The forming of Delaware County, part 1 – Chester County

In browsing through the books on local history on the shelves of our Radnor Memorial Library, this columnist found several weighty tomes on “Southeastern Pennsylvania”. Its sub-title indicates that it is “A History of the Counties of Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia and Schuylkill”. Delaware County alone has eight chapters devoted to such aspects as “Organization”, “Industrial Development”, “Professions”, “Educational Developments”, etc. Published in 1943 by the Lewis Historical Publishing Company, and with J. Bennett Nolan as supervising editor, this book is practically an encyclopedia of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Many times the writer of this column has led her readers along the pathways of the past few hundred years in Radnor Township and neighboring sections. She had never even speculated upon Delaware County as it was “a thousand million years ago”, nor does it much concern her now. But it is of passing interest to know that the rock foundation of the county is said to be of the earliest types known. They represent the residue of the first processes of hardening, soon after the earth, a molten, whirling ball of celestial matter, chilled sufficiently to land.

“A thousand million years ago– the county was a part of the sea and then the earth formation was squeezed above sea level. In time it was shoved into high mountain peaks, followed by another sinking era that brought the sea over the county area again. The land reverted to a monotonous plain, then, untouched by the glacial scratchings and plowings of the Ice Sheet, it gradually assumed the rolling surface it has today”.

So much for Delaware County of a thousand million years ago, at least we know how to account for the rolling surface of our fair county of today.

To start at a time now almost 350 years ago, the first white men to come to this section were probably those who sailed with Henry Hudson, English captain of a ship owned by the East India Company of the Chamber of Amsterdam in 1609. Early records show that they sailed off the Capes of the Delaware River on August 28 of that year. A few years later two Dutch captains, one Cornelius Jacobson May and the other Cornelius Hendrickson, sailed up the Delaware River. Early records are hazy as to the exact dates, but it seemed quite certain that the Dutch were the first white settlers. Later came the Swedes.

The Indians, whom the early Dutch and Swedes found along the Delaware River, were the Lenni Lenape groups and the Iroquois. The former were probably the most peaceful of the Indians along the Atlantic seaboard. When the early white settlers arrived they were paying tribute to the more war-like Iroquois. Essentially peaceful themselves, the Lenni Lenapes were naturally suspicious of the early settlers. As a consequence, they wiped out a small settlement made by the Dutch West Indian Company near the present town of Lewes, Del.

After Finns had joined Dutch and Swede settlers, the first seat of government in the present Delaware County area was established on Ti— Island under John —– ——, a former calvary officer in his native Finland. This was in 1643, the same year that the town of Upland, later to become Chester, was settled. With the establishement of Tininleum and Upland the area which is now Delaware County definitely enters the picture.

In 1664, England took over the colony William Penn was made its proprietor. English settlers immediately flocked into the region until the Finns and Swedes were very much in the minority. And from that time on the section became an English colony. William Penn, himself, resided for some time in Upland.

The colony continued to grow in spite of countless quarrels between the government, assembly and the heirs of Penn, who died in 1718 in England, where he had gone a few years earlier to protect his rights. Many citizens of Chester County, together with other colonists, were moving toward a break with England, a movement, which as it became more general, ended in the War of the Revolution.

Even before the war Chester County had become a very important area of Pennsylvania. The fact that the town of Chester was the county seat aroused a good deal of controversy since there were many who thought that official business should be conducted in a more central location. The war temporarily put an end to problems of a local character among the colonists. This particular one arose again, however, as soon as the war was over. It ended in September, 1789, when the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the division of Chester County into two separate counties,the new one to be called Delaware County. Thus our county became an entity.

The old Chester County area was split as equally as possible, care being taken that farm areas should not be divided. Chester was again a county seat, this time of Delaware County. The first county elections were held in October, 1789, when a sheriff, coroner and five justices of the peace were elected under the State Constitution of 1776. On February 9, 1790. Court was first held in Delaware County and on March 2, the first Orphans Court was seated.

It was not until November, 1845, however, that the first direct step was taken to select a more accessible county seat. At a meeting held then it was decided that each township should hold an election to choose delegates to discuss the relocation of this center of county government. After a number of locations were considered, the delegation petitioned the State Legislature to provide legal means for deciding the issue.

“Removalists” and “Anti-removalists” now opposed each other on this issue. A bill to permit the controversy to gain public action was defeated. However, the Legislature later passed an act permitting the question to come to a vote. The Removalists won on October 12, 1847.

In 1849 the county commissioners bought 48 acres of land in Upper Providence Township. The new tract cost $5760, and because it occupied a central location, the name chosen for the new county seat was Media. The first courthouse was completed in May, 1851, and the first session was held in its halls in August of that year, with Judge Henry Chapman on the bench.

(To be continued)