By Robert Wood
For Journal Register News Service
Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown in 1781 marked the end of most of the fighting of the Revolutionary War here in the North, but it wasn’t until 1783 that the Paris Peace Treaty formally ended the United States War for Independence and our Colonial era.
The next year, 1784, Montgomery County was subdivided from Philadelphia County. A scant 11 years later in 1795 Sebastian Reifsnyder, the assessor for New Hanover Township, listed 287 men who owned real or personal property and so were taxed. Reifsnyder had to collect 88 pounds 8 shillings and 8 pence from the township property owners for the new Montgomery County. This wasn’t a large amount of money. One Conestoga wagon cost 25 pounds at that time. Of the 287 names there were 85 with a listed trade other than “farmer.” Some few had only a “dwelling,” but many of these tradesmen also had acreage, a horse, and a cow or two. Some had a full size farm--80 to 100 acres.
In 1795 New Hanover Township extended south to the Schuylkill River and included most of what became the Pottsgroves and Pottstown. This explains the large number of taxables (287) and the presence of the many non-German names on the list including Potts and Rutter. It wasn’t until 1807 that Pottsgrove became a separate township and New Hanover took on its current boundaries. The New Hanover tradesmen of 1795 are as follows. The order and spelling are unchanged.
TRADESMEN, NEW HANOVER 1795 TAX LIST
Michael Bartman- weaver
Lewis Micke-nail smith
We see the most common trade in New Hanover in 1795 was “weaver” with eighteen names listed. The next most common was “shoemaker” with nine. A joiner, incidentally, was a furniture maker. Since the barrel was the universal shipping container of the day for both wet and dry goods, it is curious that on lists such as this one seldom sees “cooper.”
It should be noted that many of these tradesmen were also farmers, and much of their trade was custom work. They did not keep a shop or have finished stock on hand, but usually did work on order.
Almost every one of the 287 listed men had “a&d” after their names: acres and dwelling. How many of those Colonial era dwellings (those built before 1783) are left? Of those that I am sure of within the current New Hanover borders--only two: the Reformed Church parsonage on Cross Road that was built in 1771 and the Andreas Schmit Inn now a dwelling at was used as a wartime hospital. A “probable” is the three story log dwelling at 1844 Swamp Pike attributed to 1774. The Lutheran church, The Layfield mill, and Kreb’s Tavern at New Hanover Square make up the other Colonial structures still standing of which we are certain of the construction dates.
Doubtless there are others. Often the small original house is still there, invisible, having been buried under later additions. I would like to catalogue the remaining Colonial structures in the township. If you have knowledge of the construction date before 1783 for any surviving structure in the township, please give me a call at 610-326-4165.