Original Settlers and Their Descendants part II
Toby Leech’s house. (TOP)
Leech’s house c. 1721
As it looks today.
Toby Leech came to America, he was accompanied by his wife Esther, his infant
son also named Toby, his mother-in-law Mary Ashmead,
and his wife’s sisters and brothers. He and Richard Wall were the only
two First Purchasers to receive two separate land grants in the township. It
was on his 200 acre tract, across Old York Road from Richard Wall’s grant, that he built his
first house near Cedar
of what is now Church
also erected a corn and fulling mill, nearby on the
Tookany Creek to the west of Mill Road below Church Road, that gave Mill Road its name.
would have been another reminder of Cheltenham’s
heritage, Leech’s house, burned down about 1700 but it was soon
rebuilt. It remained in the family until 1856 when Isaac Leech sold it to John
Thompson, one of William Thompson’s descendants. The house was
demolished about 1925. A link to the past does remain, however, in yet
another house built by Toby Leech, with an assigned date of 1721, that is
still standing at the corner of Old Soldiers Road and Ryers
Avenue in Cheltenham Village (then Milltown). Toby’s son Abraham, who
reportedly lived in this Township landmark, died in 1787 “near
Frankford.” Land in Militown was obtained by
Toby Leech when he added to his original purchases by acquiring a “part
of Oxford and Upper Dublin Townships in the city of Philadelphia including the villages of Milltown and Fox
Chase.” He was also involved in land transactions in Delaware and Chester counties. The businesses he conducted in Cheltenham, in addition to his corn and fulling
mill, were a tannery and a bakery that made and sold “seabisquit” for ships.
from his diverse enterprises permitted him to live well and to participate
in the “gentlemanly” sport of fox-hunting. His hunting grounds
were well-known in the area and were said to have been kept up by his son and
grandson after his death in 1726. Tradition has it that the village of Fox Chase, or at least the hotel by that name, received its name because it was part of
Leech’s hunting grounds; however, no supporting documentation has been
found for this claim.
at the southwest corner of Second Street and Church Alley (between what is now Market and
Arch Streets), Leech’s Philadelphia home was chronicled as being one of the first
houses built of bricks.
Although Leech was a
Quaker and attended the early meetings held at Wall’s house, he left
the Society of Friends in 1690 to follow the teachings of George Keith. At
this time, Keith created a bitter schism in the Meeting when he claimed the
need for more ritual and more outward declaration of faith in God than was
being practiced by the Quakers. Having become a Quaker in 1664 in England, Keith had emigrated in
1689 to America where he became headmaster for a year of the first
Quaker school in Philadelphia, now the William Penn Charter School. In 1690, he submitted his points of religious
dissatisfaction to the Philadelphia Meeting where he was charged with
practicing “dualism” (God within and God without). He left the
Society of Friends and returned to England where he was made a Deacon of the Church of England
on May 12, 1700, was
appointed its first missionary, and sent back to America. He helped found churches in America dedicated to the religious convictions of the
Church of England and one of these was Trinity Church Oxford at Oxford Avenue and Disston Street in Philadelphia. Leech was its most prominant
organizer and member and is buried there in the adjoining cemetery. The church
museum owns a cane carried by Leech that has his name inscribed on a silver
inset and possesses other memorabilia once belonging to members of the Leech
in the politics of his day, Leech is mentioned in a number of the surviving
early chronicles of Philadelphia. He served as a member of the Provincial
Assembly from 1713 to 1717 and also in 1719, was a County Commissioner of Philadelphia in 1718, and, together with George Shoemaker and
others, was one of the jury selected to lay out Old York Road in 1711.
of the first of the family to follow its progenitor’s interest in
politics was Toby’s son Thomas. Thomas Leech, a leading Philadelphia merchant, was Clerk of the Provincial Assembly form
1723 to 1728 and was one of the commissioners appointed by the Assembly
to consider erecting a bridge over the Schuylkill in 1751. He was also one of the committee who
procured the Liberty Bell for the State House and was a member of the Board
of Trustees of the College of Philadelphia which became the University of Pennsylvania. He served for thirty-two years as a vestryman of Philadelphia’s Christ Church.
members of this family also have been of consequence in and around Philadelphia. A few of the familiar local names that can be
traced back to Toby Leech are Penrose, Shoemaker, Hall, and Taylor.
