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Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Barkers of Barker's Bridge -- Part II

Samuel Barker's property and neighbors
(courtesy W. Chiquoine)
In the last post, we traced the history of the Barker family from the 1680's up until the late 1700's. We covered several generations and at least two distinct properties in the area that came to be called Barker's Bridge, along what became Lancaster Pike near what would later be known as Wooddale. We arrived at Samuel Barker (1721-1803), grandson (through Joseph) of the Samuel Barker who originally settled in the area. After mentioning seven of his nine children, we're left with the only two sons who didn't move out of the area -- William and Abraham. As noted, Samuel seems to have inherited his father Joseph's property along the Red Clay. This is corroborated by the fact that in 1762 Samuel filed a warrant for the 340 acre tract, and four years later had it resurveyed. It sounds like he was probably reaffirming his ownership of the tract, on which he would reside until his death in 1803. After his passing, the property was acquired by William and Abraham.

For some reason, when the rest of the Barker sons moved west to Pittsburgh, these two stayed behind. The histories specifically state that William never married, and there is no mention of a wife or children for Abraham, either. It is stated that William, like several of his brothers, served in the Revolutionary War, and fought at the Battle of Brandywine, among other places. It's not known (at least as far as I know) where any of the early Barker homes were located, or if any survived much longer than their residents. However, one house did outlast the family who built it, only to be lost not many years ago.


Above are photos of the house that once stood on the north side of Lancaster Pike, just a few hundred feet west of Hercules Road. It was photographed and surveyed in the late 1980's, just a few short years before it was razed in about 1990. It was a two-story frame dwelling, built in at least three stages. The original section was the three-bay portion to the right (east) side of the picture, with a later addition on the left, and another in the rear. The 1980's DelDOT report reached the conclusion that the original house was built around 1800, which would put it in proximity with the passing of the property from Samuel to William and Abraham. While this may very well be accurate, there are a few points which, in my mind, cast a bit of doubt on this conclusion.

If the house did date from about 1800, that would likely make one or both of the sons its builder(s). Samuel would have been about 80 years old, so I think it's unlikely that he would have built a new house then. However, this DelDOT report mentions that a former tenant of the house stated that its oldest section was actually built of logs. While log houses were fairly common in the area in the "frontier" days of the 17th and 18th Centuries, by the early 1800's they were becoming less common. The Barkers, as we've seen, had been in the area for over a century by then and seemed to have been at least somewhat prosperous. I have trouble believing that one or both of these adult sons would have built a log home for themselves at that time.

Rear of the Barker House

My own feeling is that the log section well pre-dated 1800, having been constructed either as an earlier Barker homestead, or perhaps as a tenant house. Then, perhaps soon after Samuel's death in 1803, William greatly enlarged the small log house with the larger frame addition around it. This would not be that unusual, and there have been other homes in the area that have been found to have logs at their core.

Regardless of who built the house, we do know who lived there for at least the better part of four decades. As Runk tells us, just a few years after Samuel's passing, Abraham died as well, his death the result of a kick from a horse. There is no mention of his ever marrying. What is really interesting about this era is what the sons and probably the father had been doing on their property, and what William seems to have continued to do, possibly right up until his own death.

While the house sat on the north side of the road, to the south stood a saw mill. Abraham and William are listed as co-owners of a saw mill in the 1804 county tax assessment, so we know it operating by at least then. Recently, Walt Chiquoine found a later document (dating from the time of William's death in 1847) that specified the location of the mill and of the race leading to it. The filing for the document was also connected to Samuel, so there is reason to believe that the mill dates back to his era. And since the saw mill was operating by the time the house is thought to have been built, I think it's pretty logical to assume that the brothers Barker cut the boards for the house themselves.

Walt's discovery of the mill information is significant, because in every history I've come across the exact location of the mill and race were unknown. As you can see in the illustration above, the dam was located directly across from Hercules Road, near where where the Red Clay begins its short northward course along the large oxbow. The race heads generally southeast, across Lancaster Pike, to the saw mill site on what would later become the Hercules property. This course is corroborated by a note from the minutes of the Wilmington Turnpike Company in the 1830's, which mentions a bridge over Barker's race.

