Fallsington Meeting History

The Founding and Founder of the Falls Meeting - by Jane Moon Snipes

from The Bulletin of Friends' Historical Association, 1933

A paper read at Fallsington, Pennsylvania, Fifth month 20, 1933, at the meeting held in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of Falls Monthly Meeting.

This afternoon I wish to take you back two hundred and fifty years and try to picture this community as it was at the time, and before the coming, of the Quakers.  Let us consider some of the landmarks and a few of the characters who lived here, and established a meeting at the Falls on the Second of Third Month, 1683---the day we now celebrate.

  The Falls of the Delaware, or Sankikan, as the Indians called it, now only a rapid between the bridges connecting Morrisville and Trenton, was the outstanding landmark in this part of the wilderness. Early historians tell us of a Dutch trading post here in 1624, which carried on a profitable trade with the Indians, and report that the Dutch held undisputed sway on the South River (the Delaware) until the coming of the Swedes.  Later research has questioned this story; but we do know that in 1633 Thomas Young, son of a London merchant, twice ascended the river up to the Falls and erected the coat of arms of England on a tree, taking the country into possession with the usual ceremonies.  He says, "I enquired of this (Indian) king how far this river ranne up into the country and whether it were navigable or no. He told me it ranne a great way up and that I might goe with my ship until I came to a certaine place where the rockes ranne cleane acrosse the river and that there he thought I could not goe over with my great canoas (for so they call all vesselles that swimme upon the water)."

 In 1638 the Swedes under the leadership of Peter Minuit came to make their settlement on these shores.  They purchased in 1640, from the Indians, undoubtedly the Lenni Lenape, a strip of land along the west bank of the river from Cape Henlopen to Sankikan-the first purchase by Europeans from Indians in Bucks County.  From that time on the Dutch and Swedes held joint occupancy along the river until both were driven out by the English.

  In 1655 Peter Luidstrom, a Swedish engineer, surveyed the river from its mouth to the Falls, and is thus quoted:  "Along the west side of the river to the Island Minachkonk (Biles Island) and again down Sipaessinghs Land (that comprising Penns Manor) it is everywhere low country favorable for maize."  Sipaessinghs Land was especially mentioned in the first deed to William Penn in 1682 for land in Bucks County; the price named is 10 guns and some black and white wampum.

  The middle of that century marked the beginning of much travel to New York from various directions, and the crossing at the Falls became increasingly popular as the main overland route between the colonies north and south.  The route was marked by a mere bridle path through the woods; but this path was none-the-less the King's Path.

 Governor Andros of New York with his retinue traveled this path on his way to New Castle to attend Court in 1675, and purchased a strip of land for eight or nine miles on either side of the Falls, along the King's Path, and also established a ferry.

 The first Friend mentioned was William Edmundson from Ireland, who was traveling in this country on a religious visit in 1678.  He lost his way in coming from Shrewsbury, New Jersey, and was taken across the river near the Falls in a canoe by Indians and directed on his way to Upland, now Chester.

 A quotation from the Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, a Labadist from Holland who passed this way in 1697, is descriptive. He writes: "We arrived at Falls of South River, about sundown, passing a creek where a new grist mill was erected by the Quakers who live hereabouts in great numbers. As it was still daylight and we had heard so much of the Falls of the South River, we went to look at them.  We had supposed it was a place where water came tumbling down in great quantity.  But these falls are nothing more than a place of about two English miles in length or not so much, where the river is full of stones, almost across it, which are not very large."

 It was in 1678 that the first English settler, one John Woods, a husbandman, actually selected a site on the western bank of the river at the Falls, near Potato Creek, and named it Graystone. George Brown, Robert Lucas, Richard Ridgeway, and William Biles, and some others, soon followed and occupied the riverfront for a considerable distance down the western bank from the Falls.

 In that same year the Court ordered that "Every person should, as far as his land reaches, make good and passable ways from neighbor to neighbor, with bridges where it needs, to the end that neighbors on occasion may come together."

  Immigration increased rapidly from this time on, so that the district of Falls, that portion of the township lying between Pennsbury and the river above Biles Island, had become a small settlement by 1680.  It was also called Crewcorne, or Crookhorn, after the market town and parish of Crewkerne, in Somersetshire, England.  Official papers speak of it as "ye new seated towne," and the first court of the county, called the Court of Crewcorne at the Falls," was held here along the river. The first courthouse in the county was erected in the Borough of Morrisville. When the townships were laid out the place for the name of this township was left blank on the map. Since no more appropriate than Falls appeared for the township, it has born that name to the present day.

