The Old Eagle School, part 2

In continuing the story of Old Eagle School in Strafford as begun in last week’s column, it is interesting to read what Sidney George Fisher has to say about the early settlement of Pennsylvania in his book, “The Making of Pennsylvania”. “Most of the English Colonies in America”, he writes, “were founded by people of pure Anlgo-Saxon stock, and each colony had usually a religion of its own, with comparatively little inter-mixture of other faiths . . . But Pennsylvania was altogether different, and no other colony had such a mixture of languages, nationalities and religions. Dutch, Swedes, English, Germans, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, Quakers, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Reformed, Mennonites, Dunkers, and Moravians, all had a share in creating it”.

Of these settlers, the Germans were decidedly the most numerous. Two divisions among them stand out prominently, the Sects or Pietists, and the Church people. The first included the Amish, the Mennonites, Shakers, Mileese, Schwenkfelders and many others. The Church people were divided between the Reformed and the Lutheran, the latter of especial local interest, since it is of them that the settlement in Tredyffrin seems to have been mainly composed. It was Lutherans who founded the first small church on the site of the present Old Eagle School, and, according to Fisher, all these Lutherans had many affiliations with the Episcopalians who at that time “looked upon them as likely to become a church in communion with themselves if not their actual converts.”

The original German pioneers were immigrant peasants, the first of that class to land in America, and very different from the English Yeomanry that settled Virginia, New England and most of the other Colonies. Many of them were very rough in manner and dress, speaking “an unintelligible dialect”. Nevertheless they took up their work of settlement in a new land in a way deserving of admiration. They became farmers, taking good care of their cattle and of their property. According to the historian, Fisher, they were “good judges of land, always selecting the best and were very fond of the limestone district”. And this was evidently one of the attractions in Tredyffrin Township.

These German settlers were not only a hard-working lot, but they were thrifty and frugal as well. When land had to be cleared, they cut down each individual tree and preserved each stick of it. When other colonists built houses with huge fireplaces at each end they used stoves for heating, stoves being of distinctly German origin, as explained in last week’s column. Fisher writes that this use of stoves “is said to have given their houses an even temperature, which enabled the women to work at various useful occupations in the long winter evenings which were passed by the wives and daughters of the other settlers in idleness, with benumbed fingers, shifting places around their romantic and wasteful fires.”

According to an article published in 1888 by Julius Sachse, to whose book, “The Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Roadside”, this column was indebted for the material for the series on the Old Spread Eagle Inn, the settlement of Germans in the present Strafford section dates back to about the middle of the eighteenth century. They were part of the group who, “with a few Swiss families, established themselves between the ‘Blue Bale’ (now ‘King of Prussia’) Inn, of Upper Merion, and ‘The Unicorn’ tavern of Radnor along the road, skirting the southern slope of the Valley Hills.

The first authentic evidence of the existence of the German colony in Tredyffrin Township is found in the deed books of Chester County, which, according to Henry Pleasants’ “History of the Old Eagle School”, indicate the purchase by Jacob Sharraden . . . from Sampson Davis and wife on March 16, 1765, of 150 acres of land in Tredyffrin, lying immediately north of the present Strafford station, Pennsylvania Railroad. This tract is part of an original purchase by Richard Hunt of Brome Yard, Hereford County, Wales, Chirugeon, from William Penn, dated March 1 and 2, 34th Charles II (1683) of five hundred acres described as in the Great Valley in said County of Chester, being bounded on the S. S. E. side with the late lands of Hugh Samuel, which would seem to indicate its extension from the Valley Hills into Radnor Township.

“The deed to Jacob Sharraden for this purchase marks the transition from the Welsh to the German settlement of the neighborhood, it is followed in March 1767, by a deed from Jacob Sharraden to his son-in-law, Christian Werkister . . . of the same premise. As these two men are undoubtedly the most prominent of the German pioneers connected with the establishment of the Old Eagle School, it is desirable here briefly to record what is known of them.”

Mr. Pleasants then goes on to say that neither of these names has been found in any of the immigrant lists. Jacob Sharraden having located in Tredyffrin in 1765, moved in about 1771 to Vincent Township where he died in about 1774. His will indicates that the testator was a religious German of some education and property. Tax lists of Tredyffrin show him to have been the proprietor of a grist mill and owner of 190 acres of land.

Christian Werkiser seems to have married Jacob Sharraden’s daughter, Margaretta. From 1776 to 1785 when he died, he apparently owned a considerable amount of real estate in Tredyffrin. It seems highly probably that he was buried in Eagle School graveyard, although no record of his burial exists on its records. However, his wife’s name is on these records.

Within a few years of the time of his purchase of a large tract of land, Christian Werkiser seems to have been disposed of it in smaller lots to Michael Walts, Peter Stidler and Jacob Huzzard. Meanwhile, from Pennsylvania Archives came an important bit of information to the effect that “when Christian Werkiser passed on the tax lists of Tredyffrin, in 1768, from a humble ‘Freeman’ . . . to the dignity of ‘Owner’ he is taxed not with 150 acres, but with only 149 acres. This discrepancy is the warrant for the belief that between 1765 and 1767 there was established by Jacob Sharraden (then the owner of the land) what seems a distinctive feature of German Protestant Settlements–a place for church and school purposes; and that he was the donor, at least of the ground, on which it was located”.

This is not the sole evidence that this early German settler gave the plot of ground on which the present historical Old Eagle School stands. Statements to that effect were given by early residents of both Tredyffrin and Willistown Townships. This rather definitely affirms the date of 1767 as the year when the first small building for church and school purposes was erected on this plot of ground just north of the present Strafford Station.

(To be continued)