Thomas Iredell and Rebecca Williams

The Iredell family of Pennsylvania claims its descent from a Norman knight who supposedly saved the life of William the Norman at the Battle of Hastings. When Sir Pierre saved the king by slaying the enemies around him, the King said “Sir Pierre, thou hast given me eyre to breathe.” The king then gave the family a grant of land in Dale, or Dell, which led to the name Eyredale, from which it is a short step to Iredell.1  This is delightful, if apocryphal. The Eyre family of Bucks County has exactly the same story.2

Closer to historical reality, the family homestead was at Loweswater in Cumberland. Thomas Iredell, the immigrant, came with a certificate from the Monthly Meeting at Pardshaw Crag in Loweswater, issued 6th month 1700. Pardshaw was a stronghold of Quakerism. George Fox preached there in 1650 and a meeting of Friends, the first in Cumberland, was formed. At first the people met outside on Pardshaw Crag, until in 1672 a meeting house was built. “They dwell far distant from any church, and having high-crags or clinty rocks above the town, they have their great Quaking meetings there, from whence they do readily espye any who come to disturb their conventicles; and so they were wont to disperse before they were caught, to prevent their convictions…”3

The Iredell family had lived around Loweswater for years. In 1524 William Iredale was warned to mend his roof or pay a fine.4 In the 1660s and 1670s, Loweswater was full of Iredales; “Half of the families listed, [in the Hearth Tax list] 33 out of 67, shared only six surnames: Iredale, Pearson, Mirehouse, Burnyeat, Wilkinson or Jackson. There were no less than thirteen families of Iredale alone and confusion is made worse by the fact that the number of first names used was also very small.”5 The parish registers and tax lists show multiple Iredales named William, John, and Peter.

Thomas Iredell, the immigrant to Pennsylvania, is usually said to be the son of Robert Iredell and Ellinore Jackson of Rigg Bank.6 However Robert and Ellinore were apparently married on 26 April 1628, at Loweswater Church, ruling them out as parents for Thomas the immigrant.7 A Thomas Iredell with father Robert was christened on 6 Dec 1676 in Loweswater, but this is surely a different Robert.8 Given the number of Iredell or Iredale families around Loweswater, it is possible that Thomas’ parents will remain unidentified.

Thomas became a Quaker before 1700, when the meeting on Pardsay Crag in Cumberland gave him a certificate of fitness to carry to Pennsylvania.9 It stated that “he has of late years come frequently among Friends. His carriage appears to be sober and truthlike, those who know him best give no other account but well. He comes with consent of his mother, though [she was] no Friend, and inquiry hath been made as to his clearness in relation to marriage, and nothing appears to ye contrary.”10 One of the signers was John Burnyeat, possibly the prominent Quaker minister from Loweswater who converted early and travelled widely.11

After immigrating, Thomas lived in Philadelphia for several years, a member of Philadelphia Meeting. There he married Rebecca Williams, daughter of Thomas Williams and his first wife, under the care of the Friends Meeting in 1705.12 Thomas Williams had immigrated before 1686, when he declared his intention of marrying Rebecca Bennet, widow of William Bennet.13 However, his daughter Rebecca was not with Rebecca Bennet, who already had a daughter Rebecca with William Bennet. In early 1702 the court at Burlington found Thomas Williams guilty of fornication with his “wife’s daughter” Rebecca, who was by then married to John Scholey.14 Thomas Williams’ daughter Rebecca (as opposed to his step-daughter) probably immigrated separately. Her passage was paid by her cousin Abraham Hardiman and by Samuel Carpenter, who was married to Hannah Hardiman.15 This strongly suggests that Thomas William’s first wife was a Hardiman, that they were married in Pembrokeshire, Wales (where the Hardimans were from), and that their daughter Rebecca was born there.16 It is not clear why Rebecca Williams immigrated without her father, if in fact she did.17

After Thomas and Rebecca Iredell were married, they may have lived in Philadelphia at first. In 1710 they asked for a certificate from Philadelphia Meeting, as they had moved out of the limits of the meeting. They settled in Abington, where Thomas built a stone house which stood for more than 150 years.18 The land they lived on, 200 acres, was bought from Samuel Carpenter, married to Rebecca’s cousin Hannah Hardiman.

