Sunday, October 20, 2013

MILL ON ASSUNPINK CREEK: Mahlon Stacy in West Jersey

Remains of Mahlon Stacy's gristmill on the Assunpink Creek, Trenton

English Quaker Immigrant to New Jersey, 1678
(Isaac GLOVER-Mary Catherine MYERS/Horner/Potts-Beakes/Stacy)
 As I continue to unearth the immigrant stories grounded in our family's early American roots, I often find that colonial place names tell a story of their own.  In this case: Trenton, New Jersey.  It could just as easily have been "Stacytown".  Here's why:
Trenton: Its Beginnings
 'The site of modern-day Trenton was once occupied by the Sanhican, a branch of the Delaware tribe who called the area Assunpink. The name meant "stone in the water" and referred to the rocky falls in the nearby portion of the Delaware River. The first permanent European settlers arrived in 1679, when the English Quaker Mahlon Stacy arrived at what he called the "falls of the Delaware." Stacy's son sold the land in 1714 to William Trent, a Philadelphia merchant who recognized the industrial potential of the river. Trent built a stone grist mill near the falls [technically enlarged Stacy's existing mill] and called the resulting community "Trent's Town," which was quickly shortened to Trenton. The town grew up at the junction of the Delaware River and Assunpink Creek.'  (quoted from city data for Trenton)
Mahlon Stacy's land holdings at the Falls of the Delaware (Trenton)

Yorkshire Quaker
 Mahlon Stacy(e) was born at Dore House on the family's  Ballifield estate, Handsworth (near Sheffield, England) in 1638.  As an impressionable Yorkshire teen he was exposed to early Quaker teachings, as was Rebekah Ely, who would become his wife in 1668:
Ballifield Estate

“The Stacy and Ely families were among the earliest of the English churchmen to follow the teachings of George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends.  Great religious meetings were held at Ballifield Hall, the home of the Stacyes, by Fox in his journeys to Yorkshire,...”(from A Genealogical and Personal History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania)
As English Quakers, the Stayce and Ely families were part of a new religious movement that was treated with suspicion and hostility under the parliamentary rule of Oliver Cromwell following the English Civil War.  With the return of the monarchy by Charles II, Quakers were subject to severe persecution for their refusal to conform to the Church of England and its social expectations.  Their refusal to pay mandatory tithes was particularly concerning to the royal purse and, as a consequence, many English Quakers faced crippling fines or imprisonment.  Under these conditions, it is not difficult to understand why Mahlon and Rebekah might ponder Fox's and William Penn's invitations to practice their new faith freely in the American colonies.  
Prior to his departure to America, Mahlon Stacy had acquired, as a creditor, a large chunk of colonial soil in West Jersey through a claim against the estate of Edward Byllinge, one of the original Quaker purchasers of the province from Lord Berkely and Sir George Carteret.  Stacy packed up the family and boarded one of Penn's ships, the "Shield," which sailed out of the port of Hull in late 1678.  And thus begins the American story of Mahlon Stacy.
From a history of Bucks County, Pennsylvania:
'...The favorable accounts written home by the first settlers in West Jersey stimulated immigration and soon there was an accession to the population. The Shield, of Hull, Captain Towes, arrived November 10, 1678, the first English vessel that ascended as high up as Burlington. A fresh gale brought her up the river, and during the night she was blown in to shore where she made fast to a tree. It came on cold and the next morning the passengers walked ashore on the ice. As the Shield passed the place where Philadelphia stands, the passengers remarked what a fine place for a town. Among the passengers were Mahlon Stacy , his wife, seven daughters, [actually three: Elizabeth, Sarah, and Mary] several servants, his cousin Thomas Revel, and William Emley (Probably Mahlon Stacy's brother-in-law), with his wife, two children, and four servants. The passengers by the Shield, and other ships that followed the same year, settled at Burlington, Salem, and other points on the river. A few found their way into Bucks county. Among those who came with the West Jersey settlers in 1678 was Benjamin Duffield, the ancestor of the Pennsylvania family of that name. By the end of 1678 it is estimated that William Penn had been the means of sending some eight hundred settlers to this country, mostly Friends...'  

'Included in this band of colonists were  Thomas Potts, his wife and children...' 
[whose grandson, Thomas, would marry Mahlon’s granddaughter, Sarah Beakes, producing my 7th GGM, Mary Potts] from History of Bucks County

