The owners of this large log and stone home in Chester County had already completed a deed search and had started gathering information about the former owners of the property. They believed the earliest, log portion of the home had been built in the early 1700s, but the last deed in their document trail was a Pennsylvania land patent (right of ownership granted by the state) dated 1788. Our clients wondered if the original occupants and builders of the structure had been squatters on the land, or if there was more history prior to the 1788 deed. Our clients also told us that the large walk-in fireplace in the log portion of the home is what sold them on the property. They wanted to fill in the information they had already collected with the stories of the people who called the property home. We provided our clients with a full, detailed history, here we have highlighted just the families we discovered the most information for and that had the most influence on the home.
We discovered a map published created and published by a member of the local historical society depicting the original tracts of land with the settler’s names. We were able to locate our subject property and the name of the original land owner, Thomas Dodson.
Thomas was born in Philadelphia in 1685 and married Mary Prigg in 1718. Mary Prigg was born in 1699, reportedly on a ship crossing to America. Thomas would have been 33 and Mary 19 when they married. The Dodsons moved from Philadelphia to Chester County shortly after their marriage. According to a published family history, they would have 12 children over the next 20 years. Life was not easy for the Dodson family. Chester County in the early 1700s was still a wilderness, where attacks by Native Americans on white settlers were not uncommon, and where settlers lived in primitive conditions while attempting to tame the land for farming.
Further research into the Dodson's uncovered a truly unique story involving one of the earliest Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases. According to the summary of the case, Thomas Dodson had settled land in Chester County and had made improvements for several years without securing official ownership. We know that the Dodsons moved from Philadelphia to Chester County around 1718, and that their first child was born in 1720. We can assume that Thomas built a structure for his wife and family on the land, putting the date of construction of the original log portion of the home between 1718 and 1720.
Thomas began the process of obtaining legal ownership of his homestead in 1746. He paid 5 pounds, applied for a warrant (below), and survey on May 16, 1746 for 100 acres of land.
Thomas was imprisoned in 1746, the same year he attempted to legally claim his land, for unpaid debts (Insolvent Debtor):
“At a Court of Common Pleas held by adjournment at Chester the 16th of December Anno Domini 1746 before Joseph Brinton, Caleb Copland and Joseph Bonsall Esq Justices present. Thomas Dodson having … this Court setting forth that having detained in prison at the … of sundry persons and having a wife of several children and nothing to satisfie (sic) the debts prayed they benefit of the Act for Relief of Insolvent Debtors his creditors list of debts annexed to said petition and having been given his creditors notice one person appearing to make any material objections by having taken the issued qualifications confessed judgement to his creditors for the several demands contained in the said list and having no effects to assign cover, therefore ordered that he be discharged pursuant to the tenor of this Act.” [i]
Court documents explained that eleven years after his release from prison, Thomas entered into an agreement to sell his land to a man named John Davis. A patent from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had not been issued to Thomas Dodson after his 1746 application, so the land was technically not his to sell. John Davis paid a portion of the sales price, 152 pounds, 10 shilling, with a promise to pay the remainder at a later date. This 1755 agreement between Dodson and Davis prompted an official survey of the property, however, that survey was not returned to the Pennsylvania Land Office until 1788, by which time Thomas Dodson had died. John Davis paid the remaining 36 pounds, 14 shilling, 6 pence of the purchase price that same year, and a patent was issued for legal ownership to John’s son, Thomas Davis. This left Mary, who was in her eighties with no financial benefit or legal ownership of the home and barn her husband had built, and the land he had improved.
Benjamin Franklin Connection:
Mary Dodson took John Davis to court under the claim that she was entitled to compensation for the property under dower laws. The case was heard in Chester County and was elevated to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1790. Mary turned to a neighbor to provide an affirmation of her identity and her claim. Fortunately, Mary had a rather influential and well connected neighbor, Rebecca Grace, the owner of Coventry Forge and friend of Benjamin Franklin.
