Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 42
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: Spring 2005 Volume 42 Number 2, Pages 49–65
REVEREND WILLIAM CURRIE
1710 – 1803
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There have been a number of previous studies [Note 1] of the Reverend William Currie, and a number of church histories [Note 2] discuss his pastorship. This study focuses on additional records to those previously analyzed. Material previously described has not been dwelt on, but it has been added when it is relevant to other points of discussion.
William Currie was born in Glasgow between 1708 and 1710. His family must have been relatively wealthy as he studied at Glasgow University. While studying he met a member of the Carter family of Virginia. After matriculating on the 19th of November 1726, [Note 3] William went to Virginia where he acted as a tutor for the family. He then moved to New Castle, Delaware (it was actually part of Pennsylvania at the time; Delaware did not yet exist), where he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1734.
The romantic story is that he then became enamored of a widow, Mrs. Margaret Hackett. She was the late wife of an Episcopal minister, Mr. Uri Hackett, and the daughter of another, George Ross. [Note 4] It is said she would only accept his advances if he converted to Anglicanism. Whether this story is true or not, probably can never be proved. What is known is that in 1736 Currie applied to be a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG).
The SPG was set up in 1701 in response to a visit to America and subsequent report from George Keith and John Talbot. It was originally intended to combat the effects of Congregationalism in New England. The Society sponsored clergy in areas where the church was not large enough to be self-sustaining. One of the requirements of the Society was for semi-annual reports from its clergy. This documentation provides considerable source material about William Currie's life.
One might think that conversion of a minister from one denomination to another might have been an unusual and difficult change at this time, but it seemed to happen not infrequently. The Anglican church had difficulty in attracting missionaries. One of the problems was that clergy could only be ordained by a bishop. Since there was no bishop in the colonies, the candidate had to travel to England - a long and costly journey. One estimate was that the journey in anything like decent circumstances cost £100. [Note 5] This amount can be contrasted with the £60 per year stipend that many missionaries received.
It is remarkable how quickly Currie converted and was ordained as an Anglican minister. The letters of recommendation from the Presbyterian and Anglican churches were written in May and June 1736. [Note 6] Currie then traveled to London, and by the end of September of that year he had been ordained by the Bishop of London.
After William Currie's installation in his parish he and Margaret Ross were married at Christ Church, Philadelphia on the 30th of November 1738. They had 7 children who survived into adulthood, one girl and 6 boys. Their daughter, Elizabeth, married a physician, Dr. Demon, of Reading. Three of the boys, Alexander, James, and William junior, were trained as physicians. John and Ross trained and practiced as lawyers and Richard was probably a farmer. William's first wife, Margaret, died in 1771, and he married another widow, Lucy Ann Godfrey, soon afterwards. This second wife died in 1778.
William Currie applied for a position with the SPG in Virginia, but was assigned to the Radnor and Perkiomen parish that comprised 3 congregations, St. David's at Radnor, St. James' at Perkiomen, and St. Peter's in the Valley. [Note 7]
The large distances between these congregations would have been difficult to manage, given the state of the roads in the 18th century. For example, the distance between St. David's and St. James' is at least 10 miles as the crow flies. That seems a short distance these days, but even today it takes well over 30 minutes by car. The roads in Currie's day were not paved or maintained. In addition, the Schuylkill River had to be forded, as St. James' is on the north side of the river while the other congregations are on the south side. Currie probably traveled by horse. It must have taken many hours to travel to the churches and between the parishes. As well as visiting one church on Sunday, Currie would also have to visit the churches for baptisms, marriages, and funerals. He also attended his parishioners, sick and healthy. The traveling must have been very arduous, especially in bad weather.
The pastor did select places to live that provided reasonable access. The first property he owned was in Plymouth Township, where he could travel west on Germantown Pike or Ridge Pike to St. James' near Perkiomen village. Or he could cross the Schuylkill River at Swedes Ford—at the site of present day Norristown —and then go west along Swedesford Road to Baptist Road and then south to St. David's. Or he could continue further west along Swedesford Road and then branch off northwest to St. Peter's.
Later he moved to Tredyffrin Township, purchasing a property fronting on Baptist Road, now Route 252, known as Beaver's farm (from the owner at the time of the encampment). This property had a northern boundary near where the Pennsylvania Turnpike is now located. From this farm he could travel Baptist Road south to St. David's. North along the road would take him across the Schuylkill River at Fatlands Ford and then to Perkiomen. To get to St. Peter's he would have traveled west on Swedesford Road and then branched off to the northwest.
Currie's last residence was also in Tredyffrin Township - the property we now know as Stirling's Quarters. Soon after he moved, Yellow Springs Road was laid out close to his property. Currie was one of the sponsors of the road. Going westwards on that road would get him to St. Peter's. To the east it met with Baptist Road, and thence to St. James' or St. David's, as previously described.
Currie gives estimates of the population and congregations in his reports to the SPG. The figures change little over the years, which makes one suspicious of their accuracy. It has been estimated that the American population increased 34.5% per decade between 1700 and 1790. [Note 8] Although the parish had been settled early on, one would have expected to see an increase in population as properties were divided, and as some development of industry, and of villages and towns, took place.
