Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chapter 31 - My Pennsylvania Ancestors - Part III

Richard ap Thomas (c1650-1683)

The sailing ship, The Morning Star, was finally able to drag up anchor, set it sails, and make its way down the Mersey River estuary and into Liverpool Bay. It was early September 1683 when the ship was finally in a position to depart. Thomas Hayes, the ship’s master, had been repeatedly reminding his impatient passengers who were predominately Welsh families, that the ship could not embark until the tide and the winds were favorable. When the favorable day finally arrived, the Mersey River on which this ancient port of Liverpool was situated was probably just as crowded with ships waiting to depart as is depicted in this 1680 oil painting of Liverpool that currently hangs in the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Shortly after the ship’s departure one of the male passengers standing against the ship’s rail had his arm around his young ten year old son. Their eyes were focused on the rolling green hills of England and the northern coast of Wales that was quickly disappearing from their view. The father had a grim but stern look on his face as he tried to reassure his young son that everything would be alright. The ten year old had been crying and his eyes were red and his cheeks were wet with his tears. The young boy simply could not understand despite the futile attempts of his father to explain, why his mother and his younger sister had been left behind. When this young boy, Richard Thomas, died in 1744 at the age of 72, he probably still could not comprehend the force and the passions of his father that had motivated him to abandon his wife and daughter and the rest of his family in northern Wales.

The father’s name was Richard ap Thomas or Richard son of Thomas. The use of surnames in Wales was not in common use when Richard was born in the parish of Whitford Garn in the ancient county of Flintshire in northeast Wales sometime around the year of 1650. While the name Thomas is common in Wales we know nothing of the history of his family although it is likely that he was a descendant of a Welsh family that had lived and farmed in this area for many generations. We know that Richard owned his own land that was probably gifted to him by his family, he earned an income from the land, and he was probably considered a member of the “minor gentry” or a “gentlemen” in the Welsh society in the area. Based on the age of his son when they departed on the ship “Morning Star” in the year 1683, Richard was probably married around 1670 at the age of twenty. The name of his wife is unknown. The name of his daughter who they left behind with Richard’s mother when they sailed to America was Mary. Mary Thomas was my 7th great grandmother.

In 1653 a young Welshman named John ap John travelled from his home in Cefn Mawr in Denbighshire County in northern Wales to meet with George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, later known as Quakerism. [Denbighshire County is shown as Denbigh on the map to the right located just south of Flint(shire) County home of Richard ap Thomas.] Fox was at the time living in Swarthmore Hall in the County of Lancastershire, England, located about 60 miles north of John ap John’s home in Wales. John ap John stayed at Fox’s home where he learned about the philosophy of “Inner Light” and the teaching of George Fox. When Fox had convinced him of the “truth,” John ap John returned to Wales where he became the first and leading Welsh Quaker. As you may recall if you read Chapter 21 of this family history blog, Quakers believe that one did not need the Church of England and its clergy with all their rituals for the faithful to be able to communicate directly with God. The Quakers in affect were cutting out the middlemen and were free to worship outside the organized church. It is not hard to imagine that this Quaker message was very unpopular with the clergy and with the lay authorities and when John ap John spent the greater part of the rest of his life tramping though Wales preaching this new Quaker message and encouraging others to convert, he was greatly persecuted, incarcerated on numerous occasions, fined, and constantly threatened. He was nevertheless to his credit, quite successful in selling his message and one of his major converts in the early years of Quakerism in Wales was my 8th great grandfather, Richard ap Thomas of Whitford Carn.

One has to contemplate what type of personality allows oneself to become caught up in a something that basically alters one’s way of life. They say that addicts hooked on drugs, alcohol, and even smoking have a genetic disposition to the addiction. Would this also be true for someone who becomes fixated on a cult or a religion even to the point of being willing to end one’s life as a suicide bomber? Is it in the genes? That is not to say that Richard ap Thomas’ conversion to Quakerism was analogous to his becoming a drug addict or a suicide bomber, nevertheless the conversion was a major alteration in his life which led to some very negative social consequences. Life in the 1600s in Wales and England consisted of working the farm six days per week and attending church on Sunday. Furthermore, much of the family’s social life revolved around church activities. In Richard’s case he was brought up in the Anglican faith, the Church of England, the only accepted religion in the country, as were his family, his wife’s family, and all of his friends’ and neighbors’ families. When he made his conversion unless he tried to hide it from others which probably was not the case with Richard who became a strong advocate, he must have stopped attending church on Sundays. How his family, neighbors, and friends reacted to his conversion is subject only to conjecture although religious life was far more important in 17th century England than it is in America today and therefore it is probable that he was immediately ostracized by the community. Whether or not in the course of the ensuing years before he left for America he was persecuted or arrested is unknown although it appears that whatever he faced it did not deter his efforts to expand the membership, organize meetings and spread the word and the “truth”. He undoubtedly played a major role in organizing the Society of Friends in Wales in the 1670s and most likely as with other members of the Society, he held “secret” meetings at his home.

