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Early History of Wrightstown. [1]

Two hundred years ago an unbroken forest covered the land where now are the well cultivated farms and the comfortable homes of Wrightstown. The only dwellings were the rude habitations of the Indians; the only highways, the narrow woodland paths. A year later and the first Christian home was established.

John Chapman, of Yorkshire, England, emigrated to America with his wife and children, made his way through the forest, and, in the latter part of 1684, took possession of five hundred acres of land, (previously purchased) and set up his household goods in a cave, in the wilds of Wrightstown, where he dwelt until he was able to build a log house. This cave which has now disappeared, was on the right hand side of the road leading from Wrightstown meeting-house to Penn's Park. Some traces of it were to be seen as late as 1768. John Chapman's house, the first in the township, was near the same spot, not far, it is thought, from the place where Rachel Blaker's house now stands.

William Smith, also of Yorkshire, was the second settler in the township. He came over soon after John Chapman and bought several hundred acres of land south of the Chapman tract, extending to the Newtown line and to the Neshaminy Creek. He also bought one hundred acres of Chapman. The Indians, were friendly, sometimes assisting the early settlers. Game was abundant and supplied their tables with fresh meats. Corn bread was for a time an important article of food. The third settler in Wrightstown was John Penquite, who took up about three hundred acres of land, between the park and the Neshaminy. A part of the Penquite tract is now owned by G. C. Blackfan, a descendant of the Penquites and Chapmans.

The fourth settler in the township was John Parsons, who settled to the northwest of The Park, and in 1690 Garret Vansant took up land in the northwest corner of the township. Next came Richard Sunley and Robert Stukesbury, about 1695, and in 1697 Peter Johnson settled next to Garret Vansant. Francis Richardson and James Harrison each had one hundred acres granted to him but never became settlers. Part of Richardson's land was in the eastern corner of the township and the remainder in the south and west. Harrison's land was sold to James Radcliff, whose descendants, the Pembertons, sold it to John Wilkinson, William Trotter and Abraham Vickers. This tract was between the park and the Neshaminy. William Penn granted one thousand acres to John and William Tanner, who sold to Benjamin Clark. Part of the Clark purchase was sold to Abraham Chapman. Two hundred acres in the northeast were patented to Joseph Ambler, in 1687, descended to his son and then passed to strangers. Two hundred acres adjoining Ambler's tract were granted to Charles Briggham and descended to his daughters, who married Nicholas Williams and Thomas Worthington. The Park referred to, also called "Townstead" or "Town Square," was a tract about one mile square, in the centre of the township, set apart, it is supposed, for a public park. In 1719 it was divided among the landholders of the township, in proportion to the land they already held, each settler receiving a portion of The Park adjoining his own land.

The land-holders at this time were John, Abraham and Joseph Chapman, William Smith, John Penquite, John Parsons, Garret Vansant, Richard Sunley, Robert Stukesbury, Peter Johnson, Israel Pemberton, Joseph Ambler, William Trotter, Benjamin Clark, Charles Briggham and Nicholas Williams. Several of these never lived in the township. At this time most, perhaps all, of the land was taken up, but the tracts were large and only a small part was cultivated. The people were satisfied if their land supplied them with the necessities of life. They did not covet its luxuries. Nothing was raised for sale excepting a little wheat, which was carried to Bristol on the backs of horses. Several horses were fastened together, laden with bags of grain, a man mounted the leader and in single file the train proceeded on its way to the distant mills. The men at first dressed mostly in carefully prepared deer skin, and the women in linen and linsey. Their food was principally mush and milk, bread and fresh meat, and a few vegetables. The men' and boys of the period did not spend their evenings lounging in' the country stores, smoking and gossiping. The nearest store was at Bristol, and there was not a wagon in the township.

Somewhat later a spirit of improvement began to appear. About 1720 a part of the Durham road was laid out, through Wrightstown, to join the road already made below, thus opening a highway to Bristol. About the same time the Philadelphia or middle-road, as it was called, was made, joining the Durham road at the Anchor. Before this time the roads were little more than paths through the woods, some of them merely old Indian trails. Carts came into use about this time. Some of the large landholders sold or rented their lands, and others leased theirs for a term of years, with the understanding that certain improvements were to be made. The farms were better tilled, and more comfortable dwellings were erected.