He estimates the parish population - the boundaries not being clear - as 2,000, with 400 to 450 as members of the Church of England, while 1,500 to 1,550 were dissenters. Presumably these dissenters were mainly Quakers, Baptists, and Presbyterians. He also notes 50 to 60 “heathen” (black slaves). The number of churchgoers taking communion starts around 60 and rises to around 80 to 90, while he baptized up to nearly 100 people - almost exclusively infants - in a number of half years.
There are also notes in Currie's reports showing that he also provided support to groups in “Canastogoe” (1739), and a place called “Towyn,” that was near French Creek (1741).
As well as his stipend of £60 per year, Currie estimates that he obtained £20 from performing marriages, £5 from rental of the Glebe and its land in Perkiomen, and around £40 from subscriptions—presumably pew rentals, although the last seems to have been quite variable.
Details of William's purchases and sales of property are given in Appendix A. The first property William owned was substantial, as can be seen from the following notices of sale from 1749:
To be SOLD. A plantation in the township of Plymouth, and county of Philadelphia, 15 miles from the city, containing 222 acres of land, well timber'd, about 70 acres of corn land, lately clear'd, 20 acres of meadow, and more may be made; a new stone house, new barn and stables, a large young bearing orchard, mostly grafted fruit. This plantation being in prime order, well water'd, adorn'd with a variety of fruit trees, and having a healthful situation, is fit for a citizen's country seat. Whoever has a mind to purchase, may apply to William Currie, on the premises, or to John Ross, Esq; in Philadelphia, and know the title and terms of sale. N.B. Said Currie has a likely negroe girl to be dispos'd of, about 15 years of age. Enquire at Thomas Williams's, in Second-street.*
The same notice appeared the following month but the note was:
N.B. Said Currie has likewise a Dutch servant lad's time to dispose of, who has been 5 years in the country and has ten years to serve. [Note 9]
William states in a note to the SPG that the property cost him £160. Where did he obtain the money to purchase such a property? Perhaps Margaret came with a substantial dowry.
The sale of this first property came after 1751, when he had purchased 216+ acres of land in Tredyffrin Township.
In 1761 Currie attempted to sell his property in Tredyffrin, as can be seen from the following notice:
To be sold by public Vendue, on Thursday 14th of January next, on the Premises, a valuable Plantation, situate in the Great Valley, Chester County, 18 miles from Philadelphia, containing 200 Acres of rich Land, together with 80 Acres at a small Distance, for the convenience of Wood and Water. 60 Acres whereof is good Chestnut Timber, the other 20 Acres lately cleared, under good Fence, with a fine Stream of Water running through it, where 7 or 8 Acres of the best Meadow may be made.
The said Plantation hath on it a good Stone Dwelling house, Barn, Stables, Cow-house, Chaise-house, and Necessary house, all in good Repair; together with 15 Acres of good watered Meadow close by the Door, two large bearing Orchards, mostly grafted fruit, ten Fields, large and small, with two Gardens, all under good Fence, fit for a Gentleman's Seat. There is likewise good Convenience for burning lime on said Plantation. There being a large Lime-rock, and 80 Acres of rich Woodland, exceedingly well timbered, besides 60 Acres of Chestnut on the 80 Acre Tract. The Vendue is to begin precisely atTen o'Clock, where due Attendance and reasonable Credit will be given by the Owner William Currie. [Note 10]
Strangely, the 80 acres mentioned only seems to have been purchased from James Davis a week after the Vendue. This sale of the land seems to have failed.
In 1767, after purchasing the property to the west of his existing home - known as Stirling's Quarters - Currie attempts to dispose of his stock:
To be SOLD by public vendue, on Monday, the 30th of this instant March, by the subscriber, in the Great Valley, all his stock, consisting of good riding and work- ing horses, breeding mares, 2 year old colts, milch cows, young cattle, sheep, swine; likewise houshold- furniture, implements of husbandry, corn in the ground, and cyder with the cask. The vendue to begin at 11 o'clock. Nine months credit, and proper attendance, will be given by William Currie. N.B. He has two able bodied Negroe men to dispose of, and a Negroe woman, compleat hands on a farm; the man and his wife are 33 years of age each, and the other is 50. [Note 11]
The tax records show Currie's stock animals being reduced by half between 1767 and 1768 (see Appendix B).
5th April 1748. All persons indebted to the estate of Edward Nicholas, late of Limrick, deceased, for goods bo't at the vendue or otherwise, are hereby desired to make speedy payment, to George Evans of Limrick, who is impower'd to receive the same, by William Currie, executor. To be sold, a tract of land, part of the plantation of said Nicholas, containing 200 acres, adjoining the river Schuylkill, with a quantity of good meadow clear'd, and more may be made, a convenient place for a house by a fine spring, and the upland very good. Whoever inclines to purchase, may apply to George Evans aforesaid, and know farther. N.B. Said Currie has a sprightly Dutch servant boy's time to dispose of, who has twelve years to serve.