William Penn was probably well known to the Welsh Quakers. He came from a wealthy, prominent, and influential English family and his religious conversion must have greatly helped to encourage others to join the movement. It is not hard to imagine that when the English crown, then King Charles II, granted William Penn an immense tract of land in the New World on March 4, 1681 that was to later be named Pennsylvania, that the Welsh Quakers were utterly amazed. They probably also jumped to the conclusion that the grant of land in America was intended to be a new home and sanctuary for English, Welsh, and Irish Quakers. This was in fact one of the many motives that the English crown had for granting the land to Penn since Quakers in England at the time were a real annoyance especially to the Crown, the government, and the Church, and therefore the hope that they would leave England for a new home in America must have had some appeal. Chapter 21 of my family history blogs covers in some detail the life of William Penn and the motivations of the English Crown for granting him land in America.

Richard ap Thomas was undoubtedly excited when he heard the news that William Penn was offering land for settlement in America especially since the rumor accompanying the news was that the land was being set aside exclusively for Welsh Quakers. In May of 1681, a meeting was arranged between William Penn and a group of prominent Welsh Quakermen including our Richard ap Thomas to discuss Penn’s proposal. What they heard from William Penn at this meeting must have truly astounded them as Penn’s offer was beyond their wildest dreams. Penn told the small gathering of Welshmen that he had available for sale a tract of land that totaled 50,000 acres. To the initial investors he would be selling a total of 30,000 acres in lots of 5,000 acres each at a cost of 100 pound sterling plus an annual “quit rent” payment of one shilling (20 shillings = 1 pound) per acre for each year thereafter. It was expected that the initial investors would sell some portion of their 5,000 acres to other settlers both to recoup their initial investment and resettlement expenses but also to encourage the growth and subsequent wealth of the community. Penn also proposed that he would be selling the remaining 20,000 acres of the 50,000 acre tract in smaller lots sizes to new immigrants as opposed to the land sale to the initial investors who were in a sense land speculators buying wilderness land sight unseen. The really astonishing part of William Penn’s offer was that this huge land tract later to be called the Welsh Barony or the “Welsh Tract” was to be self-governed by the Welsh Quakermen settlers who would retain the authority to setup their own laws and regulations in their own language and worship in their Quaker faith without interference from the English church or authorities. This “Welsh Tract” was located north and west of the future city of Philadelphia and includes portions of the future counties of Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware.

Between July and September 1681 William Penn and his agents met and reached agreements with the Quaker gentlemen from northern Wales to sell the initial 30,000 acres in the Welsh Tract. The blocks of land were divided into seven “Companies” with five companies of investors purchasing 5000 acres each and the other two companies purchasing 3,000 and 2,000 acres each respectively. Company #6 was owned exclusively by my 8th great grandfather Richard ap Thomas who “by deeds of lease and release” dated July 24 and 25, 1681 purchased 5,000 acres of wilderness land in America. This land speculation was further enhanced by the fact that none of the land had yet to be surveyed and even William Penn and his agents had yet to visit the future site of Philadelphia much less the Welsh Tract.

According to the Thomas family history, Richard ap Thomas’ wife was not pleased to learn that her husband had purchased 5,000 acres of forested lands in America and she was even less pleased when Richard announced that he intended to move his family to his new land. Some historians believe that his wife, my great grandmother, had not converted to Quakerism at least not to the all consuming extent of Richard’s conversion, but even considering her lack of religious motivation, for her to have refused to leave their home in Wales and go with her husband to America seems highly improbable especially in the time period of the late 1600s. Nevertheless, when Richard and his young son set sail on the sailing ship The Morning Star in September of 1683, Richard’s wife and his young daughter were not on board. Accompanying Richard and his son however were most of the family’s possessions, many of their servants, food, and other items necessary to begin a new life in America. There was no indication that Richard had made anything but the final decision to begin a new life in America. It appears that he had made the decision to leave his wife, daughter, and Wales permanently behind.

We will never know if Richard ap Thomas once he had settled in America had intended to return to Wales for his wife and daughter for Richard died at sea or possibly shortly after his arrival in America in November of 1683. His ten year old son Richard Thomas Jr. suddenly found himself without a family or close family friends, and without a home. The family servants most if not all of whom at that point had become indentured servants were left without direction and before they left young Richard alone, they consumed the remainder of the food and other perishable goods that had been onboard the ship and then walked away. Richard ap Thomas, the father, wrote his will before he died wherein he willed his rights to the 5,000 acres of land in America to his young son, his personal estate in Wales he left to his wife, and he named his good friend and Welsh neighbor and fellow immigrant to America, Dr. Thomas Wayne, as the executor of his will and his son’s guardian.

