Friday, May 13, 2016

Montgomery Follow-Up with New Resources

First Page of Moses Montgomery's 1848 will
I want to start by saying that this is not a paid endorsement, I'm just passing along information to those who might be interested. A few months ago I was tipped off (thanks, Walt) to the fact that Ancestry.com now includes a whole slew of Delaware land records, as well as will and probate information. Even though it's not cheap (at least to someone like me), my wife and I decided to treat ourselves to a subscription to see if it would be of use (she's doing a lot of genealogical research right now). I'm still figuring out exactly how to use it, but I've already come up with some information that I never would have had before, considering that I really don't have the time to schlep down to Dover to look for this stuff in person.

The land records are not complete, and I'm still learning to decode one and two hundred year old legalese, but a few new things have come to light already. I actually started out looking up something else, which happened to be connected to another branch of the Montgomery family. Somehow, I quickly ended up back on the same Montgomery land I just left. One of the more interesting things I've found is the Last Will and Testament of Moses Montgomery, first written in 1848 (and amended a few years later).

Thomas' portion would go to Moses

Moses (1766-1856), if you'll recall, was the son of Thomas Montgomery, and inherited his father's southwestern portion of his grandfather John's original tract. If I've read the deeds correctly, it appears that Moses sold the northern part of his land (more or less the portion north of Old Wilmington Road) to his brother Samuel in 1803, just a few years after their father's death. This land would later end up in the Armstrong family. And though I haven't found the exact transaction, it seems that at some point Moses purchased additional land southwest of his main farm, the new lot being southeast of the Mill Creek Road-Brackenville Road intersection.

Current and former Moses Montgomery lands, 1849

In his will, Moses divides his holdings in two, using Brackenville Road as the divider. The inheritors are not his children, but instead are his two granddaughters. As best as I can tell, Moses and his wife Margaret only had one surviving child, a son named John. John Montgomery died in 1831 and seemingly left two daughters, Margaret Ann and Sarah. Margaret Ann married Franklin Gebhart and was granted the southwestern farm of 65 acres (on which they may have already been living) as well a 25 acre wooded tract "west of the Hokessin road [Old Wilmington Road] and south of the road leading to Bracken's Tavern [Brackenville Road]".

The Gebhart Farm (at least the western portion) would stay more or less intact well into the 20th Century. After Franklin's death in 1901 and Margaret's in 1907, and several rounds of consolidating between the children, the farm ended up in the hands of Mary Elizabeth Gebhart and her brother Thomas. After their deaths in 1934 and 1940, Thomas' son Willard sold the tract (now containing just over 40.5 acres) to Alexander and Mae Marks in 1947. It was, however, the other portion of Moses Montgomery's property that interests me more.

Page Two of Moses Montgomery's 1848 will
To his other granddaughter, Sarah (wife of George) Ball, Montgomery devised, "All that certain farm whereon I now reside (excepting the woodland heretofore devised) containing one hundred and thirty acres more or less...". This would be the property north of Brackenville Road, between Old Wilmington Road and Lancaster Pike (more or less, as they say). The main house for this tract, at least by this time, was the stone house that today faces Mitchell Road (seen as a dotted, private road on the 1868 map below).

Former Moses Montgomery lands in 1868
It's still not clear exactly when that house was built, although the county lists it as 1823 (for whatever that's worth). The current owner has a memory of being told that Moses built it for John, then moved into it himself after John's death. Up until the 1970's there was a barn standing near the house, which contained a datestone bearing the year 1808. If the barn did indeed date to 1808, that would seem to imply that an older (than 1823) house also stood nearby, perhaps Moses' original home. It may have even been built by his father, Thomas.

Moses Montgomery's last home
And speaking of older things on the property, one way I know that the farm Moses granted to Sarah and George Ball extended south is what is noted in the last sentence of their section of the will. It notes that "the said farm to be subject to keeping the grave yard in good repair." This grave yard is, of course, the Montgomery Family Cemetery profiled in the last post. Although we were sure that it predated the 1868 and 1872 headstones that are the only that remain, this is the first actual proof I've seen that puts it earlier. So, since it was in place before 1848 (and Moses' interment), that leads me to believe that it may very well date to at least Thomas' generation, if not that of the original patriarch, John Montgomery. One of the things that makes researching this family challenging is that almost no Montgomery graves from this line can be found in any churchyard. Moses specifically gave money to Red Clay Creek Presbyterian in his will, so he certainly would have been buried there if not for the private family plot.

