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Thursday, March 6, 2014

John Quill and the Craig-Quill House

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the Walter Craig House, or at least what's left of it. I was taken to it by nearby resident Roger Suro, who had come across the ruins on some of his frequent hikes in the area. While today the house and barn are nothing more than a few low, ruined walls, for at least the better part of a century this now wooded locale was a thriving farm. In the post I was able to cobble together the framework of a story for the house, from its ownership by Walter Craig to its sale and ownership by John Quill. From census and map data I came up with a few general facts for each owner, but not really a whole lot, to be quite honest. Now, thanks to one of those beautiful out-of-the-blue emails I get from time to time, we have a bit more concrete information about the second owner of the house, John Quill, and his family.

The information comes to us from Chris Haugh, the great-great-grandson of the Irish immigrant Quill. Chris forwarded to me a very helpful heap of genealogical information about the Quill family, as well as three deed records that deal with John Quill and the land under and around his home. Oh, and some pictures, too. I do love old pictures.

Since our main focus was on the house and property, I guess the best place to start is with some information to be found on the oldest of the trio of land records, this one dating to 1871. It's a record of the sale of the property and home formerly of the late Walter Craig, sold by his widow Lydia to John and Julia Quill. The Quills purchased the tract of slightly more than 57 acres for $4938 on March 23, 1871. This record also answers another question for us, which I could only guess at before -- When did Walter Craig buy the property? My hunch of sometime in the early 1840's was correct, as the transcript states that the tract being sold in 1871 is the same one purchased by Craig on April 22, 1843. If that earlier record could be found, it might tell us whether the stone house was present at that time or if it was built later by Walter Craig.

The other two records are a bit harder to figure out precisely, but they are both additional purchases of land by John Quill, both adjoining his original tract. The first is from December 1880, when Quill bought about 37 acres from Henry E. Shimp, then of Pocopson Township, Chester County. Without tracing all the twists and turns of the tract's borders, it appears that this new parcel was generally west of the original property, and extended all the way to White Clay Creek. It had formerly belonged to Elizabeth Little, whose home is shown on the 1868, 1881, and 1893 maps. The 1880 transfer, which was made for the sum of $1314.11, also included a house. Since Mrs. Little continued to live "next door", this was probably a tenant house that John Quill acquired, I would assume.

From the 1893 Baist Map

The final of the three documents is a record of another land acquisition by John Quill, this one in August 1903. That year he bought 16 acres from the heirs of another Irish immigrant, John Desmond. To my untrained eyes this one is even harder to pin down exactly, location-wise speaking. From the names of the adjoining properties, though, (John Aiken and Edward Collins) it seems as if this tract was on the south side of Thompson Station Road, if that was what was meant by "the Public Road from Corner Ketch to Thompson's Bridge". The purchase price was $800, which included paying off the $200 remaining on the Desmonds' mortgage.

These transaction records are very interesting, and definitely give us a better picture of how and when some of this land changed hands. There's certainly a good amount still to find, however. For example, the 1893 map shows Quill as owning 150 acres. That's approximately another 46 acres more than the two pre-1893 records above detail. It seems that Quill was quite busy in enlarging his holdings. This is really not that surprising when you look at the details of his life, which thanks to Chris again, we can now do.

John and Julia Desmond Quill

John Quill was born in Ireland (probably in County Cork) in 1839 to Timothy and Hannah (Sullivan) Quill. After surviving the horrors of the Great Famine, John left home and arrived in New York in December 1855. He soon made his way down to the MCH/Chester County area. Over the next ten years three of his siblings (Daniel, Cornelius, and Johanna) would join him here, all of them settling in MCH or southern Chester County. By 1860 Quill was working on the farm of Joel Walker Hoopes, not far over the line in PA. Hoopes' farmhouse and remains of his barn are still standing, among new houses in the middle of the Hartfeld National Golf Course.

Sometime in the next few years, John met another Irish immigrant, Julia Desmond. Like John, Julia also hailed from County Cork, and arrived in New York two years after he did, at the age of eighteen. Julia arrived with her two sisters and also made her way to Delaware. If the name Desmond sounds familiar, I think it's likely that the John Desmond whose land Quill would buy in 1903 was his brother-in-law, Julia's brother. The families joined on February 23, 1867, when John and Julia were married at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church. (What, you thought they were Greek Orthodox or something?) They would ultimately have seven children, four girls and three boys.

L-R: John and Mary (Quill) McTague, John Quill,
Hannah (Quill) Lambert, Charles Lambert

In the 1870 Census, the Quills (including the first two girls, Hannah and Mary, seen above) were listed directly after David Eastburn, implying that John was working for Eastburn. This fits neatly with a Quill family tradition that says that local Quakers were very helpful to John in his early years in the area, helping him earn enough to eventually buy his own farm. I think it's unlikely that John Quill arrived in America with very much money in his pocket, but through his hard work we know that in 1871 he did, in fact, have enough money to purchase his own land. His farm was located between Eastburn's land and the farm on which his brother Daniel (incorrectly identified by me as John in the original post -- hey, they were both Irish Quills married to Julias) had worked.

Julia Desmond Quill passed away on August 20, 1892, and was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in West Grove, PA. From the 1903 transaction record we know that John remained on his farm at least that long, but exactly when he sold it is still unclear. I think it's fair to say he'd sold it (or, at least, moved off and leased it) by 1910, as the census that year finds the 71 year old Quill residing on Lancaster Pike in Hockessin with his daughter Margaret and granddaughter Agnes Montague (the name had formerly been McTague). Among other reasons, I'm comfortable saying Hockessin because further down on the same page is Frederick E. Gebhart. Gebhart was then just a clerk, but from 1918-1943 he owned Gebhart's Store, located in the Odd Fellow's Hall in "downtown" Hockessin.

John Quill died on January 19, 1919, and was buried along side his wife at St. Mary's. Most (if not all) of John and Julia's children and their families would remain in the New Castle County/Chester County area for decades to come. The family information sent to me by Chris Haugh contains much more than I could get to in this post, especially along the line of the second Quill daughter, Mary, from whom Chris is descended. Mary married John McTague in 1891 at St. John's RC Church in Hockessin. And though the house Mary grew up in is now little more than a few piles of stones in the woods, the strong-willed and hard-working men and women who plowed its fields deserve to be remembered as important pieces in the history of Mill Creek Hundred.


  1. Thank you for writing this article. My 2nd Great-grandfather was John Desmond. I haven't been able to confirm that Julia was John's sister, but they were definitely related. If you have any information that confirms that they were siblings I would be interested to know it. Thanks again, great article.

  2. I did find evidence that John Desmond and Julia Desmond Quill were brother and sister.

  3. You have no idea how much I appreciate the research that went into writing this article. You've answered so many questions about my lineage on my paternal grandfather's side. Unbelievable.

    1. That's great to hear! Glad I could help. I do always try to keep in mind that these aren't just names on maps, books, or deeds -- they were real people and probably somebody's ancestors and family.

  4. Tracing my craig history from kennett county ,pa.thx for the info. Land records r hard to search outside the country