Thomas Roberts and Eleanor Potts

Thomas Roberts was a Welshman who emigrated to Pennsylvania as a young man around 1699.1 By some accounts he sailed on the Canterbury, along with William Penn, who was returning to Pennsylvania after an extended stay in England.2 Roberts lived in Bristol Township, on the Old York Road, and worked as a stone mason.3 Germantown surged in population around 1745 to 1767 and there would have been much work there for a stone mason.4 He is traditionally said to have helped build the meeting house in Germantown.5 Friends there originally met in members’ houses, traditionally the house of Thonis Kunders, but in 1705 they decided to build a new meeting house and asked Abington Monthly Meeting for help. Subscriptions were raised and in September Heifert Papen donated fifty acres for the meeting house (and presumably a burying ground as well).6 Since that was the closest meeting to Bristol, Thomas probably attended the Germantown meeting for worship and may have helped with the building.7

In 1705 he married Eleanor Potts under the auspices of Abington Monthly Meeting.8 Eleanor was an orphan who had come over in 1698 with her sisters and brothers.  Their father John had died in Wales and their mother was presumably also dead. Her sister Mary and brother John were placed as apprentices by Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. It is not known where Eleanor lived until she married Thomas.

In 1713 Thomas bought 200 acres in Bristol on Tacony Creek. He was taxed on this land in 1734.9 He owned this land until 1753 when he and Eleanor gave it to their son John for love and affection.10 In 1739 Thomas bought a four-acre lot in Germantown, on the Germantown road, adjoining the burying ground. In 1748 they sold two acres of this lot to Samuel Bell.11

Thomas appears often in the records of Abington Monthly Meeting.12 In 1725 he was named as an elder to attend meetings (along with Reynear Tyson of Abington and John Duncan of Byberry. He was an overseer.13 He attended the Quarterly meeting several times. In 1750 he and John Hammer were appointed to attend burials.14 He and sometimes Eleanor attended wedding at Abington meeting and signed as witnesses.15 She was an elder of Abington at her death.16 Three of their children married under the auspices of Abington Meeting.

He died in 1756 in Germantown.17 He left a will naming Eleanor and children Thomas, John, Mary and Sarah (deceased), as well as two grandsons, Thomas Jones and Thomas Roberts Jr.18 The inventory of Thomas’ estate, taken 20th 8th month 1756, showed household goods, one cow and one horse and two properties, one in Germantown and one on Gilberts Alley. The total value was a respectable £587.19 Eleanor died before 8th month 1768, when Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting reported that Eleanor Roberts, an elder of Abington, had died.20

Children of Thomas and Eleanor:

Mary, born about 1706, married 1727, at Abington Meeting, Peter Tyson, son of Rynear and Margaret. They lived in Abington, where Peter was a farmer. He died in 1791, and left a will naming his four surviving children: Rynear, Thomas, Margaret, Peter. His daughter Eleanor died before him, as did his wife Mary. His substantial estate was not settled until 1804.21

Thomas, born 1709, died 1757 in Germantown.22 Thomas married in 1734 at Abington Rachel Livezey, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth.23 Thomas worked as a mason and was living in Bristol in 1743 when he bought 40 acres from Thomas Edwards.24 He died in 1757.25 The inventory of his estate included household goods, farming implements, and farm animals, for a total value of £241. Rachel died in 9th month 1760 and was buried in Germantown.26 Children: Thomas, Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, Jonathan, John, James, Daniel.27

Sarah, married 1749 Isaac Jones, at Abington Meeting.28 Thomas and Eleanor signed at the top of the witness list, along with Katherine Jones, presumably Isaac’s mother.29 Sarah died before her father and was named as deceased in his will written in 1753. She and Isaac had at least one child, a son Thomas, also named in the will.30