Dr Thomas Wynne and his wife were in their late 50s when young Richard Thomas came to live with them. Their own children were adults by that point and many were no longer living in the Wynne household. While I am sure that Richard Thomas was well cared for by the Wynnes and they no doubt saw to it that he was well educated, he was probably not raised in the loving manner that he might have been raised had he been a member of their own family. Considering their age and the demands of the new frontier society, that is not hard to understand. Furthermore, Thomas Wynne was away a lot on colonial business and then in 1684 he returned to England where he remained for two years. When Wynne returned to Philadelphia in 1686, he moved his family including Richard Thomas to Lewes in Sussex County, Delaware where he lived until his death in January of 1692. We know that Richard Thomas was still living in the Wynne household as late as 1693 because apparently there was an issue with the Thomas family estate back in Wales, and his name was mentioned in a deposition given by Thomas Wynne’s daughter wherein she states that Richard Thomas as of 1693 was still living with the Wynne family.

Richard Thomas finally came of age in the year 1695 and in a position to inherit his father’s 5,000 acres of land purchased from William Penn 14 years earlier in 1681. Unfortunately with the delay in years the best land available was in the wildernesses of what is now the Township of West Whiteland in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Probably on good advice, he sold off some of the land to raise capital and by the early 1700s after various transactions he ended up owning 1,869 acres of prime land. Historically, Richard Thomas, my 7th great grand uncle, is credited with being the first settler in West Whiteland Township. His land value today would be worth in excess of $100,000,000 and represents about 22% of the total area of West Whiteland Township, now with a population of 23,000, and located about 35 miles west of the City of Philadelphia. Richard began the construction of his new home on his land in 1711 where he took his new bride, Grace Atherton, after their marriage ceremony on 15 November 1712.

Among those in attendance at the wedding of Richard and Grace Thomas were Llewellyn Parry and his wife Mary, my 7th great grandparents. Mary was in fact the sister of Richard Thomas and the daughter of Richard ap Thomas and his wife. As you may recall, I previously mentioned that when Richard ap Thomas and his ten year old son, Richard boarded the ship Morning Star in September of 1683 bound for America they left behind in Wales young Richard Thomas’s mother and his sister. When Richard’s father died in 1683 he left his estate in Wales to his wife. Apparently, young Richard’s mother remarried sometime after her husband’s death and under English law, the Thomas estate transferred to the new husband. I mentioned several paragraphs above that in 1693 some event occurred involving the Thomas estate in Wales. This occurrence may very well have been the remarriage of his mother or possibly her death. In any case, Richard Thomas in 1699 returned to his native Wales most likely with the intention of reuniting with his family and returning with them to America. What he found when he arrived in Wales was that his mother was dead, his sister had been “reduced to indigence”, and the Thomas land had been dissipated by his late mother’s second husband. He had no choice but to return to his home in America with his sister Mary.

We know very little about the background of Llewellyn Parry, my 7th great grandfather. He apparently emigrated from Wales to America with his brothers James and Rowland around the year 1700 and settled in the “Welsh Tract” along with so many of his Welsh countrymen. Although there is no written confirmation, I assume that Llewellyn Parry may have purchased his land located near Downingtown in West Whiteland Township from his future brother-in-law, Richard Thomas. Either way, it is likely that Richard Thomas introduced his Welsh speaking sister Mary to Llewellyn Parry which in turn led to their marriage around 1700. Llewellyn Parry and his wife Mary Thomas Parry had three children including a daughter who they named Ann Parry, my 6th great grandmother. Ann was born in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania in the year 1707. Ann Parry in turn married John Hunter whose family history is narrated in Chapter 25 of this blog. The daughter of John Hunter and Ann Parry Hunter, Ann Hunter, my 5th great grandmother, married Thomas Bull. The ancestors of Thomas Bull are also discussed in Chapter 25 of this blog. What follows is the story of Thomas Bull.

Thomas Bull (1744-1836) 

Before I begin the story about the life of my 5th great grandfather, Thomas Bull (1744-1836), I need to discuss the nagging issue as to who were the real parents of Thomas Bull. Obviously based on what I wrote in Chapter 25 of this blog, I strongly believe that his parents were Richard Bull (1714-1799), son of John and Elizabeth Bull, and Elizabeth Pawling (1719-1775). Some researchers however, have written that Thomas’ parents were a William Bull (born around 1701) and Margaret Parry (born around 1705). Margaret was the daughter of Llewellyn Parry and Mary Thomas, my 7th great grandparents who are mentioned in previous paragraphs in this chapter. This alternative parent theory has been around for some years. I first found it printed in a book titled “Record of the Smith Family” published back in 1906. Some family genealogists are even passionate on the subject as illustrated from this quote from a contributor on Genforum on “Records appear quite clear that Col. Thomas Bull is NOT the son of Richard Bull but is the son of William Bull and Margaret Parry . . ”. Unfortunately, the records are not clear as to the parentage of Thomas Bull and the controversy will likely not be resolved by my opinions expressed below.