“Rebecca Grace (1718-1800) was an iron making pioneer, patriot and Methodist. Born Rebecca Savage, Rebecca was the granddaughter of Thomas Rutter, a friend of William Penn and Pennsylvania’s 1st iron master. At age 16, Rebecca married Samuel Nutt Jr. After Samuel died in 1739, Rebecca was left with an infant daughter and a sizable estate, which included Coventry Forge, the 1st iron forge in Chester County; Warwick Furnace, located a few miles to the west; and the vast woodlands in the area that were used to make charcoal to power the iron making facilities.
In 1741, Rebecca married again to Robert Grace. An upstanding citizen, he was a good friend of Ben Franklin and a founding member of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Robert Grace became the general manager of both Coventry Forge and Warwick Furnace. During this period, Ben Franklin would visit his friend regularly and gave him the plans for his “Pennsylvania Fireplace”, the 1st enclosed stove. Tradition has it that the stove was tested in the southwest parlor of the Grace home, the Coventry House. This same room was known to have been used to hold services of the Methodist tradition.
Iron Heritage Loop Trail During the revolution, Warwick Furnace made munitions for the continental Army, while General George Washington led his troops to the Warwick area after the battle of Brandywine to protect the local forges and furnaces before the encampment at Valley Forge. After Robert’s death in 1766, and the death of Franklin’s wife Deborah in 1774, Franklin proposed marriage to Rebecca, but Rebecca’s Methodist inclinations predominated and Franklin was rejected for being “too worldly”.
Their friendship continued, and when Franklin realized he was close to death, he asked to see Rebecca one last time. In March of 1790, at age 82, Rebecca made the trip from Coventryville to Philadelphia to be one of the last people to see Mr. Franklin alive.”
The Court found in favor of Mary Dodson in 1792, contending that John Davis did not have full rights to the property in 1755, the date of the initial transaction with Thomas Dodson.
This is a remarkable case given it was among the first to be heard in the early days of the state judicial system, it was initiated by a woman who was materially supported by another woman, and that both women were well advanced in age. It is not clear if Mary survived to hear the outcome of the case, but her estate received a third interest in the value of John Davis’ possessions after his death.
We find that our clients are drawn to their historic homes for many reasons, sometimes it’s farmland surrounding the house, or an outbuilding or unique feature. Sometimes the very item that speaks to our clients is reflected in the thread of the home’s history. For our Chester County clients, the walk-in fireplace sold them on the home, despite the work that needed to be done to make the structure and property livable again. Fireplaces, it seems, were also woven into the stories of the previous owners. We already mentioned Mary Dodson who called upon her neighbor Rebecca Grace for her affidavit. In 1742, Rebecca’s husband Robert Grace and Benjamin Franklin invented a fireplace insert, the “New Pennsylvania Fireplace”, designed to increase the heating efficiency and decrease heat loss to the chimney. It was first tested in the Grace home, within walking distance of our subject home. The owners during the 1800s, a father and his son-in law, were associated with the Reading Stove Company and Mt. Penn Stove Works, both manufacturers of freestanding stoves and fireplaces. We love finding connections between a home’s features and its previous owners, these stories inextricably tie us to the uniqueness of home.
John Davis to Thomas Davis
Returning to John Davis, his estate papers included an inventory of possessions. We presume John lived in the house that the Dodson's once occupied. The listing of personal effects, therefore, is a glimpse into items that occupied the home.
“Inventory and appraisement of the personal estate of John Davis deceased taken this thirtieth day of January 1789 at his late dwelling house in Coventry Township Chester County, by we the subscribers”:
An interesting notation appears at the end of this inventory, “One third belonging to the Estate”. It is quite conceivable that this is the one third owed as a result of Mary Dodson’s case. It appears John Davis lived a very simple life with few luxuries. For instance, he owned six table spoons with 10 plates, and only two chairs!
John Davis’ will and the Patent issued in 1790 leads us to Thomas Davis, who owned the property from 1790 to 1830. The Septennial Census finds him in Coventry in 1800, listed as “farmer”.