Among the early settlers not already mentioned was William Lacy, from the Isle of Wright, who took up a tract just over the line in Buckingham. Zebulon Heston came from New Jersey, resided some time in Falls and then removed to Wrightstown. Richard Mitchell bought land east of Mill creek and built a mill. This property, afterward owned by the Weldings, was a part of the Pemberton tract, as was also the land taken up by the Wilkinson family soon after, and by Joseph Sackett, who came from New Jersey in 1729. John Laycock, a minister among Friends, purchased land of John Chapman in 1722. In 1724 or 1725 Joseph Hampton, a Scotchman, settled on a part of the Clark purchase, and in 1726 Joseph Warner came from New Castle, on the Delaware. About 1735 Stephen Twining came from New England and bought land of Jacob Wilkinson; about the same time John Linton, also of New England, bought and settled next to Joseph Hampton. To the west of the Warners settled a family of Smiths, not related to the first settlers of that name, however.

It is thought Wrightstown was named in honor of one Thomas Wright, who came over in the Martha, in 1677, and settled near Burlington. He appears to have been associated with Penn in the purchase or patent of some land, probably in New Jersey. Penn called this township Wrightstown, notwithstanding the objections of some of the landholders.

In early times, when our ancestors first began to go to the Philadelphia market, butter, poultry, fresh meat, etc., were taken on the backs of horses, principally by the women. Later, two-horse carts were used and a boy was generally taken along to drive. After a time better wagons were common and the women gave up the market business to the men.

Many of the early settlers of Wrightstown belonged to the Society of Friends, some of whom had been fined and punished for their religious belief and practice in England. The first religious meeting in this township was held at the house of John Chapman, in 1686. Other meetings were held at his place and at the house of John Penquite, who was for many years a prominent minister, as was also John Chapman's daughter Ann, who traveled through the provinces and several times visited Great Britain. In 1721 Wrightstown had permission from Falls Quarterly Meeting to build a meeting-house. This was accordingly done on land given for that purpose and for a graveyard, by the Chapmans, and a part of it is at present the property of the meeting. The old graveyard, where John Chapman and most of the early settlers were buried, was near Logtown, now Penn's Park on the southwest, on the farm owned by Chas. Gaine. The wall has been torn down and the plow has leveled the graves. In 1735 Bucks Quarterly Meeting was, for the first time, held in Wrightstown. In 1765 Friends adjourned Monthly Meeting "because it came on election day." The early settlers were zealous meeting-goers. They sometimes went on horseback, but often on foot, and it was quite common for men and women to walk ten or twelve miles to a Monthly or Quarterly Meeting. As late as 1780 but one riding-chair came to Wrightstown meeting, but in 1832 there were about one hundred gigs and chairs, some of them quite expensive ones. After harvest a general meeting was held at Wrightstown. Friends came from all parts of the country to attend these "Solemn Religious Meetings" which lasted for three days, and at which the most prominent ministers were present to commemorate the "Providential Care of a Beautiful Creator." These meetings were kept up for nearly a century. At a certain time the plum pies of our grandmothers took a prominent part in satisfying the cravings of the inner man among these devout Friends, who knew how to appreciate the good things of this life.

A hundred years ago a group of thrifty pine trees stood in the upper end of our township. This was "The Pines," which a few years later, with a stone store-house, a frame dwelling attached, a tailor-shop, a school-house and another dwelling or two, had risen to the dignity of "Pinetown." John Thompson kept store there before the Revolution. Pinetown became Pineville in 1830, when a post-office was established, with Samuel Tomlinson as postmaster.

There are many objects of historical interest in Wrightstown, but the old landmarks are fast passing away. Few of the old log houses of our ancestors are standing, some having been destroyed within the last ten years. Long ago disappeared the last traces of that ancient chestnut tree from which Marshall, Jennings and Yates, on that memorable September day in 1737, started on their famous walk. The poor old tree was blown over in 1765, but the stump was still to be seen within the memory of persons now living. It was between the meetinghouse and the Penn's Park road, in the corner of a field now owned by Martha Chapman, and was not the old tree below the meeting-house, near Josiah Tomlinson's, as many insist on believing. This same tree, however, also deserves mention; it is now but a shell, and no longer a thing of beauty or an emblem of strength. Yet every year it puts forth its leaves and blossoms. It furnishes rather a lesson of perseverance, or an illustration of the force of habit. Had this old tree the gift of speech, like Tennyson's 'Talking Oak, or The Pine of our Bucks county poet, what a tale it could tell. Think of the long procession that has passed since it was a graceful young sapling, since that day, after the battle of Trenton, when a messenger rode rapidly up the Durham road to spread the glad tidings, the feet of his galloping horse beating time as he sang or shouted, "The Hessians are taken! The Hessians are taken!"

  1. Scarborough, Miss Annie C., read at Wrightstown Meeting, July 31, 1883; in A Collection of Papers Read Before The Bucks County Historical Society: Volume 1, published for the Society by B.F. Fackenthal, Jr., Riegelsville, PA 1908

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