  These pioneers were men and women of courage and the religious conviction so greatly needed for the hardship and suffering that must have been theirs before they became firmly rooted in the new world. But we must remember that these hardships were doubtless sweet in comparison to the persecution they had suffered in the homeland.  Many came first to Burlington, but attracted by Sipaessinghs Land, decided to cast their lot on this side of the river. They continued to be members of Burlington Monthly Meeting until some time later. 

 Richard Ridgeway, probably the first tailor in the country, was one of the earliest to come.  He settled along the river in 1679 where he lived until 1690, when he went to West Jersey. Robert Lucas and William Biles were also of this number, and at the session of the first court held at Upland under Penn's jurisdiction in 1681 they were both Justices.  Moreover, they represented Bucks several times at Assemblies held at Upland. 

 Biles was a fearless leader of the Popular or Democratic party in the Assembly. His altercation with Lieutenant Governor Evans in 1705 shows lively spirit.  He was accused of calling Evans a boy and "not fit to be our Governor" saying "We'll kick him out."  Though he denied the charge, Evans sued him for damages and demanded that he be expelled from the Assemblly. William Penn sided against Biles.  Finally the yearly Meeting persuaded Biles to acknowledge his fault and Evans to forego collection of damages and to desist from further proceedings. This was agreed upon though with this final thrust from the Governor;  "He very much influences that debauched county of Bucks in which there is now scarce any one man of worth left."  William Biles's house, probably the second he built, is still standing about two miles below Morrisville along the river, and is the historic birthplace of this meeting.

  It was probably on the door of his house that Phineas Pemberton in 1683 posted a notice of the establishment of the weekly post in response to William Penn's order to "carefully published this information" on the meetinghouse doors and other public places.

  George Brown and his wife, Mercy, came from Leicester, England in 1679. They came on the ship together and were landed at New Castle. Here they were married and then proceeded to the Falls, where they built a shelter roofed with Indian grass over a framework of saplings and built against a cave dug near the river bank.  Here they lived their first winter in America.  George Brown was justice of the peace in 1680.  He was not a Friend, but his son Samuel became one through convincement and was prominent in the affairs of this meeting.

  These first settlers had acquired their tracts from Governor Andros, representative of the Duke of York, and were under his jurisdiction until Lieutenant Governor Markham arrived in 1681, with credentials from William Penn, and announced to the settlers the grant of Pennsylvania.  Apparently the change in government made but little ripple in their lives.

 They had held meetings for worship in their different homes since 1680 so it is not surprising to find them asking permission of Burlington Friends to establish a monthly meeting of their own. The opening minute of this new meeting reads:  "At a meeting at William Biles house on the Second day of the Third Month, 1683, then held to wait upon the Lord for his wisdom to hear what should be offered in order to inspect into the affairs of the Church. And we whose names are as follows, being then present, thought it fit and necessary that a Monthly Meeting should be set up both of men and women Friends for that purpose. The Friends present: William Yardley, James Harrison, Phineas Pemberton, William Biles, William Dark, Lyonel Brittain, William Beaks." This was the first and only religious organization in the township for many years. Women Friends met together simultaneously with the men and the items of business closely paralleled those of men's meeting, giving consent to marriage, assisting those in need and admonishing the forward.

 The first item of business to come before the new meeting was the proposed intention of marriage of Samuel Dark and Anna Knight, but since Samuel Dark's certificate from his home meeting in England had not then reached America "the Meeting desired them to wait in patience until Friends were satisfied in it."  Samuel and Anna, however, were not disposed to "wait in patience", and accomplished their marriage outside the meeting. Their conduct was felt to be disorderly and contrary to "the truth which, they make pro-fession of," and they were asked to "bring forth papers of condemnation of their actions": which they subsequently did.

  Richard Hough and Margery Clowes, who also declared their intentions of marriage at that time, were the first to be married within the new meeting. Richard Hough was one of the most prominent figures in the county and was active in the Meeting for many years. In politics, he differed with his brother-in-law, William Biles, Hough adhering strongly to the Proprietary party under James Logan's leadership.  He met an untimely death by drowning in the Delaware while on his way to Philadelphia. Penn wrote of him: "I lament the loss of honest Richard Hough.  Such men must needs be wanted where selfishness and forgetfulness of God's mercies so much abound."