He is enumerated in the 1810 Census with one white male over 45, one white female over 45 and one white female aged 16 thru 25.
He is documented again in the 1820 Census, one additional female aged 10 thru 15 is enumerated in his household.
Thomas Davis and his wife Sarah owned the property until 1830, when they sold 81 acres to Henry Shick for $900. It is noted that Thomas Davis’s patent was only for 70 acres, and that the sale to Henry Shick contained 81 acres.
The Schick Family
Henry Shick (also Schick) was born in 1779 in New Hanover, Montgomery County, PA to Johann Ludwig and Anna Maria (Frederick) Schick[i]. The deed between Thomas Davis and Henry Schick indicates that Henry was from East Nantmeal Township. Indeed, Henry and his family were enumerated in the 1820 Census in East Nantmeal Township[ii]. He is listed with 3 males under 10, 2 males ages 10 thru 15, 1 male over 45 (presumably Henry), 1 female ages 10 thru 15, 1 female ages 16 thru 25, and one female ages 26 thru 44 (presumably Henry’s wife, Mary). The Census record indicates 3 inhabitants of the Schick household in East Nantmeal are engaged in agriculture. The genealogical records available through www.Ancestry.com show that Henry and Mary had at least one daughter and two sons:
Salome, born in 1801
Heinrich (Henry), born in 1803
William, born in 1815
Henry moved his family to our subject house in South Coventry in 1830, when he was 51 years old. The 1850 Census[iii] finds Henry and Mary along with their son William and his family living in South Coventry. Henry is 71 and is apparently still farming on property valued at $6000. William, age 35, is listed as a blacksmith. William and his wife, Sarah (Sarah Ann Rea) have four children: Albert, age 6; Malisa, age 4, Anney M., age 1, and James, age 14. A 16-year-old boy named Henry Cox is also listed in the household with an occupation of “none”. A Henry Cox was found in the Pennsylvania Poor House Admissions Index with a note from September 1846 that he was “bound, apprenticed by a master[iv]”. It is conceivable that Henry Cox was working for William in the blacksmithing trade. We know the Cox(e) name was associated with the founding of nearby Vincent Township, it is intriguing to consider if Henry was a descendant.
Henry and Mary, likely due to their advanced age, sold the property to their son William in May 1855 for $2700[v]. The sale price is considerably lower than the value indicated in the 1850 Census record and is likely due to the family to family nature of the conveyance.
Henry Schick died in December 1860 at the age of 80 of “inflammation of the lungs and old age”. The record states that Henry is a widow, indicating his wife Mary had died sometime between the sale of the property in 1855 and Henry’s death in 1860.
The 1860 Census shows William and his family with a new addition since the 1850 Census, their daughter, Debbie.
William, age 44 with a value of real estate as $4860, and value of personal estate of $1000
Sarah, age 42, wife
Albert, age 15, farmer
Malisa, age 13
Anna Mary, age 11
William, age 8
Debbie, age 5
All of the children are noted as having attended school within the year.
By 1870, the Schick household is smaller.
William, age 53 is now living with a woman named Catherine. Catherine’s age is given as 51. This two-year age difference is the same as the age difference between William and Sarah. It is not known if Catherine is the same person as Sarah, it is perhaps a nickname, or an error in Census taking. We do know that Sarah is living in 1870, as her name appears in the next deed in 1883. William’s property has significantly increased in value to $18,000 for real estate, and $2000 for personal property. Only Albert (age 28) and Deborah (Debbie) (age 18) are still living at home. Albert is apparently employed as a carpenter.
Albert did not stay long after the Census was taken. A newspaper story[ix] indicates Albert went westward for work.
By 1880 a new generation has been introduced to the house.