John. He is said to have married Anne Nanna in 1750 in a Reformed church, but this has not been confirmed.31 John was a miller and lived in Bristol Township. In 1753 his parents gave him a tract of 200 acres that had been conveyed to them in 1713.32 In 1756 John bought more land in Bristol, two tracts totaling 161 acres, from Robert Strettell and his wife Philotesia.33 In 1775 John wrote a will leaving his real estate to be shared among his five children, with the “mill seat near the quarry” to be reserved for the son Nathan.34 However in 1781, when four of the children partitioned his real estate, Nathan was “absent”. In fact Nathan had sided with the British during the Revolution, was declared a traitor by the Council, and forfeited his one-fifth share of the land in Bristol.35 The other four children were Israel, Sarah (married to David Evans), Eleanor, and Ann.36

  1. This date comes from the tradition that he sailed with Penn on the Canterbury. Otherwise he could have come any time before 1705 when he declared his intentions of marriage with Eleanor Potts.
  2. The earliest reference I can find to Roberts coming on the Canterbury is Theodore Bean’s History of Montgomery County, 1884.
  3. Several deeds refer to him as a mason. Note that Bristol Township was part of Philadelphia County before it was absorbed into the City of Philadelphia. It should not be confused with Bristol Township, Bucks County.
  4. Thomas Adam, ed, Germany and the Americas, vol. 1, pp. 444.
  5. Thomas Potts, Potts Family in Great Britain and America, 1901. Potts said that the minutes of the meeting refer to Roberts as working on the building. The Abington men’s minutes of 12th month 1704/05, do contain the request for assistance, but no mention of Thomas Roberts. There are no early records of Germantown meeting, since at that time it was only a meeting for worship, not a Monthly Meeting, and did not keep minutes.
  6. Abington Monthly Meeting minutes. Eleanor Potts’ uncle Thomas Potts was one of the trustees to whom Papen conveyed the land. (Thomas M. Potts, Potts Family in Great Britain and America, 1901)
  7. The stone in Germantown was distinctive, “flecked with mica, a kind of schist found only in a limited area around Germantown”, and known as glimmerstone. (Adam, pp. 444-445)
  8. Abington Men’s Minutes 1682-1746, image 26, on Ancestry, US Quaker Meeting Records 1681-1935, Montgomery County, Abington Monthly Meeting.
  9. Philadelphia County landholders 1734.
  10. Philadelphia County deeds, Book D6, p. 520.
  11. Philadelphia County deeds, Book D5, p. 470. Thomas was a mason of Bristol. They both signed by their mark.
  12. There was another Thomas Roberts, a member of the meeting, who lived in Abington and died in 1749 (He had a wife Elizabeth Tyson and daughter Priscilla and left a will. (Elizabeth was the daughter of John Tyson and Priscilla Naylor.) The widow Elizabeth married Jacob Lippincott in 1754 at Abington Meeting.) It is difficult to distinguish these two men in the records. The activities attributed to Thomas Roberts of Germantown (such as being an overseer) are almost certainly him, as well as activities after 1749, although there is also potential for confusion with his son Thomas. There was also a Thomas Roberts of Bucks County at about the same time, but he is not likely to be confused with the men of Bristol and Germantown. In March 1735/36 Thomas Roberts of Bristol, mason, was one of four men who sold a small lot in Germantown, which may have originally been intended for the use of the Friends Meeting there. (Philadelphia County deeds, Book G4, p. 214) The other men were Isaac Davis of Germantown, Samuel Powell of Bristol, and Griffith Jones of Germantown.
  13. Abington Minutes, 8th month 1748, show that John Hammer was elected overseer in place of Thomas Roberts. The old locution, somewhat misleading, is that Hamer was chosen “in the room of Thomas Roberts”.
  14. Abington Monthly Meeting minutes 8th month 1750. Friends did not believe in ostentatious funerals and policed this carefully.
  15. Note that they could not write and signed by mark. They witnessed the will of Ann Whartenby in 1738 (indexed as Whartnally), and signed by mark.
  16. Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting Minutes 1723-1772, on Ancestry, Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting, image 427.
