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Source: April 1996 Volume 34 Number 2, Pages 75–80

Some Observations on the First Three Decades of St. David's Church History

Frank Fuller

Page 75

"Amongst those specially entitled to the valuable privilege secured to them by the express terms of Penn's charter," wrote Pleasants, "were included numerous Welsh churchmen emigrating from Radnorshire, Wales, who settled in Newtown, Radnor and Easttown townships, within a few years of Penn's landing," They arrived along with the more celebrated Quaker settlers of the Welsh Tract and set about making a home for themselves in the wilderness which was Penn's new land.

"William Penn wrote [to James] Logan that Welshmen were 'mightily akin;' and when they came here they delighted to call the places after their loved fatherland ...." Hotchkin sermonized, and "their earnest pleading for clergy who could teach them in their own tongue is touching."

"....probably the Rev. Thomas Clayton was the first minister, or rather missionary, sent out by the [S]ociety [for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts] -- or before it was established, as it was not established till 1701 --" Hazard says, "as it is a settled fact that the first building of wood and brick was built [at Christ Church] in 1695-97, when the parish was organized, twelve years after the laying out of the city by Penn and during the reign of William III. It was enlarged in 1711 and in 1720."

"He was probably sent to Philadelphia by Bishop Compton ...," Hazard continues, quoting Sprague. "....About a year after the church was built the Rev. Mr. Clayton, through the influence of the Rev. Dr. Bray, who was about that time made the bishop of London's commissary for Maryland, was sent over to minister there.

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In about two years, under Mr. Clayton's ministry, the congregation increased to seven hundred, and just at that time he was called away by death."

"Isaac Norris writes from Philadelphia, 7 mo. 11, 1699," says Keith, "Thomas Clayton, minister of the Church of England, died at Sassafras in Maryland, and here is another from London in his room, happened to come very opportunely." The new-comer was Rev. Edward Portlock," continues Keith, "who appears to have been previously chaplain in the English forces serving in Flanders.... Portlock seems to have come to America to take a church at Perth Amboy, but he called himself Minister of Christ Church, Phila., in his receipt to Robert Bradinham, dated March 9, 1699 .... Portlock left for Maryland before Dec. 31, 1700." It is about this time that Penn and the Quakers began to look upon their Church of England brethern as troublemakers.

"The Rev. Evan Evans, who succeeded Parson Portlock ... as rector of Christ Church, merited high praise for his tirelessness as a ... missionary to Quaker Pennsylvania," writes Wildes. "He was a dedicated worker and unselfish; though his pulpit was in Philadelphia he looked upon his parish as extending fifty miles into the back country, from the village of Oxford, named for his alma mater, to the Three Lower Counties. For a salary of 50 pounds a year, plus any contributions his flock chose to give him, he rode at his own expense throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, founding mission chapels and preaching in Welsh, his native tongue, to win back scores of Welshmen to Episcopalianism."

Evans is said to have arrived in Philadelphia before November 1, 1700, sent by the bishop of London, and he served there until 1718, with two interruptions. He would return "to London upon private concerns in 1707 ... and [come] back about the beginning of 1709,... bringing silver communion pieces for Christ Church from Queen Anne," says Keith.".... Evans went again to England about 1714, and appears then to have received the degree of D. D., as he is called 'Dr.' afterwards. He returned about the end of 1716 (O. S.), when, in addition to Christ Church, he took charge of Radnor and Oxford, preaching at those country churches alternately on Thursdays. Finding the work too much for him, he retired in June, 1718, to accept a living in Maryland." He died on a visit to Christ Church in October, 1721.

The beginnings of Old St. David's Church, although it was Welsh, were irretrieveably linked to the missionaries serving the first English church, Christ Church, in Philadelphia. As time and energy would permit, they trekked on horseback to bring the Word to to the settlers at Radnor. Details of the earliest history of this ancient church are shrouded in the mists of time.

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Only tradition stories remain to help us gain a sense of earliest events -- here and there interspersed with actual recorded facts.

A factual reference to the Welsh settlement at Radnor was made by Oldmixon in 1708 which includes the statement, "... in this place is a congregation of Church of England-Men; but no settled minister."

Tradition informs of "a log church standing on or near the site of the present building," writes Pleasants, "and that it was destroyed by fire; but that such a log church was ... ever garrisoned by settlers against apprehended attacks from Indians [mentioned by Wallington] or indeed existed as a church building is most unlikely."

Aspects of the tradition story also appear in a genealogy "James Miles and Some of his Descendents." Ann Miles was married to William Davies, in whose house early church meetings are said to have been held. Pleasants questions its validity, however, as Glenn, the writer, cites no authority to support the satements.

Pleasants also considers a footnote to a page in Smith's "History of Delaware County" dealing with St. David's Church to the effect that Edward Hughes, who died in 1716 and whose gravestone is the oldest in the churchyard, "... it is said, was Rector of the Church as early as 1704" and dismisses it as "a vague note." Hughes was likely a lay leader of the emerging congregation, but there is no record of any contact by the organized church prior to 1700.