 The meeting authorized a burying ground "at the Point" on land given for the purpose by Phineas Pemberton. This was the first Friends' burying ground in the county.  A part of it, containing the graves of the Pemberton family, is still there, a small plot in a field along the Delaware.  It has been under the care of this meeting from the beginning, a fund provided by Phineas Pemberton for its maintenance being still used for that purpose. Some years ago the late Henry Pemberton of Philadelphia restored the wall surrounding it and placed a permanent marker in that plot.

 Phineas Pemberton, a grocer from Bolton, England, and by far the most prominent of the early settlers in the county, arrived on the ship "Submission" with his family and father Ralph aged 72, at almost the same time as William Penn.  With him came James and Anne Harrison, parents of Phebe Pemberton, also from Bolton, and their mother, Agnes Harrison, aged 81.

  Phineas Pemberton selected a site below the Falls and built a house of logs which he called "Grove Place." He is said to have lived in good style and had a "sideboard" in his house. He was a leader in colonial affairs, and Logan called him "That pillar of Bucks County." He held many offices including that of Keeper of Rolls, and was clerk of all courts until his death.

 "The records kept by him are the earliest of the county.  They were written wholly by his hand and in them he has left a memorial to himself that will not be lost as long as the history of the Commonwealth he helped to establish, shall be read."  In 1687 he built a more comfortable house, which he later moved to another location about five miles further inland. This second home named after Bolton in England, has remained in the family ever since. It is now in possession of his direct descendant, Effingham B. Morris, of Philadelphia.

  The affairs of this meeting lay close to his heart from the day of its setting up until his death in 1702 at the early age of 52.  Penn wrote to Logan, "Poor Phineas Pemberton is a dying man and was not at election though he crept to Meeting yesterday.  I am grieved at it for he has not his fellow and without him this is a poor country indeed."

 James Harrrison, the friend and confident of Penn while still in England, was his agent at Pennsbury for a number of years. Having declined Penn's appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he became one of three Provincial judges in 1685, "who made their circuit in a boat rowed by a boatman paid by the Province."

 William Yardley came to these parts in 1682. He had the distinction of acquiring his tract just sixteen days after the territory was granted to Penn by Charles the Second. It was located on the present side of Yardley and was called "Prospect Farm." A part of it is still held in the Yardley family.  At an early age William Yardley became a minister of influence and was the first clerk of this meeting. Thomas Janney, an eminent minister, settled near Yardley in 1683, and conveyed to the meeting the Slate Pit Hill burying ground located on the edge of the town.

  Friends were careful to look after the material as well as spiritual needs of their members.  A cow and calf were purchased for one Friend, but when another asked for a horse the meeting felt that "the man being a stranger, the Meeting does agree to take further time to consider of it." Later he received the horse and a day's plowing besides. If a widow married the meeting took care that the rights of her children by the first marriage were well protected before giving consent to her marriage. Neglect of attendance at midweek meeting was prevalent then as now, and it was ordered that, "care be taken that such Friends who are remiss in the observing of them be spoke with, admonished, and stirred up to the frequenting of them."  Friends were encouraged to avoid strong drink at the time of marriages and burials, and individuals were dealt with both in meeting and court for selling "spirits" to the Indians without license.

  The meeting in those early days often acted as court and jury and settled many differences efficiently and wisely, "that Truth might be cleared." William Yardley complained that his neighbor, Eleanor Pownall, refused to set her fence on their line surveyed according to government grants. Much tender advice from the committee not availing to influence Eleanor, "William Yardley was left at liberty to place his fence in the line laid out by the Surveyor." When Lyonel Brittain and his wife quarreled and "gave out railing words," a committee spoke to them to condemn their so doing. Even in those days Friends were actively concerned that love and unity should be preserved.