  17. The records of Abington Monthly Meeting show his burial in Germantown as 8th month 1st day 1756. (On Ancestry as Abington Minutes 1629-1812, actually a record of births and burials)
  18. Philadelphia County wills, Book K, p. 540.
  19. Philadelphia County wills, City Hall, Philadelphia.
  20. Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting Minutes 1723-1772, on Ancestry, Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting, image 427.
  21. Montgomery County estate files, RW6825.
  22. He died just a year after his father Thomas. The record of burial for his father in 1756 named him as Thomas Roberts Sr, to differentiate him from his son. No record of the burial for the son has been found. The date of the son’s death can be assumed from the date of the inventory, which was traditionally taken soon after death.
  23. Mears said that Elizabeth Livezey was the daughter of Morris Morris and Susanna Heath. Others, including John Jordan in his Colonial Families of Pennsylvania, said that she was the daughter of Robert Heath and his wife Susanna. Susanna Heath, wife of Morris Morris, was another daughter of Robert and Susanna. According to her biography in The Friend, vol. 31, she was a traveling minister for Friends. The marriage of Thomas and Rachel was approved in 2nd month 1734 by Abington Monthly Meeting. Sarah Roberts, John Roberts, and Mary Tyson, Thomas’ sisters and brother, all signed the certificate, along with his parents.
  24. Philadelphia County deeds, Book I 17, pp. 73-75. After Thomas died, his widow Rachel put the land in trust for her son Thomas, and in 1761 the younger Thomas sold the land to the trustees of the Oxford Church.
  25. Administration granted to his widow Rachel, with Thomas Roberts, Thomas Livezey and John Shoemaker. Livezey and Shoemaker were both millers. (Philadelphia County Admin file #69, 1757, on Ancestry, PA Wills & Probate 1683-1993. Rachel affirmed the account of her husband’s estate in March 1759, and in 1765 an additional account was filed, after her death in 1760.
  26. Births and burials, Abington Monthly Meeting, in Ancestry as Minutes 1629-1812, image 231.
  27. Abington Monthly Meeting, Births and Deaths 1682-1809, vol. 1, Image 68, on Ancestry. The sons Jonathan and Thomas married sisters, daughters of Rynear Kirk and Mary Michener. (John Jordan, Colonial Families of Phila, 1911, vol. 1)
  28. Abington Monthly Meeting, Marriages 1745-1841, image 33, on Ancestry, US Quaker Meeting Records 1681-1935, Montgomery County. Isaac’s parents have not been found. Note that in 1738 Joseph Jeanes married Sarah Roberts at Abington Meeting. The identity of that Sarah’s parents has not been traced. This could not be a first marriage for Sarah, daughter of Thomas and Eleanor, as she would have been called Sarah Jeanes at the time of a second marriage.
  29. John, Thomas and Mary also signed.
  30. It is clear from the wording of the will that Thomas Jones was the only child of Sarah and Isaac.
  31. Mears. She gave Sarah’s name as Nanney. The records of the German Reformed Church, Philadelphia (not St. Michael’s in Germantown), show a John Roberts marrying Ann Nanna in June 1750. There is no way to tell whether this is the correct John Roberts. There was a Nanna family who were members of Abington Meeting.
  32. Philadelphia County deeds, Book D6, p. 520, 549. It was conveyed to Thomas Roberts of Abington, mason, in 1713 by Morris Morris and wife Susanna and Richard Wall and wife Ann. (Susanna and Ann were sisters, daughters of Robert and Susanna Heath.) The reference to Thomas Roberts as living in Abington may have been an error, since in later life at least he lived in Bristol.
  33. Philadelphia County deeds, Book D6, p. 524.
  34. This will is described in the partition deed, but it has not been found in the will books. The children may not have recorded it, since the property was handled through the partition deed. There is no mention of John’s wife in any of the deeds; she must have died before him.
  35. Minutes of the Council, Nov 1781, in Colonial Records of PA. The property of Nathan Roberts, traitor, was sold to William Rice.
  36. Philadelphia County deeds, Book D6, pp. 526-532. Note that all of these deeds were recorded together in 1783.

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