As mentioned, the next owners of Moses' home farm were his granddaughter Sarah Ball and her husband George. They resided there until their deaths in the early 1880's, at which point the property went to their son, Montgomery Ball. I knew that Montgomery left the area for Chester County soon after and I knew who the next owner was, but it took some close reading to figure out how and when the property changed hands. The document that contained the answer turned out to be interesting as well.

1889 Deed Mitchell to Ball

There is a deed dated April 3, 1889 between Stephen H. Mitchell (and his wife Mary) and Montgomery Ball. Knowing that Mitchell was the next owner, I first thought that this was Ball selling the entire property to Mitchell. I then realized that not only was it only dealing with a small (0.19 acre) lot and not the entire farm, but it was Mitchell selling the lot to Ball. Finally I read closely enough towards the bottom of the right-hand page to see that this small lot was part of the larger tract that Mitchell had purchased from the sheriff the previous May. So it seems that Montgomery Ball may have fallen on some hard times, and been forced to sell the family farm to pay off creditors.

But why was Stephen Mitchell selling a small portion of it back to Ball a year later? The answer is that this particular lot contained something that meant far more to Montgomery Ball than to Stephen Mitchell -- the Montgomery Family Cemetery! I guess Mitchell either felt magnanimous towards Ball (although not all that much, because he sold it for the not insignificant price of $50) or more likely just didn't want to have to deal with the maintenance on the grave yard. Interestingly, current owner Frank Drejka tells me that when he bought the land in 1975, the cemetery was still a separate parcel. His lawyer combined the house and cemetery lots together to make things easier.

Although Stephen H. Mitchell owned a number of properties (he seemed to be fond of buying real estate, much like his father John Mitchell), it does appear that he resided on the former Montgomery farm. Sadly, if the Mitchells did move in right away, tragedy followed not long after. In November 1890, wife Mary Dixon Mitchell (daughter of Samuel P. Dixon) passed away in Philadelphia. Her death certificate lists the cause as "removal of uterine tumor", so I assume that meant cancer. Stephan Soon remarried, though, and this time he didn't have to even go as far as Ashland.

The second Mrs. Mitchell was Ella Poole, daughter of Thomas Poole. They lived literally across the street, in what may have been the original John Montgomery House. They would raise four more daughters together, in addition to the one surviving daughter from the first marriage. When Stephen Mitchell died in 1920, his estate was divided between his children and his wife. In one of those "MCH is a small world" items, the executors of his will were wife Ella and his brother, John C. Mitchell. John C. Mitchell happens to have been the father of the recently-deceased Gertrude Mitchell Bell, whose passing was noted several weeks ago. It was only very recently that I realized that Stephen Mitchell was Gertrude's uncle.

There are two interesting aspects of Mitchell's will which I don't fully understand yet, but hope to at some point. They deal, possibly, with the house next to the cemetery (although now I'm not so sure). The house is old, but not nearly so as the Moses Montgomery House. By my untrained eye, it appears to be early 20th Century. Stephen Mitchell grants to Alice C. Mitchell, his eldest and unmarried daughter, "...the use of my new house and lot she now occupies..." so long as she pays the taxes and maintains the buildings.

Also, the papers note that he owned, "Farm of 67 acres and buildings thereon situated on the Lancaster Pike near Brackenville (north side)" and "Two frame houses on the Old Wilmington Road (south side)". I think the farm is centered on the Moses Montgomery House while the frame houses could include the Drejka's home closer to Brackenville Road. However, there was also a 13 acre tract originally sold by Mitchell to Harlan Highfield in 1896. At this point I can't determine exactly where it it is, but there are two clues that point to this possibly being the Drejka's home by the cemetery.

First, the metes and bounds do at one point mention running along "the old grave yard lot". This tells me that if it's not this lot, then it must be neighboring. This tract went back and forth several times but was sold to Sallie Highfield by her children in 1920. Sallie was the widow of William H. Highfield, son of Calvin Highfield who lived in Loveville. I believe that after Sallie's death in 1954, the property went to her remaining unmarried children, Calvin P "Percy" Highfield and Hannah L. Highfield. It was from Percy's estate that the Drejka's bought their home in 1975, a year after his death.

If this second, Highfield, theory is correct, then the house may have been erected by the Highfields in the early 1900s, possibly by Harlan. There is surely more to be learned here, but I'm excited by the new resources available to me and the answers they may provide. I hope to periodically go back and review other old posts to see if there are other holes in stories that might now be filled.

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