Letters Home
Mahlon wrote many letters to friends and family back in England including this detailed description of the good life at 'The Falls of the Delaware" dated 26th of 4th month, 1680:
“But now a word or two of those strange reports you have heard of us and our country; I affirm they are not true, and fear they were spoken from a spirit of envy; It is a country that produceth all things for the support and sustenance of man, in a plentiful manner; if it were not so, I should be ashamed of what I have before written; but I can stand, having truth on my side, against and before the face of all gainsayers and evil spies; I have travelled through most of the places that are settled, and some that are not; and in every place I find the country very apt to answer the expectation of the diligent; I have seen orchards laden with fruit to admiration, their very limbs torn to pieces with the weight and most delicious to the taste and lovely to behold; I have seen an apple tree from a pippin kernel, yield a barrel of curious cyder; and peaches in such plenty that some people took their carts a peach-gathering; I could not but smile at the coceit of it;  They are a very delicate fruit, and hang almost like our onions that are on ropes; I have seen and known this summer, forty bushels of bald wheat of one bushel sown; and many more such instance I could bring; which would be too tedious here to mention;  We have from the time called May until Michaelmas, great store of very good wild fruits, as strawberries, cranberries, and hurtleberries, which are like our bilberries in England, but far sweeter.  They are very wholesome fruits.  The cranberries much like cherries for colour and bigness, which may be kept till fruit come in again; an excellent sauce is made of them for venison, turkeys and other great fowl, and they are better to make tarts than either gooseberries or cherries;  We have them brought to our houses by the Indians in great plenty.  My brother Robert had as many cherries this year as would have loaded several carts.  It is my judgment by what I have observed, that fruit trees in this country destroy themselves by the very weight of their fruit.  As for venison and fowls, we have great plenty.  We have brought home to our houses by the Indians, seven or eight fat bucks of a day; and sometimes put by as many; having no occasion for them; and fish in their season very plentious.  My Cousin Revell and I, with some of my men, went last third month in the river to catch herrings; for at that time they came in great shoals in the shallows; we had neither rod nor net; but after the Indian fashion made a round pinfold, about two yards over, and a foot high, but left a gap for the fish to go in at, and made a bush to lay in the gap to keep the fish in; and when that was done, we took two long birches, and tied their tops together, and went about a stone’s cast above our said pinfold; then hawling these birch boughs down the stream, where we drove thousands before us, but so many got into our trap as it would hold, and then we began to haul them on shore as fast as three or four of us could, by two or three at a time; and after this manner, in half an hour, we would have fill a three bushel sack of as good and large herrings as ever I saw; and as to beef and pork, there is great plenty of it and cheap; and also good sheep; the common grass of this country feeds beef very fat; I have killed two this year and therefore I have reason to know it; besides I have seen this Fall, in Burlington, killed eight or nine fat oxen and cows on a market day, and all very fat; and though I speak of herrings only, lest any should think we have little other sorts, we have great plenty of most sorts of fish that ever I saw in England; besides several other sorts that are not known there; as rocks, cat-fish, shads, sheeps-heads, sturgeons; and fowls a plenty; as ducks, geese, turkies, pheasants, partridges, and many other sorts that I cannot remember, and would be too tedious to mention.  Indeed the country, take it as a wilderness, is a brave country thought no place will please all.  But some will be ready to say, he writes of conveniences, but not of inconveniences; in answer to those I honestly declare there is some barren land, as (I suppose) there is in most places of the world, and more wood than some would have upon their lands; neither will the country produce corn without labour, nor cattle be go else it would be a brave country indeed; and I question not, but all then would give it a good word; for my part I like it so well I had never the least thought of returning to England, except on the account of trade.  Signed.  Mahlon Stacye.

The Legacy of Mahlon Stacy
Lee provides the following tribute to Mahlon Stacy:  “Of the early settlers of West New Jersey none stands in a more striking light than Mahlon Stacy of Handsworth, Yorkshire.  To him must be given the credit for the practical settling of the northern portion of the Yorkshire Tenth.  He was an influential member of the Society of Friends.  His large plantation interests and his wealth made him rank easily among the half-score men who formed the destinies of Burlington County between 1676 and 1715.  In the public life of the time he held at times nearly every office of profit and trust in the Province.  He appears as Commissioner in 1681 and 2, a member of the Assembly 1682-1684-1685, a member of the Council 1682 and 3.  As a Justice he sat in the First Tenth in 1685 and continuously remained on the Burlington Bench as his Majesty’s Justice from May, 1695, to May, 1701.” (Francis B. Lee, 'History of Trenton, New Jersey,' 1895.)
Grandson Stacy Potts' home served as military headquarters in Revolutionary War. His sister Mary continued our family line, marrying Isaac Horner, Jr. in 1757.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Fantastic information on my ancestor.

    1. Thanks, Melodie -we have some amazing ancestors!

  2. Hello. I found this to be really interesting to read, but could you provide me with clarification as to which of Stacy's sons sold the gristmill to Trent?

    1. Hi Mark-it appears that only one son, also named Mahlon, lived into adulthood. According to the Trenton Historical Society, "William Trent in 1714 made his purchase of Mahlon Stacy the younger of 800 acres at the Falls, lying on both sides of the Assunpink Creek and extending inland for a considerable distance, being the remainder of the Stacy holdings there, the town was called Trent’s-town, sometimes Trent-town, and finally Trenton."