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Source: January 2001 Volume 39 Number 1, Pages 3–12

The Historic Jones Plantation in Tredyffrin

Franklin L. Burns

Editor's Note: This article was originally written in the 1920s but was not published until its appearance in this issue, some fifty-five years after the death of the author.

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Few of the fine old colonial estates in the eastern part of Chester Valley were without intimate contact with some phase of the Pennsylvania campaign of 1777-1778, but the Jones homestead of Tredyffrin entertained an army, besides generals on either side of the Revolutionary War contest.

We are indebted to our friend and neighbor, the late Rev. Dr. Alden W. Quimby, for the preservation of much traditional lore in his "Valley Forge," and for his featuring a suppositious daughter of the Jones house as the heroine of his story of love and war. [Quimby, pastor of the Berwyn Methodist Church 1898-1922, authored an historical novel in 1908 set in the neighborhood of the Revolutionary War encampment at Valley Forge.]

This plantation lies southern-most of a tier "three farms wide" between the notched hills of Valley Forge and the crest of the South Valley hills where the western-most branches of Trout Run have their source in springs of the purest water. Mrs. Susanna H. Bodine called it "Quickwater Farm," and a more recent owner "Valley Brook Farm." This farm has never been wholly cleared of timber; the woodland for a long period sustained excellent grouse hunting and the swamp the best of woodcock coverts.

Griffith John was not the original settler. According to the record of Benjamin H. Smith, the tract of 300 acres (including the later Rees farm on the west) was first taken by David Powell, the surveyor, May 30th, 1708 in the right of Dr. Thomas Wynne's 500 acres, A. L & R., September 14-15, 1681.

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However, the above does not entirely agree with my notes taken from the original deeds where Griffith John's tract of 218 acres is described as part of the large tract owned by John Cadwalader, yeoman, of the Great Valley. On January 20th, 1707, he sold 150 acres to David Powell of Philadelphia who on May 16th, 1709 disposed of same to Rowland Richard, and the latter also purchased 50 acres adjoining on the east and 18 acres on the north to the Swedesford Road from John Cadwalader.

There is a tradition of a semi-public road between this place and the Rees farm, which began at the Swedesford Road and ran through the ravine to join the Newtown Road where it meets the Conestoga Road (at the T-E High School). This road must have approximated or paralleled the old Welsh line of the Newtown Townstead Street Road, and besides being the easiest route out of the Valley, it provided a short haul for logs to the Davis' sawmill on the Swedesford Road.

It is probable that Rowland Richard partly cleared the land, planted the great orchard and built the original cabin and small barn at the edge of the swamp where there is an excellent spring. He made his last will and testament June 13th, 1720, and his widow Katherine, on March 8th, 1727, "... in consideration of the natural love and affection she hath and doth bear unto her son John Richard and for other considerations" gave him full possession and seizin of the tract of 150 acres, reserving only her thirds. This she signed with her mark, and it was witnessed by Samuel Richard and John Evans. Son Samuel, and his wife Elizabeth released the tract of 18 acres, December 14th, 1727, in consideration of £9 lawful money.

On March 11th, 1727, John Richard and his wife Lowry et al. leased to Griffith John for one year the whole tract for the sum of 5 shillings, "... together with the Barns, Buildings, Orchards, Improvements, Woods, Ways, Watercourses, Springs, Fowlings, Hawkings, Huntings, Rights, Liberties, Privileges and Plantations and Appurtenances whatsoever." This instrument was witnessed by William Georg and the marks of David and Evan Jones.

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A deed or "Indenture made on the thirteenth day of December in the Eleventh Year of the Reign of King George the Second over Great Britain, anno Domini 1737, between Griffith John of Tre-dy-ffrin, yeoman, and Catherine his wife, on one part, and Samuel John of Tre-dy-ffrin, yeoman, son and Heir Apparent on the other part," in which "for 5 shillings lawful money of America and also for the love and affection they have and bear toward their son Samuel John, and for his better settlement and preferment in the world," they devised 150 acres of their land with all the buildings, etc. Witnessed by John Thomas and John Davis and sworn before Isaac Davis, J. P., December 18th, 1753.