Bolton purchased 300 acres in Cheltenham Township as part of a 1,000 acre land grant he obtained in
conjunction with John Ashmead, Richard Wall, and
Toby Leech under surveys dated November 10, 1682. Together with his wife Elizabeth and their two
small children, also named Everard and Elizabeth,
he came to this country with a certificate of removal dated August 18, 1682, from Ross, Herefordshire, England.
are numerous references to Bolton in the minutes of Abington Monthly Meeting. He
served as treasurer of the Meeting for over forty years, was keeper of the
Records in 1694, and was one of the first trustees of Abington Friends’
the other First Purchasers in Cheltenham, Everard Bolton,
according to author and historian C. V. Roberts, took an active part in local
affairs and held the office of Justice of the Peace for many years. Roberts
further states that Bolton made his home “near Milestown
on York Road in Cheltenham about one mile east of city line.” His will,
dated 1746, makes reference to his property in Cheltenham. No other information has been obtained regarding
his life or his descendants. The name of a Dr. Charles Bolton appears in the
old records of Cheltenham as owning land in the middle 1800’s where the
Beaver College campus is situated, but it is just as a
Russell’s tract of 300 acres was bounded on the northwest by Washington Lane and on the southeast approximately by what is now Penrose Avenue and Serpentine Lane. Little has been written about this man for whom John Russell Circle is named. Until his death in 1698, he apparently
lived a quiet life at his home, located on what is now Washington Lane a little north of the present Cheltenham Avenue. He is said to have come from Lewes in Sussex, England, with his wife Mary and his only child Elizabeth.
is a family story that Elizabeth
had been in love with a young man named Joseph Mather
when they both had lived near the town of Bolton, England. Joseph was only eighteen when he came to America in 1682 with a family friend, Phineas
Pemberton, who settled in Bucks County and became a well-known figure. Although Joseph is
listed as a “free passenger” on the log of the Submission, his
passage was probably paid for by Pemberton because he worked as
Pemberton’s servant for the four years following their arrival. His
indenture ended “9 mo 2nd 1686” when he received his warrant of
50 acres that went with the fulfillment of his contract. On August 8, 1697, Joseph Mather married
his childhood sweetheart at the home of Richard Wall. Everard
Bolton was one of the witnesses. Mather reportedly
became a highly respected man in the community, fathered five children,
and left Elizabeth a widow in 1720.
of the Mather children, Richard, was born in 1698,
the same year in which his grandfather, John Russell, died. He seems to have
been the only one of the five Mather children who
survived or whose life affected the history of Cheltenham enough to have been recorded. Richard married Sarah
Penrose in 1727, thus uniting the families of the Walls, Leeches, and Russells. Sarah was a granddaughter of Toby Leech and her
sister Dorothy had married the son of Sarah Wall Shoemaker.
300 acre Russell tract was deeded to Richard Mather
by his widowed mother in 1728, the year following his marriage. This land
generally has been referred to since as the Mather
property. Trained as a carpenter, Richard turned to farming this land. On January 6, 1746, he became a partner in the Shoemaker Mill operated
by his sister-in-law.
ten children were born to Sarah and Richard, only three are known to have
inherited parts of the original Russell land grant from their widowed father
after he died in 1776. The property was divided among Benjamin,
Bartholomew, and Issac Mather,
whose descendants resided in the township for the next five generations. The
last of the Mathers to live in Cheltenham was called the “Grand old man of Chelten Hills” because he lived to be one hundred
and two years old. He died in 1907 at his home on Washington Lane near Township Line, later demolished when the pool
of the Wyncote House was erected on the site.
Mather inherited the southern portion of the tract
where the Russell family homestead (now the Lynnewood Gardens apartment development), had been built by his
great-grandfather. 17 acres of his land bordering Ashbourne Road became the property of Morris Hallowell who built
his manor house, Norwood, near Washington Lane. This portion was sold in 1860 to Gabriella Butler,
a widow. During the Civil War, some of it was used as training grounds for
Camp William Penn, a military camp for black troops. In 1872, Mrs.
Butler’s estate was sold to Rev. Samuel Clements, head of the Cheltenham Military Academy, who moved the school from Chelten
Hills to this new location at Washington Lane and Ashbourne Road. The academy was operated there until the early
1900’s when P.A.B. Widener bought the property and demolished the
family homestead and the school buildings. Lynnewood School now occupies the site of the Cheltenham Military Academy.
Bartholomew Mather, who inherited the middle portion of the Russell
land grant, was said to have been a wheelwright as well as a farmer. In 1776
he had the unique honor of holding the only public office on the township,
that of tax assessor. He built his home in 1781 and it is still
standing as a deserted, vandalized shell, on the northeast corner of Church Road and Washington Lane.