Philadelphia May 12, 1748. Stray'd from the plantation of William Currie, in Plymouth, on Saturday last, a brown mare, about 13 hands and a half high, nine year old, a good pacer, a small star, one of her hind feet white, a long switch tail, a shoe on one fore foot, her brand forgot. Whoever secures said mare, so that the owner may have her again shall have Thirty-shillings reward, and reasonable changes, paid by William Currie. N.B. She was seen in Philadelphia on Sunday last. [Note 12]
26th October 1752. Run away last week a certain Francis Didger, a Dutchman, and talks broken English, about 5 feet 5 inches high, about 36 years of age, and is pock-mark'd: Had on a half-worn ash colour'd coat, oxenbrigs jacket, old leather breeches, half worn felt hat, old grey wig, or worsted cap, white yarn stockings, and ash colour'd ones, and shoes, about half worn; he is a wigmaker by trade, and liv'd with Frederick Holstein, sadler in Upper Merion, in Philadelphia county; and stole from said Holstein a silk handkerchief, some razors, and two new wigs; and came to Philadelphia to James Bell's shop, and in the name of the reverend Mr. William Currie carried off several locks and hinges to a considerable value, which the said gentleman had bought from the said Bell; he is pretty much addicted to drinking. Whoever apprehends and secures the said Didger, so that he may be brought to justice, shall have Four Pounds reward, paid by Frederick Holstein. N.B. All masters of vessels are forbid to carry him off at their peril.
Chester, October 10, 1753. To be sold, at publick vendue (by virtue of the writ to me directed) on the 25th day of this inst. October, the sale to begin at one o'clock in the afternoon the same day, at the house of Daniel Goldsmith, in Charles-Town, Chester county, A certain messuage, plantation, and tract of land, containing 176 acres, or thereabouts, situate in Charles-Town aforesaid, joyning the lands of William Moore, Esq; David Matthias, and others, being late the property of Ellis David; taken in execution, at the suit of William Curry. [Note 13] Also, at the same time and place (by virtue of one other writ to me directed) will be exposed for publick sale, A certain messuage. Plantation and tract of land, containing 280 acres, or thereabouts, situated in the township of Charles-Town aforesaid, lying 110 perches on the river Schuylkill, and 53 perches on the Valley creek, joyning the lands of Daniel Walker and Company, being late the property of Thomas Burch; taken in execution at the suit of Thomas Lawrence, junior, and sold by Isaac Pearson, Sheriff. [Note 14]
February 15, 1757. FOUND at the Reverend Mr. William Currie's, in the Valley, a small bundle of thimbles, supposed to be dropt by some pedlar. The owner proving his property, and paying the charge of the advertisement, may have them again, by applying to Margaret Currie. [Note 15]
24th November 1757. Stolen from the Subscriber, on Wednesday the 16th of November, a black Horse, between 13 and 14 Hands high, branded on the near shoulder with something like AH, but no natural Marks, shod before, has a bob Tail, a Pacer, and is about eight Years old. Whoever takes up and secures said Horse and Thief, so that the Owner may have his horse again, and the Thief brought to Justice shall have Four Pounds Reward for both, or Thirty Shillings for the Horse, and reasonable Charges paid by William Currie.
25th June 1761. STRAYED from the Pasture of WILLIAM CURRIE, in the Great Valley, Chester County, on the 22nd day of this inst. June. A dark bay Mare, 13 Hands and a Half high, has neither Brand nor Ear-mark, has a Blaze in her forehead, a bob Tail, her right hind Foot white, shod before, about 5 Years old, and paces well. Whoever takes up and secures said Mare, so that the Owner may have her again, shall have TEN SHILLINGS Reward, and reasonable Charges, paid by WILLIAM CURRIE.
The War of Austrian Succession, also called King George's War, broke out in 1742. The Pennsylvania legislature, which was controlled by Quakers, did not take any defensive military measures against the Spanish and French privateers, who operated along the Atlantic coast. By 1746 this threat was causing alarm. Benjamin Franklin was among those very concerned by this inaction, and he wrote a pamphlet suggesting the creation of an Association, which would operate as a militia. [Note 16]
The legislature did call a fast day on the 7th of January 1747/48, which was a prevailing response to serious problems at that time. [Until 1752 Britain used the Julian calendar and a year ended near the end of March. So what these days would be designated as January 1748, was then known as January 1747.] Church services were held on that day, and some preachers, including William Currie, supported the Association in their sermons. Benjamin Franklin published two of those sermons, including Currie's. William used a text from Jeremiah, “Shall I not visit these things, saith the Lord,” concerning the visitation of calamities on people. A broadside of the sermon cost 6 pence. [Note 17] Later in the year Franklin also published Currie's A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Defensive War, [Note 18] which was written in response to a Quaker pamphlet entitled “The Doctorins of Christianity, as held by the people called Quakers Vindicated.” The cost of the pamphlet was 1 shilling 6 pence. The war concluded in 1748.
A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Defensive War. In Two Parts. By William Currie.
Be of good Courage, and let us play the Men for our People, and for the Cities of our God. And the Lord do that which seemeth him good, 2 Samuel X 12.