The foregoing was followed, April 13th, 1780 by a deed from Samuel to sons Nathaniel and Enoch Jones, the parents being "ancient and unable to carry on their farming." Nathaniel and Christina his wife et al. released 1st day, 4th month, 1786 to his brother Enoch the same tract now described as 145 acres, bound by the lands of Benjamin Atkinson, Abel Reese, John Jones and Jacob Frick for the consideration of £400 lawful money of Pennsylvania. Witnessed by Jno. Bartholomew and Adam Guider and sworn before Jno. Bartholomew, J. P. Here we seefor the first timepersonal names other than of Welsh descent and the transition of the family name from John to Jones.

The earlier legal documents are on parchment beautifully engrossed in old English script, and in nearly every instance where the wife has signed her signature it is by the mark of the cross, and the same may be said of many of the witnesses.

Griffith John, the first regularly ordained deacon of the Great Valley Baptist Church, doubtless built the middle and oldest part of the present mansion and the eastern part of the large barn. The former was two and a half stories high with four rooms and an attic, and the thick walls extended to the gables of small stone bound by a mortar of puddled clay and chopped straw. The latter was built of white oak logs 70 feet long with scarcely a knot or taper, evidently cut from the original forest. The western part of the barn was added in 1802 by David Adam.

From this group of buildings, a lane led northward to the Swedesford Road, which was a very roundabout way to meeting, so a direct private way, long known as Deacon Jones' road to meeting, followed southward the present Contention Lane to the edge of the woods, turned eastward just within the woods, and continued to near the meeting house at the head of Nant Yr Ewig. This route to meeting was followed by Deacons Griffith, Samuel and Enoch Jones, father, son and grandson, and may be readily retraced today.

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It has been asserted that the great apple orchard extended along the lower slope of the South Valley hills nearly to the meeting house. Though Griffith John did not plant it, unless he had previous experience, this orchard must have been the source of embarrassment at first, for every farm had apples and cider. There was no local market for either, but there was a brisk market for applejack, that bland and insidious distillation of apple juice. Tradition tells us a still existed by the stream. This still, according to the best tradition, was located on the north bank of the main stream just east of Contention Lane.

We are not informed how long this still remained in operation, but we may be sure that the grandson, the stern and pious Enoch Jones, would not tolerate the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Indeed, it is known that he forbid his boys the use of tobacco, and would not permit them to whistle or to wear suspenders then coming into fashion. (Doubtless at this time an even more potent liquor was being distilled in a log building hidden away in the wooded ravine just west of the Jones farm. It was known as the "Black Swan," and was probably a venture of the Rees family.)

Samuel Jones was 65 years of age when the even tenor of his life was broken by the arrival of the British army on the late afternoon of September 18th, 1777. Like a great swarm of locusts, they came and their devastation of property was such as no invasion of insects could accomplish in so brief a time.

Captain John Montressor, the British army engineer, wrote of the "Equinoxial Gale" from the 16th to the 18th of September. On the 17th the rain was very heavy and the lowlands overflowed. There being few houses and barns, the British troops suffered much from the weather. On the 18th there was light rain. "Between 3 and 4 o'clock a.m. the army marched from the Boot to the White Horse, where we joined Lord Cornwallis' columns, halted an hour, and the whole army marched toward Philadelphia until we arrived at Randel Malins, being 2-1/2 miles further. There we struck off (the road forking) the road to Swedesford to Treduffrin, one mile beyond Howell's tavern, making 5-1/2 miles more, in all this day, 11 miles. Lord Cornwallis' column continuing the Philadelphia main road from the forks at Randel Malins, which road turns nearly parallel to the Swedesford, running only one mile from this camp, when his Lordship formed a juncture and encamped."

