Friday, May 27, 2016

The Benefits of Primary Sources

Polly Drummond's 1838 purchase of her tavern property
As I mentioned recently both here and on the Facebook page, I've had access the past few weeks to a great many new (to me) primary sources. So far, the most helpful of these have been the Delaware land records and will/probate records. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to this new world open to me. On the up side, I can mine data and facts from the original sources with out relying on things like Scharf and Runk, which, while well-intentioned, are riddle with errors. On the down side, it provides even more of a chance for me to get distracted and taken off course.

Some of the distraction part is sort of baked into the cake -- deeds can be thought of as individual links in a longer chain. Each one gives you not only information about the next one (this one's buyer is the next one's seller) but, as I've found, very often loads of information about the previous ones. In order to prove that the seller (or, grantor. buyer is the grantee) has legal claim to the land in question, the deed often gives background information on the property. Usually it's along the lines of "being the same tract or parcel granted by so and so by indenture dated such and such a date." Once in a while the chain of ownership is complicated enough that it may go back several steps or include other information. Needless to say, this can be enormously helpful.

With all this data, it's natural (to me, at least) to want to tug at all these different strings. I started a few weeks ago on a certain investigation which, due to the families involved, quickly sidetracked me back to the Moses Montgomery property which I wrote about recently. Now, I've gotten back to where I started and found most of what I was looking for, and that post will be along soon. In the meantime, I veered off again to a neighboring property where I think I've pieced together part of its history that has never been coherently and definitively written about before. That too will be coming soon. Until then, I thought I'd share a few other deeds that I thought might be interesting for one reason or another, to give you an idea of what they can tell us.

The first deed, or indenture, (which I've already shared on Facebook) falls into the category of Historically Significant. It's the record of the 1838 sale by Robert Graham of one acre to Mary Drummond and her sisters Rachel and Ann Evans (shown at the top of the page. Remember, you can click on the image for a larger version). Of course most of you will remember that Mary Evans Drummond was better known as Polly, and this sale of a lot with what would be her tavern is the reason that any of us know the name Polly Drummond. And if you wanted to trace ownership back, note that it tells us Graham bought the lot from Samuel Macklem just three years before.

1798 sale from Samuel Stroud to Andrew Reynolds
The next one is an example of how one offhanded comment in the deed can answer a long-standing question. This indenture records the 1798 sale of several neighboring parcels from Samuel Stroud to Andrew Reynolds. The tracts are located on the west side of Mill Creek just below Milltown, and are the same land that would later be owned by the Lindell family and run as Locust Grove Farm. As noted in the post about this site, regarding the mill that was there Scharf states that Reynolds built one in 1799. What was never clear is whether Reynolds' was the first mill there or whether he replaced an older structure.

This deed clearly states (about 3/4 of the way down on page 244 in the bottom image) that Reynolds was buying a property that included a merchant mill built by Samuel Stroud. Reynolds does seem to be purchasing land on which to build a large mill race, so it looks like he was either enlarging or replacing Stroud's older mill. I haven't completely followed this trail yet to see how long Stroud was there and when he might have built his mill, but you get the idea.

The 1861 purchase of the lot where beer would be made

Another one that I would consider significant (and not at all because this sort of thing is on my mind for the coming weekend) is the above deed from 1861. It records the sale of six acres from Edward Mendinhall to F. Herman Biedermann of Kennett Township, Chester County. This is the tract on which, just a few years later, Herr Biedermann would build the Spring Hill Brewery. Mmmm, history.

You want to be paid in what???
The final one I'll share today also works as a preview for the next post, and dates to 1784. In this indenture, Caleb Harlan sells (or at least appears to) a twenty acre tract to Joseph Pennock. I won't say much more about this right now for several reasons, not the least of which is that it's one of the few mysteries left in the story. What I did want to point out in this one is the means in which the debt is to be paid. Instead of the usual dollars or shillings (depending on the era), Harlan asks to be paid 192 half Johanesses, or an equivalent amount of gold. The Johanes was a Portuguese gold coin of the 18th Century. The only reason I can think of that Harlan would make such a request would deal with the financial situation of the country in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War. I'm sure others could speak to it better, but maybe he didn't trust US dollars and didn't want shillings.

I hope in the future to find other interesting and significant records, and to go back and fill in some holes in other stories -- places were I was stuck saying things like, "At some point he bought/sold the tract,", and actually fill in some real data. Stay tuned...

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