Dewees and Farmar Families
When I was in grade school in the 1950s we were required to memorize the names of all of the states and the state capitals. When our grandson, Cory Andrew Baker, was only six years old he could name the states by looking at their shapes only and he could place them in their correct location on a map of the United States. One interesting thing that we were not taught in school was the origin of the state names. Did you know for example, that 29 of the 50 states have Indian names, 6 states have Spanish names such as California and Florida, 9 states are named for European royalties, such as Louisiana named for King Louis XIV of France, the Carolinas named for Charles I of England, Virginia named for the “virgin” Queen Elizabeth I of England, and New York named for the Duke of York. Three more states have place names such as New Jersey named after the Isle of Jersey in England, one state has a French name, Vermont or “vert mont” meaning “green mountain” and one state is named after an American hero, the State of Washington. There is one state however, named for an individual who was not an American hero and not a member of any European royalty. This individual had in fact been in and out of prison on four separate occasions during his life, had inherited money at his father’s death but had died broke, and at one point in his life he was the largest private landowner ever in the history of the United States, owning over 45,000 acres. His name is so well known that an insurance company is named in his honor, schools carry his name, his likeness is on the can of Quaker Oats, and a state bears his name. This state of course, is Pennsylvania, named for William Penn. [To be factually accurate, Pennsylvania was actually named in honor of William Penn’s father.]
William Penn is not one of my ancestors, but his influence on the course of American history and on the lives of many of my early ancestors justifies the inclusion of this brief narrative on the life of this great man. Penn was born in London, England in 1644 to the wife of an English Admiral into a family of relatively well-to-do Anglican Royalists. His father, Sir William Penn, was not only a popular and skillful naval commander, he was also adept at political survival during his career having served as a Commander in the English Navy not only during the period of the Commonwealth of England under the Puritan leadership of Oliver Cromwell but also under the restored monarchy of King Charles II in 1660. In 1665, Sir William Penn, as Captain of the English Fleet, served under the Duke of York, later to become King James II of England, in the 2nd Dutch-Anglo War. William Penn’s father’s fame and popularity with the English crown, both King Charles II and later King James II, and with many of the members of the British Parliament, was to help his young son, William, in his future years.
Young William Penn who was fluent in both Greek and Latin was expected to shine when he was sent to Oxford to study in 1660 at the age of 15. His refusal however, to honor the Anglican traditions and rituals at Oxford as well as his association with members of the “Society of Friends” (nicknamed Quakers) angered his father and led him to remove his son from the school at the age of seventeen. Young William later returned to Oxford but he was subsequently expelled for his continued refusal to adhere to the imposed stricter religious requirements of this Anglican school such as the required daily chapel attendance. Subsequently, at the age of eighteen his parents sent William to Paris hoping that time abroad would cure William of his “unnatural piety by leading him into temptation,” however these temptations failed to influence William and after two years in Europe, William returning to London. He studied law for a brief period and then in 1666, he was sent to Ireland to manage his father’s estate. Unfortunately for his parent’s peace of mind, William met up again with the same Quaker preacher who had influenced him while at Oxford, and William Penn quickly became caught up in the Quaker cause. At the age of 22, he publically declared himself a member and formally joined the cause of the Religious Society of Friends.
The Quakers were Christians; however they differed substantially from Anglicans in the manner in which they practiced their faith. They rejected most of the rituals of the church particularly in their belief that individuals could speak directly with God without the necessity of using professional clergy as intermediaries. Obviously, this belief greatly angered and threatened the hierarchy of the Church of England. Quakers believed that all men were equal in the eyes of God. They also refused to swear oaths of allegiance, refused to remove their hats or bow when appearing before public officials or social superiors, and they were outspoken pacifists. In the ensuing years, William Penn’s charisma and intelligence combined with the fact that he was a prolific writer of letters and pamphlets, made him the recognized first theologian, theorist, and legal defender of Quakerism, providing its written doctrine and helping to establish its public standing. His strong advocacy on behalf of Quakers was not without problems for Penn for on at least four occasions in his life he was jailed for his actions and radical teaching including eight months in the Tower of London in 1668 and six months at the infamous Newgate Prison in 1671. Fortunately, his father’s influence prior to his death in 1670 and William Penn’s own charisma and his social and financial standing in England (he inherited a large sum of money when his father died) helped to mitigate his problems with the authorities. Furthermore, he was not thought to be a political threat and in fact, he remained on good terms for most of his life with many members of the English Parliament as well as with the Crown, both with Charles II and later with his brother, James II.
What is truly amazing however, is that William Penn was granted in 1681 by the British Parliament and by the King of England, the sole proprietorship of an immense tract of land in America in what is now the State of Pennsylvania. This act forever shaped the course of American history. Historians suggest that there are a number of possible reasons why William Penn was successful in obtaining the charter for Pennsylvania. It has been suggested that the British government by granting the land to Penn had hoped that the Quakers would leave England. It has also been suggested that the land was granted in lieu of the repayment of a debt owned by Charles II to William Penn’s father, the debt obligation passing to William Penn with the death of his father. Neither of these reasons however, appear to be the principle motives for granting Penn this immense tract of land. A more likely scenario is that the British government was eager to colonize America with English subjects thereby creating a new trading partner for English goods and at the same time strategically keeping the lands out of the hands of the Spanish, French or other foreign entities. By granting the land to Penn, they achieved these goals without cost to the British government. The government also knew that Penn was friendly with the Duke of York (later to become King James II) who was concurrently the proprietor of New York immediately to the north of “Penn’s Land”. With Penn to his south, it ensured James a friendly neighbor.
Penn’s efforts to organize his new colony began immediately as word spread about the new land available in America. “To attract settlers in large numbers, he wrote a glowing prospectus promising religious freedom as well as other material advantages which he marketed throughout Europe in various languages. Within six months he had parceled out 300,000 acres to over 250 prospective sellers, mostly rich London Quakers. Eventually he attracted other persecuted minorities including Huguenots, Mennonites, Amish, Catholics, Lutherans, and Jews from England, France, Holland, Germany, Finland, Ireland, and Wales.” [Chapter 6 in this family history blog tells the story of the Ferree family and their purchase of land from William Penn in the early 1700s.]
In the fall of 1682, Penn boarded the ship “Welcome” and departed on a two month long voyage to America and his new colony. He was to remain in Pennsylvania for two years working non-stop setting up the laws and political structure of the colony, locating and helping to layout the new city of “Brotherly Love”, Philadelphia, and formulating and signing treaties with the local Indians. In August of 1684 he returned to England to continue his work there. In February of 1685, King Charles II died and was replaced by his brother, King James II (the former Duke of York). James was a family friend of the Penns but he was also a Roman Catholic and somewhat sympathetic to the plight of the Quakers. When he was deposed in 1689 and replaced by Anglican King William and Queen Mary, William Penn’s political influence immediately disappeared. As a result of his support of James II, he was under suspicion of treason and forced into hiding and even briefly lost control of his colony from 1692 to 1694. William Penn however was resilient and after four years of hiding his arrest warrant was rescinded and a new patent was signed restoring Pennsylvania as Penn’s personal property.
William Penn and his family returned to Pennsylvania in 1699 with the full intention of remaining there for the rest of their lives. Penn fully expected to occupy his days in his role as governor but still have plenty of time to spend with his family at their comfortable estate at Pennsbury Manor. In the intervening 18 years since his first visit, Pennsylvania had grown rapidly and now had nearly 18,000 inhabitants and Philadelphia over 3,000. But troubles back in England and the threat again of a possible loss of his charter forced him to return to England with his family in 1701. Unfortunately, Penn discovered upon his return that he was facing financial ruin. Not only had his oldest son lived a dissolute life and run up huge gambling debts, but Penn himself faced personal financial ruin when he learned that his financial advisor had cheated him out of thousands of pounds. His financial problems further were compounded when he discovered that many of the generous loans he had made in his life were not being repaid. Furthermore, the financial benefits he had hoped to receive from his investments in Pennsylvania had not materialized. In 1706, William Penn found himself briefly in debtor’s prison but thanks to a group of Quakers who helped raise money to pay his debts, he was released. His efforts to sell Pennsylvania back to the crown were cut short in 1712 when he suffered a stroke. A second stroke several months later left him unable to speak or take care of himself. He slowly lost his memory and finally William Penn died penniless in 1718. This was truly a very sad ending for one of America’s greatest benefactors. In 1984, President Ronald Regan acting upon an Act of Congress, declared William Penn and his wife to be “honorary Citizens of the United States.” I am surprised that it took so long.
