March 30, 2009

Greenwich Island Meadows surveys

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on the papers of the Brown and Johnson families that are included in the Chew Papers. Mary Johnson Brown Chew's family and ancestors owned large sections of what is now the First Ward of Philadelphia, Southwark, Passyunk, the Navy Yard, and Tinicum. David Sands Brown, among others, developed land along the Delaware River to accommodate his growing manufacturing businesses, which were headquartered in Gloucester City, New Jersey.

This survey shows William Jones' Meadow, which is part
of Greenwich Island (Surveyed by John Lukens, 1770)

This land passed down through the Johnson family from William Jones (a grazier in Kingsessing Township) to his daughters Mary (Morris, Pancoast) and Elizabeth (Garrett), then to Martha Morris, who married Joseph Johnson, a ship chandler. Johnson ran a booming business from his wharves in South Philadelphia during the late-18th century into the mid-19th century, and his descendants further developed the land as industrialization allowed for more manufactured goods to be moved from place to place. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the companies associated with David Sands Brown and the development of Gloucester City.)

As I was sorting through the various deeds that make up a large portion of the material in this series, I was trying to create a mental image of how all of these plots of land fit together. One day, I found a series of maps and surveys that helped me to create a picture of the area the deeds described, and I realized how vastly different the land is today. Aside from the Tinicum Wildlife Refuge, this land has given way to industrial development. Here are a few representations of William Jones' meadows as they were in the mid-1700s.

The first survey was done by John Lukens in 1768.
The second is the original survey done by Nicholas Scull in 1759.

Last night, as I was returning from the New England Archivists' Conference, my flight passed over the area that these surveys portray. I looked out the window and imagined what these waterways and marsh lands would look like without the grid of roads, parking lots, and buildings. I tried to conjure the land as the Swedes found it, before they drained marsh land for grazing. I perform these kind of thought experiments a lot as I sift through documents that shift my relationship to the land that I walk on every day, navigating the grid of Philadelphia's streets, or hanging in the air above this place that is at once so familiar, and so surprisingly new.

This lithographic plan shows the emergence of the South Philadelphia
that we know today. This "Plan of proposed Wharves & Docks with
Railroad Connections in the First Ward" was made for Titus S. Emery
by L.N. Rosenthal's Lithographic shop in 1867.


Susan Deering Kushner said...

Hi, My ancestors lived on Jones Lane, in the First Ward 1860's. Was Jones Lane related to the Chew Family?


Cathleen Miller said...


This material is related to the Chew family through the marriage of Samuel Chew (b. 1832) to Mary Johnson Brown (b. 1839). Mary Johnson Brown was the daughter of David Sands Brown and Elizabeth Jones Johnson. Elizabeth Jones Johnson's mother was descended from William Jones, for whom Jones lane was named.

There is actually an interesting bit of information in the papers about a legal suit filed by William Jones, who claimed that the King had grazed his horses on Jones' meadows and had not paid the proper fees for this service. Jones owned a significant amount of property in Kingsessing and Moyamensing Townships, and there are records of all of the transfers of this property in the Brown and Johnson families series of the Chew Family Papers.

I hope this is helpful.

Susan Aprill said...

Dear friends,
I'm so flattered that you linked to my little blog, Pique of the Week!
Thank you.
Susan Aprill