William, age 63, farmer is again listed with his wife Sarah A., age 62. Their youngest, Debbie, now age 25 is living with her parents along with her husband, Allen W Urner and their daughter, Jennie (later called Jeane), who appears to be 5 years old. Allen is enumerated as a school teacher. The Schick/Urner household also has a boarder living with them, William Hopper, a shoemaker. William Hopper’s parents, according to this Census record, were born in Baden (Germany).
William and his wife, Sarah deeded the property, consisting of 81 acres, to their son-in-law Allen W. Uerner (also Urner) in May 1883 for $6000. William died just one year later, in 1884
The Urner Family
Allen Wade Urner was born in July 1852 in Bucktown to Eli Urner and Sarah (Richards). Allen is a descendent of the founder of the Coventry Brethren Church.
A SHORT SKETCH OF THE COVENTRY BRETHREN CHURCH
Mainly from the writings of Morgan Edwards.
"The Coventry church is so called from the township in which it is located.
It was organized in 1724, when Martin Urner and wife, Henry Landis and wife,
Daniel Eiker and wife, Peter Heffly, Owen Longacre, and Andrew Sell did
unite to celebrate the Lord's Supper and to walk in unity and love, having
called Elder Peter Becker to their assistance.
"The first minister that they had was the above named Martin Urner. He was
born in Alsace, then a province of France, in 1695, and was bred in the
Presbyterian faith. He came to America before 1715 and embraced the
principle of the Brethren in 1722 and was baptized in 1723. He was ordained
to the office of bishop by Elder Alexander Mack in 1729, at which time he
took on himself the entire oversight of the church. He died in 1755, and was
buried in the Coventry Brethren Graveyard. His wife was Catharine Reist, by
whom he had three children, Mary, Martin, and Jacob. They married into the
Wolfe, Edis, and Light, or Lichty, families. His assistant was Casper
"The church increased fast, and in 1770 would have been a very large
congregation had not so many gone away to get better lands elsewhere, as
they were mostly husbandmen. Numbers went to what was then called the
Conecocheague, in Franklin and Perry Counties, in Pennsylvania, and some
also to Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas.
"The next minister was Martin Urner, Jr. He was the nephew of the older
Martin Urner, Jr was the great-great grandfather of Allen Wade Urner:
Allen Wade Urner, son of Eli Urner (1821- ) and Sarah Richards (1871- )
Eli Urner, son of Jacob Urner (1799 – 1869) and Elizabeth Halderman (1800 – 1884)
Jacob Urner, son of Martin Urner (1762 – 1838) and Barbara Baugh (1766 – 1842)
Martin Urner, son of Martin Urner (1725 – 1799) and Barbara Switzer (1730 – 1794)
Allen and Deborah Schick, daughter of William Schick, were married about 1873. Allen gave his occupation as schoolteacher in the 1880 Census, but it appears he had changed careers not long afterwards. Between 1887 and 1895, Allen was employed as a salesman with the Mt. Penn Stove Works, manufacturers of cast iron heating stoves - a nod back to Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with Franklin stoves in Rebecca Grace’s home in Coventryville…
A curious name was discovered associated with the Mt. Penn Stove Works:
Reading Stove Company. In the year 1866, Jesse ORR, John R. PAINTER, Peter W. NAGLE, William H. SCHICK, Jasper SHELER and Charles EGOLF associated together under the name of ORR, PAINTER & Company for the manufacture of stoves, furnaces and heaters of all kinds, and located their foundry on Canal street, between Chestnut and Spruce streets, beginning with fourteen molders.
The Mt. Penn Stove works was founded in turn by Reading Stove Company employees. It is not clear if the William H. Schick noted in the history of Reading Stove Company is the same as the William Schick who lived on our subject property. William listed his occupation as farmer in the 1860, 1870 and 1880 Census. He was however, listed as a blacksmith in the 1850 Census. If our William Schick was also a founding member of a stove works company that was associated with Mt. Penn, it might account for Allen’s change of career from teacher to salesman.