My first problem with believing that William and Margaret Parry Bull are the real parents of Thomas Bull is that we have no idea as to the origin of William Bull who is reported on family trees on to have been born in Chester County in 1701. The progenitor of the Bull family in Pennsylvania is believed to be John Bull (father of Richard Bull) who was born in England (maybe Wales) in 1674. He was first documented in America in the records of a land sale in what is now Montgomery County in 1717 although he may have been living there a few years prior to that date. It is possible that William Bull may have been a brother of John or perhaps a cousin, although I know of no records proving his birth date or any records documenting members of the Bull family living in Chester County in the early 1700s. Margaret Parry on the other hand was born around 1705 and we know that she was definitely born in West Whiteland Township in Chester County where her parents lived in 1700. If Thomas Bull, born in 1744, is the son of Margaret Parry Bull, born in 1705, then Margaret would have been 39 years old when Thomas was born. Thomas was allegedly her second and last child. Her first child is believed by some to be William Bull who was born in 1740 when his mother was 35 years old. Thirty-five and thirty-eight years old were definitely not common child bearing ages for women in the early 1700s, a fact that frankly leaves me skeptical as to its accuracy.

There are other problems as well. We know that my 5th great grandfather Thomas Bull married Ann Hunter, daughter of John Hunter and Ann Parry. Ann Parry is believed to be Margaret Parry’s younger sister. If this is true, it would mean that Thomas Bull assuming that he was the son of Margaret Parry Bull had married his first cousin, Ann Hunter. There is more. Thomas’ supposed brother William Bull is said to have married Margaret Hunter, another daughter of John and Ann Parry Hunter. If this is also true this would mean that William, Thomas brother, also married his first cousin. All of this is possible of course, although frankly these families were members of the Church of England, at least the Bulls were, and the marriage of first cousins during this period of American history as it is in this present day, was very uncommon if not forbidden by the church. Frankly, I am even skeptical as to whether or not there ever was a William Bull who was born in 1701 and married a Margaret Parry and had children named William born in 1740 and Thomas born in 1744.

Frankly, I believe that some family historian(s) got everything mixed up and considering all of the common names and dates in the Bull family this is understandable. What we do know is that John Bull (1674-1736) had a son named Thomas Bull (1704-1747) who married Elizabeth Adams. It seems well documented that Thomas and Elizabeth had a son named William Bull (1740-1811) who married Margaret Hunter, daughter of John and Ann Parry Hunter. Their marriage and the birth and names of their children are also well documented. I believe that it is likely that the William Bull who was born in 1740 is being confused with the other William Bull thought to be born in 1701 and that Margaret Parry and Margaret Hunter are being confused with one another. If there was a William Bull who married a Margaret Parry they are probably not the parents of Thomas Bull born in 1744. They are also definitely not the parents of William Bull who was born in 1740 since we know that he was the son of Thomas Bull and Elizabeth Adams. All of that said, I strongly agree with the majority of historians who believe that Thomas Bull was a son of Richard Bull and Elizabeth Pawling and not a son of William Bull and Margaret Parry. We also know from Thomas Bull’s Revolutionary War pension application submitted in 1832 that he was born in Providence Township (now divided into Upper and Lower Providence Township) in what is now Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. We know that this is the location where all of the children of Richard and Elizabeth Bull were born including Thomas Bull before the family moved to Chester County.

Thomas Bull was definitely one of my more interesting ancestors to research. What is also interesting is to read some of the various and varying descriptions of the man found in history books. A description of Thomas Bull written only 45 years after his death is found in the “History of Chester County” written by John Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope wherein it describes him as follows: “He was a man of mark in those early days of our history. Fitted by nature with a strong, vigorous frame, a tall, majestic man, and a stentorian voice, he seemed formed to command. Resolute and determined in war, he was an excellent manager and a successful business man. Active and enterprising he gave many young men employment and failed not to help the poor and friendless. His council was often asked, his advice taken, and many profited by it.” What more can be said about the man, he was perfect. But then writing in 1991, Gary B. Nash and Jean R. Soderlund co-authored the book “Freedom by Degrees” wherein they discussed the slow decline of slavery in Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War and they used my 5th great grandfather Thomas Bull as their example of how some men adamantly opposed the abolition of slavery. They described him in their first chapter as “clinging to his slaves” and “his continued interest in their labor . . .” and how “Bull resisted emancipation”. They pointed out that he had been a major employer of slaves earlier in his life when he was manager of the Warwick Furnace, an iron manufacturer in Chester County and then later in life they portrayed him as a man out of touch with reality and implied that he was basically an old fool. The authors were trying to make a point but at the same time they were being a bit unfair. In the early 1800s slavery was still very much legal and was an accepted institution by many. It is terribly presumptuous to judge our ancestors by the standards and norms of today. We could also accuse Thomas Bull using present day standards, of being a destroyer of our environment for his business of producing iron resulted in the removal of acres of forest land each year and was a major polluter of both the land and the air. Personally, I prefer the description of Thomas Bull written in 1881 even if it was a bit embellished.

