From The Revolutionary War To The Erection Of Delaware County
treme southeastern edge of the county of Chester, it was doubtless a serious matter to those persons residing in such remote townships as Coventry, Honeybrook, or West Nottingham, when, as jurors, suitors, or witnesses, they were compelled to attend at court. It involved considerable labor to go and return in those days, and in winter time, when, in a warm spell, the roads would be wretched beyond expression, it was a journey such as no man of these modern times would contemplate calmly.
It is a theme for wonder now that previous to Jan. 28, 1766, no earnest effort was made to procure legislation looking to a proposed removal of the countyseat to a more central location. At the date mentioned a petition was presented to the Legislature, setting forth the grievances of a large number of people of the county because of the location of the court; they were so far removed from the public offices that that fact alone increased the fees charged for mileage by the officials. A class of cases of peculiar hardship they stated were, "that many poor widows are obliged to travel thirty or forty miles for letters of administration, and are put to much trouble in attending Orphans' Court at so great a distance." In consideration of these and other reasons, the petitioners urged the enactment of a law providing for the erection of a courthouse, and the holding of court therein, as near the centre of the county as could possibly be done. This was supplemented on May 7th by nine other petitions of a like tenor, and on the following day the anti-removalists submitted twelve petitions, which, after calling the attention of the Legislature to the establishment of Chester as the shire-town during the first visit of William Penn to his province, in 1682,1 as a further reason why the location of the county-seat should not be changed, they set forth "it is notorious" that those persons residing in the near neighborhood of the court attended its sessions three times as frequently as those living at a distance, while the deputy register, in the discharge of the duties of his office, had no connection with the courts of justice at all.
The war caused an absolute cessation of the movement until fourteen years had elapsed, when the inhabitants of the ancient shire-town stood aghast, in the face of an act of Assembly, passed March 20,1780, which authorized William Clingan, Thomas Bull, John Kinhead, Roger Kirk, John Sellers, John Wilson, and Joseph Davis, or any four or more of them to build a new court-house and prison in the county of Chester, and when the proposed buildings should be ready for public use to sell the old court-house and prison in the borough of Chester. It is believed that the majority of the commissioners named were adverse to the proposed change, - hence the law remained a dead letter on the statute-book. But in 1784, the representatives in Assembly from Chester County being largely composed of removalists, a supplement to the former act was passed on March 22, 1784, which empowered John Hannum, Esq., Isaac Taylor, Esq., and John Jacobs, or any two of them, to put the law into execution. As all of the persons named were uncompromising removalists, they immediately set about enforcing its provisions. By the wording of the act they were restrained from erecting the new county buildings at a greater distance than one mile and a half from the Turk's Head Tavern in the township of Goshen. This location tradition asserts - a statement which Judge Futhey and Gilbert Cope say may reasonably be questioned - was inserted in this bill through the influence of Col. John Hannum, an adroit politician who, with an eye to his personal advantage, desired to bring a tract of land he owned within the site designated. In this, however, he made an error, for his premises subsequently proved to be more than two miles from the Turk's Head. The commissioners, notwithstanding Hannum's mistake, diligently began the erection of a court-house and prison adjacent, connected by a jail-yard. After the buildings had progressed until the walls were nearly completed, and while work was suspended thereon by reason of the severe winter and before the spring permitted its resumption, the people of old Chester succeeded, March 30, 1785, in having an act passed suspending the supplemental act under which the new structures were being erected.
To render themselves absolutely assured of retaining the county-seat in the ancient borough, a number of the anti-removalists gathered in Chester under command of Maj. John Harper, then landlord of the present City Hotel, and provided with arms, a field-piece, a barrel of whiskey, and other necessary munitions of war, took up the line of march for the Turk's Head, intent on razing the walls of the proposed court-house and jail to the earth. In the mean while Col. Hannum, learning of the hostile designs of the Chester people, dispatched couriers in all directions,
|1 "That in the first regulation of the said county, in the year One Thousand Six Hundred and Eighty-two, the Honorable William Penn, Esq., Proprietary and Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania, by virtue of the Royal Charter, did order that the Townsted or Village, then bearing the name of Upland, should be called Chester, and thereupon constituted it the Shire-Town of the County of Chester, and ordained and appointed all the Courts of Judicature for the Affairs of the County to be there held and kept, and the County Goal or prison to be and remain there forever; that the said William Penn, Esq., afterwards, to wit, on the Thirty-first day of October, One Thousand Seven Hundred and One, did grant, by charter, unto the Freeholders and Inhabitants of the said Borough, that the Sheriff and Clerk of the Courts of the said County for the time being, if not Residents in the said Borough should appoint and constitute sufficient Deputies, who should from Time to Time reside, or constantly attend, in the said Town of Chester, to perform the duties of their respective offices; which said Privileges (with respect to the holding of the Courts of Judicature at Chester), were afterwards established by John Evan, Esq., Lieutenant-Governor of the said Province, by an Ordinance issued by him, under the Great Seal, bearing Date the Twenty-second Day of February, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seven and afterwards confirmed by an act of General Assembly, made perpetual, and passed in the Year One thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty-one." This interesting paper, so far as I have been able to ascertain, was first recovered from the dust of nearly a century by Messrs. Futhey and Cope, and published by them in their "History of Chester County," p. 116.|