The 325-acre (in the 18th century) Moland farm is nestled against the steep, southern slope of Kerr’s Hill sheltered from the wintry blasts of northeast storms, yet in the path of cooling western breezes in the summer. Below the house lies the fertile river bottom land of the lower branch of the Neshaminy Creek which powered four local flour mills.
The house stands next to Old York Road, a major colonial road connecting Philadelphia with Elizabeth, NJ, and New York City. The Bucks county-seat and courthouse, since 1725, is a reasonable ten-mile horseback ride to the east in Newtown; convenient for a lawyer. Newtown and Bristol with a combined population of one thousand are the only towns in the county. A quarter-mile south of the stone bridge, built in 1755 over the Neshaminy Creek, and up a gentle rise is the Cross Roads with Bristol Road. This 1737 road links to the Second Street Pike which leads to the marketplace in Philadelphia open on Wednesdays and Saturdays; a 20 to 24 mile journey depending on your choice of routes. John Moland had made an excellent choice on the location for his country farm estate purchased in 1741.
* * * * * EXPLORE yOUR PAST * * * * *“NESHAMINY. The name of a creek which enters the Delaware [River] in Bucks County; also the name of a [Lenape] village in the same county. A corruption of Nischam-hanne ‘two streams,’ or ‘double stream,’ signifying a stream formed by the joining of two branches. Is mentioned in the Records of Upland Court, 1677, as Nishammenies Creeke . . . when 300 acres were granted to Jan Claassen and Paerde Cooper, and 100 acres were granted to Thomas Jacobse, next to the previous claim. . . . The creek is mentioned in the first Deed of land from the Indians to William Penn, in 1682, and is also mentioned in six other Deeds from 1683 to 1697.“ — George P. Donehoo, Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania, Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 1995. Originally published in 1928. p127-28.54. The Lenni Lenape Path (Old York Road) “ran from Philadelphia to New Hope on the Delaware River, and thence across New Jersey from Lambertville to salt water at Elizabeth. . . . The much traveled Lenni Lenape Path was so well routed that when in 1711 a road was laid out from Philadelphia to New Hope it was not surveyed but was superimposed directly upon the old route.” — Paul A. W. Wallace, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA: PA Historical & Museum Commission, 1993. Originally published in 1965. p90.Our local browsers can search the Bucks County Library System from home.
The development of an academic formal architectural style in England probably influenced proprietor William Penn’s vision for Pennsylvania in the late 17th century. The Great Fire of 1666 which consumed most of London permitted architect Sir Christopher Wren to propose a new urban design of five central hubs with streets radiating out like spokes. Between two main hubs lay a section with uniform, rectangular blocks. Penn’s “green countrie towne” of Philadelphia envisioned a central square with four outer squares, themselves arranged in a square, with uniform, rectangular blocks stretching from the Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers.
These formal design concepts were combined with the hamlet community found in northern and western England, Scotland, and Ireland; and projected on to the countryside. Bucks County was to be divided into hamlet hubs of dwellings and shops with pie slice-shaped farmlands radiating outward. A farmer would walk from his home in the hamlet out to his fields. Townships were to contain 5000 acres each and be settled by ten families of shared background. The pragmatic settlers foiled this design when they constructed their homes and out-buildings near the center of their land holdings to make the walk more tolerable. The hamlet still remained, but as a center for trade and crafts supporting the farmers. The pie-slice fields were dropped.
Six of every hundred acres were reserved by Penn for roads. Several parallel roads connected the Pennsylvania countryside with the city of Philadelphia. Another set of intersecting, perpendicular roads supported travel to the settled Delaware River shoreline.
Several manors and sizeable land tracts had been granted across Bucks County. Penn attempted to use land sales to firm the financial footing of his proprietorship. His sons Thomas and John Penn also sought relief for the enduring precarious financial situation through land sales and efforts to collect annual quit-rents.
The Moland farm was once part of the larger James Boyden tract. Like other large tracts, it had been subdivided and sold to a land speculator, Thomas Howell. John Moland prepared that deed. Despite most the land being seated, Warwick Township with 11,883 acres was sparsely populated. In 1759 there were only 138 taxable land holders. Twenty-five years later, the population was still only 609 whites and 27 blacks living in 105 dwellings.
Land ownership was a source of prestige. Your voting franchise was contingent on owning fifty acres or possessing a wealth worth fifty pounds. Well over forty percent of taxable free holders in Bucks County held between 100 and 300 acres of land. 75% of the land owners could vote.
William Penn continued the English trend of country gentleman with a town house in Philadelphia and the large manor of Pennsbury in Falls Township on the Delaware River. The city gentry and prosperous merchants sought to emulate the English manors and country estates with their own formal country farms. Many of the Bucks County dwellings on the National Register of Historic Places were constructed on such country farms.