In 1712 Thomas gave in a paper of condemnation to Abington Meeting for his “unbecoming expression and foolish behaviour” to Sarah Hood. He remained in good standing and in 1717, when Horsham Meeting was established as a meeting for worship, he was one of five members who took the title to the land donated by Samuel Carpenter.19 “Horsham Meeting had its official beginning in a Youth’s Meeting, established in the spring of 1717….The road to Abington was a long and difficult one in those days, and it is unthinkable that such pious families as the Cadwalladers and Iredells would long be content to be deprived of the privilege of religious services.”20 Thomas was appointed overseer and represented Horsham Meeting at the Quarterly Meeting almost every year from 1717 to 1725.

Thomas died in 1st month 1726/27. He did not leave a will, and Rebecca served as the administrator. The inventory of his estate showed the household goods, farm tools, and animals of a prosperous farmer, with a value of £172.21 Rebecca was still in Horsham in 1734, when she was taxed for 200 acres.22

Children of Thomas and Rebecca:23

Mary, born about 1711, married in 1730 Thomas Good. They lived in Plumstead, where Thomas died in 1791.24

Abraham, married in 1740 Sarah Coffin. They lived in Horsham. Abraham died in 1749 and Sarah was one of the administrators of his estate, along with Isaac Cleaver and Abraham Lukens, who were both weavers.25

Rebecca, born 1717, died after 1797, married Isaac Cleaver in 1737 at Abington Mtg, son of Peter and Catharine. They lived in Cheltenham, where he was a weaver.26 Isaac died in 1797,  and left a will, naming Rebecca, his living daughters and some grandchildren. Children: Hannah, Mary, Rebecca, Rachel, Agnes, and Sarah. Of the six daughters, four married Tysons and the other two did not marry.

Robert, born 1721, died 1799, married in 1745 Hannah Lukens, daughter of Peter and Gainor. They lived in Horsham. Robert and his son Robert supported the British in the Revolution and some of their property was seized.27 Robert wrote his will in 1799, named his wife Hannah, six living children Seth, John, Jonathan, Robert, Abraham, Hannah.28

Rachel, died after 1800, married about 1745 Abraham Lukens, son of Peter and Gainor. They lived in Horsham, where Abraham was a weaver. He died in 1800. His will named wife Rachel, children Nathan, Robert, Seneca, Gaynor, Lydia.29

Hannah, married in 1745 Benjamin Fell under the auspices of Abington Meeting. They lived in Bucks County, where Benjamin died in 1758. In his will he mentioned a former wife (apparently Hannah) and present wife Sarah.30 He placed some of his children in the care of their aunts Mary Good and Rebecca Cleaver, and uncle Isaac Cleaver. Children John, Asa, Benjamin, Phebe, Deborah, Hannah, Thomas, Levi.

