Monday, December 14, 2015

John "The Boyne Water Major" Montgomery and Family

The property of John Montgomery
It's a frustrating truth that as much as I'd like to be able to tell the complete stories of the places and people of Mill Creek Hundred, there are some subjects that just refuse to be totally revealed. With a lot of families, for instance, I can trace them back just so far, then they become a confusing jumble. Of all the clans who have frustrated me in this way, few have done so as much as the Montgomerys. There were unquestionably Montgomery families who were prominent in MCH society in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but there is precious little information about many of them, especially as you get deeper into history.

There was, for instance, an Alexander Montgomery who ran the Rising Son tavern in Stanton in the early days. There was also an Alexander who co-founded the first mill in Milltown in 1747. They may or may not have been the same person. A Samuel Montgomery purchased land from the Robinsons near Milltown in 1766, and William Montgomery built the house that still stands along Old Limestone Road, over 200 years ago. Again, these men may or may not (I think they probably were) have been related -- there's just no good data I've come across yet to make a firm connection.

Although all of these Montgomerys deserve to have their tales told (and hopefully I'll be able to do that someday), right now I'd like to focus on a different (and apparently unrelated) branch of the clan. This line of the family has its own rich heritage, and thanks to some typically fabulous work by old deed-miner extraordinaire Walt Chiquoine, we have a pretty decent grasp on who they were and where they lived. And as a bonus, I hope to have an interesting follow-up to this story sometime in the near future.

The story of this family in MCH begins across the sea, in Ayrshire, Scotland, about 1665. It was then that John Montgomery was born, son of another John. The younger John is almost always referred to in family writings as "The Boyne Water Major", a title he received from events in 1690. By that time the family (or at least John, Sr. and his sons) had relocated to Ireland and were part of the army fighting for the new rulers of England, William and Mary. Only two years earlier, at the behest of a group of nobles, King James II was overthrown by the Dutch William of Orange and his wife, Mary. Mary was the Protestant daughter of James, and the coup was undertaken to ensure that James' newborn (and Catholic) son would not inherit the throne.

In July 1690, the armies of James and William met at the Battle of the Boyne, about 30 miles from Dublin. In this battle the elder John Montgomery (a Major) and two of his sons were killed. His surviving son, John, was soon-after promoted to Major in the regiment, earning the title he'd keep the rest of his life. The Williamites (which included the Montgomerys) prevailed, basically ensuring the continued Protestant hold on the English throne.

Outline of John Montgomery's property
Jumping ahead now about 40 years, sometime around 1730 John and his family emigrated to America, and ended up in Mill Creek Hundred. Some accounts have him here as early as the mid-1720's, but what we do know is that in 1731, John purchased 766 acres from the Penn family. As you can see from the illustration above, the property was located in the eastern part of the hundred, around the intersection of Old Wilmington Road and Brackenville Road.

By the time he came to America, John and Margaret (Dunbar) Montgomery had four sons. It's not quite clear what happened to the eldest, named John, but he doesn't appear to have made it to this area. One story says he may have perished at sea, while other evidence suggests he settled in Virginia. Whatever the case, the other three Montgomery boys -- Alexander, Robert, and Thomas -- did all settle in MCH, at least for a while. They were all young adults in their early 20's by the early 1730's, and likely helped their father work the farm.

The division of the Boyne Water Major's land

We have no definitive date of death for the Boyne Water Major, but clues point to John Montgomery's passing as being in about 1750. He left no will or probate records, but the wills of his sons make fairly clear who settled where. (And huge thanks to Walt for digging through them and mapping everything out.) Robert received the northern part of the tract, Thomas the southwestern section, and Alexander settled in the southeastern portion. It seems that at least Alexander was settled in his land by 1746, as he died that year and his property was willed to his son John. We'll get back to this lot in a moment.

Thomas Montgomery remained on his southwestern portion of of the tract until his death in 1799, at age 87. The property then went to his son, Moses (1766-1856). It was Moses then, who in about 1823* constructed a new stone house a little south of Old Wilmington Road. The house faces southeast, overlooking the bulk of the property. Eventually a private road ran in front of the home, connecting Old Wilmington Road and Lancaster Pike. This ultimately became Mitchell Road, as the house later passed through the Ball and Mitchell families.

