The Historian by Robert Wood: Some Curious Documents of New Hanover History

Housed in the library of The Historical Society of Montgomery County are some copies of petitions to the Court of Quarter Sessions, Philadelphia County, 1720-1783. This area was then in Philadelphia County. The first one of interest is dated 1730/1 and is titled “Petition for the Division of Hanover Township.”

To the Honorable Justices of the Court of Quarter sessions at Phila.

May it Please the Bench

By reason of the vast length of the Township of Hannover, being about fourteen miles, besides several settlements at and round about New Coshopan [Goschenhoppen] which is several miles more, We find our selves to labour under some hardships: which we supose would be prevented by Dividing the said Township into Two, And the Settlements on the land caled Sprogels, being suitable for such a division for it is fully settled on the front against Schulkill river, and then there is a great vacancy between that and the place commonly called Coshopan & the rear, which is also well settled.

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Wherefore we the subscribers being some of the inhabitants of Falckner Swamp and the front humbly desire that you would be pleased to grant us liberty to be erected into a township of our selves Separate from the rear and Cosahopan and your Petitioners as in duty bound shall ever Pray etc.” There follows about twenty signatures of property owners of Swamp, New Hanover in 1730.

This would seem to call into question the commonly accepted date of 1741 for the erection of New Hanover Township. An on-line Fact Sheet about New Hanover Township prepared by Montgomery County states: “In 1741 the township of Hanover was divided into the townships of New Hanover, Upper Hanover, Douglass and Pottsgrove.” The site errs in stating that Douglass Township was once part of Hanover, and the date of 1741 may be in question, too.

But further investigation of the documents raises more questions than answers. As to this document itself, “the front” refers to the area close to the Schuylkill River which would later become Pottstown, Pottsgrove and northward to include Swamp, New Hanover. “Coshopan & the rear” would include the north end of the “German tract” which would cross the Perkiomen valley up to the Bucks county line.

This 22,300 acre German tract was a rectangle; the southern side of which was the Schuylkill River. From the river two parallel lines went north to Bucks County, one became the present Douglass, New Hanover boundary, the other along the present New Hanover, Upper Frederick Township boundary. This tract was sold in 1683 by William Penn to a group of Frankfort pietists who apparently had planned to establish a religious community here. That never happened and the property lay in legal limbo for decades until Johannes Sprogell bought the whole thing for a few cents on the acre in 1708 and gained title to it in its “entirety.” This tract was called variously “Hannover” or “The German Tract” or “Sprogell’s Land.”

“Coshopean and the rear” eventually became Upper Hanover Township, Swamp became New Hanover and the area south of Ringing Hill became Pottstown and the Pottsgroves. In any case this petition seems to suggest that New Hanover was formed ten years sooner than the accepted 1741 date. But there’s no indication that the petition was ever granted by the court.

At the same date 1730/1 a similar petition was presented to the court by about twenty-five residents of Frederick: “The Petition of the inhabitants living between Limerick Township and Perkiomy [Perkiomen] Humbly Sheweth That there are settled a great many families on the north East side of Limerick township….” The petition goes on to point out that presently it is too great a circuit for a constable and it’s inconvenient in making and repairing of highways and so on, and the petitioners are “humbly of the opinion that it would be more convenient for them if the same tract of land was laid out for a township.” Following the petition, in different handwriting, is the note “Record of its being granted and the township is now named Frederick.” No such label is on the “Hannover” petition. However, attached to the Frederick petition is a sketch map of that new township and the area to the west is labeled “New Hanover Township” and not referenced as “The German Tract” or “Frankfort&Hannover.” Perhaps Swamp was commonly called “New Hanover Township” in the folk culture before it was a dedicated township.

The next curious document is dated 1736. It may represent a different tack by Swamp residents to get New Hanover declared a separate township. It is a petition by the inhabitants of Swamp requesting the court to settle a dispute with Limerick. “That your petitioners for some time past have been in dispute with the inhabitants of Lymbrick about the lines of their township occasioned by a cripple who served his time [an indenturer] and received his misfortune (as is supposed) in Lymbrick and thrown upon your petitioners. That your petitioners reside upon the land formerly called the Frankfort Company Land which they hold for their township and ---[illegible]---extending from Schuylkill to Upper Hanover line about nine miles in length as by the ---[illegibl, perhaps “sketch” ?]---hereunto annexed…beg your honors determine the difference between your petitioners and Lymbrick and order the township of hannover to be recorded.”

The eventual settlement of this dispute may be the cause of the curious “jog” in the New Hanover Township border with Limerick Township.

March Historical Society Events

All programs are free and open to the public.

Pottstown: Monday, March 17, 7:00 p.m. at the society building, 568 East High Street. Robert Evans, local train enthusiast, will speak on “The Golden Age of Passenger Trains.”

Goschenhoppen Historians: Thursday, March 20, 7:30 p.m. Redmen’s Hall, Green Lane. The Rev. Bob Gerhart will present “Letters to Barbara,” a what might have been presentation portraying the life and times of farmer and pastor Christian Clemmer from the Butter Valley.

New Hanover: Wednesday, March 26, 7:00 p.m. at the New Hanover Township Building (note, not the schoolhouse). Local researcher and author Bob Wood will present “The Trip Over,” an illustrated narrative of the six month ordeal endured by 18th century German immigrants when the cast off their homeland and headed for Pennsylvania.

Also of interest: at Studio B, 39A East Phil. Ave., Boyertown

Friday, March 7, 7:00-8:00 p.m. Author Erik Ammon will share his writing journey—“From Being Lost to Found…” He will talk about how developing ideas for stories, setting goals both short and long term, and his thoughts on self publishing.

Friday, March 14, 7:00-8:00 p.m. Jane Ammon, photographer. In order to honor her adopted daughter’s story, in January 2012, Jane Ammon photographed “The Clothes She Came To Us In.” Subsequently, she photographed over 20 children who were internationally adopted with the clothes they came in. Her story, their stories, and the photos will be the subject of her forthcoming book.

The Historian is produced by the New Hanover Township Historical Society. Call Robert Wood 610-326-4165 with comments and story ideas.