This chapter tells the story of some of my early ancestors who purchased land from William Penn or his agents. In the following two chapters (Parts I and II) we learn of Garrett Dewees who arrived from the Netherland in 1690, of Edward Farmer who arrived with his parents from Ireland in 1685, of John Bull, the Welshman who arrived with his family in 1685, of Henry Pawling who moved to the land that his father, an English soldier in the forces of the Duke of York, had purchased from Penn in 1681, to John Hunter who moved to Chester County in 1711, and finally to Llewellyn Parry from Wales who arrived with his father in 1683 and settled on the land that Penn referred to as his “Holy Experiment”, his province of Pennsylvania.
The Dewees Family
The origin of the family surname of DeWees is unknown although it has been clearly documented that the ancestor of all Dewees families in America is Garrett (or Gerret, or Gerrit) Hendricks DeWees who arrived in New Amsterdam from the Netherlands with his wife around 1663. While this should clearly demonstrate that the surname “DeWees” is Dutch, we have noted in previous chapters in this family history blog that the use of surnames by the rural Dutch was not in practice in the 1600s. Garrett [son of Henrick] Hendricks was in fact named after his father, Hendrick Adrianense, who in turn was named after his father, Anriane Heyndricks. So where did the surname DeWees originate? I believe that no one knows for certain. One theory is that the family soon after their arrival in America may have assumed the name of one of their ancient French Huguenot ancestors who used the name “D’Ewees”. Another undocumented source suggested that the Dewees family were descendants of Jan Pietre (born 1563), the only son of French Hugenots who died when he was very young. When Jan Pietre was adopted by a family they gave him the name “de wees”, which means “orphan” in Dutch. Nice story, but it is probably mostly myth. Incidentally, I should mention that our Dewees ancestors are in the family tree of my great grandfather, Eugene Hutchinson Ferree. Great Grandfather Ferree’s father’s name was David Dewees Ferree and his great grandmother was Elizabeth Dewees.
Dewees Generation #1: Garrett Hendrick (1640-Abt 1700):
Garrett Hendricks, age 21, married 18-year old Sijske (or Sytie, or Syntia, or sometimes written as Zytien) in the Dutch Reformed Church in Lieuwarden, Netherlands on September 28, 1662 less than a year before they emigrated to the New World into the port of New Amsterdam where they disembarked in the summer of 1663. Garrett’s father, Hendrick Adriaensz, a Dutch seaman, had died only a few years earlier in the East Indies in 1661 and it seems likely that he had left his son little in the way of an inheritance. So Garrett and his new wife left their Dutch homeland to seek a new life with new opportunities in America. Their first home was a small stone structure built against the walls of the old Fort Amsterdam constructed many years earlier at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Unfortunately, perhaps as one of our county’s first cases of eminent domain, they were forced to move as their house was scheduled to be torn down to make way for the construction of new fort walls. They were as a compromise, given a house on Smith Street (in Brooklyn?) where the family was to live for the next 26 years. During that period the Dewees family had nine children recorded as baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church including our 7th great grandfather, Willem (William) Dewees who was born in 1679. In one of the colonial records, Garret Hendricks De Wees is listed as being a butcher and he most likely operated his business right from his home on Smith Street.
By the mid-1680s probably everyone in the province of New York, now under the control of the English, knew about the availability of land in William Penn’s new colony of Pennsylvania. Not only had Penn directly promoted his new colony in the Netherlands but it was well know that his wife, Gulielma Maria Springett, was of Dutch heritage. It is not surprising therefore, to learn that many of the earliest settlers in Pennsylvania were transplants from New Amsterdam. One of these families was our Dewees family who sailed from New York to the small new settlement of Philadelphia in 1690. Prior to leaving New York, the oldest Dewees daughter, Wilhelmina Dewees (my 7th great grandaunt), age 17, married 23-year old Nicholas “Claus” Rittenhouse (making him my 7th great granduncle-in-law, if you can follow that.) Claus’ father, William Rittenhouse (then Willem Rittenhausen) was born in Germany in 1644 where at a young age he learned the papermaking trade with his uncle. William with his uncle later moved to the Netherlands where they were employed by a paper manufacture until William with his wife and family emigrated to America in 1688. It is unclear whether the Rittenhouse family first disembarked in New York where Claus met and married Wilhelmina Dewees, but we know that by 1690 the Rittenhouse family was living in Germantown, Pennsylvania, a new settlement located a few miles northwest of Philadelphia. When Garrett Dewees with his wife and family moved to Pennsylvania in 1690, they leased property immediately adjacent to the Rittenhouse property, also in the new settlement of Germantown. The Rittenhouses were at this point, in-laws of my Dewees ancestors.
It is somewhat unusual to discover that the majority of the earliest settlers of Germantown were in fact mostly Dutch Quakers. It was not until the early 1700s with the great migration of the German Mennonites into Pennsylvania that the population of Germantown decidedly tilted to a German majority. Many of the earliest Dutch settlers in Germantown had worked in the cloth and textile mills in Holland and brought the knowledge of this trade with them to America. The abundant creeks in the area that flowed to the Schuylkill River and eventually to the Delaware River were ideal for the development of an American textile industry which required a source of flowing water to power the mills. William Rittenhouse immediately recognized that this growing textile industry was exactly what he needed to make paper. Papermaking at this point in history was made from discarded rags and cotton, giving birth to the term “rag paper”. William Rittenhouse went on to establish the first paper manufacturing plant in America located on a small rivulet later named Paper Mill Run where it empties into the Wissahickon Creek. The plant was to be operated by the next six generations of his family beginning with William’s son, Claus, who took over the operations when his father died in 1708. For what it is worth, in 1996 William Rittenhouse was inducted into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame.
Dewees Generation #2: William Dewees (1679-1745):
When my 7th great grandfather, William Dewees, was young, and he was only around 11 years old when he moved to Germantown, he went to work as an apprentice at his brother-in-law’s papermaking mill. As previously mentioned, his brother-in-law, Claus Rittenhouse, was married to William’s older sister Wilhelminia. In 1710, William, then 31 years old, left the Rittenhouse Paper Mill and opened up his own paper mill located on the west shore of the Wissahickon Creek in the settlement of Crefeld, not far upstream from the Rittenhouse Mill. From an historical perspective, Germantown, Crefeldt, and the Wissahickon Creek are today mostly a part of the City of Philadelphia. In the 1700s however, along the beautiful Wissahickon Creek and its tributaries (now part of Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park System), the area was industrial and a blight of ugly mills and factory buildings that utilized the flowing water for power. Fortunately with the advent of electrical power, the mills and factory buildings were torn down in the late 1800s and the area was returned to its natural beauty. The Dewees paper mill built in 1710 is considered to be the second paper mill built in this country. The painting above was made of the Wissahickon Creek in the mid-1800s.
By 1713, William Dewees had already built a lucrative paper business and in December of that year he sold his business along with its improvements, his home, and 100 acres of land to his brother-in-law and his former employer, Nicholas “Claus” Rittenhouse. There is no reason to believe that the sale was not profitable for William, for in subsequent years he became a prominent real estate dealer, owning and selling lands, mills and houses. In 1730, William Dewees in partnership with his son-in-law, Henry Antes, constructed a second paper mill on 93 acres of land along the Wissahickon Creek located about six miles upstream from the Rittenhouse Paper Mill (near the present intersection of Germantown Pike Road and Northwestern Avenue where it crosses Wissahickon Creek). On this tract of land he built a new home where he was to remain with his family until his death in 1745. [The current site of Mount St. Joseph Convent at 9701 Germantown Road in Philadelphia marks the approximate location of the William Dewees homestead from 1730 until his death. The engraved rock shown in the picture to the left marks the spot in Whitemarsh where the Dewees home and paper mill once stood.] The paper mill and the family home remained in the possession of the family for at least the next generation. On the 1777 map of Germantown shown above (which can be enlarged for better viewing), the locations of both the Rittenhouse Paper Mill as well as the “Devees’ Mill” (shown in the upper left hand corner) are noted along the Wissahickon Creek. William Dewees served for a period in the early 1700s as a Constable and Sheriff in Philadelphia (Germantown) and he was one of the founders and an active member of the Whitemarsh Dutch Reformed Church including serving as an Elder in the Church for many years. The Church services were held at the home of William Dewees until his death in 1745. Whitehouse is located on the above map at the intersection of Bethlehem and Church Roads just north of Flourtown, about a mile or so north of their home.