A marker at the corner of the property
designates the site as historically important because troops were
deployed past this spot during the Revolutionary War. At that time, there was
a spring on the property, adding to its beauty and charm,
that ran down the hill alongside Church Road, and area residents will remember its picturesque
spring house. According to local lore, it was used as a watering place by
both the British and American troops prior to the Battle of Edge Hill in 1777. When Church Road was widened in the late 1950’s the spring was
covered and now runs underground.
December, 1778, at the time of the Revolutionary War, Bartholomew and his son
Thomas were reprimanded by Abington Meeting for having helped the American
army. As good Quakers they were expected to oppose war and remain
neutral. The story is told by a descendant, Horace W. Mather,
that they furnished wagons to deliver supplies to the Americans encamped at Valley Forge and that Thomas was one of the drivers.
the Civil War, the house is said to have been a stop on the Underground
Railroad that provided food and lodging for runaway slaves on their way to
freedom in Canada. An adult, who played on this property as a child,
tells of a secret hiding-place found on one side of the spring house that
could have been used to hide slaves. Across Church Road was the initial site for the barracks of Camp
William Penn. Jay Cooke, the financier, erected his mansion Ogontz on this tract in 1867.
Bartholomew’s son, built his home Shadyside across from his father on
the northwest corner of Church Road and Washington Lane around 1800. The preceding year he had married
Rachel Leech, a grandaughter of Toby Leech. Thomas
reportedly operated a mill on Rock Lane erected by his father and grandfather in 1769.
Thomas’s property was occupied in the early
1900’s by Horace W. Mather who named it “Squirrel
Corner.” By that time, it consisted of 2 acres on which were standing a
large colonial house, a stable, and a garage. The Hopkins Nursing Home
is the present occupant, but the buildings were demolished to make way for a
newly constructed modern nursing facility.
Isaac Mather inherited the
northernmost portion of the Russell tract and built his home and a mill in
1769 where the Breyer Scout Training Area is
presently located. The property is bordered on three sides by Washington Lane, Township Line, and Old York Road. There is a hill on this land near the Washington Lane bridge over Chelten Hills Drive, Tookany Creek, and the
railroad tracks. It is claimed, but not substantiated, that the Continental
Army encamped on this hill during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777 and communicated with the troops at Whitemarsh through a series of special signals.
John Wanamaker acquired 50 acres of the Mather property in 1868 and there built his mansion Lindenhurst. He used Isaac Mather’s
mill, now demolished, as the power plant for his estate. The last owner of
this land was Henry W. Breyer who, in 1944, donated
it to the Boy Scouts of America.
The only First Purchaser who has not been discussed
was Humphrey Morrey, a man of particular note. (Holme spelled his name “Merry” and it remains
this way today in Humphrey Merry Way.) His original land grant of 200 acres probably
extended from what is now Waverly Road to the point where Cheltenham Avenue meets Willow Grove Avenue. He is said to have purchased additional land and
soon owned 739 acres. It was Morrey who, in 1686,
made the questionable acquisition of 200 acres of Penn’s Springfield
Manor land. This alleged illegal sale by Thomas Fairman
extended Morrey’s own, and the township’s, northwestern boundary.
A letter dated August 3, 1685, from Robert Turner to William Penn, probably
contains the earliest information about Humphrey Morrey
in Philadelphia. In it Turner notes that Morrey
had moved from New
according to Hannah Benner Roach he had been a prominent merchant, and built
himself a “large Timber house with Brick Chimnies.”
His lot assign. ment was on Mulberry Street (Arch) between Fourth and Fifth Streets and later
he purchased Mercy Jefferson’s lot.
This Cheltenham resident was the most active of the First
Purchasers in the politics of his time. In November, 1685, he was
commissioned a Justice of the Peace of the Courts and City of Philadelphia and was named an Assemblyman on January 2, 1691, by the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania. In the
charter of the city of Philadelphia drawn up by Deputy-Governor Thomas Lloyd in 1691 with the advice and
consent of the Provincial Council, Morrey was appointed
Mayor of Philadelphia and served in this capacity until 1701. Cheltenham is proud to claim the first mayor of Philadelphia as one of its First Purchasers.
