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Barnsley Manor

Our adventure in researching Barnsley Manor spanned a little over 6 months. We are in the process of filming some of the highlights we discovered. Below is from our You Tube Channel and features our presentation day and our first tour. More to follow:

The History

"Barnsley Manor", as it is called today, has stood witness to over 250 years of history, including the birth of the America. The building and its grounds have housed prominent, influential and perhaps controversial families and its story is entwined with

their struggles and triumphs. The land surrounding the home has been referred to as the Growden Estate and Tatham Plantation while the mansion home at the center of this research has been called Barnsley’s Ford, Croydon Lodge, the Swift Mansion, and the Dingee Estate. Owned by only three families over its lifetime, the home has survived fire, neglect and vandalism and is now being restored to stand witness to future history.

Barnsley Manor, is situated in Bensalem Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Bensalem today encompasses 22 square miles of land framed by three waterways: the Neshaminy Creek, the Delaware River, and Poquessing Creek. Pennsylvania began as a vast expanse of land granted to William Penn by King Charles II in 1680.


Lawrence and Joseph Growden (1681 to 1685)

Lawrence and Joseph Growden, father and son, were wealthy pewterers in Trevose, in Cornwall, England. Each purchased 5000 acres of land from William Penn in March 1681, making them among the first landowners in Penn’s Manors. A transcription of the Growden’s land accounts is below and describes their extensive holdings in the city of Philadelphia and in Bucks County:

Lawrence Growden never made the journey to the colonies, but his son, Joseph arrived in 1683 to secure their land purchases. Joseph Growden erected the Growden Mansion not far from the site of Barnsley Manor. The land survey below show the vast acreage owned by the Growdens. Note the name of John Tatham as a neighboring landowner. This survey was conducted after Tatham purchased a portion of the Growdens’ lands in 1685. No survey prior to Tatham’s purchase is on record.


John Gray Tatham (1685 to 1703)

“a chronically troublesome Bucks County landholder”

John Gray, who went by the alias John Tatham, purchased 1000 acres of Growden’s property in 1685, the same year he arrived in the Colonies from England. He was married to a woman named Elizabeth, but not much else is known about her. John and Elizabeth had three children who survived them: John, Elizabeth and Dorothy.

John Gray was initially held in the esteem of William Penn. Penn wrote to one of his counterparts in Philadelphia in March 1685, “Pray be carefull of thy carriage to one Gray, a Rom. Cath. Gent. Yt comes over now, he is subtile & prying & lowly… but not such a bottom in other things, he is a Scholar, & avers to ye Calvanists… he comes in a post, be sure to pleas him in his lands & for distance he must take where it is clear of other pretentions.”

Aside from the land Gray purchased from the Growdens, he also secured 5000 acres directly from Penn in Chester and Bucks Counties as depicted below from the Old Rights Register for Bucks County[5].

Gray’s favor with Penn was short lived, however, by 1686 Penn had apparently discovered new information about him, writing: Gray is a Benedictine monk of St. James’, left them and his vows, is married there, the congregation has spoke to the King about him, and to me.[6]” One wonders if the alias Tatham was an attempt at hiding a past life as a monk?

John Gray (Tatham) appears as a landowner in the earliest map of Pennsylvania as drawn by Thomas Holme in 1687. His land is depicted to the South of lands owned by Lawrence & Joseph Growden. Tatham’s influence on the boundaries of parcels in Bucks County was recounted in a lengthy article about Surveyor Thomas Holme.

The full text of the story of Gray is worth repeating here in its entirety:

“There is more definite information regarding the circumstances connected with the survey of the Charles Pickering and Company tract, known as the Mine Hole Tract, whose lines Holme ran personally in the summer of 1686 in order to thwart what may have been the first attempt at claim jumping in the history of mining in this country. The incident began with the disclosure by an Indian to Pickering that in a place beyond the Welsh Tract there were mineral deposits whose appearance seemed to indicate the presence of silver. Pickering went there to verify the information and came away satisfied of its truth, but he had failed to keep the matter a secret. Shortly thereafter, a Bucks County resident named Robert Hall sought to obtain a warrant for a survey to be run if he should succeed in finding the site of the deposits. When the Commissioners of Property refused to issue the desired warrant. Hall found a ready ally in John Gray, alias Tatham, a chronically troublesome Bucks County landholder, who held Land Office warrants available for execution. With the help of an Indian, Gray succeeded in ascertaining the location of the mine and then induced Thomas Fairman, regularly assigned to Philadelphia County as a deputy, to go beyond the limits of former surveys and lay out 1000 acres there.