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Major General James Grant gives much the same information about the weather. At noon on the 17th they proceeded to the "White Horse" (White Horse Tavern) and continued on the 18th to "Trediffrin," where they were obliged to halt two days as the wagons could crawl no further. The mud was hub deep, and the Continentals in their retreat from the vicinity of White Horse, after procuring rope from a barn, had to drag their artillery over the North Valley hills by combined horse and manpower.

An advance party of the enemy turned into the fields from the Swedesford Road, their bright uniforms shining marks for the rifles of two or three American scouts posted in a chestnut tree in the midst of the great orchard, who then fled into the woods behind. There was no other hostile demonstration.

This tree is said to have been the same that served later as a link in the chain of signal trees between Lee's dragoons at Signal Hill and the Continental army at Valley Forge. It stood, until perhaps 30 or 40 years ago, along a semi-private lane from the Jones homestead to the Conestoga Road at Cockletown, and it now lies moldering upon the ground.

Commander-in-Chief Sir William Howe occupied the home of Samuel Jones as headquarters, and Lt. General Knyphausen quartered upon Janus Jones. The plantation literally swarmed with men and horses: the Guards; the 16th and 17th Light Dragoons; the 1st and 2nd Grenadiers; and Von Stern's Hessian Grenadiers, encamped in the fields about headquarters. The whole encampment occupied possibly less than 500 acres, and about fully half of the troops lay on the Jones plantation.

It is probable that General Mathews, who commanded the 2nd Brigade, occupied the original cabin of logs beside the spring and swamp I have already made mention of; the site of which until recent years was marked by a heap of stones almost covered by a flower known as Washington's Bower. The late Robert Jones informed me that for some years prior to the Civil War it was in a ruinous condition, and that he, Morris and Washington Lewis, James and Henry DeWees, farm boys all, used it as a rendezvous on Easter Sundays where they boiled eggs, purloined from the home roosts, in the built-in iron boiler. Later the little stone barn was turned into a dwelling for a Negro tenant, but it too, with the last wild and degenerate apple tree, is only a memory.

Throughout the great camp there was said to have been a babel of strange tongues such as this peaceful valley never had heard before; the whine of the London cockney; thick dialects of Yorkshire; the Irish brogue; the burr of the Scottish highlander; and the gutturals of the Hesse-Cassel and Brunswick; as the troops rested at ease, cooking and washing.

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The proud and gaily uniformed officers, elite of the British forces, but why should I enumerate them here? All sought honor and glory on the field of battle, many met death or imprisonment, one dishonor upon a gibbet. The stern and supercilious General Grant, one of many incompetent and blundering officers sent over during the French and Indian War, boasted anew that he did not believe that there was ever a handsomer and more spirited, or more successful, move made by an army for days, without anything to drink but water, than the march of about 100 miles from the head of the Elk to Philadelphia!

Dame Fortune gave us no hint that Agnew was to fall at Germantown, Donop at Red Bank, Monckton at Monmouth, and Ferguson at King's Mountain. That Howe would be recalled in disgrace; Andre die on a gibbet at West Point; or Tarleton in disgraceful flight at Cowpens, nor that Cornwallis should become the captive of the despised rebels.

Their amiable Commander made himself agreeable to the household, while some of his suite made merry with a mother's anxiety for the safety of her son Nathaniel, who had driven through the lines to a distant mill and failed to return, "Well, we caught the young rebel today," tradition says they repeated.

Hector Mullen, a young Negro belonging to the Jones family, proudly held the General's steed before the headquarters door and received a tip which he gleefully tossed up until it rolled under the stone doorstep. The coin remained hidden for over a century before it was recovered by W. C. Latch, only to become again elusive in the hands of his brother.