Except the Lord keep the City, the Watchman walketh but in vain, Psalm CXXVII 1.
Est igitur haec, non scripta, sed nata lex; quam non didicimus, accepimus, legimus, verum ex natura ipsa adripuimus, hausimus, expressimus; ad quam non docti sed facti, non instituti sed imbuti sumus ; ut, si vita nostra in aliquas insidias, si in vim et in tela aut latronum aut inimicorum incidisset, omnis honesta ratio esset expediendae salutis. Cic. in Orat. pro Mil. [Cicero pro Milone, IV]
Nec magis est vituperandus proditor patriae, quam communis utilitatis aut salutis desertor, propter suam utilitatem aut salutem. Cic. de Fin. Lib. III Cap. 19. [Cicero, de Finibus, Liber Tertius (Book III), 64]
Philadelphia : Printed and Sold by B. Franklin and D. Hall, at the New Printing-Office, in Market-Street, MDCCXLVIII. 
William Currie suffered from an unknown illness for a greater part of his middle age. The strain of ministering to such a widespread community must have been large.
In November 1748 in a letter to the SPG he requests:
That as ye Mission of Radnor etc., has been for several years past by much too fatiguing from my infirm State of health I am willing to be removed to Trenton, provided I shall be appointed for that & the two Towns mentioned in a petition to your Honours from those places & be allowed the usual salary of 60 pounds sterlg. P. annum with such a library as is allowed to your other missions.
By letter of March 38, 1750, the Society had notified Mr. Currie that “the Society's circumstances will by no means permit them to erect Trenton, Hopewell and Maidenhead into a Mission.”
In March 1751 he makes a different request: “...my ill state of health which rather grows worse than better... I am advised by my Physicians that a Voyage to Sea would be of service to me, and having some affairs relating to my Family to Settle in Scotland...”
He asks for a leave of absence of eight or nine months from the parish, assuring the Society that “...I'll endeavor to take care that it be frequently supplied by my neighbouring Brethren.”
The request of the previous letter was renewed in September. This letter must have crossed with one from the Society dated August where they had assented to Mr. Currie's leave of absence, providing the parish be duly supplied in his absence “...and therefore if Mr. Usher be not yet returned to his Mission they could wish you would defer yr Voyage some little Time till his Arrival.”
It is not clear that he ever made the voyage.
In 1754 he decided to give up farming as the following advertisement attests:
To be sold by WILLIAM CURRIE In the Great-Valley, Two likely Negro Men, both compleat Farmers, named Glasgow and Quaco; Glasgow is about 21 Years of Age, and Quaco about 36: Likewise two Negro Wenches, named Deb and Moll; Deb is about 24 Years of Age, and has a fine Child, about 8 months old; Moll is about 40, and has a fine Boy, past 4 years old, both to be sold with the Mothers: As also a Dutch Servant Lad's Time, who has been 7 years in the Country, and has 5 Years and 4 Months to serve; all which are sold for no Fault, but because their Master intends to quit Farming. The Purchaser may have a Year's Credit, giving Security, and paying interest. [Note 19]
In 1764 he makes another request to the SPG for a transfer:
As I have diligently attended ye Dutys of my Station ever since I was appointed their Missionary I hope ye Venerable Society will permit me to be absent next Fall a few months when I intend God willing to settle two of my sons in ye Colony of Granada where if ye Society would be pleas'd to open a Mission & appoint me their Missionary it would be a great favour to my poor Family as I Could then have an opportunity of providing for them much better than I have here. I have six sons & one Daughter to provide for which I have no prospect of doing to any Advantage in my present situation as ye price of Land is high & I have nothing to depend upon but ye 'Society's bounty & a small perquisite from Marriage.
To this the Society replied that they had "no thought of appointing a Missionary to Grenada," but that the parson might "have liberty to go there a few months next Fall as requested, provided he procure a proper substitute."
Again it is not clear that William made the journey, but his son Alexander did move to the West Indies.
A glebe was a building or plot of land belonging to a parish church. The parishes were meant to provide housing for their parson. In 1760 William Currie initiated a long running issue concerning his housing in a letter to the SPG:
I must beg leave to acquaint the Society that although my hearers are many in number especially at Radnor and ye Valley, yet they are become so very careless and lukewarm that I cannot get them to meet on Easter Monday to chuse a Vestry. And as to my support among them there are but a very few that give themselves any concern about it and hitherto I have lived upon a place of my own purchasing, but as my ill state of health rendered me incapable of managing it any longer I have parted with it and am now destitute of a habitation for my numerous family and as there is a small Glebe belonging to Perquihoma Church but no house on it, I pray ye Society may enjoin ye Congregation to rebuild ye house or purchase one more convenient, a standing Rule of ye Society they have never yet complied with which if they neglect to do I must petition to be removed to a mission where I can have a convenient habitation.
It is not clear what property he is talking about having parted with. He did not sell his Tredyffrin
property until 1767. There are no records of any sales by Currie in Chester County at this time. Perhaps he could have been referring to the sale of his Plymouth Township property, whose date is unknown.