Thomas Bull was born on May 28, 1744 in Lower Providence Township in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania at the home of his parents Richard Bull and Elizabeth Pawling Bull. He was to be the first child of seven children born to Richard and Elizabeth between the years 1744 and 1758. We know nothing of his early life although it is safe to assume that once old enough he would have helped out on his family’s farm and every Sunday attended church with his family at St. James Church (Church of England) located in the village of Collegeville not far from their family home along nearby Skippack Creek. Thomas would have attended school during his younger years as was the custom although his formal education probably concluded by his mid-teens when he was old enough to start working full time. When Thomas was around 15 or 16 years old his family moved south into West Whiteland Township in Chester County where his father is recorded as having purchasing 251 acres of land. It is probably here in Chester County beginning between the years of 1660 to 1662 where Thomas Bull became an apprentice stone mason and learned the art of constructing stone fireplaces and stone homes and other buildings and structures. It is entirely possible that some of the oldest surviving stone houses in Chester County were built by crews that included the labor of Thomas Bull.

On 28 February 1771, 26 year old Thomas Bull married 25 year old Ann Hunter daughter of John and Ann Parry Hunter. The Hunter family also lived in West Whiteland Township although the families attended different churches and it is not clear how the two met. Shortly after their marriage Thomas was hired as the manager of the Warwick Furnace, a manufacturing plant of pig iron and castings for pots, stoves, kettles, andirons, smoothing irons, clock weights, and similar household devices. While the Warwick Furnace had originally been constructed in 1737, it had been recently purchased by the partnership of Samuel Potts and Thomas Rutter. These two men apparently saw in the young Thomas Bull who they may have first observed constructing stone masonry structures at the Warwick Furnace, the makings of a great manager so they hired him despite his young age and lack of experience. The Warwick Furnace was in fact a very large operation employing upwards of 200 workers who labored over several hundred acres of land. The workers were predominately slaves and indentured workers who had recently emigrated from Germany. This meant that while the workers were not paid, they were furnished with food, housing, clothes, and other common needs to survive. The business actually consisted of three distinctly different and highly labor intensive operations. The melting of the iron ore required the intense heat produced from the burning of charcoal. The charcoal was made nearby from hardwood trees that were cut down, stacked in a large pit, and then burned. The resulting charcoal from the burned trees was then hauled to the furnace and re-fired to produce the required heat. At Warwick Furnace it is estimated that around 100 workers were required in this phase of the operation and each year they had to cut down around 240 acres of forest land to feed the fires. The second phase of the operation was the mining of the iron core. One of the reasons that this industry thrived in this area of southeastern Pennsylvania was the availability of good quality iron ore that could be mined in open pits at or near the surface of the land. The mined iron ore was then hauled in wagons along with some limestone flux that was also mined and then mixed with the burning charcoal in a large furnace to begin the third phase of the operation which was to melt the iron ore into a liquid along with the limestone, and carbon from the charcoal, which when cooled resulted in a dense product called cast iron or pig iron. Because of the need to keep the fires burning, this phase of the business was an around-the-clock operation, seven days per week. The watercolor painting above depicts the Warwick Furnace around the time that Thomas Bull managed the operations. The furnace was built into the side of a hill so that the ore, limestone, and charcoal could be hauled to the top of the furnace. A nearby stream shown in the painting in the foreground was used to power an immense water wheel that operated the large bellows providing air to the fire in the furnace. The weekly production at the plant amounted to around twenty-five tons of iron. Warwick Furnace was thought to be one of the largest of the dozens of iron producing factories in the area. The history of the charcoal iron industry is well noted in the names of many the roads in the area of Warwick, Pennsylvania. Names such as Warwick Furnace Rd, Iron Bridge Rd, Mine Hole Rd, Redding Furnace Rd, Rock Run Rd, Timber Rd, and Quarry View Road all are reminders of the past. There is even a Bulltown Road named after the manager of Warwick Furnace, Thomas Bull, but I will discuss that area in a subsequent paragraph.

Prior to the American Revolution England was the largest customer of Pennsylvania’s iron manufacturing industry. In 1750, the British Parliament passed the Iron Act which while encouraging the production of iron in America by eliminating tariffs on iron shipped from America to England, it also restricted the Americans from manufacturing finished iron products. The law was intended to force Americans to buy the finished iron products, such as their pots and pans, etc, from the English iron mills. The iron factories in America largely ignored this aspect of the Iron Act, however the arrogance of the British displayed by the terms in this act and others by trying to restrict free trade and manufacturing was one of the many major causes of the American Revolution.