  1. W. W. H. Davis, History of Bucks County, 1876. Davis interviewed the people he profiled and got many of the early family stories from them. It’s a very warlike creation myth for a good Quaker family. One early comment on this story was from Thomas Allen Glenn, Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania, 1911, who points out that William the Conqueror would have spoken French, not English. The name of the knight is supposedly Sir Pierre d’Ancome, but this has not been confirmed in historical records.
  2. Battle, History of Bucks County, 1887.
  3. Thomas Denton, A Perambulation of Cumberland 1687-1688, quoted on the website of the Swindell one-name study at:, accessed April 2020.
  4. Roz Southey, Life in old Loweswater, 2008, p. 24
  5. Southey, p. 101.
  6. The assertion of the 1628 marriage is from Edgar Iredale, posted on an Ancestry message board, and from Chris Dickinson, posting on a Rootsweb mailing list. See below.
  7. Post by Dot Ravenswood, “Iredell marriage bond”, on Rootsweb message board Eng-Cul-Copeland, on 12/29/2004, at: She cites the Cumbria Family History Society newsletter, no date, with the source given as the Leeds Archive Collection at the West Yorkshire Archive Service. In 2002, Chris Dickinson posted the earliest Iredell entries from the Loweswater parish registers, taken from a photocopy, probably from local Cumberland repositories. They included the marriage of Robert Iredell and Ellinor Jackson on 26 April 1628. (Post to Rootsweb mailing list, (CUL-COP) Iredale Iredell Iredall, on 11 Oct 2002) In the same year Thomas Burnyeat married Margaret Iredell. Around the same time other men named Iredell were having children baptized or buried: John of Thackthwait, Thomas of Waterend, William, George, Thomas of Church Strate, another George, etc.
  8. The christening record is available on The parents of the immigrants were not Quakers (from Thomas’ 1700 certificate), so it is plausible to find a christening record for him.
  9. Albert Cook Myers, Quaker Arrivals at Philadelphia 1682-1750, 1902.
  10. Various online sources including Ellwood Roberts, Biog. Annals of Montgomery County, 1904. The Philadelphia MM records show that the certificate was received in 1703. There is a tradition that Iredell was accompanied on the voyage by his friend John Barns, who settled in Horsham with him. Barns was not a Quaker. (Charles H. Smith, “The Settlement of Horsham Township”, Old York Road Historical Society Bulletin, vol. IV, 1940)
  11. Burnyeat was a farmer from Crabtree Beck, Loweswater. He bought land in Pennsylvania, but did not immigrate, probably buying land only in support of Penn. Burnyeat died in Ireland in 1690.
  12. Thomas Williams married the widow Rebecca Bennet in 1686 as his second wife. She was the widow of William Bennett and had six children with him, including a daughter Rebecca. In 1702 Thomas Williams was found guilty by the Burlington court of fornication with his step-daughter Rebecca (his wife’s daughter, not his). By then Rebecca (the step-daughter) was married to John Scholey Jr.
  13. Thomas was living in Burlington, but Rebecca Bennet was living in Bucks County, and his intentions were in the records of Falls Monthly Meeting.
  14. In her will, proved in Philadelphia in February 1706/07, Rebecca Williams, as widow of Thomas Williams, carpenter, named her daughter Rebecca “Schooly” and other daughters, but not her step-daughter Rebecca Iredell. (Book C, p. 49)
  15. Abraham Hardiman’s will, proved in 1702, says that he paid the passage money for his cousins Rebecca Williams, John and Rebecca Harris, with Samuel Carpenter promising to pay the other half. (Philadelphia wills, Book B, p. 189)
  16. Abraham Hardiman of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, married his first wife Diana Thomas in 6th month 1681, according to the records of Pembroke Monthly Meeting. The wedding certificate was signed by various Hardimans, Thomases, and John Burnyeat, among others. His son John was buried at Nesthook on 29th 7th month 1682. (Ancestry, England and Wales, Quaker birth marriage death registers 1578-1837, Herefordshire, Worchester, Wales, Piece 1365, Monthly Meeting of Pembroke Marriages) A daughter Mary was born in 3rd month 1684. Note that there are gaps in the burial records of Pembroke Meeting around 1685 to 1687. In the same source, Abraham Hardiman signed as a witness in March 1685 when Thomas Williams married a woman named Elizabeth. This is probably the other Thomas Williams who appeared in the records of Pembroke, even after the other Thomas Williams was in West Jersey.
  17. Abraham Hardiman did not mention Thomas Williams in his will. Just to keep things interesting, Abraham’s second wife was yet another Rebecca, Rebecca Willsford.
  18. Charles H. Smith, Settlement of Horsham.
  19. Settlement of Horsham.
  20. Smith, p. 74.
  21. Philadelphia County Administration Files 1726-28, on Ancestry. The inventory included carpenter tools. Is that how Thomas made his living while he was in Philadelphia?
  22. Harry C. Adams, Landholders in Philadelphia County outside the city 1734, 1990.
  23. Some lists add Sarah, who married Joseph Wilson in 1752.
  24. Federal census, Bucks County, 1790. No township listed, but near other people in Plumstead township.
  25. Philadelphia County administrations, 1749, no. 63.
  26. His occupation was noted in the 1749 administration papers for his brother-in-law Abraham Iredell.
  27. Posting to Quaker Roots mailing list, Aug. 4 1999; originally from the Pennsylvania Packet May 13, 1778. It is said that the younger Robert led the British to the Battle of Crooked Billet.
  28. Montgomery County wills, Book 2, p. 114. The birth of several other children were noted in Abington Monthly Meeting records, but they died before their father.
  29. Montgomery County wills, Book 2, p. 166.
  30. Bucks County wills, Book 2, p. 342.

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