The glebe was a property of 42 acres that the Perkiomen church had received in a bequest from William Lane around 1732. There seems to have been a house on the property in 1737 as can be seen from the first, partially decipherable entry in the St. James' vestry book:
Resolved that all such mony as has ...
The SPG recognized the justice of this complaint and their minutes of August 15th, 1760 show that it was "Agreed as opinion of Committee, that letter be wrote to Vestry of Radnor desiring them to build good . . . house for Mr. Currie. Unless this be done Society will withdraw their Missionary from them." This communication from the Society produced no immediate result.
In a 1763 letter to the SPG Currie returns to the issue:
I have the pleasure to acquaint you that my congregations of Radnor and the Valley daily encrease; but that at Perquihoma rather declines as the Dutch buy out the English and settle in their room. I have acquainted the Society that the Glebe House is in ruins and have expected orders from time to time to the Congregations to repair it, and if it is not repaired soon I must beg leave to petition the Society for a remove to another Mission where I can have a better support for my numerous and expensive family having nothing to depend upon here but the Rent of the Glebe which is but Five pounds this Currency Parr, and about Twenty pounds a year for marriages besides the Society's Salary.
Still nothing happened about providing a glebe house for the parson's "numerous and expensive family."
In 1764 the St. James' vestry minutes records that John Bull, Esq., and James Shannon are undertakers for rebuilding the glebe house. Under the same date we find a subscription list, as follows:
We ye subscribers members of St.James Church commonly called Perkiomia Church in obedience to a letter fron the Honourable Society for Propagating the Gospel, dated Feb. 23rd 1764 ordering the Glebe House belonging to their Mission of Radnor and Perkiomia to be put in sufficient and confortahle repair Do hereby Promise and oblige ourselves our heirs and exers, to pay or cause to be paid for that purpose to John Bull, Esq. and James Shannon Senr. of Norrinton appointed by the Minister and Vestry of sd. St. James' Church to undertake and oversee sd. work the respec- tive sums annexed to our names and that upon demand after sd. work is begun Witness our hands.
The subscriptions are in pounds, shillings, and pence. There were 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. These were Pennsylvania pounds which were worth less than pounds sterling.
In the parson's letters of 1765 he raises the issue again:
The Society's letter to the Vestry of Radnor &c. I laid before them which they have still under consideration. The congregation of Perqua. is willing to comply with it, but that of Radnor is not, alledging that as the Glebe is not situated convenient to them they cannot think of laying out their money upon it but would rather in conjunction with ye congregation of St. Peter's purchase a small Glebe betwixt these
two churches, but as I am satisfied they are not of ability, the price of land being exceeding high, I have thought of living in ye Glebe at Perqua, towards ye repairing of which & rebuilding ye Glebe house I have subscribed 14 Ib of this Currency which is 9 Ibs. sterl. unless the other two Churches will either purchase or hire a House for me.
And later in the year:
...for as ye congregations of Radnor & the Valley are like to do nothing towards providing a Glebe I intend with ye Society's leave to move my family to ye Glebe at Perquihoma, ye House whereof is almost finished by that generous handful of people and my own assistance.
Then in a 1766 letter:
...I long for an answer to my last letters relating to ye Glebe House, not being willing to move my family to Perquihoma till I know ye Society's pleasure, which, with their leave, I am resolved to do unless ye congre- gations of Radnor and ye Valley provide me a Con- venient Habitation. At present I live on a little farm I purchased some years ago, which my expensive Family obliges me to fill in order to put my Sons in some way of business.
In May 1766, the Society consented to Parson Currie removing his family to the Perkiomen glebe house. It is not clear that he ever moved there. Later in the year he started a series of land purchases that culminated in his owning the farm we now know as Stirling's Quarters (see Appendix A).
Work seems to have continued on the glebe house as evidenced by the St. James' vestry minute entry of October 1766:
...then received of the subscribers within (or on the other back page) the of 44 pds 7,5 as due to me for work and cash paid workmen, materials etc., for ye house of ye Glebe land belonging to the congrega- tion. I say Recd. Jno. Bull.
It took until 1770 to finalize the accounts for this work:
It was found that the wardens had expended all the money in their hands and that the sum of 5,9,2 yet remains to be collected and paid by Jno. Bull as remaining due him on acct of Carpenter work etc. [25th of April 1768 St. James' vestry minutes].
In 1770 it is reported that the account of 1764 has been settled [St. James' vestry minutes, 1770].
Did William Currie really plan to move to the glebe at some time? Or was this just a scheme to get the glebe house rebuilt, and to obtain extra income from its rental?
The tale of the glebe continued. In his letter to the SPG of September 29, 1775, the parson states:
The Glebe Land belonging to my Mission consists of 40 acres with a little ruinous House upon it which wants repairs because the Congregation of Radnor declines to assist ye Congregation of Perquihoma alledging that it is too far distant from their Church and yet they are not able to purchase a Glebe any where else, which they ought to do unless they will assist in repairing the Other as it is by means of that only they are Supplied with a misionary. In ye meantime I am obliged to provide a Habitation at my own Expense when all I receive from my three Congregations including the Rent of ye Glebe which is nine lb. currency or Six lb. Sterl. pr. ann, does not amount communibus annis to above twenty lb. sterl. pr. ann.