In 1704, William Dewees married our 7th great grandmother, Anna Christina Mehls, the 14 year old daughter of Hans Heindrick and Catherine Mehls. The Mehls family emigrated to America from the Netherlands in 1701. In the early records of Philadelphia dated 1701, a deed for the sale of land in Germantown is recorded between Zytien DeWees, mother of William and widow of Garrett, and Hans Heindrick Mehls. It seems that William feel in love with and married his new neighbor’s daughter. William and Anna Christina had five sons and three daughters, including our 6th great grandfather, William Mehls Dewees, who was born in 1711 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. William (Sr.) died in 1745 and his wife died shortly thereafter in 1749. They are buried together in Germantown’s history cemetery, the “Upper Burying Ground,” (shown to the right) that was in use between 1724 and 1756.
Dewees Generation #3: William Mehls Dewees (1711-1777):
My 6th great grandfather, William Mehls Dewees married my 6th great grandmother, Rachel Farmar around the year 1735. According to the land records dated March of 1730 for the purchase by William’s father of the 93 acres for his family’s new home and paper mill on the Wissahickon that I mentioned above, the land was located in the northwestern corner of German township and was bordered on the west by the land of Edward Farmar, who not surprisingly was the father of Rachel Farmar and our 7th great grandfather. There is not a great deal of information about the lives of William and Rachel. We know that William joined his wife’s family church, St. Thomas Church, in Whitemarsh since he is listed as a vestryman in the church records in 1742. The records before 1742 have been lost although it is probable that they were married at St. Thomas. This is somewhat surprising considering that William’s parents had both been devout members of the Dutch Reform church (services had been held at his father’s home) and St. Thomas church, founded by Rachel’s father, was an Anglican church. In 1764, William and Rachel build a home on land that she had inherited from her father following his death in 1745. As far as I could determine, they remained in this home until his death in 1777, although some of the Dewees’ family historical biographies suggest that William and Rachel lived for a period and died in Norriton Township located near their son’s home at Valley Forge. Valley Forge is located on the south shore of the Schuylkill River by Chester County, Pennsylvania. Norriton Township is in Montgomery County on the north side of the Schuylkill River adjacent to Valley Forge. Since William served as “High Sheriff” of Philadelphia County from October 1773 through Oct 1776 and Justice of the Peace from 1757 through 1770, it does not seem likely that he purchased a home so remote from Philadelphia while he was serving in the position of sheriff. [Some historians relate that it was William’s son, also named William, who actually was the High Sheriff in Philadelphia County and not his father. Despite the fact that the father William was 65 years old when he left the position of sheriff in 1776, I believe that it is very unlikely that the son was the sheriff as it is clear that the son William was living and working in Pottsgrove and in Valley Forge in the 1770’s. I further believe that when historians report that William the father had a mansion near Valley Forge, and that he died in Norriton Township, they are further mixing up the father with the son.] There is a cute story that is told about Sheriff William Dewees that may or may not be true but it is worth repeating. On the eighth day of July 1776 at noon the High Sheriff of Philadelphia, the de facto capital of the new United States, was directed to read publically (as it turned out for the first time ever in our country’s history) the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps our William was just shy or too modest or as it is believed he passed the honor along to a John Nixon who was a prominent member of the Committee of Safety, for at noon William Dewees was among the large group of listeners who heard his designee John Nixon read the words from the document that changed our country’s history. It seems our William missed his chance in history. Anyway, William Dewees, the father, is also known to have been involved in real estate transactions during his lifetime. As far as I can determine there exists no documented evidence as to where and when William and Rachel died although I would guess that they are buried somewhere in a now unmarked grave in the churchyard of St Thomas Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania. The history of Rachel Farmar’s family is fascinating and it is well worth interrupting the Dewees family story to relate the story of the Farmar family, the ancestors of my 6th great grandmother, Rachel Farmar.
The Farmar Family Genealogy
It is not at all unusually to find in historical records that the spelling of family surnames can vary considerably from generation to generation. Since it was generally the record keeper and not the family member (who often could not even write much less spell) who determined how the family name was recorded, the variations in the spelling of the names is easy to understand. Consequently, we find the early Farmar names spelled in various styles including Fermour, Fermor, Farmar, and Fermer, and on some monuments in early family graveyards in Oxfordshire, England the names are spelled as Ffarmar and even ffamar. We are informed in Collins’ Peerage of England first published in 1812, that the first Farmar ancestor in England arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066 and he was at this early period established in the lordship of Somerton in Oxfordshire, England. It is in this area of England where we discovered the first documented history of the life of the of our Farmar ancestors, Thomas Fermour.
Farmar Generation #1: Thomas Fermour (Abt 1447-1485):
Thomas Fermour was born around 1447 in Oxfordshire, England probably near the village of Witney located about 12 miles west of the present day city of Oxford. Very little is known of his life although it is recorded that he was wool merchant and extremely wealthy. Fortunately for Thomas, the greater part of his wealth was obtained from an inheritance from his uncle William Fermour as well as from two very profitable marriages including his 2nd marriage to my 14th great grandmother, Emmotte Hervey, daughter and heiress of Symkin Hervey of Herefordshire, and the widow of Henry Wenman both of whom left Emmotte wealthy and a desirable catch for Thomas. History is kind to our Thomas Fermour however, for he was considered to be a very generous man with his wealth and his grave monument behind the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene in the Church of Whitney in Oxfordshire records him as “. . . a man magnanimous to his enemies, admirably beneficent to learning, a kind master, and the founder of the new school . . .” In his brief marriage to Emmotte whom he married in 1480, she bore him two sons, our 13th great grandfather, Richard Fermor born in 1481, and William born in 1484. Both of Thomas’ sons inherited extensive land holdings owned by their father when he died unexpectedly in 1485. The school that Thomas founded and bequeathed in his will as mentioned on his grave monument was part of the chapel in the medieval castle of the de Greys’ family in the village of Somerton. The school he founded remained in use as a school until the middle of the 20th century and today it is still in existence in Somerton as a private residence.
Farmar Generation #2: Richard Fermor (Abt.1481- 1551):
Both Richard and his brother William continued in their father’s profession of being wool merchants. Great Uncle William born around 1484, acquired in 1512 a large estate near the village of Somerton located about 15 miles north of Oxford, where he engaged in a large sheep-farming operation. By the 1530s by one account, he was one of England’s largest wool exporters. William’s “Manor at Somerton” remained in the Fermor family until 1815 and he is buried along with many of his descendants at the Church of St. James in Somerton. Although greatly modified since the 16th century, this medieval church is still in use to this day (see photo to the right.)
Richard Fermor, my 13th great grandfather, was also to become one of the wealthiest men in England in the early part of the 16th century. He is generally described in English history as a “grocer”, but as a wool merchant of the “staple of Calais” he traded in silks, wheat, and all kinds of commodities shipped into and out of England. During this period of English history the merchants of Calais (seaport in France) had a virtual monopoly on English trade and as we have observed in a previous chapter of our family history blog (Chapter 16 – Our Wolcott Ancestors). The wealth created from the wool trade in England was one of the major causes of the rise of the English middle class. The increased wealth and power of the middle class was not entirely well received by the English nobility nor by the English monarchy, as powerful and wealthy merchants like Richard Fermor often we more affluent than their noble counterparts. There are numerous records of Richard Fermor’s trading activities between 1513 though the early 1530s including frequent major wool exports to Italy and the sale of large quantities of armor and munitions to the King’s army in 1513. During his life Richard Fermor amassed vast “landed property” as apparently the acquisition of land was the principle use of excess capital during this period of history (obviously in 1630 he was not able to acquire stock in Microsoft.)
One of Richard’s major acquisitions, which was to become his residence, was a 25,000 acre manor named Easton Neston located near the town of Towcester, Northamptonshire, England (north of Oxfordshire). The manor was to remain in the Fermor family until it was sold recently in 2005. The photograph of Easton Neston shows the Fermor mansion-home constructed at Easton Neston by Richard’s 3rd great grandson, Sir George Fermor, between 1694 and 1702. One interesting thing about the large estates in England owned by the landed gentry like Richard Fermor was their tendency to depopulate the villages near their estates to make more room for their flocks of sheep. The original small medieval village on the site of Easton Neston was completely depopulated by Richard Fermor and his overseers and when a population survey was taken during the reign of King Henry VIII, all that remained of the original medieval village was the church, the mills and their fields and a few cottages that were probably then being occupied by the estate workers.