 In 1689 definite steps were taken to have a central meeting place. The minute reads:  "it is with unanimous consent concluded that a meeting house in a convenient place from the riverside would be very serviceable."  A committee, Thomas Janney, Richard Hough, William Biles, John Rowland, Edmund Lovett and Phineas Pemberton, were appointed to "look out a convenient place of land." The site was chosen at a central location between Randal Blackshaw's and Samuel Burges's land, where the great Southampton Road and other roads converged. Six acres of land were conveyed by Sam Burges. When some years later an inaccuracy was discovered in the deed, move land was given with the stipulation that a rent quit of one grain of Indian corn should be paid annually when lawfully demanded.  The meetinghouse, twenty by twenty-five feet in size, was built of timber at a cost of 41 pounds, the carpenters having provided nails and hauled the timber.  It had a gallery with banister and chimney. After many delays in building it was ready for the first meeting in Seventh month, 1690. This was the first of five houses used for meeting on these grounds. It was in this building that William Penn attended meeting, and the marriage of John and Mary Stocher was held therein.  The second house was built in 1728, while the third structure was presumably the hip-roofed house across the way, now occupied by the Friends School. This is thought to have been the temporary meeting place while the fourth was being built on the hill in 1789.  The stucco house was built in 1841.

 The burying ground across the road was laid out in 1692 and a stable for horse soon appeared.  In 1701 a horsing block and well were added.  A committee interviewed Samuel Burges about cleaning the meetinghouse and making fires on cold days.  This he agreed to do for twenty shillings per annum, but two years later William Biles reports "he hath spoke with Samuel Burges who refused to make fires and clean the meetinghouse any longer except he can have near four pounds per annum."  The meeting did not agree to this large increase in salary, and the position passed into other hands.

  Samuel Burges and his wife Ellin lived a quarter of a mile below Fallsington. In 1685 they purchased 200 acres of land from John Rowland who bought it from William Penn's agents for one silver shilling per acre.  A part of this is still owned by their descendants. They were the ancestors of a number of noted people, among them ex-President Hoover and our neighbor and former United States Senator, Joseph R. Grundy.  Concerning Ellin Burges, I have found the following minute of 1731:  "Ellin Burges being very antient and can't go to Meeting, desired that an evening meeting might be held at her house, therefore agreed that one be held once in two weeks so long as Friends shall see occasion, to begin at four o'clock."

  When Pennsbury Manor was laid out some grants of the Duke of York interfered with its limits and the owner consented to the straightening of the lines.  In consideration, William Penn set aside 120 acres of "common land" for use of the township near the center. It was located next beyond the Burges tract.  When final sale was made by act of Legislature in 1684 the proceeds were ordered applied to a common school fund, which yielded at $300 annually.

 In 1733 Friends asked permission to repair the old meetinghouse for a schoolhouse.  This was granted and a school for the benefit of poor children was established. The last of four successive schoolhouses on this property, built in 1801, is attached to this meetinghouse. The oldest inhabitants tell us that even after the public-school system came into the township in 1836, this continued to be the only school in this immediate neighborhood for a number of years. With the exception of a few years there has been a friends school here for 200 years.

  The story of the heroism and hardships endured by the colonial women of Bucks County is a chapter yet unwritten. When it is done may they receive their richly deserved homage. The women must needs prepare the deer, turkey, and rabbit, to be had for the shooting, and if, as happened in one family, their one gun became disabled, the wife too went forth, and while her husband took deliberate aim, she applied the torch to the priming. For the deer, besides providing meat for the skillet, supplied a skin, which, tanned and dried, was stitched into trousers, shirts and moccasins.  In that day they wore buckskin in Bucks County. Later when the crop of flax was gathered, her busy spinning wheel provided drugget, linsey-woolsey, and worsted for clothing.  When they felt the need of a cow she accompanied her husband on the long journey to New Castle.  When they moved, the hominy block, hollowed out of a tree stump, was a precious possession not left behind.  But as the years past there was more grain, for the land was fertile, and crops of tall rye and wheat waved in the wind. A mill was built by a large rock just west of the village and to it many of the members brought their sacks of wheat and hominy on horseback, leaving them there to be ground while they went on to meeting. Some of the women came on foot from Buckingham, twenty miles away, leading their little children by the hand, carrying hem over the swollen steams. One of my faraway grandmothers who lived above Yardley preferred walking to meeting at an advanced age.

