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.