Pennsylvania has a deep-rooted agricultural heritage. At the time of the Revolution, ninety percent of its inhabitants lived in settled rural or frontier areas. The temperate climate and growing seasons were very similar to the British and northern European homelands of many Pennsylvanian immigrants. The central Bucks townships maintained their agricultural tradition almost through the end of the 20th century when housing developments became the cash crop. This agrarian base was essential to the provincial economy.
In the late colonial period (1750-80), the average family farm in the settled rural areas covered 125 acres with three acres containing the house, barn and other out-buildings; 44% of the remaining land in plowed fields, meadows and orchards; another 16% in pasture, and the final 40% in woodlots. 75% of Bucks County farmsteads were above fifty acres — the minimum acreage considered sufficient for sustaining a family. The livestock typically consisted of three to four horses, seven head of cattle, eight pigs and ten sheep plus some chickens and one or two beehives. The woodlots provided lumber, fuel and foraging for cattle and pigs. Different woods were preferred for different uses. A house with two fireplaces burned more than thirty cords of wood to carry a family through the winter. In addition to the family, work was performed by slaves, indentured servants, redemptioners, tenant families or hired help. Approximately six bushels of grain were grown on each acre under cultivation. Wheat was the principal grain in Bucks County. Other harvested field crops were corn, hay, tobacco and flax. Orchards yielded fruit like apples and peaches. Vegetable gardens provided parsnips, turnips, onions, peas, cabbage and carrots. The typical livestock holding provided 450 pounds of pork and beef annually. Milk was churned into butter and made into cheese.
Sold or used for trade goods were the grain yield above forty acres, 200 pounds of butchered meat, hay, flax seed and truck produce from the vegetable garden. Wheat and corn could be ground into flour at the mills. These goods would flow along the navigable streams and roads into the hamlets and on to the villages and market towns. Finally the produce and meat would arrive in the market and port of Philadelphia. During the 18th century, Philadelphia was a major exporter of meat, grain (including baked goods such as bread, rolls and biscuits) and other products to distant markets such as the West Indies. Along the way, this food provided sustenance to non-agricultural laborers, tradesmen, mechanics, artisans and the gentry.
The April 1761 inventory of goods and chattel in the estate of John Moland provides us with some insight regarding his formal country farm. It is not indicated whether this document covers only the Warwick Township property or also the “plantation” in the Northern Liberties immediately above the 18th century boundaries for the city of Philadelphia [Callowhill St.]. The quantity of furniture and household goods seems too numerous for one dwelling. As to farming, listed are slaves, cattle, farm implements, a still, “foure [spinning] Wheals & a Break.” His will also allots a portion of the rent from the Liberties’ plantation to his Widow.
The cattle and farm implements support an assumption that the Moland properties were actively being farmed. The presence of cattle implies that hay and corn was grown. The rent income could be monetary rent for the use of land, but in a trade economy it is quite likely that either a portion of the produce was received or possibly labor provided to cultivate crops or tend livestock. Nor is such an arrangement limited to the city property as four of his children received equal shares of the Warwick property. There were four sons who could have performed some farm labor and chores. But the presence of a few slaves and the possible “sweat” rent suggest these and servants as the more probable labor source. Another labor pool could be hired help from neighboring farms or the nearby Cross Roads hamlet. It seems imprudent not to raise some wheat with a flour mill, visible from the house, lying just across Neshaminy Creek. The spinning wheels combined with a wife, three daughters and female servants suggest that either flax was grown, sheep herded, or both. Most household diets included vegetables raised in a garden. The youths and slaves could have tended such a garden. It also seems practical to have obtained heating and cooking fuel from a woodlot on the farm. The presence of the still should be sufficient evidence of distilled spirits being made [if only for medicinal purposes?]. Therefore it appears reasonable to assume that the Molands were engaged in limited farming involving cultivated fields, meadows, pasture, woodlots, and a garden – a reasonable facsimile of a formal country farm.
* * * * * EXPLORE yOUR PAST * * * * *to read about clearing land and farming in early Bucks County as reported by W.W.H. Davis inHistory of Bucks County, Chap. XLVI.Chapter L covers manors and large land grants. Chapter XLVIII is on roads. Chapter V contains a map of the planned development of the county.There is a working colonial plantation, circa 1760, in Ridley Creek State Park just west of Media in Delaware County, PA. Delaware County was eastern Chester County at the time of the American Revolution.The Peter Wentz Farmstead is an 18th century Pennsylvania German farm near Worcester in Montgomery County, PA, which served as Washington’s headquarters prior to the battle of Germantown in October 1777. Montgomery County was the northern portion of Philadelphia County during the Revolution.Read Chapter 3 – The Farm in David Freeman Hawke, Everyday Life in Early America, NYC: Harper & Row, 1988.Susan Klepp, Chapter 2 – Encounter & Experiment – the colonial period, p.66-90,andWilbur Zelinsky, Chapter 8 – Geography,in Randall M. Miller & William Pencak (editors), Pennsylvania: A history of the Commonwealth, Harrisburg, PA: PA Historical & Museum Commission, 2002.