It appears that Allen and Deborah spent considerable time in Spring City Borough, Chester County, presumably because it was closer to Allen’s employment. Newspaper accounts as early as 1896 show the Urners residing in Spring City. Their daughter was also born there[v]. It is not clear if the Urner’s lived in the home in South Coventry, used it as a country home, or if they leased it during Allen’s time as a traveling salesman.
Newspaper accounts from 1905 tell a troubling story of events affecting Allen and Deborah’s daughter, Jeane.
Allen Urner sold the property in South Coventry in April 1923 to William L. Franck for $1. Allen is noted in the deed as being from Spring City and William Franck is indicated as a resident of Philadelphia. The property in this transfer consists of 75 acres and 20 perches.
William and Ethel Franck sold the 75 acre property in September 1936 to Elisabeth A. Samuel, of Montgomery County, wife of Snowden Samuel for $3750[. The Franck’s did not move far. According to a 1939 newspaper finding, they were living in nearby Pughtown.
Elisabeth Adams Samuel and Snowden Samuel were members of the Philadelphia elite. Snowden was born in December 1893 to Frank Samuel and Mary Buchanan Snowden[i].
Snowden’s mother, Mary has direct lineage to Colonel Daniel Coxe, the son of Dr. Daniel Coxe founder of Vincent Township:
Samuel Snowden was the son of Frank Samuel (1859 – 1934) and Mary Buchanan Snowden (1867 - )
Mary Buchanan Snowden was the daughter of Colonel Archibald London Snowden (1835 – 1912) and Elizabeth Robinson Smith (1841 – 1910)
Colonel Archibald London Snowden was the son of Isaac Wayne Snowden (1794 – 1850) and Margery Bines Louden (1808 – 1888)
Isaac Wayne Snowden was the son of Reverend Nathaniel Randolph Snowden (1770 – 1851) and Sarah G. Gustine (1775 – 1856)
Nathaniel Randolph Snowden was the son of Isaac Snowden (1732 – 1809) and Mary Cox McCall Snowden (1735 – 1806)
Mary Cox was the daughter of William Cox (1723 – 1801) and Catherine Longfield (1695 - )
William Cox was the son of Colonel Daniel Coxe (1673 – 1739) and Sarah Eckley (1675 – 1725)
One wonders if the Snowden Samuel was aware of his connection to founding of large portions of Chester County?
Snowden married Elisabeth Chatham Adams, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Clifton Adams in October 1919. The event was hailed as “one of the most important of the fall weddings."
Elisabeth Samuel sold her country home to Richard R. and Florence C. Darlington, of Radnor, PA in December 1939 for $7500, double her purchase price in just three years.
Richard and Florence Darlington
Richard Richison Darlington was born in Avondale, PA in 1897. He married Florence M. Cameron in Philadelphia in 1926. Richard and Florence are found living in Radnor in 1930 with their 3 year old daughter, Mona. Richard’s World War II Draft Card notes his employer’s name is Benjamin Chew. Benjamin is found in the household prior to Richard in the 1930 Census record below. Richard is enumerated as renting the house he lives in, and his occupation is stated as “farm manager”. The farm name is “Vanor Farm”.
Benjamin Chew’s occupation is noted as real estate trust officer. Given the proximity between Radnor, where Chew and Darlington lived, and St. David’s, where Elisabeth Samuel lived, it is conceivable that Benjamin Chew was involved in the sale of the Samuel’s home in South Coventry, and that his farm manager purchased it. The Darlington name is also prolific and historic in Chester County. One of the jury members for Mary Dodson’s property case in the late 1700s was George Darlington. Whatever connection there was, the Darlington’s owned the property for less than three months. Richard and Florence sold the property in February 1940 for $8500, a $1000 profit over their purchase price. It does not appear the Darlingtons lived on the property, as they were enumerated in the 1940 Census still living on the same farm in Radnor.
