Thursday, April 13, 2017

"God's little acre" on Route 291? St. Paul's Church graveyard in Chester

John Morton who signed the Declaration of Independence is buried at St. Paul's

A brief History of St. Paul's Graveyard

in Chester


  NOTE: Many of us have passed St. Paul's Church graveyard right by Chester City Hall on the river side of Route 291. Below is a little history of "God's little acre"

Of the early story of that ancient God’s acre little or nothing is absolutely known at this day.  For more than half a century the students of our local annals have diligently sought documentary evidence to ascertain the conditions upon which, in the beginning, St. Paul’s parish acquired title to the original ground which was for well night two centuries used for burial purposes by the congregation of the old church organization.

            THE OLD GRAVEYARD – The graveyard of today, it must be remembered, does not conform to that which was known to the early settlers of the town, for the lot at the southwest corner of Third and Welsh Streets, comprising 120 feet frontage on Third and extending in depth 120 feet along Welsh Street, was not originally included in the church land.  That was acquired shortly before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.  In fact there is no deed or record, nor are there unrecorded indentures held by the church authorities, conveying any part of that lot at present included within the graveyard to St. Paul’s parish.  The only deed of which we of this day have knowledge touching any part of the old burial place is an indenture dated June 3, 1754, whereby Jacob Howell and Deborah, his wife, conveyed the lot.  I have described to Charles Jones and Sarah, his wife,

who are described in the deed as residents of Philadelphia.

            In that instrument it is recited that on October 27, 1726, Jonas Sandelands and Mary, his wife, had conveyed the premises to Jacob Howell.  How or when St. Paul’s church became the owner of that piece of land is unknown.  The records of Chester and Delaware counties are mute as to any transfer of title and in the church records and only a faint reference is found as to the acquisition of the ground, when in 1769, the Rev. George Craig, then rector, charged himself with L1, 10, 0 cash in my hands, a balance collected for purchase of ye lot for a burial ground.”

            THE ORIGINAL CHURCH – THE ORIGINAL St. Paul’s church edifice faced toward Market Street with Third Street, or as then called Church Lane, extending along the north side of the building, which prior to 1769 stood close to the eastern end of the yard, for in that year, it should be remembered, by the purchase of the Jones lot, the grounds were extended to welsh Street.  About that time Church Lane was widened ten feet, the land for that purpose being taken from the church yet reducing the depth of the lot to less feet, as it is today.  From the earliest time in its history the church owned a roadway which gave entrance to the grove from Market Street and that piece of land remained in the ownership of the parish until within 36 years, when on June 21, 1866, it was purchased by Miss Caroline Beaver, now Mrs. Anton Omenbrock, who erected two brick dwellings on the ground acquired.

            The earliest mention of a burial place in Chester (other than that set apart by the Society of Friends) occurs in the will of John Johnson of Markis Creek.  In that testament, dated March 16, 1684-5, the decedent directs that “My body I commit to the earth to be decently buried at Upland.”  The will is recorded in Philadelphia on the 17th of the second month, 1686, which, according to the computation of time recognized by our present calendar would make the corrected date of registration May 22, 1686.  John Johnson, who was doubtless buried at Chester, according to his desire, is believed to be the emigrant ancestor of the Johnson family of Trainer, of which D.M. Johnson, Esq., of this city, is a representative.

            The statement that the original graveyard was set apart by Joran Kyn (Keen or his son-in-law, James Sandelands, has come down to the present day in undisputed tradition.  As early as June 25, 1714, Rev. George Ross, the then rector of St. Paul’s in an account of the building of the first sanctuary, mentions, “the old Swedish burial ground” as the location of the church edifice, but there is absolutely no record of the conditions upon which the gift of the piece of land as a place of sepulcher was made.  At the same time there is absolute silence on the records of Chester and Delaware Counties, as well as in those of St. Paul’s parish itself, as to any conveyance of any part of the grounds to individual owners for an exclusive right of burial for themselves and members of their families.  The only reference to a right of interment within the graveyard is a resolution of the vestry in the early part of the last century according to pew holders the privilege of burial for themselves and families, unmarried sons not over 21 years and single daughters without limitation as to age, are included in the exercise of that privilege.