The glebe appears again in William's letter of resignation of 1776.
Traditional history has it that in June 1763, very threatening rumors had reached Radnor concerning the devastation of the Indians, under Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe, who had at that time advanced as far as Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Mr. Currie, on the Sunday after the arrival of the news, announced his text from Ecclesiastes 7:14: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider...”
So eloquent was the old gentleman's discourse that the congregation, impressed with a sense of their danger from an attack by the Indians, resolved themselves before leaving the church into a mutual protection association. After due deliberation, they returned to their homes, carefully cleaned their weapons found in the neighborhood, and thus made full arrangement to resist the Indians should they approach.
This home guard system continued, it is said, until Pontiac's Peace and withdrawal in August 1764.
The clergy of the middle colonies - New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania - met annually beginning in 1760. William Currie attended the meeting in Philadelphia on the 3rd of April 1760. The minutes say that it was agreed that he would
be requested to prepare a sermon for the next meeting, but he does not seem to have given it. [Note 20]
In 1767 the Convention appointed a committee to frame a plan for the provision of widows of clergy. From this work the Corporation for the Relief of Widows and Children of Clergymen was created in 1769. [Note 21] The Rev. Currie's name appears on the charter of the Corporation and he attended the first meeting of the Corporation at Burlington, New Jersey on the 3rd of October 1769.
After the War of Independence the Corporation played a part in the development of the American Episcopal church. Members assembled in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1784 to discuss the future of the Corporation, but they also devised measures for the reorganization of the colonial church. Currie was invited to join the convention setting a frame of government for the Episcopal churches of North America, but declined.
Margaret Currie died on the 1st of March 1771. The following notice appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette of the 7th of March 1771:
Friday last departed this Life, Mrs. Margaret Currie, the wife of the Rev. Mr. William Currie, Missionary to Radnor Church, in Chester County, a Lady of a most amiable Character, ever discharging her Duty, as a Wife, Mother, Friend and Neighbour, with un- feigned Love and Charity... She was truly beloved and revered by all who knew her, and Her Death is much lamented. The Sunday following her Corpse was decently interred at Radnor Church, attended by a vast Concourse of People of all Denominations.
In November 1771 William remarried a widow, Lucy Ann Jones, daughter of Thomas Godfrey.
The Revolution was a very difficult period for Anglican ministers. The King of England was head of the church. As part of ordination, they pledged allegiance to him and promised to defend him from any threat, domestic or foreign. They also swore to conform to the Book of Common Prayer that included prayers for the king and royal family. Some clergy took sides, but the majority tried to stay neutral, which became more difficult as the tensions escalated.
In 1776 there were both Loyalists and secessionists in William's congregations. The best known of the former group was Judge William Moore of Moore Hall, next to the mouth of Pickering Creek, and of the latter group, Anthony Wayne. Currie believed that by the oath he took as a pastor he had to say prayers for the king as head of the church. There is the suggestion in some documents that he was threatened with violence at St. David's and St. Peter's if he continued to do so. The outcome was that William resigned from his position at the 3 churches.
William was in a better position than most of the rural clergy, who depended on the stipend from the SPG for a majority of their income. He was 66 years old, and probably had accumulated a reasonable financial cushion by this time. He was one of a small number of survivors. Of the 15 or 16 Anglican clergy in Pennsylvania at the time of the Revolution (1775-1783), 5 went into exile, 7 died, and none were replaced. [Note 22]
He continued to officiate at baptisms, marriages, and funerals, but he performed no services, although Lutherans did perform some services. [Note 23] William's letters of resignation to St. David's and St. James' are in existence, while the one to St. Peter's has been lost.
Letter of resignation to St. David's, Radnor:
May 16, 1776. Gentlemen, Age and infirmity having rendered me unable to officiate any longer, I take this method to let you know that I shall decline attending your church any more, but though Providence has so ordered that I can serve you no more in public, yet God forbid that I should cease to pray for you in private. No, as I have taken the best care l was able under an infirm state of health to shew you a good and right way, so while I breathe I will not cease to pray that God may give you his Grace to enable you to walk in it. And as I shall not cease to pray for you, I beseech you,
neglect not to pray for yourselves. Prayer is at all times your duty, but more especially in troublesome times. When deprived of the church, make use of the closet, and there pour out your complaints to him who seeth in secret and will in his own good time reward you openly. A devout man, though he has but his chamber to retire to, and his doors be shut upon him, yet he lives as it were in Goshen. When flashes of judgment burst upon other persons, ‘tis calm in the prayer room; when the destroying Angel had overrun every house in Egypt with death, when there was nothing but carcasses and crying in each dwelling, there was not one Shriek in all the land of Goshen. When a thick darkness dwelt upon the nation, the praying Israelites had light in all their dwellings, and when sad, dark clouds set as it were, on God's counte- nance and pours down Inundations of Tempests upon a careless, lukewarm and backsliding people, yet even then his ‘face shines in closets of Devotion there he breaks in and reveals his comforts and is
so as his Angel was at that time a pillar of light to the one and of cloud to the other. Let the Devotion Chamber be your ‘Sanctuary till these troublesome times be overpassed; flee for refuge to the horns of the altar, the throne of Grace, there offer up the Incense of your prayers and let the ‘lifting up of your hands be as the even Sacrifice. Thus, my dear little flock, I bid you heartily farewell and am with great love and affection your faithful pastor till death. William Currie [original letter held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania].