The British army encamped on the farms of Jacob Frick, Valentine Showalter, Abel Rees, David Howell, Samuel and Janus Jones, Samuel Havard, Anthony More and Christian Workhiser -- Mennonites, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians and Lutherans, and with the possible exception of the Quakers, Howe treated all as rebellious subjects of his master, George III. Later all filed with the Government substantial claims for damages. In the raids upon personal property, the Leopard farm of the Rev. Dr. David Jones, pastor of the Great Valley Baptist Meeting and chaplain in Wayne's Brigade, suffered no more severely than the Rev. Dr. William Currie, rector of the St. Davids Episcopal Church, at his farm on the Yellow Springs Road.

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Samuel Jones' bill "... when Gen'l Howe's Headquarters was at my house" 18, 19, & 20th day September is as follows, showing the top of the prevailing market price and quantity of the products of the farm. It shows also that Indian corn was not then of the importance as a crop it has since attained:

100 bu. Wheat£35.15.0
30 bu. Rye 4/86.15.0
100 bu. Oats 2/612.10.0
4 bu. Indian corn 4/28.08.0
20 bu. Buckwheat3.10.0
30 bu. Potatoes 2/63.15.0
Flax destroyed3.00.0
10 tuns Hay35.00.0
1 milch cow, heifer7.00.0
17 sheep19.15.0
4 Ig. hogs10.00.0
4 shoats4.00.0
1 new Great Coat1.10.0
1 bolster feathers1.00.0
4 new Baggs1.10.0
1 ax and saw1.00.0
1 pitching ax.07.6
6000 rails burnt70.00.0
1 iron kettle.80.0
2 dung forks.70.0
1 fin. shirt
1 pr. drawers
1 horse; 2 mules50.00.0
1 rugg1.15.0
Credit by cash £51.02.6

Samuel Jones received 51 pounds, 2 shillings and 6 pence in part payment from the British paymaster. Probably this was a personal gesture of generosity by Howe.

Apparently the Quakers suffered only from vagrant bands of Hessians who recognized neither Whig nor Tory, but robbed all. The Quakers filed no claims whatever. Many undoubtedly sympathized with the patriots.

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Howe had mistaken the Declaration of Loyalty by some of the leading elders of Philadelphia as the sentiment of all.

The Army's halt in Tredyffrin seemed to have been occasioned by the flood in the Schuylkill River, making the fords unsafe for the heavy baggage, and the defeat of Wayne who threatened the rear became necessary. The latter being accomplished at the Battle of Paoli, in the small hours of the 21st, the Army broke camp and the neighborhood was well rid of them.

Again only a short three months later, during the cantonment of the Continental army at Valley Forge, Samuel Jones billeted another distinguished officer, Brig. General Charles Scott of the Virginia Line. Brig. General William Woodford, also of Virginia, quartered at the home of John Jones; these were two of the few general officers quartered beyond the picket line. General Scott later took part in the Harmer and the Wilkinson ineffectual campaigns against the Indians, the defeat of St. Clair, and the triumph of Wayne. General Woodford died a prisoner of war after the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina.

On March 31st, 1823 Edward Siter of Spread Eagle and David Beaver of Great Valley, executors of the last will and testament of Enoch Jones, deceased, sold the tract of 149 acres, 58 perches, to Thomas Davis, the deed for which was witnessed by Joshua Jones and Rees Rambo, and sworn before Joshua Jones, J. P. Davis by public sale March 31 st, 1827 sold the same to Abraham Levering and Samuel Stearne of Lower Merion, for $6,646.63.

Two years later Levering sold his half interest to Stearne, and the farm subsequently came into the possession of Peter Stearne -- Franklin Latch -- Abraham Latch, and as long as it was in the possession of farmer-owners it continued to produce abundantly for the Philadelphia market, but the Trenton Cut-off or Low Grade Railroad, and the Conowingo Electric Power Line having bisected the farm, it is now fast growing into a wilderness. In the early morning of February 19th, 1924, the mansion house of four periods burned down with a loss of $40,000, but it has since been rebuilt on the sturdy old walls.

Since the removal long ago of some of the more progressive numbers of the Jones family westward to more fertile soil, others have met with a tragic fate too painful to record here, and especially after the Latch removal, there have been none to recall the traditions of this historic farm.