Roy Family Collection
The next owners enjoyed 12 years on the property. Emile P. Roy and Katherine V. Roy of New York City purchased the Darlington farm in 1940 and were responsible for bringing the property into the modern era. Emile Pierre Roy was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1899 and attended the Pennsylvania State College (Pennsylvania State University) where we studied Commerce and Finance. After graduating, he married Katherine V. Wieck in 1922 The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards for Pennsylvania, 10/16/1940 - 03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 2145
One of our most satisfying connections occurred when we were able to find a previous owner, one who provided us with the most cherished research finds – photos! Emile P. Roy II moved into the house as a teenager in 1940. There was no plumbing or heat in the home when his parents purchased the property. The family brought the home and farm into the modern era over the next 12 years. These photos show the progression of work on the home, and the location of a barn that had later burned to the ground. It is clear that fond memories were made by the Roy family on this farm!
Following are the Roy Collection of photographs side by side with our present day images. What an amazing find!
Emile and Katherine sold their 75 acre property to Arthur F. and Claire L. Mann of the borough of Pottstown in November 1952 for $33,000, a substantial increase from the $8500 purchase price, a testament to the upgrades and modernization the Roy’s brought to the property. Chester County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book M;25; page 282. [Emile P. Roy and Katherine V. Roy to Arthur and Claire Mann of Pottstown borough].
Arthur Forrest Mann was born in 1921 in Bethlehem, PA. He attended Lehigh University and was trained as a physician. Dr. Mann served three years in the Army (1943-1946). He married Claire Louise Schmitt; five sons and one daughter were born to this union.
The Mann’s time on the property yielded significant changes to the structures and acreage. The largest barn, seen at the top of the 1948 aerial photo above, burned to the ground in October 1959.
Dr. Mann subdivided the 75 acre farm in 1968, leaving just over 10 acres around the house and barns.
Arthur and Claire Mann sold the home and 10 acres to John R. and Lois Shaw in July 1966 for $42,000. Curiously, no genealogical information or news articles could be found for the Shaw’s, despite the fact that they owned the home from 1966 to 1979. It is quite likely that John and/or Lois are still living. Genealogical information is, understandably, more difficult to ascertain while the subject is alive. Records are generally set to private status to protect identities and locations. The commonality of John’s name also hinders positive identification of history, occupation, or offspring. We also do not know if the Shaw’s even lived on the property, they may have had property elsewhere and rented the home in South Coventry, or used it as a second residence, as other had done before them.
John and Lois Shaw sold the property in October 1979 to Gary and Pamela Kerchner for $125,000
The Kerchners added an inground swimming pool and pool house behind the main house. According to an architectural survey of the home and property taken by Estelle Cremers, the Kerchners named the property “Foxwood Farm”.
The property was sold to its current owner in June 2015. The property is being restored to its former life as a farm. Although the number of outbuildings has been reduced, the footprint of the property remains as it has been for over 300 years. An historic inventory and survey conducted while the Kerchner’s owned the property note it is connected with the Underground Railroad. While no definitive sources were discovered to corroborate this, the religious convictions of those inhabiting the area during the time of slavery in the United States, lends some possibility of a connection.
The owners of the property have raised families and farms on the land in South Coventry. The connection to the original settlers is a theme in the ownership of this property, as is a desire to maintain the historic integrity of the home while making it comfortable for modern living. The home’s story is replete with strong women, connections to Benjamin Franklin, a curious theme of fireplaces and stoves, and long bloodlines. This home remains a strong reminder of the strength of the earliest American pioneers, and its story will continue to be written by the generations to follow.
Although our clients had a head start on the deeds and owner information, we were able to fill in some gaps in the timeline and provide more depth to the stories they had already collected. The property was home to struggling pioneers, two generations of farmers, two physicians, an iron and steel magnate, and a number of families who farmed and spent their days in this tucked away piece of Chester County history.
Thank you Tina and Nigel, you were wonderful to work with!
Special Thanks - The generosity of the Roy family in their open willingness to share their memories of this property cannot be understated. The photos provided by the family are an invaluable legacy to the story of this home, we are grateful for their kind support!
Some more of our favorite images from the property: