There is a famous saying “to see the forest through the trees.” It means being able to see the big picture, not just the steps you need to take to achieve the big picture. In your ancestor’s case, when they looked beyond the trees, they only saw more trees…and brush…and rivers, streams and a whole lot of forest. Our early founding fathers had to create civilization out of the wilderness. Land needed to be cleared for cultivation, roads needed to be cut. A rough log or wooden house was built to provide shelter. When the settlers earned enough money, the first permanent solid structure they build, tended to be the barn. In Berks County, they look a lot like this:
These barns, also known as bank barns, often had multiple stories and sometimes built into the side of a bank, which assisted in accessing the multiple levels. These structures usually had a stone foundation with upper sections made of wood.
As harvests grew and more income earned, a stone house replaced the rough log, or wooden house, additional buildings were added, and more land acquired.
As your ancestor is growing his land, other founders are growing their lands as well and the townships start taking shape. There are two important references for determining if your ancestor is an early founder. The first is entitled: The Petitioners: 18th-century Actions To Erect Present-day Berks County Townships, compiled by James M. Beidler and Florence Kline Heydt with assistance from Annette K. Burgert, 1991-1992. This booklet contains photocopies and translations of the petitions, founding families of the townships of Alsace, Amity, Colebrookdale, Douglas, Exeter, Hereford, Maidencreek, Maxatawny, Oley, Richmond and Windsor signed, asking the Proprietors to create their township. While each petition is different, they said the same thing:
“The Humble petition of ye Inhabitants of Maxaton to ye Hounourable the Justices of ye Court of Quarter Sessions held at Philada. ye 4th day of June 1742.
Humbley Sheweth: Whereas your Petitioners have been settled in those parts of this county for near twenty years past and have for several years paid our Taxes and County levies as well as some other of our Neighbours, But now being grown more popolus we find a Necessity to bring our Selves under your further notice and Protection.
Wherefore we humbley pray that you will be pleased, to order a Township to be Laid out Beginning in Bucks County Line and from thence Running South west one thousand seven Hundred & Sixty perches. Thence North West one thousand three hundred and sixty pers. Thence north East 1760 perches to Bucks County Line Then along ye same South East 1360 pers. to ye place of beginning containing fourteen thousand nine hundred and sixty acres of Land, draught therof being hereunto annexed and your petitioners as in duty bound shall ever Pray.” (Maxatawny Township , page 20)
The second reference book (my personal favorite) is entitled: Early Landowners of Pennsylvania: Atlas of Township Warrantee Maps of Berks County, PA, by Dr. Sharon MacInnes, 2006. The Warrant Maps describe how the original land tracts were situated and who owned them. We have these maps in the library and they usually span an entire table. To the right, is the Warrant Map for Robeson Township. Each tract is numbered and around the edges of the map are the corresponding numbers, with the Name of the owner, the acreage, and dates for the warrant, survey and patent. Some other information might be included. The Warrants are important, because it is the starting point of land ownership in the county.
We like to think that our ancestors took the Schuylkill Expressway to 422 and onto other routes, roads and highways, because we are trying to find a connection to them. We easily forget that our ancestors created what we see today.
Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.