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Original Settlers and Their Descendants part II



Toby Leech’s house. (TOP)      

                                             Abraham Leech’s house c. 1721

                                                                  As it looks today.




When 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 Road south of what is now Church Road. He 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.

What 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.

Proceeds 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.

Located 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 family.

Active 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.

One 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.

Other 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.


Everard 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.

There 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’ School.

Like 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 casual reference.



John 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.

It 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.

One 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.

The 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.

Although 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.

Benjamin 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.


 John Russel Hoamstead



Bartholomew Mather’s house today

   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.

In 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.

During 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.


Thomas Mather, 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 York, where 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, 1700, Morrey 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.

Richard 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.”

After 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.

The 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.

Cremona 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


A 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.

Wharton’s 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 Reed.

Isaac Potts, Valley Forge iron master whose house had been used as Washingtons’s headquarters, moved into Twickenham in 1799.

Two 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.


   Abner Bradfield


 Rhoads Homestead


The 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.


                                                                                        Part III