Richard Fermor was not only wealthy but he maintained a zealous adherence to the Roman Catholic faith even following the Act of Supremacy in 1534 wherein King Henry VIII declared himself the “supreme head in earth of the church of England” and subsequently stripped the Roman Catholic church of all of its wealth and power in England. In 1540, Richard visited his former priest, his “confessor”, a Nicholas Thayne, who had been imprisoned “in the gaol of Buckingham” and gave him a small amount of money and a few shirts. This small act of kindness was all that was required to excite King Henry VIII and his deputies and they accused Richard of being a “maintainer” of the Pope, and he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison and the forfeiture of all of his lands. Fortunately, Richard had influential friends “in court”, including his brother William, and in 1641 he received a pardon. He had to wait however, until after the death of Henry VIII in 1547 before his wealth and lands were restored. Richard died a wealthy man in 1551. He is buried at the church in Easton Neston. During his life Richard Fermor had married his wife, Anne Browne, daughter of Sir William Browne (my 14th great grandfather), lord-mayor of London, and together they had ten children including his oldest son, John Fermor, my 12th great grandfather, who was born in 1516.
Farmar Generation #3: Sir John Fermor (1516-1571):
John Fermor inherited the estate of Easton Neston when his father died in 1551. John was 35 years old, wealthy, and a Roman Catholic like his father. Less than two years after the death of John’s father, King Edward VI died, unmarried and without an heir, and Mary, the Catholic daughter of King Henry VIII, was crowned Queen Mary I of England. John Fermor is believed to have strongly supported Mary prior to her coronation and consequently, on October 2, 1553, the day following Mary’s coronation, John Fermor in the presence of the new Queen Mary I was made one of the “Knights of the Carpet” at Westminster and my 12th great grandfather was henceforth to be called Sir John Fermor. For his support of the “true religion”, Sir John Fermor was to represent Northamptonshire in two parliaments, and he was appointed sheriff of that Northamptonshire during the 4th and 5th years of the reign of Queen Mary. Mary’s reign however, was to be short and when she died childless in 1558, she was replaced by her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth, unfortunately for Sir John Fermor, was not a Roman Catholic and Sir John Fermor was removed from his political offices in much the same fashion that Republicans or Democrats when they regain power in our country following an election, immediately dump all of their predecessor’s political appointments.
Sir John Fermor married Maud Vaux, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Vaux (1460-1523), the 1st Baron Vaux of Harrowden. Nicholas Vaux, my 13th great grandfather, was a soldier and courier in England and an early member of the House of Commons and served under both King Henry VII as well as King Henry VIII. Several years ago when I was researching some of my early ancestors in New England I came across information that led me to believe that I was a direct descendant of William Shakespeare. Much to my chagrin, I later discovered that Shakespeare has no descendants so I recanted my earlier optimistic report. Now to my surprise, I have discovered that one of my ancestors, Sir Nicholas Vaux, appears as a character, albeit a minor character, in Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII. In Act 2, Scene 1 we find Sir Thomas Lowell and Sir Nicholas Vaux both lords of the court escorting the Duke of Buckingham to a barge where he is being taken to his execution. The following are some of the immortal words from this play:
LOWELL: . . . Then give my charge up to Sir Nicholas Vaux,
Who undertakes you to your end.
VAUX: Prepare there,
The duke is coming: see the barge be ready;
And fit it with such furniture as suits
The greatness of his person.
BUCKINGHAM: Nay, Sir Nicholas, Let it alone . . .
Nice going Shakespeare. It is too bad that the play was performed so long after the death of Sir Nicholas [the play was written in 1613 during the reign of King James I, almost 100 years after the death of Sir Nicholas]. He would have been so proud. Sir John Fermor and his wife Maud Vaux were to have at least six children. Their oldest son, my 11th great grandfather, George Fermor, was born at Easton Neston in the year 1544. John Fermor died in 1751 and he is buried at Easton Neston.
Farmar Generation #4: George Fermor (1544-1612):
I could not find any references in any of the genealogical or historical documents that I reviewed with respect to George Fermor, describing him as a Roman Catholic like his forbearers. During most of his life with the exception of the five year reign of Queen Mary I, the kings and queens of England insisted that the official church in England was the Anglican Church of England. George Fermor may have been a practical man who realized that if he wanted to have political power in England he could not be a highly visible Roman Catholic. We know that he distinguished himself serving in the army during the Anglo-Spanish War in the Netherlands in 1585, and for his service he was knighted my her majesty, Queen Elizabeth I in 1586. Historical records show that he served as sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1589 and entertained King James I and Queen Anne at his estate at Easton Neston on June 11, 1603. King James is noted as not being particularly tolerant of Roman Catholics and it is unlikely that he would have accepted an invitation from Sir George Fermor and his wife if they were not Anglicans.
Sir George Fermor married in 1570, Mary Curzon, daughter and heir of Thomas Curzon and possibly a god-daughter and one of the maids of honor of Queen Mary I. Together they had as many as ten children including their 2rd son, Robert Fermor, my 11th great grandfather, who was born at Easton Neston around 1578. In his will dated 1611, Sir George mentioned only six children, five sons and one daughter. His other children were either married daughters whom he had taken care of with a dowry when they married or children that did not live to adulthood. We know for example, that the oldest Fermor daughter, Agnes Fermor, married Sir Richard Wenman in 1595 and she survived her father’s death despite not being mentioned in her father’s will. Just to show that my ancestors had their fingers in many aspects of English history, it is recorded that Lady Agnes Fermor Wenman was questioned for her part if any, in the infamous Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot of 1605 where Catholic conspirators were suspected of plotting to kill King James I. Sir George Fermor died in 1612 and he is buried in the church at Easton Neston as is his wife, Mary Curzon Fermor, who died in the year 1628. Sir George and his wife Mary are my 11th great grandparents. I could not help but take note that Sir George’s surname was spelled in his will as Fermar and not Fermor.
Farmar Generation #5: Robert Fermar (1576-Abt 1626):
Robert’s older brother, Hatton Fermar was in the fortunate position per English tradition of inheriting the bulk of his father’s estate including Easton Neston. He was knighted by King James I when James and Queen Anne visited his father’s estate in 1603. The descendants of Sir Hatton went on to become members of English peerage starting with his son who became a Baron and his great grandson, Thomas Fermor, who became the 1st Earl of Pomfret in 1791. The daughter of Sir Thomas Fermor and the great, great granddaughter of Sir Hatton Fermor was Lady Juliana Fermor, who married Thomas Penn, the son of William Penn. This fact, an interesting coincidence, helps us to further understand William Penn’s incredible influence in English politics in the latter part of the 17th century despite his being a Quaker.
Robert Fermar, my 9th great grandfather, knew at a young age that his older brother would inherit most of his father’s estate, therefore he did what many other younger sons of wealthy landowners did in this period of English history, he asked his father to buy him a rank in the British army. I discussed this practice in Chapter 5 of my family history blog. Officers in the British military during and prior to the Crimean War were chosen not on their merit or their experience but on how much they would pay to purchase the rank of an officer. Being an officer had its advantages not the least of which was that if they were reasonably competent and were in the right war at the right time, you had the opportunity to share in the spoils of war. In the case of Robert Fermor and others this meant being granted large tracts of land in Ireland for their services. The land grants were in lieu of pay since the English crown was always short of cash. Unfortunately the practice of granting large estates to English soldiers meant that someone, and in this case the Irish, had to be booted off their land. That is a story in itself, and explains the bitter feelings between the Catholic Irish and the British government that exists to some extent to this day.
Robert Fermar went to Ireland with Queen Elizabeth’s army probably sometime shortly after 1594 [he would have been 20 years old in 1598]. The year 1594 marks the beginning of Ireland’s “Nine Years’ War” (sometimes referred to as Tyrone’s Rebellion). The war was fought between the Gaelic Irish Chieftains and the Elizabethan English government of Ireland over English control of Ireland. The war while not well known, was the largest conflict by the English in the Elizabethan era (1558-1603) and at one point between the years 1600 and 1601 there were more than 18,000 English soldiers fighting in Ireland. In 1601 Spain sent 3,500 to Ireland hoping to share in the defeat of the English army, however they like the Irish forces were finally defeated by 1603. Apparently our Robert Fermar accommodated himself well in the war for he was given by the Crown for his services several large estates in Ireland, chiefly in the counties of Cork and Tipperary.
Robert Fermar is believed to have married Mary Bolles, daughter of Sir George Bolles, a one-time lord mayor of London. I could not find any clear evidence to support this marriage although there is evidence that whomever Robert married she gave birth to at least three children in Ireland, my 8th great grandfather, Jasper Farmar, and his younger siblings John and Alice. According to the will of Robert’s mother, Mary Curzon Fermor, dated 1628, it directed that the debts of her late son be paid as her son Robert Farmor, who “was of late unfortunately slain at Carlow in the realm of Ireland” was obviously not in a position to take care of the matter. Some historian/genealogists suggest that Robert was killed in battle although there is nothing in the history of Carlow, Ireland to suggest that a battle occurred in that city anytime between the end of the Nine Years’ War in 1603 and the death of Robert’s mother in 1628. It is very possible that he was killed while serving in his role as a soldier but not necessarily in the course of a battle. Furthermore, the date of Robert’s death cannot be accurately determined although some historians place it as early as 1616. Based on the language of the will that indicates that her son was slain “of late” and she directed that his debts be ”paid as my own”, this strongly suggests in my opinion that Robert’s death only proceeded his mother’s death by a short period, possibly in 1626 or 1627.