On learning of the breaches of Land Office procedure thus committed by his deputy, Holme advanced proposals to Thomas Lloyd, president of the Provincial Council, for countering Gray’s action, and having obtained Lloyd’s assent, he proceeded to carry them out by going up the Schuylkill with an assistant to the northern limits of the John Pennington and Company grant. He ordered the Commissioners of Property to ‘put a stop to y' Irregular grant that was made to Charles Pickering and John Gray, alias "Jathan" (Tatham),’ declaring that his surveyor general ‘deserves to loose his office, if I am rightly informed’.

Gray Tatham’s troubles went beyond Holme and Penn. He and Joseph Growden were involved in lengthy legal battles over the property Tatham purchased from Growden. According to an account published in 1959 in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Tatham took Growden to court in 1691 in Bucks County claiming that Growden owed him a sum of money and four books that Tatham had lent to him in 1685. The case was not settled until 1699, when Growden admitted to owing the money and the books at a value of 41 pounds. Growden countered Tatham’s lawsuit with a claim that Tatham owed him for the 1000 acres of land he had purchased from him in 1685. Growden had expected 100 pounds of English goods and 100 pounds cash for the parcel, which Growden claimed had not been fully received. Tatham produced an itemized accounting of his payments of goods and cash to Growden, but the Court found that the listing had been fabricated and found on behalf of Growden.

John Gray resided in Bucks County for only a short time, as he was appointed a land agent and proprietor in West Jersey in 1688. He moved to Burlington around the same time, although his family was likely left behind in Bucks County until he was established in Burlington.

John Gray’s legal troubles were also confounded by troubles on the home front. His daughter, Dorothy was involved in a scandal that rocked the family and the province. In 1699 the Burlington Court revoked the tavern license of one Widow Elizabeth Basnett for “permitting and countenancing in her house and Illegal and Clandestine Marriage between one Robert Hickman under Custody of the Sheriff as a Suspected PIRATE”. Hickman was reportedly a member of “Kid’s Gang” from Madagascar who sailed into Cape May, New Jersey and was apprehended and taken under sheriffs’ custody in Burlington. He was apparently given the liberty to confine himself to a local tavern, where his marriage to Dorothy Tatham, John Gray's daughter, occurred. Gray Tatham died shortly after this scandal, and Dorothy was definitively cut out of his will for her “graceless & shameless Rebellion”. John’s wife, Elizabeth was pregnant with their fourth child at the time of John’s death. She died in childbirth in October 1700. The inventory of John’s estate listed 7 slaves, along with his personal estate.


The Tatham property was likely conveyed to Joseph Rodman of Flushing, Long Island, NY around 1703 after the death of John Gray Tatham and his wife Elizabeth. Joseph Rodman’s daughter Mary married a lawyer named Gilbert Hicks in April 1746. Joseph was reportedly not pleased with his daughter’s marriage as Gilbert Hicks was not of the Quaker faith. Joseph gifted Mary and Gilbert 600 acres of the former Tatham tract in Bensalem Township, reportedly as a way to send his daughter away. Interestingly, two of Mary’s sisters and her brother also married Hicks’, although their relationship to Gilbert has not been explored as part of this research.

Three transactions capture the transfer of the property between 1763 and 1768. Two deeds dated 13 January 1763 transfer 537 acres from Gilbert and Mary Hicks to James Coultas, then from James Coultas and Elizabeth his wife back to Gilbert Hicks for a sum of 3900 pounds. The nature of this transaction is not fully known, however, based on Gilbert Hicks’ loyalties and impending fall from grace, one wonders if Hicks was attempting a legal maneuver to protect his property. Five years later, a deed dated 30 January 1768[16] transfers the 537 acres from Gilbert and Mary Hicks back to James Coultas permanently for the sum of 9074 pounds. The 1768 deed refers to the 537 acres conveyed as “part of 655 acres Tatham Plantation”, showing its pedigree back to John Gray Tatham. Gilbert Hicks appears again prominently in the story of this property, as he and the future builder of our subject property were colleagues and friends.


James Coultas (1768)

James Coultas was born in England and arrived in Philadelphia before 1735, as he was married to Elizabeth Ewen in Christ Church on March 13, 1735. Coultas owned a plantation and mill in the Blockley section of Philadelphia (current day Kingsessing in West Philadelphia). The map below dated 1750 shows Coultas’ (spelled Coultis) Philadelphia property on Cobb’s Creek west of the city.

