Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Armstrongs of Hedgeland

Hedgeland, circa 1880
One phenomenon that I've run across in my research that I've always thought was interesting was how certain families end up controlling certain areas, with multiple adjacent or near-adjacent farms all owned by relatives. Often this is a result of an early, large tract being broken up over the years but staying within a family, or by related men purchasing farms near each other (or a combination of both). We can see this with a few families in Mill Creek Hundred, like the Whitemans, the Eastburns, the Walkers, the Dixons, and the Jacksons. Another good example can be found just over the border in the southwestern part of Christiana Hundred, around the intersection of Centre Road (Route 141) and Faulkland Road.

The family that controlled this particular area was the Armstrongs, and their legacy can still be seen if you know where to look, although one highly-visible example recently disappeared (that's actually what got me interested in this in the first place, and we'll get to it in the next post). The Armstrongs, as I quickly learned, are one of those very old families that has semi-related (or possibly not related) branches in several places around New Castle County. The farther you go back, the more difficult it becomes to sort out exactly how everyone is related to everyone else. It didn't take me long to realize that I really just wanted to focus on the branch that settled near the 141/Faulkland Road area.

The Armstrong Estates in 1868
The biographical information I could find about the family, which mostly came from Runks, seems to generally start with Robert Armstrong (1743-1821). About the only piece of information given about him is that he fought in the Revolutionary War, which is plausible given his dates. And just a quick note about these dates -- this is one of those families where the more I dug, the more confused I became. Many of the dates given in Runks don't match up with dates in other genealogical sources, or even with some of the headstones of the people. I'm using the dates which make the most sense to me, but I'm not staking my life on any of them.

The Armstrong Estates in 1881

This Robert seems to be the son of another Robert, who in turn is likely related to (may be the son of) John Armstrong, whose 1726 burial is said to be the oldest at St. James Episcopal Church west of Stanton. From both the church's and likely the family's earliest days in America, the Armstrongs (or at least, this branch) were strongly involved in the congregation at St. James. Almost all of the people mentioned in this post are buried there. The Patriot Robert Armstong's home farm was known as The Hedge, or Hedgeland. It was located on the northeast corner of Centre Road (141) and Faulkland Road, the present-day location of DuPont's Chestnut Run offices. It sits directly across the road from the Ferris School, which was once an Armstrong farm called Woodside. Woodside was sold out of the family very early in the 1800's, but was owned before that by William Armstrong. I haven't definitively placed him in the family, but he may have been Robert's uncle.

I've found no mention of where the earliest generations of these Armstrongs lived, but it's possible that it could have been Hedgeland. Robert the Patriot (whose wallet resides with the Historical Society of Delaware) was reportedly born in Christiana Hundred, and his son Robert (1782-1838) is specifically said to have been born "on the Hedge farm". This Robert, like his father before him, took up arms to defend his country, this time in the War of 1812. He is said to have been active in politics (although not an office holder), and was "one of the pioneers in the establishment of the Wilmington markets". Robert and his wife Elizabeth (Mehaffy) had six children, the youngest of whom was a son, Robert Louis Armstrong (1834-1909).

Robert Lewis' father died when he was just four, so his mother had to run the farm until he came of age. When he did (and after spending three years at a boarding school in Wilmington) he made great improvements to the estate, including a new stone house and a large barn. [More information about the house, as well as the photo at the top of the page, can be found here.] This makes sense when you figure that what was there was probably built at least by his grandfather (if not earlier), and was probably pushing a hundred years old by that point. In 1864 Robert Louis became the third generation in his family to fight for the United States, when he enlisted in the Second Regiment, Delaware Emergency Cavalry. He also carried on the family tradition of public service, serving in several positions over the years. At various times he held the office of Assessor for Christiana Hundred, Tax Collector for the hundred, New Castle County Sheriff (1872-1874), and member of the Levy Court. Robert also served as a committee chairman at Ferris, and as a senior warden, trustee, and vestryman of St. James Church. On top of all that, he was also a past master of the Armstrong Masonic Lodge in Newport, which was named after him.

Robert Louis Armstrong lived the rest of his life at Hedgeland, before passing away in 1909 and being interred at St. James. As best as I can tell from old aerial photos, the Hedgeland house stood just back of the main gates going into Chestnut Run, maybe about where the flagpole is now. And as much as I learned about Hedgeland and the Roberts Armstrong, this wasn't even what I initially set out to study. Two other 19th Century Armstrong farms, of which one house remains, will be the focus of the next post.

1 comment:

  1. Scott -- I have lots of Armstrongs in my tree. I sent you an email.

    Rich Morrison