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End Note

Herb Fry

Frank Burns concluded his story of "The Historic Jones Plantation in Tredyffrin" at the time of the 1924 fire which destroyed the mansion house. William C. Latch, son of Abraham Latch, had sold the farm, then 68-3/10 acres, on September 5, 1902 to S. Laurence Bodine. Bodine bought it about the time the family glass business, Cohansey Glass Manufacturing Company at Bridgeton, New Jersey, was expanding into the Chester Valley of Pennsylvania by constructing a plant at Downingtown. He first became vice president of the firm, then was president from 1898 to 1904, residing at Philadelphia, where the main office was located.

In 1904, Bodine helped to organize the American Window Glass Company in Pittsburgh. He developed a process for making window glass by machine which the firm used in large scale operations. In 1906 he retired as chairman of the executive committee of that firm to invest in and accept a vice presidency of the Jefferson Fire Insurance Company in Philadelphia.

S. Laurence Bodine married twice. He first wed in Philadelphia, in 1902, Susanna Hacker English from whom he was divorced in 1913; his second marriage took place in New York, on April 6, 1922 to Helen de Peyster Koues (according to Burns, Helen Knowles of "Good Housekeeping").

Apparently Mr. Bodine used the old Jones farm as a country place or retreat where he could keep horses. He played polo with both the Bryn Mawr and Philadelphia Country Club teams, and was interested in fox hunting with the Radnor, Rose Tree and Cheshire hounds. He was master of the fox hounds of Radnor Hunt Club from 1918 to 1921.

After the fire, Bodine sold the farm to Paul and Else Fleer on November 20, 1925, and they are believed to have restored the burned mansion. During their residence there the Conowingo Power Company erected its electric transmission lines across the property. According to local maps, the Fleers owned the farm as late as 1933.

Another owner of the historic estate was Lindsey W. Teegarden, an RCA executive. Teegarden joined that company in 1930 and served as vice president in charge of technical products of the RCA Victor Division. His election as a vice president of the company was announced February 18, 1953. Today he is remembered in the name given to the Tredyffrin Township park located on the old grounds.

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Teegarden sold the home to real estate developer Robert Bruce Balbirnie in 1965 who, in turn, sold it to present owners Neil and Mia McAloon on July 17, 1973. The McAloons occupy the white Georgian Colonial main house that was once the center of the farm complex, which also included the adjacent small house, barn and a stone springhouse.

The small house and barn were subdivided from the main estate by Balbirnie, and sold to Genevieve Moy in May of 1972. Off the beaten path, few knew of the existence of the 265-year old barn. The east end, of original log construction, is believed to be the oldest existing log barn in the Mid-Atlantic region. The manor house stands next door to the east on the north side of Old State Road. Teegarden Park and the Trenton Cut-off rail line lie to the south, and the West Wind development is west and north.

Moy, who lived alone, died more than a year ago. She left her estate to her sister, a resident of New Jersey. The roof of the barn caved in and hindered the sale of the property. An application to demolish the dilapidated barn was approved by Tredyffrin supervisors on August 14, 2000, but at the urging of Robert Wise, chairman of the township Historical and Architectural Review Board (HARB), implementation of the decision was delayed 120 days to explore alternatives to demolition.

On October 2 a convincing presentation by Mr. Wise and HARB members, plus several speakers from outside the township, helped sway supervisors to relent. After a lengthy discussion they voted 6-1 to accept donation of the barn by the Moy estate, retain a firm to dismantle and move the logs and its foundation, and a loan of $25,000 for moving expenses. Valley Forge Historical Park will provide the use of storage space at no cost until the barn can be re-erected at a permanent location. It is hoped that it will be included in Wilson Park presently being developed. HARB has committed itself to a fund-raising effort that would pay back the township loan as well as some $200,000 to complete the project.

The dismantling and moving of the logs comprising the structure of the barn began on November 6 and was completed shortly thereafter.


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