywhere else by anyone.

Although there seems to be no other record of Polly Drummond's first tavern, we can assume she operated it for about 10 years, until she moved a few miles west in 1838. Her new tavern (or inn or hotel -- the terms were all but synonymous at the time) was located on what was then known as Meeting House Hill, named for the original White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, which was located just a few yards east of the hotel. This hotel had been built in 1834 by Robert Graham, likely the same Robert Graham who owned a house up near Corner Ketch. (There appears to be only one Robert Graham in MCH in the 1820, 1830, and 1840 Censuses.) It was located on the southwest corner of the north-south road from White Clay Creek Presbyterian to Corner Ketch, and the old east-west Coach Road that extended on to Milford Crossroads. The north-south road -- now called Polly Drummond Hill Road -- is still intact, although a 20th Century rerouting has moved the new road to the west of the tavern. The Old Coach Road has disappeared to the west, and was rerouted slightly south on the east. What was once a major crossroads is now near the end of two small dead-end streets.

Polly Drummond's Tavern in 1953

The hotel itself is still standing, although because of numerous renovations over the years it probably doesn't look much like it did in 1838, when Robert Graham sold it after only four years. With the recent completion of the first railroad line through the area, Graham may have foreseen the decline of the coach-stop tavern. The new owners (according to Francis Cooch in his Little Known History) were Polly Drummond, Rachel Evans, and Jane Evans. Rachel was Polly's sister. I can't find a Jane Evans, but Polly did have a sister named Ann who died in 1845. Cooch mentions that "Jane" is not on the later deeds, so it may have been her.

One interesting fact, already pointed out in a comment last year by Donna P., is that the sisters' purchase is probably a return of the Evans family to the area. The land on which the hotel stands was owned in the early 1700's by a Jonathan Evans. I can't find concrete proof of it, but it's likely that Jonathan Evans was Polly's great-grandfather. (Jonathan's son was Charles, whose son was Theophilus.) We can only assume that Polly was aware of this. Maybe that's why she moved to the area. Whatever the reason for her move, she remained here for 17 years. She finally sold the hotel in 1855 to Isaac Vansant, who lived in the John C. Vansant House located just west along the Old Coach Road. Cooch states that Vansant ran a store out Polly's old hotel, but for how long is unclear.

After selling her tavern to Vansant, Polly moved (I would guess directly) to Harford County, MD, just north of Baltimore. She appears there in the 1860 Census (she's always listed as Mary in the censuses), next door to her daughter Mary and son-in-law Hiram Ball, who had been living in Maryland for at least 16 years. Sister Rachel and brother Charles are also listed in Polly's household. Polly Drummond died September 21, 1867 (145 years ago to the day of the this post) in Maryland, and is buried there along with several other members of her family.

Polly Drummond's headstone
 Now that we know more about the person of Polly Drummond, I have to wonder just why her name came to be used to identify the hill on which her tavern sat. She didn't grow up there, she didn't own a lot of land, and she was only there for 17 years. Besides, the hill already had a name -- Meeting House Hill. So why did it become Polly Drummond's Hill? I think for two reasons. First, the old name was just that -- old, and out of date. The church had been moved to the bottom of the hill almost 100 years before. The old meeting house may have lasted for a while, but the hill's name probably was a bit out of date by that point.

But I think the real reason that the tavern-keeper's name stayed on was just because of her personality. Although she didn't own the hill, I think for those 17 years she owned the hill. From what little personal information we have of her -- like Fr. Kenny's references and the fact that she took someone to court to get her horse back -- she seems to have been a forceful personality. I imagine she was also probably well-liked and well-thought-of in the community, too. Whatever the reason, almost 160 years after her departure from the area, everyone knows the name of Polly Drummond.

48 comments:

  1. Isn't a meeting house a Quaker building? I've never heard the term applied to Presbyterian church buildings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question, Bill. From Wikipedia (because, well, why not):Early Presbyterians were careful to distinguish between the "church," which referred the members, and the "meeting house," which was the building in which the church met. Until the late 19th century, very few Presbyterians ever referred to their buildings as "churches." Presbyterians believed that meeting-houses (now called churches) are buildings to support the worship of God.

      Probably about the same line of reasoning that the Quakers used in calling their's "meeting houses". The name has just stuck long with the Friends.

      Delete
    2. Thanks. That makes sense as historic Christians also used the term "church" to refer to the congregation and not the building. It would make sense that congregations breaking away from an established denomination would take the same approach.

      Delete
  2. Thank you for this enlightening article! I have been asking and searching for information on who was Polly Drummond for over a year now, and 'mystery solved'!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am thrilled to find this blog! What a joy to read. I found the link on Mike O's the Seventh Type.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Nancy. I'm glad you like it. The secret is, it's even more fun to write.