Exactly when Thomas Bull and the other operators of iron forges stopped shipping pig iron ingots to England and started the full time manufacturing of armaments for war is not known although it probably started in June or July of 1775 shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill and around the time that George Washington assumed the command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775. War fever undoubtedly peaked early in southeastern Pennsylvania since the de facto government of colonial America was meeting in nearby Philadelphia and news of the meetings would have spread quickly into the nearby communities. The Second Continental Congress started meeting in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775 and immediately began the management of the colony’s war efforts along with incrementally working towards independence. This effort culminated with their signing of a Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

On March 17, 1776 through Washington’s efforts, the British army evacuated Boston. General Washington correctly anticipated that the British military would soon reappear in the New York City area so he relocated his troops to meet their expected arrival. British ships arrived in the New York harbor in July of 1776 and following a period of preparation the Redcoats engaged and defeated George Washington’s army at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776. After the battle, Washington’s scattered army retreated northward through Manhattan Island engaging the British again as they continued their retreat at the Battle of Harlem Heights that was fought on September 16, 1776. At this point, the Americans retreated to Fort Washington located at the most northern tip of Manhattan Island where around 3,000 of Washington’s soldiers prepared to make a final stand against the combined British and Hessian forces who greatly outnumbered them. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Bull was among those American soldiers who chose to engage the British at Fort Washington.

 Based on what we know about Thomas Bull, we can surmise that he was undoubtedly a strong proponent of war against England and an activist with regard to the need of recruiting and organizing a Pennsylvania militia force. Unlike the New England states, Pennsylvania had never developed a militia system as thanks in part to William Penn, Indian raids were uncommon, and Pennsylvania was largely untouched by the French and Indian Wars of the mid-1700s thereby eliminating the need for a militia to defend their communities. Despite Thomas’ enthusiasm, George Washington was not a fan of state militias as he considered them unreliable, untrained, and composed mostly of short-term enlistees who he could not count on to be around when he needed them. As an additional negative, state militias were usually authorized to only defend their own communities and therefore they were not available to fight as a mobile force in multiple states. What Washington preferred was a reliable and substantial Continental Army composed of full time soldiers. He realized however, that creating such an army would not happen overnight.

At Washington’s request, the Continental Congress authorized in May of 1776 the formation of a force of 10,000 militia. Unlike the local militias however, this new force was to be fully mobile and composed of enlistees who agreed to serve for at least six month terms and be paid by the Continental Congress and not by the states. This new force was immediately tagged with the name “Flying Camp” and Pennsylvania was expected to furnish 6,000 men for the cause. It was not until June 25, 1776, that representatives from all of the counties in southeastern Pennsylvania met at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia and passed a resolution authorizing the formation of the “Flying Camp.” Chester County was told that they needed to recruit 652 men. Exactly how long it actually took to recruit the men and organize Pennsylvania’s 6,000 man share of the Flying Camp is not known other than it is known that our Thomas Bull was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel in the Flying Camp in late August of 1776 and directed to enlist a regiment. Details of Thomas Bull’s Revolutionary War record are obtained primarily from two sources both of which were part of pension applications submitted to the Federal government in 1832. Thomas Bull submitted his application on September 8, 1832. He was 88 years old at the time. The other application was submitted by 77-year old William Watkins who represented himself in his pension application as a Sergeant in a Battalion belonging to the regiment commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Bull. I offer a brief summary of Thomas Bull’s war record based on historical records and information presented in these pension applications.

By July 1776 it was clear that the British forces intended to capture and occupy New York City and the surrounding area. By early August the Pennsylvania militias including the Chester County Regiment under the command of Lt. Col. Thomas Bull were ordered to march north in anticipation of assisting General Washington in the repelling of the British Army from New York. The march which took them from Chester County to the city of Philadelphia, then across the Delaware River into New Jersey and from there up to the village of Bergen was a distance of around 150 miles. They arrived there after at least three long weeks of marching on the evening of August 27, 1776, the same day that Washington’s Army was routed at the Battle of Long Island. Fortunately the American army was able to escape complete annihilation by retreating north onto Manhattan Island and west into New Jersey.