* -- The 1823 date comes from the NCC Parcel Search website. However, the home's current owner has found that an 1822 tax assessment lists Moses as having a stone barn and log house, while in 1828 they are both listed as stone. This at least makes the 1823 date plausible. Also, an 1808 date stone likely moved to the house from the barn when it was demolished in the 1970's seems to date the older stone barn to that year.

The home of Moses Montgomery
The northern portion of John Montgomery's tract was passed to middle son Robert. As Walt's diagram indicates, the exact northern and southern boundaries of this lot are not precisely clear -- not too surprising when they mark lots out with things like trees, stumps, and rocks. Robert Montgomery (1710-1779) seems to have been a bit of a real estate guy, and owned land in Chester County in addition to the property he inherited from his father here in MCH. When Robert passed away, his MCH land went to son Robert, Jr. (who, incidentally, we're not quite done with). Much of this property eventually ended up in the hands of Chandler Lamborn. This was the farm mentioned previously in the post about Dutch Billy.

The Montgomery land, further divided

The last bit of the Boyne Water Major's original tract, the southeastern portion, belonged to Alexander Montgomery (bef.1710-abt.1746). As mentioned, Alexander died several years before his father, and his land was passed to his son, John. John eventually moved south, to North Carolina, most likely about 1773. In that year, he sold most of his property (300 acres) to William Tate. However, two years before, John sold the western end of his inheritance to his Uncle Robert. What makes this lot interesting is that as early as 1777, there was a tavern on this property.

Two different 1777 maps, one American and one Hessian, note the tavern. The Hessian map gives it the name of the Harp and Crown -- Irish symbols. In case there was any doubt, Scharf specifically lists Robert Montgomery as the proprietor of a hotel at Mt. Pleasant in 1797. Scharf also states that the inn closed in 1885, with William Reese as the last owner. To this point there has been little written about the Harp and Crown, or Mt. Pleasant Inn (at least that I'm aware of). If more information comes to light, I'll be sure to follow up.

This has by no means been a complete history of the Montgomery family in Mill Creek Hundred -- not even of this one line. However, getting at least this much straight greatly helps lead towards a larger understanding of the overall history. And as noted at the top of the post, I hope to have at least one related follow-up in the near future. The Boyne Water Major and his family certainly deserve their place in the story of Mill Creek Hundred.


  1. As a frustrated MCH Montgomery researcher I can really appreciate the effort that went into this post. So, kudos to Scott and Walt. Although there were a few other Montgomery families in Delaware early on, I'm sure all the Mill Creek Hundred branch descend from Major John.
    It was news to me that the old Mt. Pleasant Inn was once called the Harp and Crown! Robert Montgomery,Jr. married Jane Herdman who was a sister to William Herdman. William sold the Inn to Robert. I believe that the Inn was in the Herdman family at least a generation before then. Maybe they named it the Harp and Crown. Also of note, the Inn has been undergoing an extensive renovation...looks brand new!

    1. It's so tough to piece all this together, especially when most of the pieces are still missing. The one part of this that doesn't make sense to me at this point is Herdman selling the inn to Robert. The land had clearly been in the Montgomery family for a while. Two possibilities come to mind. One is that Herdman was managing the inn for Montgomery, or maybe had leased the land from him. eventually (by 1797) Montgomery just took it over for himself. The other, which you mentioned to me and I found a reference to in a Deldot report, was that there was apparently a tavern (run at one point by a Mrs. Herdman) in Milltown. What the relationship was between the inns is not clear. I am certainly keeping my eyes open for any references to these establishments.

  2. On an unrelated note, I have read most of your posts regarding the arundel area, and the stone building that still remains on the apartments property today. I sort of recall reading something about an old boy scouts camp or something that used to be located around there? My question is, have you ever seen from either Arundel Dr. or Limestone Rd., right next to the bridge there is a very old abandoned playground. Very creepy looking. I have been over there before but it has been about 8 years, I assume it is still there. Do you know what this is from? If your in the Arundel parking lot, you follow the creek until it meets the underpass of Limestone Rd. and it is off to the right about 20 feet. It might be completely overgrown now but I have always wondered what this is from.

  3. The playground is / was owned by Arundel Apartments. Camp Mattahoon, boys clubs camp, was the next driveway north of the apartments

  4. so that's been my house for about 20 years, the one you correctly identify as Moses'. I see you have the 1823 date on it, I'd like to know more? How that was pinned down?