Barker is noted as owning a saw mill in the 1832 McLane Report, so we know he was still operating then. William's probate records from 1847 include "large numbers of posts, rails, timbers, saws, chains, and other items", all of which seem to indicate that he was either still running the mill or at least had done so recently. After William Barker's death, his property was sold at auction to Richard Smithurst, who sold the property again in 1857. On the 1849 map (seen below), the Barker House is shown, but without an owner's name. Smithurst (actually Smithers, but close enough) is noted on the southern portion in the house (or at least the location of the house) later occupied by the Hulett family. Neither the saw mill nor the race is shown, so I think it's logical to assume that it went away along with the last of the Barkers. Or was he the last of the Barkers in the area?

The Barker's Bridge area, 1849

You get extra points if you recall that early this year there was a short post dealing with another Barker -- Joshua B. Barker (1811-1891). He lived on the east side of Barley Mill Road, north of William's tract, and can also be seen on the 1849 map above. At first I was unable to place Joshua within the family, and unable to believe that it was a coincidence that he lived so close to the others. I'm still not completely sure of his pedigree, but these two ancestry pages (here and here) make an interesting case that Joshua was actually the son of William Barker and Sarah Bishop. I've not seen the original documents myself, but it's claimed that he was an executor of both of their wills, and was named as the only son in both.

This is interesting for two reasons. First, Runk states explicitly that William never married. From what I understand, the information that Runk relates was usually gathered directly from the families themselves. It was only published about 50 years after William's death, so if he was indeed married, did the family forget or did they "try to forget"? Secondly, who was Sarah Bishop? If she was married to William, did she then remarry to a Bishop? There is actually some reason to think she may have been the daughter of John Bishop, whose house sat near Joshua Barker's, and from whom Joshua may have purchased his land. If this was the case, did Sarah revert to her maiden name? I believe that would have been quite unusual for the time, and might indicate that her and William's marriage may have been short and not so sweet. That could explain why all involved wanted to pretend it never happened.

However the Barkers' story ended in Mill Creek Hundred, they certainly had an interesting run here. Their glory days are long past, but they definitely deserve to be remembered.


  1. Scott, There is a fairly large stone ruin that is maybe 30 feet from Lancaster Pike in the spot where the old Barker house once stood. I'm not sure if it is the barn or the house. In any event, it becomes quite visible when the leaves come down, but a little tough to see when going 50 mph.
    I enjoyed your WDEL podcasts...a great refresher course!

    1. I'll have to check that out some time. May be from the house, or there was also a 1940's house apparently built on the foundation of the old barn. Could be from that.

      And thanks.

  2. Mill still back at Hercules rest Hercules tore down link up for photos Eric

  3. I recall the older section of the house having half sawn logs for the first and second floor joist and the studs and rafters were quite a bit rounded and log like but had flat spots sawn into them for the interior lath and plaster and the siding was attached directly to the studs.The frame work was also mortise and tenon with dowls, the newer section was all flat sawn timbers that were nailed together with hand made nails and had quarter sawn 1x6,8,10 planks for exterior sheathing, the timbers were chestnut and white oak, sorry to have torn down an old house but at the time I was just following orders, just have to say this blog is a fountain of information, very good info !!!

  4. I’m reading this as to learn more about my family, I am a direct descendent of Samuel Barker. My grandfather told me about the Barkers Bridge and I became interested right away. I am the youngest Barker in my area of the family and had recently heard the tail. One of the brothers went north and one went south, I’m apart of the southern brother. The remaining southern Barkers remain in Texas, as the brother that went north collided with the Winchester’s. William Winchester married Sarah ——- and so then being related to the famed Sarah Winchester. I do know that it was all left to Henry —- to carry on the family name and haven’t researched the rest. The Barker family in the south is thriving off of one last Barker male to spread the family name. The Barker family came from England and their last name wasn’t always Barker, they changed it when they came to Delaware to escape the church. The Barker family lived in Aston Hall in Birmingham England for 300 years before escaping to Delaware. Before England, the Barker family started in France which then I do not know what else happened. I also don’t know the last name that they held in England, all that they changed it when they came to The America’s.

    1. I have an entire family tree that dates back to Samuel Barker if you wanted it. My grandfather gathered it all up.

  5. Recently took the Wilmington Western Railroad ride for the first time every (after almost 30 years) but I noticed right where the mill was located, a spur of the railroad branches off to where the mill was. I had no clue about this.