Reading: The Town of Widow Finney

During the month of March (National Women’s History Month) I will be posting a blog on some of the women of Berks County. I hope I will be choosing some women that will be interesting to you and you may find them as amazing as I do. Also, I will include a Mystery Woman of the Week for you to read and test your knowledge.

speckledhen.jpg
Photo: DineIndie.com

Have you ever eaten at The Speckled Hen? For the longest time, historians thought that this log cabin had been the home of Sarah Finney, better known as Widow Finney. Later it was speculated that the original Finney home was where Judy’s on Cherry is located today, while other believe it was located closer to the river. Unfortunately, there is no historical or archaeological evidence that indicates the exact location of Finney’s residence. However, we know quite a bit about Sarah Finney and the substantial impact she had on her community.

Sarah was born about 1685 in Philadelphia, to what we might call “well-to-do” parents. She married Joseph Finney and the two of them decided to make a life of their own as homesteaders near the ford in the Schuylkill River along what was called the Perkiomen Path. They had two sons, Sam and John and two daughters, Rebecca and Anne. Joseph planned a plantation with fruit trees and for two years, Joseph and Sarah and their sons and daughters worked tirelessly to clear the land, and make a home for the Finney family. Unfortunately, Joseph died in 1734 only a few years after making their homestead. Not long after that, Sam and John died also.

Making a life in the wilderness was no easy task! Sarah was left alone in the frontier, with her two daughters. Her family wanted her to come back to Philadelphia and live there with them. Whether she was stubborn or determined, I’m not sure, but she decided to stay at their homestead. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the land they had worked so hard to settle. Her home became a haven and rest stop for travelers, hunters, trappers and Native Americans as they walked or rode along the Perkiomen Path. Sarah always had fresh bread, soup or stew on the hearth for those who stopped in. And, oh yes, her pies were made with the fresh fruit from the orchard! Occasionally, a traveler might spend the night.

Her homestead was so well-liked that the area which today is Reading, was once known as The Town of Widow Finney! For more than ten years Sarah welcomed and chatted with Conrad Weiser, Mordecai Lincoln, Joseph Hiester and the Lenni Lenape Indians. She said she got along better with the Lenni Lenapes than she did with Thomas and Richard Penn and Thomas Lawrence! She felt that they represented land hungry businessmen! They owned the property adjacent to hers, and had mapped out a city plan and they were after her prime property. Sarah died in December of 1743 and the deed to the property went to Rebecca. Through the use of clever land agents and surveyors, the Penns were able to recover the prominent site from the widow’s heirs and build their town at the best location. And, the rest, so they say, is history!

 

Mystery Woman of the Week (Watch for the answer in my next blog)

I was the first female doctor in the US, graduating from Geneva College in 1847, even though my acceptance there was considered to be a joke!

 

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

8 thoughts on “Reading: The Town of Widow Finney

    • Denny, I was never able to find out her maiden name. I don’t think anyone does! Also, I don’t know where she is buried. That was a great question! Now you’ve got me wondering. I’ll see what I can find out. Hallie

  1. Widow Finney’s full name was Sarah Lawrence Finney. She came from Philadelphia Quaker aristocracy. The Thomas Lawrence mentioned, whose land was adjacent, was most likely her brother. He was at one time mayor of Philadelphia.

    Her first born son, Joseph, was buried at St Gabriel’s Churchyard in 1730. They lived in the Manatawny before they moved further up the Schuylkill to the ford on the Schuylkill (Reading).

    She and her husband Joseph had 150 acres by the “ford”. It is almost surely that she was buried somewhere on her property. There are no records of her burial at St Gabriel’s, Exeter Quaker Meeting, Reading Quaker Meeting. It was common to bury family members on the farm or land. Especially since travel was very difficult in December!

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