Monday, July 6, 2015

William Guest (Part 1) -- Owner of Stanton Mill

William Guest's Wedgebury Tract
When Walt Chiquoine found out I was looking for more Guest Posts, I think he might have misunderstood what I meant. In any case, here is the first of two very interesting posts from Walt about the early history of the southeast corner of Mill Creek Hundred, the area now known as Stanton:

Researched and Written by Walt Chiquoine --

I thank Scott for another chance to talk about some of our earliest history in Mill Creek Hundred. This time, it’s about William Guest, a gentleman from West Bromwich, England who immigrated with the fleets of William Penn.  Early historians list him on the Hester and Hannah, arriving at New Castle in August of 1682.  Guest settled immediately in Mill Creek Hundred (MCH).  And despite his appearance in the same year as Penn, he was not Scots-Irish nor was he a Quaker.

William Guest did arrive as a fairly affluent and well-educated man, since he immediately engaged in legal and civil affairs.  I have not found his date of birth, but I’d guess he was around thirty – he certainly wasn’t afraid to mix it up in court with his peers, as a deputy to William Penn described him as “naturally passionate” in 1686.  Within a year of his arrival, Guest was elected to Penn’s Assembly as a representative from New Castle County (1683).  He later served as a judge for the Court at New Castle.  Guest left an incomplete legacy in his deeds and personal records; in what we have, there is no mention of an early wife or family.  But he may have a role in explaining two mysteries:  what happened to the first grist mill in MCH, and where did the name Cuckoldstown (early Stanton) come from?

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to William Guest and talk about the first Stanton mill.  I’ll follow with a separate post on Cuckoldstown. (Second post can be found here.)     

The story begins with a large tract of land between Mill Creek and Calf Run that was surveyed for William Guest in October 1682 by Ephraim Herman, as recorded in the Book of Surveys.  The southern portion he purchased from Charles Rumsey, and the northern portion was a new grant signed by William Penn.  He received his patent for the tract, known as Wedgebury, in 1684.  The survey, shown above, places a homestead near what is now Milltown.  It was probably built by Charles Rumsey, but that’s likely where Guest lived until about 1688.

In 1687, Guest won a court case against Abraham Man for a large debt, and Guest subsequently bought the property of Abraham Man at sheriff’s sale in 1688.  Man (also Mann) owned the property on Red Clay Creek from Telegraph Road up to Ham’s Run (his namesake), a tract that included modern Stanton and its mill seats.  Here is a survey of the Guest/Man property from 1702.  The town now called Stanton grew up at the southern end of the property. 

Guest/Man property, 1702

I think William Guest moved to this property between 1688 and 1691.  In that period, he sold off his Wedgebury tract to Richard Mankin (1688) and Ann Robinson (1691).  The road to Guest’s “new” house is referenced in a contemporary deed, and as noted, the property is re-surveyed to him in 1702.  Here is an approximation of Man’s (then Guest’s) land on a 2007 satellite image, with the property bounded by Red Clay Creek to the south and east.  Unfortunately, there is little evidence of the Stanton mills today.

Guest/Man property today


Very little has ever been published about the history of the first mill in MCH, built on Red Clay Creek at the top of Bread and Cheese Island.  That mill, built around 1680 after the petition of Charles Rumsey and John Watkins, was placed in a controversial location - it was not built on Rumsey’s property, which was all west of (now) Telegraph Road.  Pieces of that little-known controversy are part of the early records, as different parties laid claim to the mill property.  Apparently, Cornelius Empson, a Brandywine miller, bought an early interest in the mill and became the operator. 

Empson tried for years to get clear title to the mill property, but I think it ultimately eluded him.  Abraham Man (and therefore William Guest) had the strongest claim to the land where the mill was built.  Now keep in mind that Empson, Guest, and Man were all attorneys and judges, and regularly faced each other in court.  They were both collaborators and adversaries, they all had some clout with the courts, and it probably would make a good TV series.

In 1699, William Guest (as successor to Abraham Man) won a case against Empson about the mill property, but Empson posted bond to appeal the decision.  Sadly, Cornelius Empson’s appeal is the very last court record that exists until about 1720.  Darn. 

Empson's appeal

I will conclude that William Guest ultimately won his case, but odd things happened in the meantime.  To bolster his claim, Empson bought one-half interest in the mill in 1705 from the estate of Thomas Wollaston, one of the original petitioners for the mill.  Did Wollaston have a legitimate interest in the mill, or was this just a quitclaim to appease his estate?  Empson bought 12 acres between Telegraph Road and Mill Creek from John Cann in 1708, adjacent to the mill.  Immediately after that, Cornelius went to the Board of Property and petitioned for a “small Piece of vac’t Land” on which his mill was “placed there by mistake”.  You don’t have to read far between the lines to see that Empson, a rather powerful man, had a weak hand – and he finally threw himself at the mercy of his friends on the Court.

The Court ordered a survey, never recorded, found in the notes of surveyor Isaac Taylor (below, dated 1708/9).  It seems Taylor was sympathetic to Empson’s cause, because without doing his homework, he carved out a 12 acre property around the mill for Empson.  But based on prior surveys, it was a hack job – this was not vacant land, it was part of the Man/Guest tract.   In the same court record, this resurvey also raised the ire of the folks on Bread and Cheese Island (BCI), and Edward Robinson and Matthew Peterson demanded a new survey of BCI as well.  

1708/09 Taylor Survey of Empson's land

Cornelius Empson died in 1710, supposedly passing his interest in the mill to his daughters.  I’ve found no civil record of how these claims were resolved, other than to conclude that William Guest ultimately won his case.  Guest died about 1717, and his estate sold about 30 acres at sheriff’s sale to Isaac Hersey in 1720.  That property sat just above the neck between White Clay and Red Clay Creeks, and included grist, saw, and fulling mills.  They may not be the original mill structure, but it was essentially the same mill seat.  The metes and bounds are not given in the deed, but can be inferred from later deeds.  You can see the Hersey property in the image below, compare it to the previous satellite image.  It seems to include a few acres of Empson’s property west of Telegraph Road, I don’t know why.  

Modern location of properties

The history of the mill has some gaps, but it really does leave a trail in the records.  Amidst the controversy, it seems that Cornelius Empson operated the mill until his death in 1710, when his family finally lost control to William Guest. 

We know from later deeds that the other parts of Guest’s property around Stanton were sold off, but some of the original deeds are lost.  As for the mill property, it probably went through several owners after Isaac Hersey until it appears again in 1762, when it was sold at sheriff’s sale from Thomas Garrett and George Robinson to Richard Jacobs, Jr.  [Jacobs obtained a release from Empson Bird, Cornelius’ grandson, and others to get a clean title.  That seems to end the controversy.]  While not quite a complete story, the connections between Cornelius Empson, Abraham Man, William Guest, and Isaac Hersey offer a lot of new and fascinating insight on the history of the original mill.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Walt, for your incredible work on this topic. The subject of the Stanton Mill's early history seems to have been largely neglected by just about everyone, but I know it has gotten under your skin. It's definitely not an easy subject to follow along with, what with all the different people involved and the frustrating gaps in the record. It all makes your work even more impressive. Thanks!!