According to William Watkins’ pension application, Thomas Bull received his commission to command a regiment of the Flying Camp shortly after they setup camp in Bergen. In the “History of Chester County” published in 1881 it reports that Thomas Bull received his commission when Anthony Wayne (later General Anthony Wayne) left the Chester County militia to join Washington’s Continental Army. Shortly thereafter, probably by the end of August, they were ordered to march the 12 miles or so to a fort on the west side of the Hudson River that was named Fort Lee after one of Washington’s generals, Charles Lee. Ironically, General Charles Lee was later court marshaled for failing to follow orders following the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. Here Lt. Col. Bull and his troops remained for the next two months assisting in the refortification of Fort Lee in anticipation of the advancement of the British Army. Fort Lee lay across the Hudson from another fort named Fort Washington. Fort Washington was strategically located at the northern end of Manhattan Island and its elevated position on the bluffs of Harlem Heights 230 feet above the Hudson River gave the fort the appearance of being impenetrable. It was also in an ideal location to prevent ship passage up the Hudson. The British of course recognized the strategic location of Fort Washington and were determine to take it from the Americans.

On the night of November 15, 1776, Lieut. Col. Bull was ordered with a detachment to cross the Hudson River to assist in the defense of Fort Washington. On the following day, November 16th, the British attacked. In and around the fort were approximately 3,000 Americans troops. The British army consisted of around 8,000 soldiers most of whom were German Hessian troops hired as mercenaries by the British. Unfortunately in hindsight, the decision to defend Fort Washington proved to be foolish on the part of General Washington and his subordinates. A retreat and live to fight another day which had been General Washington’s common and prudent practice under such conditions was not followed. The Americans had too few men to adequately defend the lines around the fort and considering the lack of facilities and supplies (especially water) within the fort, they had too many men if they all were forced to retreat into the fort, to successfully withstand a siege of any length. The American commander after the battle began and the British army had fought its way to the walls of Fort Washington decided that the only way to prevent a bloodbath would be to capitulate and surrender. He did so resulting in the capture of 2,837 Americans soldiers and their officers including our great grandfather Thomas Bull, and the loss of 146 canons, 12,000 shot and shell, and 4,000 cartridges. It was a huge defeat for General Washington and the Americans but as we know, the loss did not end of the war and it may in fact have taught General Washington a valuable lesson for the future.

Lt. Col. Thomas Bull was a prisoner-of-war for almost 18 months from November 16, 1776 until he was released in a prisoner exchange on May 6, 1778. Students of Revolutionary War history are familiar with the deplorable treatment of war prisoners particularly those who were held in prisons and on prison ships in the New York City area. The inhumane treatment of prisoners during the Revolutionary War by the British resulted in many more Americans dying of neglect in the prisons through starvation and disease, than were actually killed in battle. It is estimated that over 10,000 American prisoners alone died on the prison ships anchored off the shores of Brooklyn and of the 2,837 prisoners taken at the Battle of Fort Washington, only 600 survived their captivity. Entire books have been written on the subject of the British treatment of American prisoners during the Revolutionary War although the appalling treatment of prisoners during the war is rarely mentioned in school textbooks. Perhaps this is just a reflection of the fact that the British people today are our closest international friends. One interesting facet of the treatment of the American prisoners by the British was that the harsh living conditions were experienced almost exclusively by the common soldier and not by their officers. While it is noted in the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the American Revolution 1888-1898 that Lt. Col. Thomas Bull was “confined on prison-ship “Jersey” for twenty-one months,” he was in fact, according to his own application for a pension, incarcerated in the autumn of 1777 with his fellow officers on a prison ship for only about 12 days. In another source document it reported that the officers were sent to the prison ships only in response to the criticism leveled by many of the New York City Loyalists that the British were being too soft on the American POW officers. Again according to Bull’s pension application he spent almost no time in prison as he and the other officers were quickly “paroled” and sent to live in private homes or on farms on Long Island in exchange for their signing an agreement not to attempt to escape and rejoin the American army. This double standard on the part of the British military is interesting particularly when compared with the treatment of American POW officers by the Japanese during World War II and by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. I am sure that Captain and now Senator John McCain would have loved to have been paroled to a farm house in Vietnam instead of being tortured. To understand this disparity we have to understand the makeup of the British military in the 18th century. British officers were chosen based on their social position, class in society, and their family’s political influence, and in many cases military ranks were bought and sold, so family wealth played a large role in the selection process. Experience and leadership ability were of lesser importance except perhaps in the case of the highest ranking officers. The common soldier was thought of as merely an employee with few rights and privileges. The disparity in the treatment of the American officer and the common soldier was based in part on the British belief in the super elevated status of the officer as a “gentlemen” and despite the fact that they believed that all American soldiers were “traitors” rather than prisoners-of-war, their fear that British officers taken as prisoners by the Americans would not be afforded a special treatment caused them to fear the consequences of mistreating the American officers. Consequently, Lt. Col. Thomas Bull’s greatest fear as a prisoner may have been his fear of boredom and not the fear of losing his life.