One other item needs to be discussed with respect to Robert Fermar. Many of the historical writings about the history of the Farmar family assert that Robert Fermar, son of Sir George Fermor, had a son also named Robert Fermar, who was actually the father of Jasper Farmar. If this is true, that would mean that Sir George Fermor was the great grandfather of Jasper Farmar and not the grandfather as we have laid out above. I believe that this is completely erroneous for the following reasons. First, there simply are not enough years between the birth of Robert Fermar in 1576 and the birth of Jasper Farmar in 1610 to have added another generation. Some genealogists have made Robert’s birthday as early as 1570 and his alleged son Robert’s birth date as 1790 trying to force this additional generation, however Robert’s parents, Sir George Fermor and Mary Curzon, were married in 1570 and since Robert was their third child, the 1570 birth date is impossible. There is also a letter that was discovered that is dated December 4, 1746 that references Jasper Farmar as the grandson (not the great grandson) of Sir George Fermor and notes that he was a major in the army in Ireland. Finally, other than adding the additional Robert in the family tree, no historian and no genealogist has furnished any information about this mysterious second Robert with respect to his birth and death dates, marriage information, brothers and sisters, nor has any other evidence been provided even to support his existence. My believe is that Jasper Farmar’s father, Robert Farmar (or Farmer or Fermor), was the son of Sir George Fermor.
Farmar Generation #6: Jasper Farmar (1610-1685):
Whether Jasper’s father died in 1616 or 1626, Jasper was still pretty young and probably too young to immediately assume the duties of running the family estates in County Tipperary and County Cork. We will never know how this transition took place and all that we do know is that at some point in his young life, Jasper Farmar joined the English Army under King Charles I and eventually achieved or purchased the rank of major. Virtually every historical document both in England, Ireland and in America about this man refers to him as Major Jasper Farmar. During most of Jasper Farmar life in Ireland, the island was engulfed in war and as a major in the Royalist army of Charles I, he would have been very much involved. The Irish Uprising (aka Irish Rebellion or The Confederate War) became in 1641 and it was a result of the long term and hated policies of both the Tudor and the Stuart monarchs under which Ireland was aggressively colonized by Protestant settlers from England and Scotland. Under the colonization policy the mostly Irish Catholic landowners were dispossessed of their land to make way for the new settlers. Further compounding the problem was that the Irish Parliament was subservient to the English Parliament and the Catholics were barred from holding state office. Obviously, the Farmar family would have supported the English colonization policies since Jasper’s father, Robert, had been a beneficiary of such a policy when he was granted land for his services in the army. Major Jasper Farmar as a result of his inheritance became a large English “Protestant” landholder and therefore in the class of English landowners that the Irish hated. The Uprising lasted for ten years until the Irish Confederates were finally defeated by Oliver Cromwell’s invasion army in 1649. During the war much of the Farmar landholdings particularly in Tipperary, had been confiscated by the Irish Confederates. This proved to be larger problem than might otherwise have been expected with the defeat of the Irish armies in 1649. The British Parliament and the army under Cromwell were already engaged in a Civil War in England with the Royalist forces under King Charles I, and when King Charles I was captured and ordered executed in 1649, the Royalist army in Ireland in which Major Jasper Farmar served, was suddenly forced to form an alliance with the Irish Confederates to challenge the newly-declared English Commonwealth army under Oliver Cromwell. By 1652, the war was essentially over and the Irish armies were defeated. The bottom line is that at the end of the war after a decade of fighting, Major Jasper Farmar found himself on the losing side in the war with a large portion of his land confiscated and most of his political capital lost. Furthermore, he was 42 years old, without a job, and due to the loss of much of his estates, he had a reduced income. He had no choice at this point but to find himself a rich wife. [Just kidding].
I have no idea whether Mary Gamble, the oldest daughter of Anthony Gamble of County Cork, brought a large dowry to her marriage when they married in 1653. She was born in 1614 which made her in her late 30s when she married Jasper Farmar and as far as I could determine this was her first marriage, at least she did not bring any children with her from a former marriage. Their first child Richard Farmar was born in 1653, followed by a second son, Jasper Farmar, Jr., a year later. Before Mary’s death in the late 1660s they were to have at least three or four more children. Jasper, Mary and the children lived on their estate in Garranekinnefeake Parish, near the village of Midleton, in County Cork located just east of the present day city of Cobh near the coastline of southwest Ireland. The political climate in Ireland and Jasper’s former affiliation with the Royalists made his efforts to gain back the land that he lost during the war, all but impossible. Furthermore, his old lands were quickly absorbed by new colonists and former soldiers (“adventurers”) that were immigrating into Ireland in the 1650s. Owning land in England and Ireland during this time period was critical since land for most of the wealthy was almost their sole source of income, income from the sheep and cattle industry, and income from the rents from tenant farmers. The loss of land must have been very painful for the Farmar family. [Several of the Farmar family historians have suggested that after the war, Jasper Farmer and his family sought refuge in England and their loss of much of their land may have been a punishment for their support of Charles I. If this is true some of his children must have been born in England, a fact that I could not confirm. The family must have then returned to Ireland after the Restoration of Charles II in 1661.]
Since the Norman invasion under William the Conqueror in 1066 until the present day, with the exception of the period between the year 1649 (when Charles I was executed) and the year 1660 with the Restoration of Charles II (he was actually crowned king in 1661) there has been a continuous reigning monarch in England. During most of the period between 1640 and 1660, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan followers controlled the government of England and Ireland. Incidentally, as I have pointed out in previous chapters, the Puritan immigration into the New England colonies in America came to an abrupt halt when Cromwell came to power, since the primary reason to flee England, religious freedom, was removed. The Restoration of the monarchy in 1661 must have brought great joy to the Farmar family (even if the family was living in England at the time as suggested above.) Unfortunately, despite the “Act of Settlement” of 1662 and the recognition by the Crown that some “Innocents” had been dispossessed of their land without fair compensation, the Farmar family was unable to get their land returned and they received only a small compensation from the Crown for their losses.
After the death of Jasper Farmer’s first wife, Mary Gamble, in the late 1660s, he married Mary Batsford (her married name) in 1671. Mary was a widow and 36 years old when she married 61-year old Jasper Farmar and she bought with her to her new marriage three children from her prior marriage. Mary and Jasper were to have at least four children together including Edward Jasper, my 7th great grandfather, who was born in 1672. The list of invitees to the wedding of Jasper and Mary in 1671 will never be known although it is possible that their nearby neighbor, the young and personable William Penn, may have been in attendance. This may be a bit fanciful since William Penn was in an English jail in London for six months in the year 1671. Penn’s father had been granted lands in County Cork, Ireland for his services during the English Civil War, and when his father died in 1670, young William then 26 years old, inherited his father’s large Irish estate.
The estate of William Penn which consisted of eight square miles of land (over 5,000 acres) was located near the present day village of Shanagarry in Cork County, Ireland and according to some historical documents, “Penn’s Castle” was located adjacent to the estate of Jasper Farmer’s brother, John Farmar, located near the village of Youghal. At the same time, Jasper Farmar and his family resided at their estate near the County Cork village of Midleton. All three of these towns, Midleton, Youghal, and Shanagarry, are shown on the adjacent map and while they do not look all that close to one another on the map, it must be remembered that in the 1600s the estates were huge. An estate containing an area of 5000 acres represents an area approximately 3 miles long by 3 miles wide assuming that the property is square which would have been unlikely. The distance between Midleton and Shanagarry is approximately ten miles and while Penn and the two Farmar brothers may not have lived exactly next door to one another, as large landowners in southeast County Cork they would definitely have known each other.
As early as 1677, William Penn was part of a group purchasing land in the western side of the present state of New Jersey and once the land was acquired they immediately set about encouraging settlement particularly among English Quakers. Then much to Penn’s surprise, King Charles I in 1681 granted him a charter as the sole proprietor of the “land of Pennsylvania” and as outlined in his brief biography at the beginning of this chapter, Penn immediately began an active promotion to sell his property. One of his first customers was Major Jasper Farmar.