Letter of resignation to the Perkiomen church:
May 20th 1776. Gentlemen, Age & infirmity having render'd me unable to officiate in publick at this time you are not to expect me at Church any more till Circumstance are altered & when it Shall please God to restore me to a better State & I can again with safety return to ye Exercise of my function I will confine myself to your Church if ye Congrega- tion will make ye Glebe House fit for me to live in. From your loving Pastor, Willm Currie. PS Let this be pinn'd in ye Vestry Book. [Note 24]
The letters give the impression that the pressure to change the services was coming from Radnor, and not Perkiomen. It seems that Currie considered Perkiomen a safe place in case of troubles as he purchased 2 plots of land in 1776 and 1777 close to St. James' church totaling 54 acres in size. He sold them in 1784. The following is an advertisement for the properties:
TO BE SOLD By public VENDUE, on TUESDAY, the 4th day of November next, on the premises, Two contiguous LOTS of LAND, situated in New Providence township, Philadelphia county, on the great road leading from Philadelphia to Reading, between Skippack and Perkioming creeks, 14 miles from the city. The one a vacant lot, containing 32 acres of good land, is whereof well timbered; the other containing 12 acres, well improved, with a good stone dwelling house and kitchen, a barn, a smith's shop, a good bearing orchard of grafted fruit, an excellent well of water at the door, and about two acres of woodland. Attendance will be given, and the conditions of sale (which will be made very easy for the purchaser) made known by the subscriber. The sale to begin at two o'clock. WILLIAM CURRIE. N.B. James Skene will show the land. [Note 25]
He also appeared in the tax rolls for Providence Township in 1779, although not in 1780 to 1783.
So, was William Currie a Tory? There is no evidence that he supported the Loyalist position other than acknowledging his oaths of office. There is no sign of any rift with his 3 sons who served in the Continental Army. One of them, Ross, changed sides and joined the Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists. William continued to support him. Neither was there any sign of friction with Lord Stirling, a Major General in the Revolutionary Army who was billeted in his house, which you might expect if William was a Tory. He may have been a conservative minister, and he seems to have never taken American citizenship, but I think he otherwise took a neutral position in the conflict.
After the Battle of the Clouds, which took place in present day Goshen and Whiteland Townships on September 17th, 1777, Washington and his army retreated up the Schuylkill valley to Yellow Springs, and then to Reading. The British Army encamped in Tredyffrin Township. On the 19th and 20th of September William Currie's house was plundered by groups of British soldiers, as were many others around the Great Valley. In 1782 statements of depredation claims [Note 26] were taken from those in Chester County who had sustained losses. William Currie's claim is shown below, the goods taken show a working farm, but also a well-off land owner.
Novem.r 15th 1782. An acc.t of the Damages Sustained by the Subscriber from ye Brittish army. Viz. On the 19th day of Sept.r 1777 a Company of Soldiers from the Camp Came to my House and Robbed me of all my Cabbage Baccon Chess & Butter.a Bushel of fine Salt, & all my fine Sheets Table Linen fine Shirts head Dresses, Stockings, & Table Silver Spoons, to the Value of... £20.00.0. There is the Strongest Presumption – Likewise that at the Same time they robbed me of £200 Continental Money in Sheets the money 3 for 1 is... £66.13.4. And the day Following a forriaging party took from me two Waggon Loads of Oats one d.o of Wheat, besides Several Horse Loads of Both. A Good Cart & Geers all my Waggon & Plow Geers, Collors & Blind halters & Ropes 2 Mens Saddles, half worn & 3 Bridle all which I Judge to be worth... £20.00.0. The truth of all Which I will be Qualified to But as to the Continental Money though there is the Strongest presumption as they certainly Carried off a File of Newspapers, upon which the Sheets had be Strung Some Days before Yet as it is possible the Some body might have taken them of the File before that day I do not find freedon to Swere to it. Will.m Currie.
Lord Stirling had owned a large plantation in New Jersey. He joined the revolutionary cause after opposing the Stamp Act, and was in command of the army during the battle for New York, where he was captured by the British. After being exchanged he rejoined the army at Valley Forge.
There is little documentary evidence of Lord Stirling's stay with William in 1777 and 1778 during the Valley Forge encampment. General Duportail was chief of the engineers at the encampment and designed the defenses. A map of the encampment was found in the 20th century in his quarters. This map does show the Currie house as being Stirling's residence, but the following details seem to be oral in tradition.