On October 11,
was “invited” by William Penn to a seat on the Provincial
Council. This was probably his greatest honor. However, due to his advancing
age, he retired shortly to his “county seat in Cheltenham Township.” When Humphrey Morrey
died in 1715, he had only one surviving son, Richard, and a grandson by his
deceased son, John, also named Humphrey Morrey.
inherited his father’s plantation. He made a very special contribution
to the nation’s history by being one of the first Americans to free his
slaves and among the first to give them land for their own use. According to
Harry Renninger a former township commissioner
interested in local history, Richard either had no children by his wife or
they left with her when she deserted him and returned to England. However, Richard is known to have had five
children by his black mistress Cremona. There is a deed on file, dated 1746, executed by
Richard Morrey giving 198 acres to Cremona Morrey, a “negress.”
Richard died, sometime between August 3, 1753, and January 30, 1754, Cremona married John Frey, a freed slave. They had two
children, Joseph and Cremona, Jr. When the elder Cremona died in 1772, a deed was executed placing the Morrey property in trust. It is probable that John Frey
had inherited the Morrey estate and the five Morrey children contested it. Under the deed, the
property was to be held in trust by Isaac Knight, a neighbor of the Morrey family, until the death of John Frey, at which
time it was to be sold and the proceeds divided among all of Cremona, Sr.’s children. The deed of trust is
recorded in the Philadelphia Deed Book dated October 13 and November 13,
1788. It is of particular
interest because it makes a distinct reference to the “children of
Richard Murrey, deceased, by his freed woman, Cremona,” and lists the names of the children.
section of Cheltenham where the Morrey land was
located (now Glen-side) was referred to locally as Guineatown
at that time because the black slaves were from Guinea, Africa. It might well have been one of the earliest black
settlements in the United States. Richard Morrey also had
donated land as a burial ground for his freed slaves on Limekiln Pike next to
the present Knights of Columbus building. It became known as the Monteith or Montier Graveyard
and contained 75 graves in 1897. Because of land development in the area it
was displaced in the 1960’s.
Frey Jr. married John Montier, a freed slave,
(after whom a street and the graveyard were named) and they built a two-story
stone house, in 1772. It is presently the rear section of a home situated on
Limekiln Pike near Waverly Road. in the Original
Assessments of Cheltenham Township, 1793-1801, Cremona, Jr.’s husband is
listed as “John Mountier,” a farmer in Cheltenham owning 14 acres and dwelling, 1 horse and 1 cow.
The property passed out of the Montier family in
the late 1860’s.
The Morrey property
had some other early settlers worthy of mention. Sometime before the Montiers built their house, a portion of the Morrey property had been sold. It is recorded that Abner Bradfield built a log cabin on Mermaid Lane (Willow Grove Avenue) reportedly in 1770, a short distance west of
Limekiln Pike. This land was only part of Bradfield’s total holdings of
58 acres that are said to have comprised all of Edge Hill proper. Not long
after he completed his cabin, supposedly of all walnut logs, he added a stone
section on the east side that is still standing. Abner’s
granddaughter, Martha Ann Shafer, married William Rhoads and they tore down
the log cabin section of the id family home in 1876. (Another date given is
1868.) The house is occupied today by descendants of the original family
and a sign on the outside reads “Rhoads Homestead.”
Rear portion built by Cremona
and John Montier
notable settler on part of the Morrey grant, who
lived on his Cheltenham property only about a year, was Thomas Wharton, Jr.
A successful merchant, he was an active patriot during the Revolution and was
the first president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, holding
that office from March 5, 1777, to May 23, 1778. His land, purchased on April 26, 1776, was located between what is now Church and Waverly
Roads and the Plymouth and Springfield Township lines. The main house on the estate, Twickenham, is said to have been built by Sebastian
Miller and sold to Wharton by a descendant Jacob Miller. When Wharton
moved in on March 7, 1777, he made substantial improvements to the main
house so that it was considered to be one of the finest structures in
the township. He did not have much time to enjoy country living since he died
on May 23, 1778.
property is of further historic interest because some skirmishes between
British and American troops occurred on the front lawn in 1777 (probably
during the nearby Battle of Edge Hill). This information was related to
Thomas Wharton in a letter which quotes a statement made by General Joseph
Potts, Valley Forge iron master whose house had been used as Washingtons’s headquarters, moved into Twickenham
wings were added to the mansion in the late nineteenth century. About
seventeen years ago the center and oldest section was torn down and the
wings made into two separate residences.
First Purchasers and early settlers of Cheltenham gave the township a solid foundation on which future generations
would build. They participated in the developing political organization of
the Province, and were concerned about the moral and religious life of their
growing community. Some of their names and a few of their homes survive today
as witness to Cheltenham’s beginnings.