            THE QUESTION OF TITLE – The title of St. Paul’s Church to the old graveyard must be accepted as resting absolutely upon uninterrupted occupation and an unchallenged exercise of ownership for more than a century as to the Jones’ tract and more than two centuries as to the remainder of the land.  As there is no adverse outstanding title to any part of the ground, the right of the church authorities to remove the bodies interred therein (giving the remains decent burial in another location) and to convey the land to individual purchasers or donate it to the city for public uses, in common justice ought to be unquestioned.

            While all the presumptive or argumentative evidence obtainable at this day goes to establish the fact that the original churchyard had been in use as a burial place for the dead of this neighborhood, who were not in membership with the Society of Friends, for fully a quarter of a century before the first church edifice was erected, there is nothing to show that any memorial tablets were set up to mark the graves in the enclosure prior to the opening of the eighteenth century.

            The oldest stone in the ground bears the date of 1704.  Near the high board fence separating the burial place from the adjoining properties to the south, is a slab lying almost even with the earth, which the inscription reads: 

                        “Here lyeth the Body of Charles Brooks who Dyed,”

                  The date of his death was never filled in but beneath the unfinished line is cut:


                        Frances Brooks, who Dyed August 9, 1704, Aged 50.”

            The church records state that she was the wife of Charles, who certainly died before she did, as is evidenced by the use of the word “also” on the slab.

A STRANGE RECORD – In the old church records appear the following:  “Memorial.  That a Child and Apprentice to the Widow Cornish was buried in the church yard and afterwards Brooks, a Waterman, was buried in ye same.  All of these not being able to be kept for Christian burial in a solemn manner, 1704.”

            This unusual notation suggests long forgotten incidents which, when they occurred had shocked the then residents of Chester because of the circumstances, now unknown, which were associated with the tragedies.  It is now fully 30 years ago since Dr. John M. Allen showed me, in a closet in the Sunday school room in the old church on Third Street, the “very ancient soapstone,” mentioned by John F. Watson, the annalist, in his “Visit to Chester in 1827.”  That memorial had then an attraction for visitors to the borough by reason of its antiquity, the crude manner of sculpture and the singularity of the inscription.  The table when I saw it was broken in halves, the result of an accident which occurred while the old church building was being demolished in 1850.  Unfortunately the present whereabouts of the stone is unknown, although William Shaler Johnson has made diligent search to recover the interesting memorial. 

            The inscription read:


                                       The Memory of

                                       Francis Brooke,

                                       Who died August

                                       The 19, 1704.

                                       Aged 50

                                    In Barbarian bondage

                                     And cruel tyranny

                                    For ten years together

                                     I served in Slavery

                                    After this Mercy brought me

                                    To my Country fair

                                    And last I Drowned was

                                      In River Delaware.”


John Hill Martin in his “History of Chester,” asserts that Francis Brooke was a Negro.  There is not a particle of evidence to justify that averment.  At the time of Brooke’s death there were no free Negroes in the American colonies; the names then given to black slaves were almost without exception selected from mythology or conspicuous characters in Biblical or ancient history.  As the inscription particularly mentioned the return of Brooke from slavery to “his country fair,” the presumption necessarily is that his term of servitude was in a foreign land.  The Christian and surname points to an English origin.  But beyond all so strong were the race prejudices at that period, that it is absolutely improbable that in the face of public sentiment the consent of the authorities of St. Paul’s Church would have been given for the burial of a Negro in the church yard, and that the assent of the vestry was had is shown by the extract from the church records hereinbefore quoted.