Lord Stirling brought with him quite an entourage from the New Jersey plantation. His wife and daughter arrived, as well as several domestic staff. Lord Stirling's wardrobe was said to have comprised 31 shirts, 58 vests, 6 powdering gowns, 119 pairs of hose, and 15 night caps. In order to stave off the cold they filled flannel bags with sand to place against the doors and windows, and pasted muslin on the walls. [Note 27]
It is said that William and Lord Stirling set up a telescope between the house and the springhouse for observing the night sky.
Chain of Title of Stirling's Quarters
In the summer of 2004 archeological work uncovered the foundations of two bake ovens on the outside wall of what was at the time the kitchen. Bread was probably baked for the encampment in these ovens.
The diseases, such as typhus and thyphoid, associated with the encampment hit William's family hard. First, his wife Lucy Ann died on February 14th, 1778. Then the widow of his son Richard—who had died in 1776 - died on the 23rd of February, leaving 2 daughters and a son as orphans.
Ross was a second lieutenant in the American Army. He went on the expedition to Canada, but was captured. He then changed sides and joined the Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists in Nova Scotia. He served in Florida fighting the Spanish.
In 1789 Ross, who was then living in New Brunswick, Canada, got into financial trouble. William took out a mortgage for $550 (£206, 5s) on Stirling's Quarters in order to send money to Ross. [Note 28] The mortgage was short term and was due to mature in 1791. Unfortunately, Ross drowned in 1790, dying insolvent, leaving a widow and 2 children. So William sold this property to Thomas Walker, his grandson-in-law [Thomas Walker married Margaret Currie, daughter of Richard Currie], for £1100. Thomas was already farming the property. The mortgage
was finally paid off in 1802. Presumably Thomas took over the mortgage payments. [Note 29]
When William Currie died he was a wealthy man, with an estate worth £3116 (for details of his estate, see Appendix C). In previous decades he also was one of the prominent tax payers in Tredyffrin Township. How did he accumulate his money? During the whole period of his parsonage he was paid £60 per year by the SPG.
When William Currie died his money was loaned out to relatives and other people. It was normal in his time for wealthy people to act as bankers, as banks did not exist, and Currie seems to have taken on this role as evidenced by him having to sue in order to recover his loans, and as demonstrated by the table of court cases initiated by William Currie (see Appendix D).
It is interesting that he actually sued his son James in 1765. It may well be that he was estranged from James as he did not receive any mention in William's will.
William had enough funds in his early days as a pastor to buy the substantial property in Plymouth Township. This could have been a dowry from his marriage to Margaret Ross. Also he could have received an inheritance from Scotland, and he certainly made money buying and selling land (for example, Beaver Farm cost him £900 and he sold it for £1600; see Appendix A), but the evidence points towards farming as also producing substantial income. Other sources support the contention that farming was lucrative at that time. Grains were exported to England and other places.
When he sold the Stirling's Quarters farm to Thomas Walker in 1791 he describes in his memorandum book the payment schedule that Thomas Walker agreed to. [Note 30] Part of that schedule was a series of 6 notes, each for £100, one due every year. Thomas was well aware of the income possible from the farm, as he had previously leased it for £40 per year. He must have calculated that he could obtain an income of over £100 per year from the farm. William may have obtained similar amounts of income from his farms, especially in his earlier years.
William Currie died on October 26th, 1803. He is buried together with his two wives, his son Richard and his wife in the Radnor churchyard.
On the 28th of December 1794 William wrote his will [Note 31]:
To gr.daus. Margaret Hoffa & Sarah Struben £50 each. To son John £150. To son Dr. William Currie £525 out of the £825 he owes me. To Dr. Nicholas Clerk of St. Ann's in New Jersey £200 in trust for use of my 2 gr.chil. by son Ross Currie dec. To gr.son William Currie, son of John, £100 at 21. To gr.dau. Margaret, wife of Thomas Walker, £400 and all household furntiture etc. To gr.dau. Ann, wife of William Broadess Jr. £325. To vestry of Radnor Church £10 for repair of graveyard wall. Remainder to gr.daus. Margaret Walker and Ann Broadess. Exrs. Friends John Ralston Esq. Of Vincent & Na- thaniel Jones of Tredyffrin. Codicil, Apr.25, 1803, names Thomas Wilson, West Vincent, executor in place of Nathaniel Jones, deceased. Wits. John Brown, Mary Brown, John Roxburgh.
His son, Alexander, who had moved to the West Indies, and his family, are not included. Nor is James Currie and his family.
The life of William Currie reflects his times. He faithfully served his parishioners for over four decades; living through the tumultuous end of the colonial period. He saw his parish churches develop into parts of the separate American Episcopal church.
Thanks go to Barbara Bateman, Roger Thorne, and Bill Stroud who helped me with the research. This article is based on a status report of ongoing research. A more detailed, and current, research paper can be obtained from the author on request
An Inventory and Appraisment of the Goods and Chattles of the Revd. William
Currie Late of the Township of Tredyffrin in the County of Chester Deceased
Appraised by us this Tenth day of November 1803
This was presented at the November 28, 2004 meeting of the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club. Mike started researching Currie's life when he realized his house was located on land owned by Currie during the Revolution.
Page last updated: 2014-07-18 at 15:44 EDT