      Delete
  4. Fantastic information. I'll be sharing this with my family.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seems we are related. I am Patricia Barker, ancestor, Mary Barker aka Polly Drummond.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for the history. I am writing a novel about my family who lived in Mill Creek Hundred in the early 1800s. Polly Drummond's Tavern would more than likely have been a frequent stop for my ancestors, who had a reputation of being hard drinkers. I will take a little poetic license but this history gives me another setting to make my historical fiction a little more authentic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds fascinating, Bill. Be sure to let us know when you finish it. I'm sure you've done plenty of research of your own, but if you ever need a hand, let us know.

      Delete
  6. Scott,I wonder if the tavern that Polly Drummond owned or ran while living around Coffee Run was the tavern that was on Lancaster Pike, on the Brandywine Springs Park property, going up the hill, on the right side. I read somewhere that at one time there was a tavern there. About a hundred yards back from the light, there's a flat section among the row of trees where a tavern was.
    Mark J.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mark, you're right that there was a tavern on Newport Gap Pike at Brandywine Springs, but it wasn't Polly's. She might have gotten some business from it, though. The Yarnall Tavern (or Conestoga Wagon) was a colonial era tavern that sat right where you say, but it was out of business by the 1820's when the first hotel was built at the springs. One of these days I'll get to a post about it.

      On a related note, when I was down in Dover at the archives a few weeks back (thanks, Walt) I came across a land transfer with Polly's (Mary's) name on it, which I briefly got excited about thinking it might be for her Coffee Run area property. Turns out it wasn't. It was a property in Christiana Hundred that was probably a family property, either hers (Evans) or her husband's (Drummond). I'd still love to know exactly where her Lancaster Pike tavern was.

      Delete
  7. Scott and Others:
    I just passed some major ruins on Loveville Rd. (which I had not seen in 30+ years driving that road). It is between Newport Gap Pike and Lancaster Pike, on the left, as you drive towards Cokesbury Village. It does not appear on either the 1849 or 1868 property maps. Could it possibly be Polly Drummonds first tavern?
    Or was it possibly a part of the Coffee Run Jesuits property? I have read where their land holdings extented to that point.??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I see what you mean. Looking at Bing maps, I see something on the west side of Loveville, just south of Wembley Road. You're right that there's nothing there on any of the old maps. The old aerial photos show something there from the 1937 shot until the 90's. Until I take a closer look, I don't know if it's a 20th century structure or older. If it's older, it could have been a tenant property, which could explain why why it wasn't on the maps.

      Delete
  8. Lancaster Pike Taverns
    In his book, Hockessin, A Pictorial History, Lake includes a copy of a portion of a map dated 1823. It clearly shows the main roads, Newport-Gap and Lancaster Pikes, and the location of several taverns and inns. On page 115 of his history, he lists the inns and taverns, including, "the Mermaid (1740), Tweeds, or Mudfords (1800), Peace and Plenty at Brackinville (1809), Mt. Pleasant Inn (1797), and Little's Tavern (1750), in Hockessin." At this point in time the maps place Hockessin Village on the hill near the Friends Meeting House. Another inn along the Lancaster Pike was the Oak Hill Inn in the area of what is now Sedgely Farms. Since there was a Post Office at Loveville, it is possible there was a store and tavern there as well, at one time, (Polly Drummond?)

    ReplyDelete
  9. can someone tell me where in Harford co. Md. she is buried?

    ReplyDelete
  10. You can find her grave stone at Find A Grave at this address. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=drummond&GSfn=mary&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=22&GScnty=1198&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=44893067&df=all& It has her son John W., who is also buried there as her husband. Her stone clearly says she was the wife of James. Donna P.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Donna. I was trying to put that in, but was having problems entering my comment. She's buried at the Ebenezer Cemetery, adjacent to the Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Fallston, MD. It lists an address of 3345 Charles Street, and states it's on MD Rt 152.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Was the old barn that is part of the Drummond Hill Swim Club part of her property or holdings?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I don't think so, but I know exactly what you mean. I'm pretty sure that was a little north of her holdings, but it could have been in her family previously. I think it was part of the property listed on the 1868 map (upper right of this page) as "J. Eliiot Hrs.".

      I'd noticed that barn before and I thought it might be old. If I remember correctly, I looked at it once in the old aerial photos and decided that the house stood just behind the barn in the grassy area behind the pool.

      Delete
  13. Thank you. I was looking for this. I used to live in Drummond Hill as a child.

    Question - behind 13 Alton Court, there was a very old cemetary. When I was growing up, I used to play with a classmate who lived in that house and we used to go back into the woods behind her house and observe and touch the gravestones (they seemed to date back into the 1700's). Does anyone know who is buried back there and what connection they have to the area?