            PAUL JACKSON’S GRAVE – A few yards almost directly east from the obelisk marking the tome of John Morton, is a flat stone that is now depressed below the surface of the surrounding earth.  The inscription which in the main, is legible, reads:


“Here lies the Body of

                                            Paul Jackson, A.M.

                                    He was the first who received a degree

                                    In the College of Philadelphia.

                                    A Man of Worth, Virtue and Knowledge

                                    Unwearied Application and Extensive Genius

                                    But the constitution of his body being weak

                                    It sank under the exertions of his mind

                                    And he fell

                                    Like a flower in the Act of bloom

                                               Died 1767,

                                                An Aet 38.”


There are four lines of Latin text following which are so obliterated in the lapse of years since the letters were cut, that only by the use of the process known to antiquaries as “rubbing,” can they be deciphered.  That labor of love William Shaler Johnson proposes to undertake in the near future in the hope that, in that way, the inscription can be preserved in its entirety.

            Dr. Paul Jackson, the eldest son of Samuel Jackson, was born at Oxford, Chester County, in 1729.  Little is known of his early life and his prominence at this day begins with the bestowal upon him of a diploma as Master of Arts, May 17, 1757, by the College of Philadelphia, which ultimately became the University of Pennsylvania.  Paul Jackson stood at the head of his class, the first graduate from the college, and it is doubtful whether in the history of educational institutions throughout the world, taking into consideration the number of the graduates who afterwards became distinguished, that the equal of that class can be found.  A brief reference to Paul Jackson’s six fellow students will show the facts upon which this distinction is claimed.

            HIS FELLOW GRADUATES – Jacob Duche, the second in the list of graduates, became a Doctor of Divinity, and had the conspicuous honor, on September 4, 1774, of opening the proceedings of the First Continental Congress, which assembled in Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia, with a prayer of such finished diction, beauty of language and appropriateness to the occasion that the thanks of Congress were voted to him, “for the excellent prayer he composed and delivered.”  That “First Prayer in Congress” has been repeatedly the inspiration for the pencil of the artist and the pen of the poet, novelist and historian.  As Chaplain of Congress, Duche’s prayer after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, is recognized as one of the polished literary productions of the Revolutionary period.  His subsequent apostasy to the cause of the colonists, his attempt to influence Washington to a like treasonable course; his flight to England; his return to Philadelphia, aged, broken in health and estates, the death of his wife (a sister of Francis Hopkinson, his classmate) by an accident a year prior to Duche’s demise, presents the sad conclusion to what at one time promised to be an unusually brilliant career.

            Francis Hopkinson, the third graduate, although he was not a member of the Congress which adopted the Declaration of Independence, but was elected to the succeeding Congress, in attaching his signature to that immortal Charter of Liberty, secured undying fame.  An eminent lawyer, poet, novelist and essayist, he is best remembered in literature by his “Battle of the Kegs,” a poem which he wrote hurriedly little supposing that it would outlast his other productions upon which he had hoped to build his permanent reputation.

            Samuel Magaw, the fourth graduate, was afterwards rector of St. Paul’s Church, Philadelphia, and a noted pulpit orator of his day.  In 1782 he was elected Vice Provost of the University of Philadelphia, but in his later years he became so deaf that he was disqualified to continue in the active ministry or in active educational work.

            Hugh Williamson, the fifth in the class, was born in Chester County.  He was licensed as a Presbyterian minister and subsequently elected Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania.  Afterwards he studied medicine at Edinburgh and graduated at Utrecht.  Returning to America he settled in North Carolina, where he became prominent in scientific researches and his writings on astronomical topics, climatology and kindred subjects are to this day recognized as authority.  He represented North Carolina in Congress and was a delegate from that state in the convention of Philadelphia which framed the Constitution of the United States and in that body took a very prominent part in its deliberations.