Coultas did not own the 537 acre tract of land in Bucks County for long, as he sold it just 6 months after purchasing it from Gilbert Hicks. A deed dated June 4th, 1768 conveyed the property from James and Elizabeth Coultas to Thomas Barnsley. Based on this deed, it appears Thomas Barnsley actually purchased the property in 1763, when the Hicks’ were still present. Barnsley began making installment payments to Coultas in 1763, and completed the purchase with the deed dated June 4th 1768. We know that Gilbert Hicks and Thomas Barnsley carried the moniker of Esquire, and future documents prove they were friends. It is likely, based on their occupation that they were also acquainted with James Coultas, given his official titles.


Major Thomas Barnsley (1763 or 1768 to 1772)

Although Thomas Barnsley only owned the 537 acre tract for less than 10 years, he figures most prominently in the history of the current day structure as it was constructed by Barnsley, and so the history of the building begins with him. Thomas was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England in 1726 to parents Jonathon and Hannah Barnsley. He was their ninth and last child. According to Barnsley’s will, he had four sisters, Mary, Sarah, Anne, and Hannah. It has been written that Thomas spent his early military years in Ireland, where he met and married, however, other accounts dispute the Irish connection based on discrepancies in dates and documents related to Barnsley.

“Flintlock pistol, fitted with brass trigger guard, lion head mask butt plate, and inlaid brass escutcheon plate on the grip.” Photo credit: American Philosophical Society

A dueling pistol in the care of the American Philosophical Museum in Philadelphia is

credited to a gunsmith named T. Hughes in Cork, Ireland (ca. 1710-1730).

The pistol was thought to be owned and used by Thomas Barnsley, perhaps lending some credence to Barnsley’s time in Ireland.

Barnsley arrived in the colonies with Lord Loudon in 1756, under whom he served as Captain of His Majesty’s Sixtieth or Royal American Regiment of Foot in the French and Indian War until 1760.

A biographical sketch prepared by William J. Bell, Jr. 1963 paints a full and colorful story of the man who built Barnsley Manor. It describes Barnsley as a prominent resident of Bucks County and well known in Philadelphia. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society, although he only attended a few meetings. It also mentions his satisfaction in voting to elect his friend and neighbor Gilbert Hicks.

Records and published accounts indicate that Thomas and Bersheba spent their earliest years in America living outside Fort Pitt. According to Bell’s sketch, Thomas’ wife joined him at Fort Pitt as soon as it was “safe.” A census of 1761 showed their “family” as four men and two women, including servants. They were living in a house outside the Fort. The following is an account given to Colonel Henry Bouquet, an officer of Fort Pitt, of the “mood” of frontier living.

Barnsley took great pleasure in his gardens at the Fort and carried on with gardening after he left his post in the Spring of 1762. He reports “our oats, Indian corn and … goes on very well and denotes a plentiful crop….except the carrots and the parsnips in the lower part of the garden, which does make much of an appearance yet.”

Colonel Henry Bouquet, mentioned in several of Thomas Barnsley’s letters, has been portrayed as being involved in a plan to deliberately infect Native Americans around Fort Pitt with small pox. Letters from the summer of 1763 between Bouquet and his commanding officer, General Jeffrey Amherst, detail the plan and agreement to provide the tribe with blankets from the small pox hospital. It appears the plan was carried out, however, it is not known exactly which British officers gave the final orders. Sadly, a small pox outbreak did occur in the Indian population around Fort Pitt in 1763. It is also not known if Thomas Barnsley was involved, or had any knowledge of the incident at Fort Pitt, although it is notable that Barnsley purchased land in Bucks County that same year and resigned from military service three years later.

Barnsley continued his military service after the French and Indian War as seen in the letters below. His disdain for liquor in military affairs is evident.


Capt Shelby

Fort Loudoun the 13th Sept 1764


I received yours of the 12th Jun and must observe to you that Colonel Bouquet has not left any directions with me concerning the granting of passes, notwithstanding if the goods you mention Mr. Moran to have now at Bedford, be such as will be useful to the Army, viz., shirts, shoes, stocking, blanketing, etc, I believe it would be doing of service to the people of the Communication to take them along, and in that case he has my liberty for so doing, provided he does not take liquor of any kind either to sell or give on the road or at Fort Pitt. He must likewise produce his invoice to the commanding officer at Legionier, as also to Col Bouquet or the commanding officer at Fort Pitt. I have the honour to be Sir your most obedient humble servant,

Thomas Barnsley D.L.M.G

A letter written by Barnsley on behalf of Lord Loudoun resides in the archives of the American Philosophical Society: