History of the Farm

Imagine clearing the land’s old growth forest, pushing the boulders and stones to the side, and digging the rocky soil for the first time. Early pioneers tamed the frontier and turned small Chester County plots into prosperous farms. Philadelphia was the center of the new world and a couple of days ride away. The fertile valleys had been settled first by others, and early settlers from a far away land took the chance to develop what they could, the untouched rocky and hilly ground of northern Chester County in William Penn’s land grant. Leases were bought, and families teamed together to make the most of their futures.

The history of the farm starts far back to the early 1700s, but every Pennsylvania story tends to go back to William Penn. So lets start the story there. The Chester County beginnings trace back to 1682 when William Penn arrived aboard “The Welcome”. William Penn established the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with a land grant from the King of England given in lieu of a large amount of money Penn’s father had loaned to the King.

In 1682, Penn formed the three counties of Pennsylvania: Chester, Bucks and Philadelphia. Chester county was extremely large, comprising all the land west of the Schuylkill River to approximately the Blue Ridge range of the Appalachians to the north and west. Chester county was later subdivided into many counties including Lancaster (1729), Berks (1752), and Delaware (1789). In the early 1680s three investors purchased 30,000 acres from William Penn: Coxe (the King’s court physician), Sir Mathias Vincent, and Major Robert Thompson. They bought the land to route the fur trade north of Pennsylvania to New Jersey ports where Dr. Coxe was the largest proprietor of West New Jersey (west side of today’s New Jersey in a line from north of Cape May to Port Jervis – on the east bank of the Delaware River). Vincent township derives its name from Sir Matthias Vincent and the tracts of land constituting it were for some time known as “Coxe and Company’s 20,000 acres”. French Creek was originally called Vincent River. 10,000 acres were sold to Joseph Pike in 1705 and form today’s East and West Pikeland. Interestingly, none of three owners ever visited the land (neither did Joseph Pike); it was a far flung venture to capture a monopoly in the fur trade that never materialized. Vincent and Thompson died, and Coxe sold out to an investment group in 1692, the West New Jersey Society. The land of today’s farm was undeveloped in the 1600s, but who owns and develops the farm in the 1700s? It’s a complex and mysterious story.

In actuality, there was disagreement about the original deeds granted to Coxe, Vincent and Thompson. They were never confirmed by the Provincial Council, and Coxe had transferred this uncertainty to the investment group, the West New Jersey Society. In the late 1730s the Penn family contested the deeds. Both sides prepared to settle in the courts, and the Penns, knowing they had a weak case, took a strategy of legal delay. The West New Jersey Society was unable to bring the case to court for over thirty years, during which time the Penn family offered leases at a lower rate than The Society to settlers. The settlers all had leases, some with options to buy. Legal proceedings were delayed to the 1770s, and then the American Revolution brought all transocean business to a halt for eight years. The case finally was settled in 1786 in favor of The West Jersey Society, and anyone who had possession for 60 years or more would take title to their lands. It took 103 years, but land titles were transferred from The West New Jersey Society to the occupants from 1792 to 1810.

A 1740s map of Penn Family leases shows a 248 acre property was leased to John Ralston in the late 1730s: he was first taxed in Vincent Township in 1737. John was a native of the north of Ireland, and his sons were born in Ireland. This family prospered in Vincent and Pikeland Townships over the next 100 years, and one grandson became the pre-eminent commercial merchant in Philadelphia. Click on the image below to enlarge.

Penn Leases (1024x752)

The Ralston family likely lived in a log cabin close to the main springs, as was normal for that time on the frontier. There is no evidence of this house or any other buildings today, but perhaps the stone foundation of today’s house also served that purpose in those days. John Ralston’s oldest son, John, remained on the property until his death in 1771. It does not appear that John Jr. married or had children as his will leaves assets to his brother and nephews. The farm depicted in the 1740 map has the same dimensions as the farm depicted in a 1790 map described below, evidence that our farm’s beginnings started with the Ralstons.

John’s brother Robert and his wife Elizabeth formed a different lease just down South Chester Springs Road north of rt. 401. Robert became a successful farmer, acquiring a fortune while also becoming a leader in the area. He held many key positions serving as a member of the Assembly for four terms. Their farm was one of the biggest in the area and suffered from British raids during the Revolutionary War. The area at the corner of South Chester Springs Rd and Horseshoe Road was called Ralston’s Corner for the next 150 years. During the Revolution, Robert’s son, John, was a Lieutenant Colonel in William Evan’s Fourth Battalion. Of note to local history, General Washington sent for John Ralston to guide him to Reading after the “Battle of the Clouds” in 1777. After the war, John became an important local Judge holding an appointment from the governor as Chester County Judge from 1785 to his death in 1825. A drawing of Ralston’s Corner from a local history book is below. (click on the image to enlarge)

Ralston Corner

Ralston Corner

A third son of the elder John Ralston, William, lived in East Caln (original property of the elder John Ralston prior to moving to Vincent). William had one son, Robert. who became the most successful of Philadelphia’s captain’s of industry. His ships engaged in the China Trade and he amassed a fortune. Later in life, Robert gained a reputation for his philanthropies.

The history of the farm from the early 1770s to 1785 is unknown. The property might of been vacant after John Jr’s death or it was farmed by a local family. There are no lease records for this time.

A map of Vincent Township from 1790 shows the area of today’s farm to be a track of 258 acres occupied by Benjamin Shineman (also spelled Sheneman) and John Rice (Reis). John Rice was the brother of Anna Maria Reis, the wife of Benjamin Shineman. Benjamin and Anna Maria were married in 1785 and they likely leased the farm at that time. Legal documents show the land was actually deeded to Rice/Shineman in 1796 after many years of occupancy.

John Rice was the first son of Zachary and Abigail Rice, the first of 21 children. Abigail died in 1790 from typhoid fever after nursing Continental soldiers at the Yellows Springs Hospital. Zachary was a noted local mason/millwright who built the Yellow Springs Hospital and operated a grist mill on Pine Creek in Pikeland. The Rice house and barn are located on Clover Mill Road just east of Rt. 113, just past Pine Creek.

Henry Benner and Daniel Evans were the Shireman’s neighbors. The Shinemans, Rices, Benners and Evans were all settlers before the times of titles, and most of the families are buried in St. Peters Lutheran cemetery in Pikeland.

1790 Map

We know a couple of things about John Rice. First, he was a millwright, establishing he had the type of stone house building skills needed to build the original farm house and barn. Second, there was an agreement about 48 acres of land that was deeded to John and Elizabeth Rice in 1796 from the West New Jersey Society. This same transaction, recorded in the Chester County courts, also deeded just over 200 acres to Benjamin Shineman from the West New Jersey Society for the sum of 5 shillings for all 258 acres. Is the 48 acre farm of the Rices the same property as the 48 acre King Farm purchased in 1816? We think it must be. County records were not found to definitively make this link.

A legal document providing evidence of the sale to Rice and Shineman in 1796 was filed in 1805 by John Rice. The property was sold to a neighbor, Henry Benner (changed name to Painter during this time). Henry Benner owned 2 adjacent properties on the west side and the south side. In 1813 Henry Painter sold the 48 acre property to George Wagenseller who tried to re-sell in 1814. Why would John Rice sell the family farm? Unfortunately, the answer is a story of misfortune, fraud and greed; every family’s story was different in the area.

Hundreds of emigrants in the area fell victim of loosing their property deeds and leases in the years after the Revolutionary War. Some families were unable to come to terms with the West New Jersey Society or had held non-valid leases with the Penn family. Other families in the Pikelands were involved in land conspiracies.

The Rice family (John’s father, his brothers and Elizabeth’s family, the Henches) were unfortunately involved in a nasty foreclosure. The Rice and Hench families lived prosperously and happily in Chester County, until the spring of 1789, when their land was seized by the foreclosure of an old English mortgage. 113 other farmers also lost their property. In the succession of owners, from William Penn, to Pike on down, Pikeland Township was finally held by the 1760s by Samuel Hoare, a wealthy merchant of London. Hoare sold the Pikeland tract to Andrew Allen with a mortgage. Allen was a merchant of Philadelphia, who then divided the tract into farms of two hundred and three hundred acres. Allen leased the tracts to German emigrants as they arrived. Being a man of prominence, and a member of the 2nd Continental Congress, there was no suspicion of any fraudulent action on his part. After the Revolution was on and Lord Howe had captured Trenton, Allen went to Trenton and threw himself upon Lord Howe for protection. Andrew Allen was proclaimed a traitor and his assets were held. A local coalition of renters in Pikeland attempted to settle the differences with Hoare and Allen before and after the war, but they were unable to gain an agreement. It appears many had significant outstanding rent payments for several years.