The date 1700 is adopted by Pleasants as the earliest record of services at Radnor based on the "certificate" given by the Wardens and other members of Radnor Church, enclosed in a letter dated June, 1719, from Rev. Dr. Evan Evans, missionary at Christ Church, Philadelphia, probably addressed to the S. P. G. "This is to certify that Reverend Dr. Evans has preached the gospel at Radnor at the House of Mr. William Davis, one of the Subscribers, once a Fortnight from November in the year 1700 all the time he was resident at Philadelphia, without any reward from us; and since his return from England which was on the 22nd day of March 1716-7, until the latter end of June last past, he preached at St. David's Church at Radnor and at Trinity Church, Oxford, alternate every Thursday (vizt.) one Thursday here and another at Oxford aforesaid, during which time he deported himself with prudence in all respects becoming a person of his sacred Character. He laid the foundation of the Church of England first in these parts as well as other places in this province and we have great reason to lament his departure ...."

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The settlers on this lonely outpost on the Darby Creek had early petitioned for a full time missionary, and in 1714 Rev. John Clubb, a Welshman who had been a schoolmaster in Philadelphia, later assisting Mr. Evans in his labours, was sent by the Propagation Society to minister to Oxford and Radnor. He reported to the Society that the "people of Radnor" had met him "Unanimously" and "heartily engaged themselves to build a handsome stone church." The laying of the corner stone for the 40 x 26 foot building was celebrated on May 9, 1715 and the structure itself erected that year. However, Rev. Clubb did not long survive his arduous 20-mile journeys by horseback between Oxford and Radnor in all extremes of weather. He died in December of 1715.

In his history, Pleasants refers to the tradition that "many of the settlers desired it [the church] to be erected on a large lot of some 15 acres in Easttown township at the north west corner of Waterloo [Avenue] and Sugartown Road" which was said to have been a local burying ground at that time, and which in the memory of some of the old residents was known as "the graveyard field."

Okie, writing about local road petitions in 1944, thirty years later, brings to bear some interesting additional information. He says, "this lot [the old burying ground] was part of the Edward Hugh (Hughes) tract and was probably quite near his home .... The burial ground was at the north west corner of the lot which was the south east corner of the [Ann] James ground [Travelgwyn, owned by one of the road petitioners.]"

"With the uncovering several years ago [by Burns] of the record of a mortgage made in 1735 from which a corner of the burial ground can be located, Okie continues, "the old tradition was shown to have been based upon earlier fact than the traditionary burial there of soldiers of the Revolutionary War." Further, Okie references a petition dated 1768 requesting that a report of a jury o view convened to open a new road be set aside because the road "would pass through the Centre of an Old Burying Ground ... where many Respectable old Church People are buried ...." He continues,"... since the statement in 1768 that Church People were buried there means members of the Church of England, the existence of an organized group of Welsh Episcopalians at or close to the Hughes home before the erection of St. David's Church in 1715 is strongly indicated."

Edward Hughes in 1703 purchased 500 acres of land in Easttown south of what is today Berwyn. [Burns tell this story in his 1940 Quarterly article on the Travelgwyn tract.] In 1706 [Hughes] sold the northern 100 acres of it to Philip Davies and wife Margaret, who was his sister. William Davies witnessed the deed. Philip Davies sold in 1722 to Evan Hughes, a son of Edward.

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A year later Evan Hughes transferred the property to Rev. Griffith Hughes, who was pastor at St. David's 1733- 1736.

"Both the [Griffith] James and [Edward] Hughes families were prominently connected with St. David's from its earliest days," Okie concludes, "So much so that Edward Hughes may well have taken a leading part in the religious meetings held before the church was built, thus forming the foundation in greater or less degree for Dr. Smith's statement.

The land on Valley Forge Road in Newtown Township which ultimately became the site for the church building was never documented in a deed and, therefore, the identity of the donor or previous owner is lost to history. Actually, the church property occupies land at the junction of three townships -- Newtown, Easttown and Radnor. It seems a remote location today for a church, but at that time all locations were remote. Pleasants found reference to land ownership in close proximity to the church site by William Davis, Thomas Edwards and Edward Hughes, but the actual deed remains elusive.

The church itself lies in Newtown, the cemetery north of the church in Easttown, and the new chapel and Sunday School additions of 1957 across Valley Forge Road in Radnor. Over the years Radnor has gotten top billing as it was early used as the church identifier. But Easttown, and Newtown, too, can claim with pride their share of the heritage of this revered old landmark.

ST. DAVIDS CHURCH, BUILT 1717. [from Smith's 1862 " History ot Delaware County, Pennsylvania"]

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Ashmead, Henry Graham, History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co. 1884)

Burns, Franklin L.., "Travelgwyn." (in Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. Ill, No. 4, 1940)

Glenn, Thomas Allen, "John Miles and Some of his Descendents." (in The Penn sylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, 1913)

Hazard, Willis P., Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, Vol. III. (Philadelphia: Edwin S. Stuart 1884)

Hotchkin, Rev. S. F, Country Clergy of Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia: P. W. Ziegler & Co. 1890)

Keith, Charles P., Chronicles of Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia: Patterson & White Co. 1917)

Okie, Howard S., "The Thomas Jarman's Mill Road." (in Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. VI, No 1, 1944)

Pleasants, Henry, The History of Old St. David's Church. (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company 1915)

Smith, George, M. D., History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia: Henry B. Ashmead 1862)

Wallington, Nellie Urner, Historic Churches of America. (New York: Duffield & Company 1907)

Wildes, Harry Emerson, William Penn. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1974)


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