Mt. Airy Farm sits on just over 53 acres in the heart of Chester County, one of the original three counties of Pennsylvania. In the early 1700s, immigrants from Calne, England settled in this part of Chester County, calling their new home “Caln Township”. It is one of the oldest townships in Chester County. Caln Township was divided over the centuries, and the original acreage of Caln now includes the townships of East Caln, West Caln, East Brandywine, West Brandywine, and Valley.
Pennsylvania began as a vast expanse of land granted to William Penn by King Charles II in 1680. A note about Penn’s plans complied by the Historical Society of Bensalem Township is worthy to repeat here as it provides perspective to the earliest years of Pennsylvania.
“Charles II, King of England, by Royal Charter in 1680 authorized William Penn, as proprietor, to sell land but to retain feudal lordship. Penn was to subdivide the land granted to him into manors, with the intention of limiting any manors to his own family and to such selected groups as the Free Society of Traders. Penn also sought to attract an elite faithful wanting to own large parcels or manors. Those purchasers, however, never experienced power of manorial rights which existed in the English tradition.
Penn’s original plan was to find one hundred purchasers, each of whom would pay one hundred pounds for five thousand acres. They would purchase a share in the colony and presumably have a voice in provincial government.
…Penn imposed two conditions by which he could restrain the powers of other large purchasers:
1. No purchaser of over one thousand acres should have more than one thousand acres in one tract unless he settled a family on each one thousand acres within three years.
2. Every grant should be planted or settled within three years or be forfeited.
Through these conditions Penn hoped that his wealthy acquaintances who never intended to immigrate to the new colony might sell or rent subdivisions of their large parcels, thus attracting the laboring class needed for a new colony. He then allowed an excess of fifty acres to be added to grants for every servant transported to the colony by the purchaser. The servants would receive these fifty acres at the end of their indenture. By spring of 1681 forty-one purchasers had been found.”
Richard and Martha Hughes (1742 to 1763)
The first records of the property where Mt. Airy farm resides today are found in the Old Rights Index, the ledger of property owners who purchased land directly from William Penn. Richard Hughes is noted as the Warrantee in Warrants numbered 49 for 298 ½ acres in Caln, and in Warrant 71 for 50 acres, also in Caln. The Warrants are dated 1742 and 1744, respectively. Once a Warrant was submitted, the land was surveyed to determine the boundaries and actual acreage. The Surveys returned for Hughes’ purchase had already been conducted in 1734 and 1738. It is interesting to note that the acreage amounts on the Surveys are inconsistent with the amounts listed in the Warrant register and in the deed (215 ½ and 83 acres). East Caln Township was incorporated in 1744ii from Caln Township.
A Deed dated 3 May 1763iii describes the earliest history of the acreage. The document notes that on 6 April 1753, Richard Hughes of East Caln Twp., Taylor, sold three tracts or parcels of land in East Caln Township to Robert Witherow of East Marlborough Township, yeoman for 900 pounds.
Tract 1 being part of a large tract bounded by Brandywine Creek described in an instrument dated 15 November 1733 granted by Gawson (Gayen) and Mary Moore of 100 acres to Richard Hughes.
Tract 2 being a tract of land in East Caln granted to Richard Hughes by John Penn, Thomas Penn and Richard Penn, Esq. by patent dated 20 October 1742 in patent book 10, page 549 containing 298 ½ acres.
Tract 3 in East Caln granted to Richard Hughes by John Penn, Thomas Penn and Richard Penn, Esq. 10 April 1745 recorded in Patent Book 11, page 503 containing 36 acres.
Little history was discovered about Richard and Martha Hughes, other than their marriage record: Richard Hughes married Martha McDonald at Christ Church in Philadelphia 28 Feb 1736vi. The 1763 deed previously described conveyed the Hughes’ land, a total of 434 ½ acres, including “house, edifices, buildings, barns, stables, gardens, orchards, woods, meadows, pastures and ways, waters, mines, minerals, fishing, fowling, hunting and hawking” to Robert Withrow.
The Witherow (Withrow) Family (1763 to 1851)
Robert Withrow, who was likely born in England, settled in Chester County with his family, about whom we know only from Robert’s last Will and Testament. According to his Will, Robert had three daughters living in 1794: Mary McClellan, Hannah Hope, and Margaret Withrow. He also had a son William, but it appears he may have been deceased in 1794. William’s son Robert is mentioned in the Will. Grandchildren James, Samuel, Joseph, and Mary are also mentioned. Robert’s wife is not named in the Will, and her name does not appear on the 1763 deed.