  In marked contrast to this picture of the pioneer was the life at Pennsbury, where William Penn had his country set of 8000 acres.  A house suitable for the Governor's mansion was built on a slight elevation, with outbuildings and a terraced garden sloping down to the river.  The furnishings were luxurious for that time-satin and camlet curtains.  Penn gave much attention during his first visit to America to the preparation of what he then hoped would be his permanent home, where he might pursue his favorite occupation of agriculture and pass his closing years in the midst of beautiful and peaceful surroundings. Here was generous hospitality offered to all who sought the counsel or friendship of the beloved proprietor. Hannah Penn, too, was loved by the colonist, but when the novelty of the wilderness had worn away, she and here daughter Laetitia familiarly known as "Tishe", had no cordial love for the country of their adoption, nor did they grieve when matters of business required them to return to England.  The rustic wilderness life was irksome to the light-hearted Tishe, and the tedious ride to meeting in the calashe, when the roads were too muddy for the heavy coach, may have been taken with a rebellious spirit.  Perchance when the sermon seemed over long her flirtatious eyes wandered across the aisle to cheer the heart of some shy admirer, for we learn she had many.

  Nancy Lloyd gives this vivid picture of entertainment at Pennsbury, when the Governor had bidden Indians to a banquet, all to be in readiness for the third day. "There be turkeys to pluck and vegetables of many sorts to prepare; venison and hams and mutton, also pastries of our own fruits.  Hannah Penn will have no stint; and truly when one has seen an Indian eat, one knows that a hundred turkeys are not too many to provide when a party of them has been bidden.  We hope no storm or thunder gust shall mar its success."

 Perhaps it was this same banquet that John Richardson, an English Friend, describes in his journal. He says: "I stayed two or three days; part of the time I spent in seeing William Penn and many of the Indians in Counsel and Consultation, all of which was done in much calmness of temper and in an amicable way."   And when they had ended, William Penn gave them match coats and some other things with some brandy or rum, or both, and metheglin (a beverage from honey), after which they went out of the house into an open place not far from it to perform their cantico, or worship.

 The minutes make no mention of Penn's attendance at meeting nor of his taking part in its affairs, except at the time of his departure in 1701.  He then asked for an irregular procedure in the accomplishment of the marriage of John Sotcher and Mary Loftys, who he wished to leave at Pennsbury as caretakers.

  The manor house continued to be the scene of hospitality after Penn left eh country, as witnessed by the visit in 1702 of Lord Cornbury, then Governor of New York, a cousin of Queen Anne.  Logan sent up wine and "what could be got" from Philadelphia and hastened thither to receive the distinguished guest.  He writes "With Mary's diligence (Mary Loftys Sotcher) and all our care we got a really handsome country entertainment which, though much inferior to those of Philadelphia for cost, yet for decency and good order gave no less satisfaction." Lord Cornbury and his wife made a second visit to Pennsbury two years later as the guest of William Penn, Junior.

 John and Mary Sotcher, ancestors of many here, took charge of Pennsbury for many years and were active and valuable members of this meeting.  Their daughter Mary became the third wife of Joseph Kirkbride, who was employed at Pennsbury for a time.  He is said to have run away from his master in England and started for the new world with a little wallet of clothing and a flail. He was an influential minister among Friends, and in later years, when he became wealthy, bought a large tract of land between the Falls and Yardley.

  The name of many other pioneer families might be mentioned; among them were James and Joan Burges Moon, who lived on a tract adjoining that of their brother Samuel Burges.  They were the progenitors of all the Moons in this locality.  Another pioneer family was that of William and Pleasant Mead Satterthwaite, who settled here in 1735 and whose descendants are numerous in the county today.

  From these sketches of our founders we catch a glimpse of their personalities and we may b justly proud that through them this meeting and Bucks County came largely into prominence in the formative years of the colony. It is said that for a number of years the men from Falls controlled the county and much county business was transacted here after meetings. They were qualified for leadership naturally as well as through the necessity of assuming governmental duties immediately on their arrival.  Their judgments ere tempered by their Christian spirit, which made them well fitted to deal wisely with the perplexing problems incident to the founding of a colony.

 Could these old oaks, which we so dearly love speak with audible voices, they could tell you much more than I of the scenes that have occurred here since William Penn hitched his horse to one of them.  For two centuries and a half they have witnessed the comings and goings of our forbears and have watched one generation of children after another grow to maturity and fill the places of their parents.  How well we remember the faces of those who occupied these facing seats when we were children!  For these memories we are truly grateful, as well as for the records of the past which tell us that ours has been indeed a goodly heritage.

Comments