After the Revolution was over and civil courts were established in Chester County, Ezekiel Howard, the sheriff, was given writs to sell out all the Pikeland tract under foreclosure of the Hoare-Allen mortgage, dated August 26, 1789. Allen did not pay his mortgage during the years of the Revolutionary War. Every farm was sold to satisfy the terms of the mortgage. The property was returned to Hoare. Hoare’s family did offer terms to settle, but many settlers did not have the resources to gain a deed to their farms. This caused widespread disaster, as many of the farmers were now left without property.

How does this story in Pikeland Township involve the farm?

Michael’s father, Philip, and uncles were involved, but they had the resources to settle with the Hoare family. Apparently the Rice family did not. When the Rice family land and homes in Pikeland were forfeited in 1789, the entire Rice family (and Henches) moved in 1790 to re-settle in the Tuscorora Valley in an area later called Juniata County. Juniata County is half way between Harrisburg and State College. John and Elizabeth Rice decided to go as well along with their three children born in Chester County: Polly, Jacob, and Judith. John Rice did not gain clear title to his 48 acre farm in St. Vincent until 1796, six years after they re-established themselves in the Tuscorora Valley. The history of the farm from 1790-1814 during the transition from Rice/Shineman to Benner/Painter to Wagonseller is not completely clear, but it appears the oldest son, Jacob, worked the farm until it was sold to Michael King in 1816.

George Wagenseller was 25 in January 1814 when he placed the 48 acre farm in a public auction. It did not sell. The advertisement in the local paper indicated the Wagensellers lived in Pikeland and that Jacob Rice lived on the farm property that was for sale. The Wagenseller family was a very prominent family in the area. George’s father, John Wagenseller, owned the Red Lion Inn in Uwchland Township. This historic building still stands just across from the Quaker Meeting house in Lionville. In fact, the town of Lionville was named after the Red Lion Inn. George Wagonseller owned The Rising Sun Inn on Little Conestoga Turnpike just east of Pine Creek Road. They opened the Inn in 1807, and it was a very successful establishment. This house on rt 401 still stands and the main barn today is an antiques business. See the image below of the house and business sign for the Rising Sun Tavern. (click on the image to enlarge)

Rising Sun Tavern (593x800)

The 48 acre farm property might have been an investment property for George, or perhaps at one time he planned to move his family there. All we know is it did not sell in the 1814 auction or the 1815 auction (see both auction advertisements), but it was sold to Michael and Julianna King in 1816.

George Wagenseller and Michael King were the same age. Both lived in Pikeland. The Wagensellers were members of the same Lutheren church in Pikeland as the Shinemans, the Rices, and the Kings. Conrad King, Michael King’s uncle, was married to a Wagenseller. So most likely, the sale of the farm was made through this connection.

The advertisement for the 1814 auction gives us some information about the farm. There was an apple orchard of 160 trees. And there were 8 cleared and plowed fields for growing crops and grass. The other thing of note – the farm was a half mile from the “new” Little Conestoga turnpike (today’s rt. 401)! It describes the house consistent with the oldest stone-walled rooms, the barn and the spring house. Finally, the ad tells of an ever-flowing spring. There is some truth in advertising as the springs still flow strongly!

1814 Ad for Farm

Note the slight differences in the advertisement in 1815. Apparently the property did not sell in 1815 as the deed transfer to the Kings occurred in 1816.

1815 Ad for Farm

Another page on this site covers the full history of the King family and their ownership of the farm for almost a century, until 1898. The history search with the Chester County Historical Society and the Chester County Office of Land Records uncovered maps, deeds, wills and census records. The 1883 map below shows who owned the land, and you can see local roads that still exist today.

1883 Map

The 48 acres remained intact from the time of John Rice in the late 18th century to the beginnings of the 21st century. In 1841 Michael king added 41 acres directly to the north of the farm (contained the Shineman home and barn which now sits on South Chester Springs Rd), and that remained in the King family until the late 1860s after Michael King’s death. The farm changes hands six more times over the 114 years after the Kings sold the farm in 1899. The farm remained basically the same until 2007 when the back 30 acres were sold for development. The back 30 acres have been subdivided into 19 lots with large areas of open space (7 acres). Lots 1A (10 acres) and 1B (8 acres) comprise Three Kings Farm. The lots have been declared Conservation Lots and will be retained forever in their natural, agricultural condition. The land can be used for agriculture, pastureland for cattle and horses and equestrian facilities.

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Why is the development named Fox Hollow Farms? Perhaps this photo taken on the farm gives the best clue. Obviously, we are “farming” baby foxes!

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The Farmers page tells the full story of all who owned and worked the farm, with an emphasis on the owners in the 20th century.