One has to wonder why in 1682 Jasper Farmar would decide to leave his home and the lovely rolling green hills of County Cork, Ireland at the age of 72, his wife in her late 40s, and at least seven children still living at home. There were probably many reasons that contributed to his decision. Perhaps, Jasper was tired of struggling to keep up with the falling prices for his agricultural products caused in part by the English government trying to control Irish exports through the passage of the Cattle Acts that limited shipments of live cattle, and perhaps caused in part by the passage of the Navigation Act that prohibited direct trade with the Colonies. Furthermore, the second Anglo-Dutch War that stated in 1665 did not help much to promote trade exports to Europe. Then again, the poor weather in Ireland in the late 1600s caused frequent crop failures and at about the same time the English authorities were insisting on raising new taxes. All of these factors and probably more contributed to his discontent; however I believe that the primary reason why Jasper Farmar decided to relocate his family to the New World was due almost entirely to the salesmanship of his friend William Penn. After all, William Penn, a Quaker no less, convinced the King of England to give him thousands of acres of land in America at no cost and with few strings attached. Undoubtedly Penn came across as likeable and honest and while he had not yet been to Pennsylvania when he sold 5,000 acres of wilderness land to the Farmar family in 1682, he believed in the product that he was selling enough to convince Jasper Farmar to leave his homeland. The land of course was unbelievably inexpensive compared to the cost of land in Ireland and only in his dreams could Jasper imagine owning 5,000 acres of land that Penn no doubt described as being just as beautiful and fertile as land in Ireland, with temperate weather, friendly Indians, plentiful wild game, religious freedom, and all of which was to be overseen by a democratic government operating under a constitution where power was to be derived from the people. It was hard to turn it down and thousands of new immigrants did not.
In late August of 1685, Jasper and Mary Farmar, six of their children including three children from his wife’s first marriage, plus his son Jasper and his wife and their three children, and his daughter (name unknown) and her husband, Thomas Webb, and their son, and at least twenty of their servants and their children boarded the ship “Bristol Merchant” in Ireland bound for Philadelphia. Also on board was Nicholas Scull, son of Jasper’s sister Alice, and his seven servants. Jasper Farmar had made the full commitment both with his willingness to make a life changing event but also with his strong financial commitment. The cost of the trip alone must have been enormous. There was not only the expense of the passage for all of his family and their servants but there was also the added expense to ship all of their family belongs including their furniture. This trip of course, was not without its unknowns, although Jasper’s son, Jasper Jr. had made the voyage to Philadelphia a few years earlier with his father’s estate overseer, John Scull (Jasper Sr.’s nephew and the son of Jasper’s sister Alice, and brother of Nicholas Scull) and finalized the land purchase with William Penn, before returned to Ireland to accompany his family on the later trip. John Scull stayed behind to prepare the family’s new home. Whether Major Jasper Farmar had a premonition about his death is unknown, although at the age of 75, he had prudently prepared his last will and testament before they sailed. He also settled any financial obligations he may have felt necessary with his two grown sons, Richard and Samuel, who had elected not to make the voyage to America. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth had died in 1682, and his daughter Mary (“Webber”) who also did not make the trip, had married and received from her father a large dowry. Every obligation he may have felt necessary with respect to his family that stayed behind had been settled before he departed for America.
The seas in the North Atlanta in late summer were probably rough and the occasional driving rain blowing from the west into the faces of the travelers could be cold especially as winter approached. The passenger space was small, crowded, damp, and unheated and the sanitary conditions below the deck were hideous by any standards. Not surprisingly many of the passengers were seasick almost immediately from the point the ship lost sight of the coast of Ireland to the time the ship arrived in America in early November of 1685. Many became dehydrated from their constant vomiting and their inability to hold down food. Their weakness and their loss of weight left them vulnerable to diseases, particularly pneumonia and small pox, common causes of death on the ocean voyages in the 17th century. Jasper Farmar was especially vulnerable at the age of 75. Unfortunately, weakened by disease he finally succumbed his life somewhere out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. His son, Jasper Farmer Jr. and one of his sisters (whose name is unknown), and his stepson, William Batsford, also died on the voyage as did many others whose names have been lost in history. The recorded passenger list of the “Bristol Merchant” includes only those passengers who were onboard and alive when they ship arrived in Philadelphia on November 10, 1685. The 100 mile trip up the Delaware River to Philadelphia must have caused much excitement among the passengers although in spots the rapidly flowing river and the shallow shoals played havoc even with experienced captains. Fortunately, John Stephens, the captain, had made this trip on a number of previous occasions as had dozens of other ships preceding the “Bristol Merchant”. William Penn had been busy recruiting new settlers.
By November of 1685, there were almost 500 to 800 settlers living in and around Philadelphia (estimated to be over 2,000 by 1700) and as many as 200-300 homes had been built including many new homes constructed of brick. The village had been constructed on a plot of land back off the river bank at an elevation of about 30 feet above the river. Before the construction of a long wharf built out into the Delaware in 1684 the unloading of the ships, both the passengers and their possessions, had been a tedious and long event. Fortunately, the Farmar family had the benefit of disembarking on the newly constructed wharf and they were probably met and assisted by their overseer, John Scull. Most historians writing about this event note that Mary Batsford Farmar was a remarkably composed woman despite the recent loss of her husband, one of her sons, and two of her stepchildren during the voyage. Three other younger Farmar children who made the voyage are believed to have died in Philadelphia shortly after their arrival (at least their names do not appear in any later historical records.) She was not only optimistic and energetic, but an astute business women for shortly after her arrival she acquired a large brick house and several land plots in Philadelphia and she soon visited their “Plantation”, later to be called “Farmar’s Towne”, located about 15 miles upstream from Philadelphia on the Schuylkill River. There she organized the farming operations including directing the construction of new roads and buildings. She is further credited with discovering limestone on their property useful in the making of building stones, and she also ordered the construction of a mill and a kiln used to grind and dry the limestone, which is the essential component in the making of plaster. Mary Farmar also directed the disposition of both her husband’s will and his son Jasper’s will. Unfortunately and despite her energy and her determination, she was taken ill, and in October of 1686, she felt it necessary to prepare her last Will and Testament: “In the name of God, Amen. I, Mary Farmar, widdow and relic of Major Jasper Farmar of Ireland, being weak in health but in perfect memory, blessed by God, doe make this my last Will and Testament in manner and forme following . . . “. Mary Farmar died shortly thereafter. Of the twelve children born to Major Jasper Farmar and his two wives, Mary Gamble and Mary Batsford, only a few survived their father’s and mother’s death. Edward Farmar, their youngest son, and my 7th great grandfather, inherited the bulk of his father’s land in America. The 5,000 acre Farmar “Plantation” shown on the above map dated 1690 is located just north of and about the same size as German Township, later “Germantown”, and the parcel was obviously one of the largest grants of land that William Penn made in the original Philadelphia County. Also note that immediately to the southeast of the Farmar land was the Pennsylvania land that William Penn gifted to his 1st wife, Gulielma Maria Springett in 1681 that is referred to as the “Manor of Springfield” on the old map. The size and excellent location of the property shows both Penn’s friendship with the Farmar family as well as the Farmar’s obvious wealth. The Farmar land today is the larger part of the township of Whitemarsh in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Based on the dates of Major Jasper Farmer’s will as recorded in some of the narratives about his life, I can understand why some genealogists are confused as to when he wrote his will and when and where he died. In fact in some of the narratives, particularly in the extensive Farmar family biography that was written by Lewis D. Cook and begins on page 496 in his book “Genealogies of Pennsylvania Families” published in 1982 from original articles in the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, we discover that Cook seems to provide different dates for the same event. Part of the confusion for amateur genealogists and historians such as myself, is that when I read that when an event occurred on the 25th day of the 7th month or as often written in the early documents as “7ber ye 25 1685”, I interpret this to mean that something occurred on July 25th, 1685. Unfortunately, in Cook’s narrative he sometimes uses the date of the signing of Major Jasper Farmar’s last will and testament as the 7thmonth, 25th day of 1685 or more frequently he gives us the will date as Sept 25th, 1685. My problem in trying to understand where and when Jasper Farmar died is that if he signed his will on September 25th 1685, and the “Bristol Merchant” arrived in Philadelphia on November 10th, 1685, the 46 days between these two dates is too short a time period. It took William Penn nine weeks to cross the Atlantic when he first visited his new colony in 1683 and that trip was reported to be a “fast” voyage. It is understandable that some historians declare that Jasper died in Ireland and then his family departed for America. In actual fact, if the September 25th date is correct it would suggest that Jasper actually signed his will and died after his family departed Ireland, in effect suggesting that his family left him behind while he was still alive, which is very unlikely.