What we know of Robert’s time on the land is documented in Chester County tax records and a newspaper account:
Robert Withrow was taxed in West Caln in 1781 for 214 acres of land, 6 horses, 8 cattle and one negro.
Robert Withrow drafted his Will on 9 November 1794, and he died in 1794.
“In the name of God, Amen. I Robert Withrow of the township of West Caln in the County of Chester, State of Pennsylvania being weak in body but of a perfect mind and memory thanks be to God, and knowing that life is uncertain and that is appointed for men once to die. I make this my last Will and Testament . First, I recommend my soul to God that gave it trusting that in and through the merits of Jesus Christ he may except the same and recommit by body to the Earth from when it came to be buried at the discretion of my executor and friends not doubting but I shall by the mighty power of God receive the same again at the General Resurrection. And as touching my worldly estate with which it hath pleased God to bless my endeavors, I give and dispose of the same in the following manner. First I order all my just debts and funeral charges to be paid out of my estate. Item, I give and bequeath to my daughter Hannah Hope thirty five pounds one half thereof to be paid in one year after my decease and the remainder three years after my decease. Item, I give to my daughter Mary McClellan thirty five pounds to be paid in the same manner as that given to Hannah Hope. Item, I give to my daughter Margrat Withrow ten pounds to be paid two years after my decease. Item, I give to the children of my son William as followeth, to my grandson Robert my silver watch, to by grandchildren James, Samuel, Joseph and Mary to each five pounds when they arrive at twenty one years of age. Item, I give and bequeath to my son James Withrow all the remainder of my Estate real and personal to him his heirs and assigns forever. Item, I give to Alexander Davidson, my son in law ten shillings it is also my will that what I have left to the above mentioned Hannah Hope and Mary McClellan is to them, their heirs, and what I have left to the children of my son William is to go to them and their survivors. I constitute my son James Withrow to be my executor of this my last Will and Testament…”
The inventory of Robert’s possessions describes a man of few, but necessary worldly items.
Transcription of Inventory:
James Withrow, Robert’s son, was bequeathed the property after his father’s death in 1794. James was enumerated in a 1798 Census of West Caln Township with his name spelled as “Withro”. The 1798 Tax was on land, and buildings. James’s taxable buildings include:
1 log Barn, 60 x 20
1 log Weavers Shop 14 x 12
1 log Stable 12 x 14
1 dwelling house 22 x 19, stone
1 kitchen, 25 x 18, log
1 milk house, 12 x 10 , log
Because the Withrow property was large (239 acres), it is not known where on the acreage the taxed buildings were located, or if any of them have survived to present day, or are part of the current stone home and outbuildings on Mt. Airy Farm.
The property continued to be handed down via wills through family members of the Withrow family. The next transaction is in 1851. That deed places the property fully in West Caln Township. Valley Township would be carved out of West Caln, East Caln, West Brandywine, and Sadsbury Townships in 1852.
Eli and Filena (Philena) Hutton (1851 to 1868)
The Hutton family called the property their home for seventeen years. According to a newspaper death notice, Eli Hutton was born in nearby New Garden Township in 1809. He began his apprenticeship in cabinet making when he was 16, and married Philena Pyle in 1833. He farmed the land in Valley Township while he and Philena raised their family.
Eli and Filena are both 43, Eli’s occupation is listed as farmer, and the value of his real estate is $18,000 and personal property is valued at $2,500. Their children are listed as Lewis, age 22, farmer, Hannah, age 15, Elizabeth, age 13, Adeline, age 9, Lena, age 4. A domestic named Julia Nixon, age 21 is living with them along with laborers Michael Burns, age 31 from Ireland, Charles Stump, age 45, Robert Stump, age 48, John Williams, age 40 from Delaware, Jackson Miller, age 15, and John Miller, age 12.
Eli was taxed 20 cents for 1 head of beef and $4.00 for 24 hogs in 1863. He was also taxed $32.36 on income of $1078.50 the same year.
Eli and Philena sold 80 perches of their land to the School Directors of Valley Township in 1858 “for school purpo