    Just curious. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I assume that 13 is at the end of the cul-de-sac? If so, then behind it is a lot that also faces onto Coach Hill Drive. The graves do date to the 1700s. What it is is the original White Clay Creek Presbyterian cemetery. The first church was built in the early 1720's, either there or across the street. It was probably abandoned by 1760. I'd be curious to know what exactly is still there.
      http://mchhistory.blogspot.com/2011/08/white-clay-creek-presbyterian-church.html

      Delete
    2. I havent known of this blog until today. But i've been interested in local New Castle County history for years. I documented a couple of stones - very hard to read - on find-a-grave a few years ago. There was an effort to clean up the totally overgrown lot but it didn't get very far.

      Delete
    3. I saw that the area described as an old cwmetery behind Alton Ct has been cleared out in recent weeks. Took a stroll down there and only saw one sent submerged piece of a gravestone. Is this the same area you are describing as the location?

      Delete
    4. Yes that is it^ Wow hopefully somebody knows there is bodies in the ground. A friend of mine about 15 years ago lived in the Polly Drummond house and his dad removed most of the gravestones because neighborhood kids were going down there and he didn't want them to mess around down there.

      Delete
    5. Bob -- That's great to hear that it was cleared out. Maybe someone's taking care of it. I might have to try to swing by there some time.

      Anonymous -- That's very intriguing. I wonder what he did with the stones. Are any of them still around?

      Delete
    6. I have no clue, this was at least 15 years ago, and they moved out of the Polly Drummond house shortly after that, assuming they were left on the land somewhere. I may swing by later today or tomorrow and check this out. I highly doubt they would build a house or anything there, so hopefully it is someone who is aware of the cemetery.

      Delete
    7. I don't think anyone could build on the lot, its owner is listed as White Clay Creek Presbyterian Cemetery. So it's officially designated and known as such. The worst anyone could legally do is just ignore it. If you find out anything, please let us know. Thanks!!

      Delete
    8. Hello, having grown up in that area I visit every year or so. My last visit was
      Feb. of this year and the cemetary was completely and totally overgrown. It's good to see that someone has cared enough to clean it up. However, if someone has removed the headstones they should at least let someone know where they are. Is'nt that illegal?

      Delete
    9. I don't know whether it's legal or not, but I'm reminded of the expression, "Everything's legal so long as you don't get caught," or perhaps, "as long nobody cares". If we do care, maybe we can get to the bottom of it.

      Delete
    10. Update* Drove by and checked it out, and no trees or anything have been knocked down, just some of the wild brush cleared and cleaned up a bit. Glad to know someone is aware.

      Delete
    11. My 4G-Grandfather, Samuel Corry sold that 1/2 acre cemetery plot to the WCCPC in 1741 for £8. I have some cause to believe that he and his wife Jane are interred there as well. It is revolting to think that someone removed the gravestones without authorization from the WCCPC. Anonymous, do you still have contact with or knowledge of the whereabouts of that friend? Thanks Scott and everyone commenting here for this interesting info and blog!

      Delete
    12. Thanks, Bill. I agree with you about the headstones. Not upkeeping the cemetery is one thing, but actively removing and destroying the headstones is something else. I tried to find that 1741 deed, but couldn't. Did see some other Corry/Curry ones from about the same time, but not that one. Of course doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just either that the state doesn't have a copy anymore or Ancestry doesn't have it scanned. Good info, though. Thanks!!!

      Delete
    13. Scott, the 10/20/1741 deed for the half acre that included the "Old Meeting House" was one of a series of three deeds involving WCCPC land filed apparently to clarify title. I found them in a typed secondary recording at DB O-53:155 et seq.

      Interestingly, Cooch's history, p. 201 [?], reports that Samuel Corry conveyed this same half-acre parcel for the sum of five pounds to a church committee for a second time on 2/22/1752. Perhaps this deed was necessary to cure a title defect, or it could be an artifact of the Old Side/New Side schism.

      The second deed is dated 12/8/1772 and conveys the above half acre and a second one-acre parcel, from the surviving Trustees of the Presbyterian Congregation, Robert Montgomery and Robert Kirkwood, to a successor group of six men, presumably Trustees of the Church as well. Apparently the fee was held jointly by the Trustees as individuals instead of in corporate form (which may not have existed at the time). Hence the need for a transfer when the original group of purchasing Trustees dwindled over time.

      The third deed in this series, dated 5/25/1752, is the grant of a two-acre parcel from Joseph and Abigail England to twelve Church members for the current WCCPC premises.

