The Worthingtons of Byberry

My grandmother Helen told me a story about her Worthington ancestors, passed down to her from her aunt May. She said that we were descended from Captain John and Sarah Worthington who sailed up the Severn River in Maryland and settled on a plantation called Pendennis. These turned out to be real people, even though the dashing Captain John was not closely related to our quiet Quaker farmers. He came to Maryland as a youth, and rose to serve as a commissioner, coroner, judge, and member of the House of Burgesses and the Legislative Assembly. He was active in the Severn Militia and fought against the Nanticoke Indians. With his wife Sarah Howard he had six children. But we are not descended from any of them.

Worthington was a common name in the north of England, around Lancashire and Cheshire. Some of them became Quakers and they were persecuted for it. James Harrison, a prominent Lancashire Quaker, wrote in 1679 to Roger Longworth, a traveling missionary, “…. heareaways Ph Worthington desired me to remember his love to thee when I writ, … a bad bad spirit hath been at work and it is in Cheshire.” 1 Davis claimed in his History of Bucks County that the immigrant Worthingtons were from Standish Parish, Lancashire, where there is a town called Worthington. This must have been family folklore from someone whom Davis interviewed, since Martindale did not mention it in his History of Byberry and Moreland.

When Pennsylvania opened up as a refuge for the Quakers, some of the Worthingtons emigrated and settled in Byberry township, north of Philadelphia. The usual story is that there were three brothers, John, Samuel, and Thomas, who reached Byberry in 1705. We know that Samuel was John’s brother, since he named John’s son Isaac in his will. But there is no evidence that Thomas was related to John or Samuel. 2 Furthermore there is no evidence that they came in 1705. If they actually came then, John and Samuel came as children. John would have been only about eight years old, while Samuel was probably slightly younger. They could not have come alone. They may have been orphans, sent with family, or perhaps their parents died at sea during the voyage. 3 A plausible alternative is that they came about 1719 as young adults.

Worthington was a very common name at the time, even in Bucks County. From the earliest times there were two clusters, one in Byberry and the other around Wrightstown. My grandmother knew this and assured me that we had no connection to the Wrightstown Worthingtons. Since they were descended from Richard Worthington, who seems to have no relation to the Byberry brothers, she was quite right. The oral tradition was remarkably accurate. She was descended from John and the Byberry Worthingtons, while her husband Raymond was descended from Samuel and the Plumstead Worthingtons. She never knew this, although it would not have surprised her. She spent her entire life in Bucks County, and once told me, “Don’t say anything bad about someone. You’re probably related to them.” 4

  1. Cited in Hull, William Penn and the Dutch Quakers, p. 358. The original letter is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; it  is very difficult to read.
  2. Martindale probably started this story of three brothers in his History of Byberry and Moreland, and many others have repeated it since. Davis said that Thomas was received at Buckingham Meeting in 1732, but “shortly removed to Abington”. Thomas does appear in the records of Buckingham Monthly Meeting when he requested a certificate to Abington. I can find no evidence that he was a member of Abington or Byberry meetings. The next records of Thomas Worthington are of John’s son Thomas, born in 1726. If Samuel hadn’t named his nephew Isaac in his will, there would have been little evidence to link John and Samuel as brothers. For example the names of their children overlap only in a daughter named Esther.
  3. In fact there was a John Worthington who died on the Friendship in January 1685. But he didn’t name any children in his will, only his mother and siblings, and the names do not fit into the known Worthington families.
  4. Davis calls the family of Richard Worthington the Buckingham Worthingtons in his History of Bucks County.  He calls Samuel’s descendents the Plumstead Worthingtons (Samuel moved from Abington to Buckingham in 1736). (Davis, History of Bucks County, p. 259.)