Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On the Origins of the Greenbank and Marshallton Mills, Part 1

Researched and written by Walt Chiquoine --

I do a lot of property research for MCH, from original grants up through the 18th century.  Sometimes it is rather tedious and boring, like reading a family genealogy that is nothing but names and dates.  But sometimes the land and court records provide a thread that ties together other facts and ideas into a real story about the early families of MCH, a story that has not been told before.  I’d like to share the story of one such property on Red Clay Creek that involves two of our founding families (Justa Justis Jr. and Isaac Hersey) and two of our earliest mill seats (Greenbank and Marshallton).  The complete story, more fully illustrated and referenced, is available elsewhere on this site. 


The story begins with two warrants (1682 and 1684) and a 1684 survey to Thomas Gillet.  Gillet came from England in 1682 on the Welcome, a passenger on the same ship as William Penn.  Penn’s first landing was at New Castle, where it seems Gillet disembarked and set about finding some land to settle.  His property, surveyed by Thomas Pierson, is given in this sketch that is recorded in the Book of Surveys at the Delaware Public Archives:

In this image, North is to the right.  The 294-acre property is bounded by Ham Run to the south (Ham was a familiar form of Abraham, see Abraham Man’s Land above), Red Clay Creek to the east, and Hyde Run to the north (then called the Great Run).  

I assume that Gillet settled somewhere on the property in 1682, as he appears in the list of Taxables north of Christiana Creek up through 1687.  He also served jury duty and witnessed deeds in this period.  In 1687, he obtained a mortgage for the property from Nicholas Allum and Mathyas Mattson.  But then, Gillet disappears from the records without wife or family.  For the next fifteen years, the status of the property is uncertain.  The next record of the property is of a sheriff’s sale in 1708 from Richard Rumsey to Hipolitus Lefeaver. 

The names of Allum and Mattson are not familiar in local history, as they lived on the Chesapeake in Cecil County, MD.  Nicholas Allum appeared there about 1670, but his origin is unknown.  Mathias Mattson’s line goes back to his father Hendrick’s arrival in New Sweden in 1641, making them a very old family indeed.  Nicholas Allum died in 1696; Mathias Mattson in 1702.

Allum and Mattson were neighbors of Thomas Rumsey, also living on the Chesapeake Bay.  Mattson was Thomas Rumsey’s brother-in-law, and both he and Nicholas Allum were named as executors of Thomas Rumsey’s will of 1685.  Thomas had a son Richard to whom he left property on the Bohemia River, but Richard sold this property in 1702.  I believe this was the Richard Rumsey who acquired the Gillet tract from his Uncle Mathias (or his estate) before 1702.

[There are four early Rumsey families that appear related, as brothers or at least cousins:  Thomas of Salem Town (NJ) and the Sassafras River (MD), William of Salem (NJ), Richard of Fairfield (CT) and Charles of first MCH then the Sassafras River (MD).  Both Richard and Thomas have sons who ended up in Salem, near William Rumsey.  The family of Charles Rumsey tells the story that he visited New York and Philadelphia before settling on the Bohemia River.  But Philadelphia did not yet exist.  Were these visits to his brothers in Connecticut and West Jersey, before he settled near his brother Thomas on the Bohemia?  For now, you will need to be the judge.]

The deed of sheriff’s sale from Richard Rumsey to Hipolitus Lefeaver in 1708 is significant.  In that deed, 294 acres “commonly called Gillet’s Land” was sold at auction.  Rumsey was a “planter” whose property was appraised at only 44 pounds (a typical land value), without a mill mentioned or considered.  This is compelling evidence that no mill existed on the property in 1708.

Hipolitus Lefeaver of Salem (NJ) became an innkeeper in New Castle about 1695.  His father, Hipolitus Sr., sold property to a William Rumsey in Salem, so it seems like Hipolitus Jr. was acquainted with the extended Rumsey family.  But in 1711, Lefeaver sold the Gillet property to Nils Laican of Philadelphia.  Given Lefeaver’s properties and business in New Castle, it is unlikely that he built either mill between 1708 and 1711.

The MCH History Blog has previously covered much of the Laican history.  Nils was a Swede who lived in Philadelphia.  He purchased the entire 294-acre property in 1711 and bequeathed half the tract to his daughter Christian, married to Justa Justis Jr.  This bequest is found in Nils’ will of 1721 (he died in 1722), but many researchers believe that Justa and Christian settled the land right after Nils’ purchase in 1711.

Nils’ will clearly split the property in two: the northern half gifted to Christian and Justa Justis, Jr., and the southern half to be sold to cover expenses.  (There is no mention of a mill.)  The southern property was purchased by John Seeds, married to Nils’ daughter Brita.  Mary Laican and John Rambo, executors for Nils Laican’s estate, were poor administrators and did not sign deeds for these properties until the 1730’s. 

So by 1722, the property of Thomas Gillet on Red Clay Creek was split between Justa Justis Jr. to the north and his brother-in-law John Seeds to the south.  The boundary is evident today.   In later years, a water grist mill is noted on each property – Swedes’ Mill (or Greenbank) on the northern property and Hersey’s Mill (or Marshallton) on the southern property.  While the northern mill was sold by 1751, three generations of the Justis family would occupy the remainder of the northern property for many years, another story that Scott has given us here on his blog.  But John Seeds never settled the southern property – he sold it to Isaac Hersey before 1730.  And in like fashion, three generations of Herseys occupied their property until the early 1800’s.  In two more posts to come, I’ll provide more on each property and the mill seats that remain with us today.

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