Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo

Original Patents and Lots: Parsons Survey of c. 1745

William Penn assigned bonus lots in the city to large land purchasers in his new colony. The First Purchasers, however, varied in their interest in these city lots. William's son Thomas Penn, as Proprietor in 1740, determined to straighten out the property record. He wanted to know exactly the status of city lots, so that the Penn family could be "exceedingly exact in granting out the remainder of them, and in preserving every foot we have a right." [1] Richard Peters, secretary of the land office, turned to William Parsons, surveyor general of Pennsylvania, to prepare a plan of Philadelphia. Parsons studied land titles and laid out a plan (sometime during his office, 1741-48, but likely c. 1745) that defined the size of the lots and named the First Purchaser. Parsons' plan surveyed 49 Philadelphia squares owned by nine corporate bodies and 381 individuals. In some cases, Parsons named settlers who had bought the title from the First Purchasers. The city plan, then, provided a tool to trace deeds. This became increasingly useful to the Penn family, because by 1740 many of the original bonus lots had already been subdivided many times to multiple owners. [2]

On this block between Arch and Race, Fifth and Sixth Streets, the Parsons plan shows seven large lots along Arch Street, all of them 49-1/2 feet, except one 100-foot lot at the corner of Fifth. All these bonus lots measured 306 feet in depth, extending beyond the future Cherry Street. The 100-foot lot at the corner was co-owned by Ralph Ward and Joseph Coleman. According to the Exemplification records, Ralph Ward, a shoemaker, patented a lot on Fifth Street on November 9, 1688, and on the very same day Joseph Coleman, a cooper, patented one on Arch Street. While neither description is definitive, together they place the lot at Fifth and Arch Streets. [3] By September 1711, Coleman's lot on Arch already had changed hands twice, ending in the ownership of Toby Leech. Leech left the lot to his sons by his will in 1724, and two of them, Isaac and John, called for the sale of the land in 1744-1745. Thomas Leech and other members of the family sold the Arch Street lot, measuring 50 by 306 feet, to the Trustees of the Second Presbyterian Church on October 22, 1750. The Trustees in turn set aside the property by deed poll of January 1, 1752 as the church's burial ground. [4]

Parsons identified Thomas Rutter as the owner of the next lot to the west. Thomas Rutter, an early Germantown settler, was a wealthy English Quaker and first iron master in the province. [5] Jonathan Dickinson in a letter of 1717 remarked that "This last summer one Thomas Rutter, a smith, who lived not far from Germantown, hath removed farther up in the country, and of his own strength hath set upon making iron." [6] Rutter and his partner, Samuel Nutt, second son of an English nobleman, opened the first iron works in the Schuylkill Valley. [7] At his death in 1729, Rutter left his two-thirds interest in a furnace and in a forge. His will placed him in Philadelphia County, at Amity. His daughter Anna was married to Samuel Nutt, his partner, or his partner's son and namesake. Rutter left his estate to his wife, Rebecca, and their five married daughters and three sons, John, Thomas and Joseph. [8] Whether he still owned the lot on Arch Street at his death requires further research. The Exemplification records identify Thomas Rutter as a blacksmith, but do not list any city lots in his property holdings. [9] This might indicate that he sold his bonus lot soon after he received it. This research did not identify how he acquired the lot, nor to whom he disposed it.

By 1750, Thomas Rutter's lot had changed ownership. The property was cited in a 1750 deed as the ground "now or late of" William Oxley. [10] A decade later, In 1760, John Oxley and Benjamin Callender, "of the islands of Barbados," advertised a 49-1/2 by 306 feet lot on the north side of Arch between Fifth and Sixth Streets for sale. In that year, the empty ground stood "high, which makes it pleasant and airy, and convenient for building." [11]

Parson's survey named Thomas Howard on the lot to the west of Thomas Rutter. Howard patented his Arch Street property on June 22, 1706. [12] No other information has been found on this lot prior to the late 18th century. Philip Roman of Chester County patented the next two lots to the west on March 1, 1714. [13] The history of this 100-foot stretch in the middle of the block remains blank until the first city directories, beginning in 1785. Oliver Cope and John Buckley from New Castle, Pennsylvania both patented a 49 1/2-foot lot at the corner of Sixth Street on March 10, 1716. [14] Likely these men knew each other, worked together, and possibly even were related. The Cope family remained owners of the eastern half of their lot until the late 18th century, when city surveys identified John Cope as owner. Since the family apparently never lived on the property, further research has not been gathered. The corner lot under John Buckley appears from city surveys to have been sold to Anthony Wilkinson and later, to Peter De Haven, who retained ground rents into the 19th century. According to a city survey, Wilkinson in 1765 owned a 99 by 306-foot lot at the corner of Sixth Street. [15]

Arch Street's development as far to the west as Fifth and Sixth Street was comparably slow. The blocks to the south along Chestnut and Market Streets attracted the principal commercial and social activity as the most frequented east-west thoroughfares. While settlement beyond Fifth Street had begun by mid-century, no construction had taken place on this block between Fifth and Sixth Streets, leaving the landscape empty, perhaps open for grazing or orchards, although no record of the terrain in this pre-settlement period was located.

William Parsons' survey in the 1740s marked the northern half of the block to Sassafras or Race Street as belonging to S. Emlen. This is presumably Samuel Emlen, scion of a large and prosperous Quaker family, long intermarried with Philadelphia's elite families, the Powell, Hudson, and Morrises among them. The genealogy of the Emlens, who named their children after their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, leaves in question the exact family tree of S. Emlen, owner of the property. It is clear, however, that Samuel Emlen (1697-1783) married Rachael Hudson, daughter of William Hudson, who owned the entire adjoining block, commonly referred to in the mid-eighteenth century as "Hudson's Square." [16]

By the mid-1760s the S. Emlen tract had come into ownership of Joshua and Caleb Cresson. Caleb Cresson gave an account of family history in 1793 that explained that his father, James Cresson, chairmaker, married Sarah Emlen, daughter of George Emlen, the elder around 1736. The Cressons had four sons, George, Caleb, Joshua and James. [17] The father James Cresson died at 36 in 1746 and his wife Sarah died in 1752, at 42, leaving the two middle sons, Caleb (1742-1816) and Joshua (d. 1793), who evidently inherited the Emlen parcel. [18]

Further information about family connections comes from Emlen family wills. George Emlen of Philadelphia, died in 1710/11, leaving as heirs his children George, Samuel, Caleb, Joshua and Sarah. James Cresson and Sarah (Emlen) his wife named their first three sons after Sarah's brothers George, Caleb and Joshua. Sarah Cresson's will (1752) identified her brothers George, Samuel and Joshua and her sisters. Samuel Emlen, who died in 1783 at age 86, named Caleb and Joshua Cresson and their children as heirs. This Samuel Emlen married Rachel Hudson and was a resident on Market Street in Block Two. Samuel's will named as executors his daughter, Sarah Moore, William Hudson's granddaughter, and Joshua Cresson. This Samuel Emlen, then, likely was Sarah Cresson's brother and an uncle to Joshua and Caleb Cresson. [19]

Caleb and Joshua Cresson began advertising lots in "Cressons Square" in the 1760s, when their cousins, William Hudson's heirs, began to sell property on Hudson's Square a block south. Until that time, both blocks remained largely unsettled.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 05-May-2004