            James Latta, D.D., the sixth graduate, was born in Ireland in 1732, and came when a child of 6 years to the colonies.  He delivered the salutatory oration in Latin at graduation and in 1758 was licensed as a clergyman of the Presbyterian Church.  The next year he was a missionary among the Indians of Virginia and Carolina.  He was an ardent supporter of the Revolutionary cause and when a number of his congregation at Chestnut Level, Lancaster County, were drafter, he voluntarily accepted a knapsack and musket and remained in active service during the campaign.  Subsequently he served as chaplain of a Delaware Regiment.  He died in the early part of 1901.  General James Latta is his great grandson.

            THE LAST OF THE CLASS – James Morgan, the seventh and final graduate of the class, soon after receiving his diploma went to Edinburgh, when he graduated in medicine and subsequently received a like degree at Paris.  His threats on that occasion won him a fellowship in the Royal Society of London, and the College of Physicians of the same city, made him a licentiate of that institution.  Returning to Philadelphia he was instrumental in the organization of the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania and on May 3, 1765, was elected to the chair of the Theory and Practice of Medicine, the first professorship of medicine in the educational history of the new world.  In October 1775, Congress appointed Dr. Morgan physician in chief of the American Army and Navy, the first Surgeon General in our national history.  In Philadelphia, locality, Dr. Morgan is recalled as the first man in that city who made use of an umbrella on the public streets as a shelter from rain.  Dr. J.L. Forwood in an able paper read before the Delaware County Historical Society on May 7, 1896, has treated at considerable length the individual histories of the members of this amazingly distinguished class in which Paul Jackson holds the conspicuous honor of being the first graduate.

            When he received that diploma, Paul Jackson was 28 years of age, and, although we have no definite information directly bearing on the subject the inferential evidence seems to indicate that there had been a hard struggle with adverse circumstances before he obtained his coveted degree.  Prior to his graduation he had acquired considerable reputation by his poetical productions.  IN the winter of 1756, William T. Martin, a member of the original class, died, and Rev. Dr. William Smith, Provost of the College, preached the funeral sermon.  Five of Martin’s classmates wrote elegiacally effusions, and the one which was esteemed the best was that which was contributed by Paul Jackson.

            Joshua Francis Fisher, in his “Early Poets and Poetry of Pennsylvania,” remarks:  “One or two of Mr. Jackson’s exercises were printed and are still preserved.  They are prettily written, but bear no proportion to his reputed talents and cannot be adduced as evidence of the learning and accomplishments for which he has been praised.”  Mrs. Deborah Logan, when in her 64th year, writing from “Stenton, lst 5th Mo., 1827,” (in the manuscript collection of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, mentions Paul Jackson as “a man of great learning and many attainments.  I have been told he was one of the best classical scholars of his time.  He was much lamented at the time of his death.”

            Dr. Frederick D. Stone, in a note to a sketch of Jacob Duche, in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History, in referring to Paul Jackson, says:  “his Latin compositions, which were published, secured for him a reputation for correct taste and accurate scholarship.”

            IN THE FACULTY – Immediately after his graduation Paul Jackson was elected to the chair of Latin and Greek languages in the College of Philadelphia, a positon he held for nearly a year when he resigned to be succeeded by John Beveridge, who also is accorded a place among the poets of Colonial Pennsylvania.  This step was taken by Jackson because he found that the confinement associated with his duties in the University was making serious inroads on his health and he determined to seek an occupation in which he would be constantly in the open air.  Early in 1758 the English ministry decided to overthrow the French, power in America.  That policy was popular in the colonies, recruiting for the provincial service was brisk and in Philadelphia General John Forbes was then engaged in organizing his expedition against Fort DuQuesne.

            HIS WAR RECORD – On May 11, 1758, we find Paul Jackson a commissioned captain in the Third Battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiment of which Lieutenant Governor William Denny was colonel-in-chief, while the immediate colonel of the Third Battalion (comprising 900 men, rank and file), was Hugh Mercer, who nineteen years afterwards, a Brigadier General in the Continental Army, was killed at Princeton, January 11, 1777.

