Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Stanton"-Tatnall-Byrnes House Mystery Solved?

The Sutton-Tatnall-Byrnes House?
I have a lot of fun doing research for this blog, and just as much fun writing it. If you catch me on the right day, I might even admit to being proud of it. I like the fact that I've helped to make a good bit of our local history accessible to more people. That being said, I'll be the first to admit that most of what I do is usually just gathering, compiling, sometimes fact-checking, and repackaging work that was done by others before me. To be fair, though, I do always try to add value where I can, whether it's adding a little bit of background or tying together a few threads from different sources (almost never does one source have all the information). Once in a while, though, I get to make what feels like an actual contribution to our collective knowledge.

Now, I'm not saying that these contributions are on the scale of unearthing the Holy Grail, deciphering Linear A, or finding an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, but they're contributions none the less. It's at least locally significant -- and pretty cool -- to realize that we've uncovered or figured out something that no one else may have known for several hundred years, not since the original actors in the story. As you've probably guessed, I think we've (mostly not me) found another piece of "new" information.

In the post about the Stanton Mills and the brick house that once stood near them, I expressed some doubt as to the "accepted" builder of the house. The home seems to have been built about 60 years after the first mill was erected about 1680, presumably by someone connected to the mill. And although the house outlived the mills by almost 100 years, not coming down until about 30 years ago, no one seems to really know who built it. The only clue was some glazed brick headers on the south gable end of the house, arranged like so:

                 W A
                17  40

There's little doubt that this memorializes the builders of the house, as well as the building date of 1740. This format and style were common at the time, and it probably was similar to what William Cox put on his 1726 house near Hockessin. This would mean that the builder was "W S", along with his wife "A". The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) report written in the 1960's states that this "probably refers to W. Stanton", but gives no reason for this assumption. I don't know when the idea that the "S" was Stanton originated, but in the 1930's Francis Cooch referred to this house as being the home of AW Stanton. Not only did he get the initials backwards, but I think he was wrong all the way around. It's possibly, though, that he was only repeating the story he had been told by people in the area.

As I wrote in the other post, this explanation just doesn't seem right to me. For one thing, I can't find an evidence that there was a W. Stanton. This alone, though, doesn't disprove anything, since we're dealing with a period long before censuses and with spotty documentation. And again, I still haven't found proof of a Stephen Stanton, for whom the town was supposedly renamed, in the area. There does appear to have been one in Pencader Hundred, but not near here. I suppose he could have been a wealthy man who owned land near the village of Cuckoldstown, but it seems odd to me that the inhabitants would rename their town after someone who doesn't even live there. If any more information on this surfaces, I'll be sure to pass it along.

But getting back to the house, the explanation of the S as being Stanton smacks of revisionism to me. Like at a later date (long after the actual people had died) some decided, "S, on a house near Stanton -- has to be Stanton". If we set aside that assumption and start from scratch, then we're looking for someone with a last name beginning with S who owned (or partially owned) land near the mill about 1740. Thanks to some great detective work by Walt C. -- master of dusty, confusing Colonial-Era deeds and land documents -- I think we have a pretty good candidate.

As Walt was digging through abstracts and surveys from southeastern Mill Creek Hundred from the late 1600's and early 1700's, he came across an interesting chain. Abraham Man (one of the original signers for the mill) owned a large tract along the west side of Red Clay Creek, extending from present-day Stanton up through Marshallton.* The southern 200 acres of the tract eventually went to William Guest for repayment of debts. After Guest died, his widow received the land in 1717. Walt thinks the Widow Guest remarried to Nathaniel Wainsford, and that the two of them sold 7 acres of this land in 1737.

The man to whom they sold the 7 acres was William Sutton. His wife's name was Ann. Neither Walt nor I have yet found a good piece of conclusive proof that Sutton was the one who built the house, but it seems to make more sense to me. Plus, we have the bonus of knowing for sure that Sutton was, in fact, a real person.

I haven't come across anything else yet tying him to the Stanton property, but his name does pop up nearby. Scharf relates that Sutton was one of the original purchasers of lots in the new village of Newport Ayre, later shortened to simply Newport. Along with Joseph Jones, Sutton built the first wharf in the new village, starting the shipping trade that would help the town to grow.

The Joseph Tatnall House, Newport

Interestingly, Sutton and Jones' property was likely along the Christina River right about where the pigment plant is now (I think it's BASF currently, was Ciba, DuPont, and Krebs before that). On that property stands a house tentatively dated to 1750, officially called the Joseph Tatnall House. It's often incorrectly referred to as the Oliver Evans House (Evans never lived there, his family's home was on the west side of Newport). Sutton and Jones supposedly built a dwelling and a storehouse on their property, and the Tatnall House* is actually of a similar style to the one by the Stanton Mills. It was enlarged later in the 18th Century to five bays, but the original section was the two eastern (near side in the picture) bays, making it a similar size to the Stanton house. There is no evidence as to who built the Newport home, but I find the similarities interesting.

So while there's no conclusive proof (yet) that William Sutton built the house, I think it's the most likely scenario. The last question, then, would be why he built it. It's unclear what if any relationship Sutton might have had to the mill. In fact, if I'm reading the evidence correctly, it seems that the house lot was separate from the mill at the time. Did he build it for himself and his family to live in? He seems to have been (business-wise, at least) centered in Newport. The Stanton house isn't so far away that he couldn't have lived there, but since he was literally invested in the new town I'd think he'd choose to live there. Did he build it for a family member? Did he build it as a tenant house? One possible answer -- lots more questions.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • I don't know that I've mentioned it here, but Walt has a related theory on a name origin. Since Abraham Man owned property up through where Marshallton is now, he thinks Man might be the origin of Ham Run, the small stream that empties into Red Clay right near the bridge. Sounds plausible to me that "Man's Run" could change over the years to "Ham's Run", or directly to "Ham Run".
  • The name "Joseph Tatnall House" comes from the owner in the 19th Century, who I'm fairly sure is the same Joseph Tatnall who owned the Stanton Mills. The National Register report says that Tatnall lived in the Newport house, but I think that's unlikely, unless maybe his son Joseph, Jr. did. However, both Josephs are listed in Wilmington in every census in which they appear.

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