The confusion about the dates was easily resolved once I recognized the timing problem. Prior to 1752 the English calendar was different than our calendar of today. In 1685, our date of March 25th was considered to be the 1st of the new year in the Julian calendar or roughly equivalent to our January 1st. The time period of March 25th to April 24th was the first month of the year and written as “1ber”. A date of 7ber 25th, the date of the signing of Jasper’s will, would be in today’s calendar written as September 1st or the first day of the 10th month. If Major Jasper Farmar signed his will on September 1st and immediately departed on the “Bristol Merchant” for America, assuming that he had lived, he would have arrived approximately 10 weeks later on November 10th, 1685. The calendar change seems to explain the contradiction of the dates and it confirms that Jasper Farmar most likely died at sea. Incidentally the calendar change also helps to explain why sometimes we find one of our ancestors listed as having died in March 15, 1684/85. Both dates are correct simply depending on whether we are looking at the Julian calendar or the modern Gregorian calendar.
One other problem that I have not explained with regard to Jasper Farmar’s Last Will and Testament is why he willed most of his estate in America to his youngest son, Edward, and not to Edward’s three older step-brothers, John, Robert and Charles, who also made the voyage to America with their parents. The will provides 300 pounds sterling to each of the older brothers but not the more valuable “Plantation” which was left to Edward. Edward’s older stepbrothers, Richard and Samuel, who remained behind in Ireland were provided for by Jasper before he left Ireland, and Jasper Jr., who died on the voyage, was given a one quarter share or 1,250 acres of the 5,000 acre Plantation in Pennsylvania which his wife later inherited. And yet, Edward who was only 14 years old when his father signed his will and then died, inherited 3,750 acres of valuable farm land. I can only surmise that while Edward was Jasper Farmar’s youngest son, he was also the oldest son of the marriage between Jasper Farmar and his second wife, Mary Batsford. If Mary Batsford was a strong-willed individual as has been suggested, it is possible that it was though her influence that their “oldest” son inherited his father’s estate in America.
One final note about the Farmar family in America that needs to be mentioned is that a few historian/genealogists have suggested that the Farmar family were Quakers. While there is no clear documented evidence to prove this belief, the fact that they were close friends with the Penn Family, their early move to America occurred simultaneously with the move of many other Quakers from the British Isles, and the fact that John Cookson, Edward’s guardian after his mother died, was a Quaker, means that we cannot easily dismiss the possibility that the Farmar family had become Quakers. On the other hand, Jasper Farmar is referred to in numerous documents even after his death by his military title, Major, which would seem to be an unlikely title to use had he been a Quaker, since their distain for the military and war was well known. Furthermore, his son, Edward, donated land and helped build a non-denomination church on his father’s property which later became an Episcopal church, further suggests that the family upbringing was not that of a Quaker. Perhaps additional future study may shed new light on this issue.
Farmar Generation #7: Edward Farmar (1672-1745):
Edward Farmar, my 7th great grandfather, was forced to grow up quickly. He was only 14 years old when his mother died, and most of the others that he had been close to were either back in Ireland or were dead. His younger sister Sarah had gone to live with his Aunt Katherine (his step-brother’s wife), and he probably seldom saw her. He was too young to make decisions about running the family farm as his guardians made all of his financial decisions and the decisions regarding his upbringing. His confusion about his life growing up is perhaps demonstrated in the following story: Edward Farmar was still underage at 19 years old when he asked his Quaker guardian’s daughter, Sarah Goodson, for her hand in marriage. It is not known whether she objected, although she may have been caught by surprise with the sudden proposal, and it is possible that her father may have objected to the proposed marriage. For whatever the reasons, the matter was referred to a group of arbitrators, two Quakers and two non-Quakers (the non-Quakers were selected by Edward), and it was finally settled against the proposed marriage and Sarah subsequently married someone else. It was written that Sarah received a “discharge” from Edward Farmar suggesting that she may not have been fond of him despite the fact he was soon to be a wealthy landowner. Whether Edward was arrogant in pushing the marriage or just lonely we do not know, however we do know that Edward, less than two years later in 1694 and now of age, married our 7th great grandmother, Rachel Astley, and together they set about managing their future.
Edward Farmar’s life is well documented in the records of numerous land transactions, his business activities, his children’s births, his donations, and his public services. Beginning in the early 1690s Edward began the sale of his land in 100 to 200 acre plots. The sales served two purposes, one of which was to raise money for the Edward Farmar family, and the other, to satisfied one of the agreement terms that their family had made with William Penn when the land was originally granted, that the property was to be subdivided. It was never Penn’s intention to re-create a large feudal estate in America as existed in England and Ireland. We also learned that Edward when he was young had spent time with the Indians that still lived nearby and he had learned to speak the various dialects of their language. History records that in 1701 and 1702 (and off and on in later years), Edward served as an interpreter for the government (and perhaps even for William Penn who lived in Pennsylvania from 1699 until 1701). On May 19, 1712 a council with the Indians and Pennsylvania Governor Gookin was held at his home. There is also a notation in one of the documents that indicated that Edward Farmar could speak French. By mid-1690, he had constructed a grist mill on the upper branch of the Wissahickon Creek that flowed across his property that utilized the power of the rapidly flowing water to drive the mill that in turn crushed the grains and corn into flour. The Wissahickon Creek as you may recall from previous paragraphs, was also being utilized to power the paper mills downstream in Germantown that were owned by the Dewees and Rittenhouse families. One of the earliest roads built in the area had as its terminus the “Farmar Mill” so that local farmers could haul their crops to the mill for grinding. This photograph of the remains of Farmar Mill was taken in the present village of Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania and today is part of a museum and historic site. The ”Farmar Mill” is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Edward Farmar was elected to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania in 1710 and he held this office almost continuously until 1731. He was also commissioned a Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia County in 1701 and held the office until 1738. In 1710 he donated land for the construction of a church in the village of Whitemarsh. He was actively involved in the construction of the first church which at the time was just a log cabin, and he remained active in church activities until his death in 1745. St Thomas Episcopal Church still exists to this day in Whitemarsh (although it is no longer a log cabin). Edward Farmar and his family were among the earliest members of the church to have been buried in the churchyard cemetery. The photograph to the left was taken at the cemetery at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Edward and Rachel Farmar were to have a total of nine children including our 6th great grandmother, Rachel Farmar who was born in 1716. Rachel Farmar married William Dewees around 1735. Two of their children carried the “Farmar” name, a son named Farmar Dewees who was born in 1736 and our 5th great grandfather, William Farmar Dewees, who was born in 1739.
Dewees Generation #4: William Farmar Dewees (1739-1809):
It is not known how William Farmar Dewees met his first wife, Sarah Potts. She lived with her parents, Thomas and Rebecca, and her brothers and sisters in Colebrookdale Township in the County of Berks which is today located just to the west of Montgomery County, where the Dewees made their home. It might very well have been an arranged marriage between William and Sarah for their parents were close friends. William’s father had been appointed one of the two executors of Thomas Pott’s will. Potts referred to his executors in his will as “my beloved friends.” We know that Sarah was young when she married William although her exact age can only be estimated. She was the second child of Thomas and Rebecca Potts who were married in the year 1742. We further learned that Sarah was alive when her grandfather prepared his Last Will and Testament in 1647. Her estimated birth date is therefore probably between the years of 1745 and 1746 which would make her around 17 years old when she married 23 year William Dewees. It was an excellent marriage for William, as his new bride had been left a sizable inheritance by her grandfather, Thomas Potts, who died in early 1652. It is also likely that Sarah’s wealthy father, Thomas Jr., had made sure that his daughter brought a sizable dowry to the marriage. [Some genealogists have incorrectly listed Sarah’s birth year as 1752 because her grandfather died in 1752 and she is listed in his will. His will however, was prepared earlier in September of 1747 and in addition to leaving Sarah a sizable “annuity and legacy”, he left her his “riding mare and a side saddle” which suggests that in 1747 she was old enough to have enjoyed riding on a horse with her grandfather. Furthermore, if her birth year had been as late as 1752, Sarah would have been only 10 years old when she married William.]