Thomas Bull left his temporary home on Long Island on May 6, 1778 and returned to his home in Chester County six days later on May 12, 1778. He almost immediately resumed his role as the manager of Warwick Furnace where demand for their wartime products was at an all time high. Thomas continued in the role as a commander of the Pennsylvania Militia serving as a Lieutenant Colonial of the 1st Battalion in 1779, and the 2nd Battalion in 1780, and as colonel of the 2nd Battalion in 1780 and 1781. There is no evidence however, including any mention in his pension application, that he ever again led his troops into battle. Considering his participation in the Battle of Fort Washington, his time as a prisoner, and his important role as the manager of the Warwick Furnace it is understandable that his neighbors might have considered that he had more than done his duty to his country.

As mentioned earlier in this chapter, Thomas Bull married Ann Hunter on February 28, 1771. Their first child, Elizabeth Bull, was born 9 months and 19 days after their marriage on December 19, 1771. Their third children and their third daughter and my 4th great grandmother, Ann Bull, was born on February 11, 1776. She was only 6 months old when her father left with the militia to fight in the Revolution. She was almost 2-1/2 years old when he returned and for awhile at least he was a stranger. Martha Bull, their fourth child, was born 9 months and 8 days after Thomas returned from his captivity. Her parents had obviously and immediately made up for lost time. Their fifth child and only son, Levi Bull, was born in 1780 and the sixth and final child, Margarette Bull was born in 1787. Ann Bull my 4th great grandmother married Waters Dewees in 1796. Their daughter, Elizabeth Dewees, married David Ferree. David Ferree is the father of my great grandfather, Eugene Hutchinson Ferree.

In 1783, Thomas Bull purchased 515 acres of land with a home from his employers at Warwick Furnace, Thomas Rutter and Samuel Potts. The land was probably a part of the original land owned by Warwick Furnace that was located nearby as was the village of Warwick and St Mary’s Church in East Nantmeal Township, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The following narrative is pulled directly from a website describing the “Thomas Bull House” which in 1979 was listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

 “After the war, Bull took up the affairs of Warwick Furnace and applied himself to improving his plantation. He was already a citizen of substantial wealth, with property valued at 1,335 pounds in 1785, including two slaves. By 1803, when the tax lists were computed in dollars, his property was valued at $8,684. His neighbors, following the colonial and Federal pattern, accorded him an important place in political leadership. He was a member of the conventions which framed and ratified the state constitution of Pennsylvania in 1789-90. From 1793-1801, he represented Chester and Delaware Counties in the State Assembly. Bull felt more compelled by his business interests; and retired from politics following the turn of the century. He acquired a 9/16 interest in Joanne Furnace, and in 1812 was an advocate of the Conestoga Turnpike, which promised both direct profits and promotion of the area’s economy. Thomas Bull died in 1836; his land and mansion house passed to his son, Levi.”

The Thomas Bull House pictured above is located on Bulltown Road near Warwick. Today it is a private home and as shown in the photograph it has been beautifully restored and maintained. Thomas Bull named his “plantation” home “Mount Pleasant” and on the site by his home he constructed a tenant house, a blacksmith shop, a saw/grist mill and two lime kilns. In recent times, a housing development company purchased 70 acres across the street to the west from the Thomas Bull house and began construction of a high end community of 36 home sites that they have named “Old Bulltown Village.” The million dollar plus homes are being constructed along the design lines of the Thomas Bull House using lots of stone in the architectural style of 18th century Pennsylvania. The homes are surrounded by a golf course named French Creek Golf Club. The old Thomas Bull House is surrounded on the east by another golf course, the Stone Wall Golf Club. Both golf courses are first class and quite beautiful but one has to ask – is Thomas Bull rolling over in his grave when he sees what they have done to his lovely country estate?

Ann Hunter Bull died in 1817 at the age of 71. Thomas Bull remarried a Lydia Cromwell at the age of 75. Lydia outlived by several years her husband Thomas Bull who died at the age of 93. He is buried in the cemetery of St Mary’s Church where he had served as a vestryman in the years 1788, 89, 90, and 99. Alongside Thomas lies his wife Ann Hunter Bull.


Cathy said...

Hi, I find your post very informative. Thank you for making this topic intriguing and enjoyable to read for everyone. I would certainly try and refer this to my peers. Great job!

Anonymous said...

So how do you suspect Thomas Bull (1738-1787) of Chester County fits into this discussion about your Thomas Bull's parentage? He was a yeoman born and bred in Chester. His wife was also named Sarah (b. circa 1740-abt 1815), but her parentage is unknown. Many trees on Ancestry have confused the two men (easy to do with similar locales, dates of birth and wives).

Interviews done in the 1800s in the neighborhood by family genealogists procured information that yeoman Thomas Bull was related to the "other" Bull family in the area, but they did not know how. Indeed, several of his daughter's biographies recites that she is related as a sister or daughter to Col. John Bull of Revolutionary War fame (depending on the document). This is clearly not true, since her parentage is well-documented in court records and her father's will, but it is tantalizing as a clue.

Either way, I'd be interested in talking further with you about this.