      I am very interested to learn of the existence of any Corry/Correy deeds in MCH around that time. Given the half-ace sold by Samuel Corry was part of the Thomas Craighead, Jr. farm, I've conjectured that Corry bought this farm when Thos. Craighead Jr. died young ca. 1738. Any deed references would be most appreciated! You can email me at wjcur3 AT gmail DOT com.

      Also curious, does Ancestry now have a DE deed database?

      Thanks much!

      Delete
  14. Good Morning,
    I'm a new comer to the "Blog" but have lived in the are for over 70 years. I see NO mention of the Tavern being involved as a stop over on the "Under Ground R. R." Is that by design or are you unaware of that?

    Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JamesB -- I can't say I can recall seeing anything about the tavern being an UGRR stop. What makes you say this? Has it been researched and written about somewhere, or does it come from an oral history? This is obviously a difficult subject, since the whole thing was by design secretive. Because of that a lot of stories have grown up around it, and lots of houses and taverns have been associated with it over the years. But if there's somewhere you can point me to, that'd be great! The UGRR was an important part of our history, and was definitely active in the area. I'd love to be able to pin down some of the exact and true locations.

      Delete
    2. Scott ---it was what I was told by my Grand-parents, as a boy, who grew up in the Middletown, Sassafras area. Supposedly the people were moved from a location in Middletown at night to Iron Hill. From Iron Hill the next night to Polly Drummonds place and from there to the bldg. in Wilm. which was torn down about 15 yr.s ago or so on Front St. near the train station when they put in the new MLK Blvd. There was quite a fuss and write up about it in the Journal at the time and as I recall some of what I just reiterated to you about the route.

      Delete
    3. James B. -- Very interesting, thanks. Like I said, it's a hard thing to prove since it was inherently sectretive. Definitely a good tip, though, and worth looking into. Thanks!!

      Delaware 21 -- Barring any other discoveries, I still have to think she was just a larger than life personality. She was obviously a strong woman, and probably very well-liked. Having said that, it's not out of the realm of possibility that what James mentioned could have something to do with it, too. Polly could have been involved with the UGRR. She certainly didn't strike me as one who would stand idly by if something needed to be done.

      Delete
    4. James B., Were your Grandparents African American? If so, I would be greatly inclined to believe this story. Donna P

      Delete
  15. Polly Drummond must have had a history beyond her tavern and her "hill". In the early days of Delaware Park, 1937 through the 40's, one of the major races held each year was the "Polly Drummond Stakes". What was she actually known for, I wonder?

    ReplyDelete
  16. No Donna. My Maternal Grandmothers Father was a "Blacksmith" for the Confederate Army during the War. He moved his Family to Mt. Pleasant after that at some point in time. My Maternal Grandfather was a "Serf" on "Gum Bush Farm" in Middletown where he lived with other serfs and black slaves. This farm is located about 2 mi.s south of Mt. Pleasant where my Great Grandfather moved his family to. This is how he met my Grandmother. He is the one who gave me the info that I have passed on as well as a multitude of other things.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Very interesting. I grew up off Corner Ketch Road, and know Polly Drummond Hill Road quite well. Our family shopped at the A&P grocery store at the Polly Drummond Shopping Center and I attended Wilson Elementary School.

    I am curious about the history of the Drummond family that Mary (Polly) Evans married into. I ran across this article earlier today, http://www.common-place.org/vol-11/no-01/ekirch/ and I can't help wondering if the Duncan Drummond mentioned in it is the progenitor of the family. Would you know if the D. Duncan mentioned was a resident of Mill Creek Hundred?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sue V -- Yes, I think it is the same family, but I'm not sure if I found the connection. I was sent a similar link a while back but haven't gotten around to looking too closely into it yet. When I get a chance I'll have to get back to it.

      Delete
  18. I used to know the people that lived in this house in the nineties and early 2000's. Its now a different family. But the house was really nice inside for how old it is, they really fixed parts of it up. I didn't know much about the history then but it makes me wonder now if they ever found anything cool in the house or if the owners before them did. Or if there were any hidden rooms tunnels or secret passages in the house.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Do you do a lot of research at the Historical Society of Delaware?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I don't. For the most part I do my digging online and through other people. Someday I'd love to have the time to be able to get to the HSD, the State Archives, and Hagley more often. It would allow me to get much more indepth than I'm able to get now. Unfortunately, though, right now I can only do this in my spare time, which the way life is these days is far less than I wish it were.

      Delete
  20. I am a direct decendant of Samuel Barker, Mary Barker my ancestor aka Polly Drummond . Wonderful to find this. I am going to England this year, so much to see and learn, so little time. It's wonderful to see I have so many more relatives out there.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I drove by this morning. The house is on the market.

    ReplyDelete