            On the role, after Captain Jackson’s name, in a note in the column for remarks, appears:  “Professor of the Latin tongue in the Academy.”  In the reports of Governor Denny, respecting the arms issued to the troops in that expedition, under date of June 8, 1758, Captain Paul Jackson is credited with having received “53 muskits, 53 bayonnets, 53 cartooch boxes 53 slings and 53 gun worms,” The outdoor rugged life which killed “Head of Iron” (the Indians gave that name to General Forbes because of his obstinacy and his continuing the advance, although he was borne onward reclining on a litter dying of consumption), seems to have restored Paul Jackson to normal health, notwithstanding the toilsome progress through a wild mountainous country, utterly destitute of roads, when a march of ten miles in a day was looked upon as an extraordinary accomplishment.

            The sickness of the troops in that expedition was excessive and it is likely that Captain Jackson because of his recognized superiority of education to most of his brother officers, was called upon to treat the men of his and other commands medically, for the hospital department was wrecked beyond description.  It is probable that his experience in that direction prompted him to adopt the medical profession as a field for his future activity.  At that day most of the practicing doctors in the colonies were men whose only tittle to the degree was the fact that they had read in the offices of physicians already in practice and whose diplomas consisted merely of certificates issued to them by their preceptors that they were fully qualified to enter upon the duties of the profession.  We are told by Dr. George Smith, that Paul Jackson, by great application and by attendance at what was then called, “The Royal Hospital” (now the Pennsylvania Hospital at Pine and Eighth Streets, Philadelphia), he became well versed in both the theory and practice of medicine and surgery.”  He was not discharged from the military service of the Province until about the beginning of the year 1759, and I have been unable to find the date when he was licensed to practice medicine, nor do I find any reference to him in the records of the Pennsylvania Hospital.

            The first mention of Paul Jackson I have found after his return from Pittsburg, is on May 1, 1760, when he married Jane Mather, daughter of John Mather, one of the then leading and wealthy citizens of the borough of Chester.  The probabilities are that the wedding was solemnized in St. Paul’s church and that it was at the instance of his wife’s family that he settled in this town, where he conducted a country store and practiced medicine.  In 1763, the State records show that he was then the Chief Burgess of Chester.  In the tax lists of the borough for 1765 he is assessed as “Paul Jackson, Esq.,” a title which at that time was only accorder to men exercising judicial powers and by virtue of his office he was then one of the judges of the county courts.  In the list of 1766 he still retains the title “Esquire,” but he is also described as “storekeeper and physician,” while in that for 1767, the year of his death, the title Esquire no longer appears, for he had ceased to be Chief Burgess, but he is designated, “practitioner of physic and store keeper.”  His death occurred in the fall of 1767, for the tax levies were then made in midsummer.  Deborah Logan tells us that he left to survive him “a very promising son and a beautiful daughter who both died at an early age of consumption.”  The fact is he left two sons, besides a daughter, the youngest died the year after his father’s death, while the eldest boy, we know, lived to attain his majority as is shown by the records of Chester County.

            “His widow,” Mrs. Logan continues, “intermarried with his brother, Dr. David Jackson, a species of marriage extremely abhorrent to the feelings of our ancestors, by which she lost both respect and friends.”

            The fact is that Dr. David Jackson, who was the first graduate from the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, as his brother Paul had been the first to graduate as Master of Arts from the College of Philadelphia, did not marry his brother’s widow until February 26, 1770, almost three years after Paul’s death.  Assuredly no one was likely to care so kindly for the delicate offspring of the first marriage as the man who at the same time was uncle and stepfather to the children.






1 comment:

  1. So much history in Chester I would like to thank the author of this post for honoring Francis Brooke be it not his true name.So longing to be back from whence he was kidnapped from. I will say a prayer for him this day in hopes that he will forgive those that caused him such despair.