Sarah Potts’ maternal grandfather was Thomas Rutter who is generally accepted as having constructed in 1716 the first ironworks in Pennsylvania. The ironworks was built along the banks of the Manatawney Creek, a tributary of the Schuylkill River located near the present day city of Pottstown (named after Sarah’s Uncle John Potts) about 45 miles upstream from Philadelphia. In 1716, the area where Thomas Rutter built his first ironworks was almost total wilderness; the rolling hills were covered with virgin forests, and the land was still the home and hunting grounds of Indians who fortunately had been pacified by William Penn. Outcroppings in the hills and riverbanks in the region revealed the abundant iron ore that was easily mined; the water in the locate creeks supplied the power to crush the ore and run the grist mills, and the surrounding forests provided the necessary fuel for the forges operating to melt and refine the iron. By the standards of today these operations were an environmental nightmare what with the indiscriminate deforesting of the land, the open mining, and the air and water pollution, however the ironworks made a lot of families very wealthy including the Rutter family and his soon to be partner, Thomas Potts. Furthermore, until recently, the State of Pennsylvania was the largest producer of steel in the United States, an industry that began with the primitive operations of Thomas Rutter in 1716. When Thomas Rutter died in 1734, his partner, Thomas Potts, took over the business and he went on to create a family dynasty and the largest iron-making empire in colonial America. When Thomas Potts Sr. died in 1752, he passed the businesses on to his sons, Thomas Jr. and John Potts, who in turn expanded the business even further often through the purchases of forges owned by their competitors or through marriage to daughters of other ironmakers. [Three of Thomas Potts’ sons married granddaughters of Thomas Rutter.) When Thomas Potts, Jr died in 1762 and his brother John died in 1768, the business again passed to the next generation. It was this generation, principally Isaac and Joseph Potts, sons of John Potts, and their cousin David Potts, son of Thomas Potts, Jr. and sister of Sarah Potts, who were to embrace and train our great grandfather William Dewees in the art of making iron.
William Dewees was to have several major disappointments in his life, beginning with the death of his young wife Sarah. The date of Sarah’s death is not known although it followed and may have been caused by the birth of their second daughter who was born around 1767. Sarah would have been barely twenty years old when she died. It is believed that both of their children were born in Pottstown (originally called Pottsgrove, see map below) and if this is accurate, William was probably working, maybe even operating, the forge in Pottstown owned by his brother-in-law’s uncle, John Potts. In 1757, John Potts purchased an existing forge that had been constructed in 1741 and located about 15 miles downstream from their business and home in Pottstown. Their newly purchased forge was located at the point where Valley Creek intersected with the Schuylkill River. This forge at the time carried the name of “Mount Joy Forge” but it became more commonly known later as “Valley Forge”. In November of 1769, William Dewees married for a second time, Sarah Waters, my 5th great grandmother. It is unclear where William met his new wife, however based on the knowledge that William when threatened by the British invasion in 1777, moved his family to safety away from their home at Valley Forge to his father-in-laws’ home in nearby Chester County, we might assume that William was already operating the Valley Forge when he met and married Sarah Waters in 1769. Other than William’s marriage to Sarah Potts, his relationship with the Potts family is really not clear in historical records until 1771, at which time he is noted as managing the forge at Valley Creek jointly with his brother-in-law, David Potts. David Potts apparently spent most of his time in Philadelphia where he operated a “store” that sold the iron goods produced at the forge operated by William Dewees. These goods would have included such items as pots and pans, utensils, nails, farm tools and the like. In 1773, Joseph Potts, David’s cousin and apparently the owner of Valley Forge (inherited from his father, John Potts who died in 1768) conveyed by deed to William Dewees “an undivided moiety of Mount Joy Furnace” therein making my 5th great grandfather the sole owner of Valley Forge. Joseph’s brother, Isaac Potts, apparently at the time owned a home at Valley Forge and operated the nearby grist mill on Valley Creek. Furthermore, William’s brother-in-law, David, probably still his business partner in 1773, had previously built a summer home at Valley Forge that William and his wife and children now occupied as their home.
At the onset of the American Revolution, Valley Forge and many of the other ironworks in Pennsylvania became one of America’s greatest assets for it was at these forges where everything from the bullets, to the cannonballs, and even the cannons themselves were manufactured. Without this industry and their ability to manufacture munitions, America could not have waged their war for independence. Furthermore and despite the pleas from many members of our new government that the ironworks for patriotic reasons, should forego their profits, William Dewees with his partners and others reaped the financial benefits from their increased war time business. Their activities did not go unnoticed by the British military. In the spring of 1777, William Dewees was asked to use his facilities at Valley Forge to store army supplies (munitions and food.) It is unclear whether he initially agreed to their request although as a recently appointed Colonel in the Pennsylvania militia, they no doubt appealed to his patriotism and he ultimately accepted the deal, albeit reluctantly. This fateful decision led ultimately to a second major disappointment in his life.
In September of 1777, the British Army commenced their invasion of southern Pennsylvania and the capture of Philadelphia. General Howe’s forces sailed from New York and disembarked at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. From there they marched north meeting and defeating the American forces at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, and again at Paoli on September 20, 1777. As they continued their march through the Pennsylvania Dutch farmlands pillaging as they went, General Howe ordered a small detachment of men to go to Valley Forge where he had heard reports that Washington’s army was storing some of their military supplies. On September 18, the contingent of British light infantry and cavalry arrived at Valley Forge in time to find a small group of American soldiers under the supervision of Colonel William Dewees, George Washington’s young Aide-de-Camp, Alexander Hamilton, and Harry Lee (the father of Robert E. Lee), actively removing the army supplies. The Americans were forced to escape by barge across the Valley Creek as the British forces approached, and it is said that Colonel Dewees’ horse was shot out from under him as he crossed the creek. The British forces then burned the” forge, sawmill, two large stone dwelling houses, two coal houses and 400 loads of coal, and 2,200 bushels of wheat and rye in the sheaf.” This effective destroyed the business of William Dewees’ Valley Forge. The British forces continued their march to Philadelphia defeating the Americans again at the Battle of Germantown on October 4th before they finally settled down for the winter of 1777-78 in Philadelphia. In mid-December, Washington camped his forces at Valley Forge and started preparations for the winter. The American army was to remain camped there on the land of William Dewees for the next six months.
It is not clear exactly how much time William Dewees and his family spent at their home at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. There are reports that on several occasions William and Sarah dined with George and Martha as did some of the members of the Potts family and there are historical records that note that William allowed the basement of his home to be used as a bakery to feed the troops. Whatever amount of time William Dewees spent at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78, he must have been appalled watching his property destroyed. Trees and split rail fences were cut down to built the huts to house the American army and to fuel the fires for cooking and heating; wheat and flour that had not been destroyed by the British was quickly consumed, and what few farm animals were still alive quickly disappeared. When Washington’s army left in June of 1778, they left behind mountains of trash, dilapidated wooden huts, and a treeless, muddy barren landscape. The Dewees land was also the graveyard of over 2,000 unfortunate American soldiers. What visitors see today when they visit the Valley Forge National Historic Park looks nothing like what Dewees would have surveyed in the summer of 1778. Fortunately the Dewees’ home (see photo) was still intact as was the home of Isaac Potts located next door to the Dewees home that had been used by George Washington as his headquarters. Not much else survived. The British attack and destruction and the winter encampment at Valley Forge pretty much put William Dewees out of business and for the most part he was financially ruined. After the war, William Dewees tried to resurrect his business and rebuild the forge but the financial cost was too great, and five years later the sheriff came and took possession of the property. William was bankrupted. This time the Potts family did not come to his aid and in the end they managed to regain the ownership of the property. An ancestor of the Potts family writing about this incident a generation later wrote something that I deeply resent for its inaccuracy and insensitivity, but I will nevertheless repeat his words: “William Dewees, who was very aristocratic, and who moved in a style far above his means to support, in a few years failed, was sold out by the sheriff, which closed his business at the place, and ended his connection with the family [the Potts.]” Under the circumstances and considering William Dewees’ obvious contributions during the American Revolution, this was a totally inappropriate statement.
Sarah Waters and William Dewees were to have five children including my 4th great grandfather, Waters Dewees who was born in 1776, maybe in the family home at Valley Forge. William died in 1809. His wife died in 1822. My great grandfather, Eugene Hutchinson Ferree, died in 1952 when I was 10 years old. His father was David Dewees Ferree. His grandmother was Elizabeth Dewees, the daughter of Waters Dewees and the granddaughter of William and Sarah. This ends part 1 of the story of my early Pennsylvania ancestor.
Before William Dewees died in 1809, he petitioned Congress for the recovery of the financial losses that he and his family had suffered during the war. In 1792, these damages were assessed at approximately $11,000, which at the time was a princely sum of money. In 1797, Congress was sympathetic to the merits of their claim, however the U.S. treasury was without funds and they had no choice but to ignore the claim. After his death, his son William acting on behalf of his mother continued to pursue the claim and finally on February 5th, 1817, the Fourteenth Congress of the United States “respectively recommend(s) the payment of the claim of Sarah Dewees, and report a bill making the necessary appropriation.” The compensation was finally received by the Dewees family in 1820, and two years later Sarah Dewees followed her husband in death.