West Point, PA
  History  

 

The Original (West Point) Settler
William John

      Some months after the purchase of Gwynedd, deeds were made to the other settlers by William John and Thomas Evan when it was decided how much land each should take. The entire northern section of Gwynedd, from modern day West Point Pike to Valley Forge Road, and from Morris Road to Main Street in Lansdale was retained by William John. These roads and streets, now major traffic arteries, were at that time the boundary of the John tract. It was the largest single tract in Gwynedd, consisting of 2,866 acres of land.

 

The village of West Point is located in the southwest corner of this tract. See this MAP

 

 

Residence of William John, built along the Wissahickon Creek
near present day West Point

      William John carved a plantation out of the forest and lived along the Wissahickon Creek near today's West Point. It appears that he was the wealthiest landowner in Gwynedd, being as he had three times as much land as any other settler. He lived there with his wife Jane, his son John, and five daughters - Gwen, Catherine, Margaret, Ellin and Gainor.

     The last name of his children was Jones, an evolution of the surname John. In keeping with Welsh tradition William John's last name became his son's first name, therefore his son's name was John Jones (instead of John ap John).

     William John, born about 1660 in Merionethshire, Wales died on November 1, 1712 in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. His will showed that he had planted the area in wheat, rye, oats and hay. In addition, he had 21 cattle, 6 horses and 7 bee hives. Interestingly, dates marked on William Johnís house show it was completed in the year he died. The house and 1400 acres were left to his son John. (The daughters inherited another tract of land in the lower part of the township.)


     Upon their arrival, men, women and children went into the woods where their lands were laid out without any mark or path to guide them. There was nothing to support human life but the wild fruits and animals of the woods, yet in short time they had built log cabins, then stone houses, and had planted corn and then wheat, oats and hay. Using no machinery, they cut down the forest of Gwynedd and turned it into farmland. They purchased cattle, horses and sheep and became prosperous. This was a well planned adventure and they brought with them tools and furniture, utensils, implements and clothing. The Welsh were the most numerous, wealthiest, and most influential inhabitants of the Township for many years.

     Each land owner had a commodity that was both an impediment and a financial resource. The forest. Wood was needed in Philadelphia. Wood for building and wood for fuel. The Welsh always maintained a part of their forest, not cutting it down unless it was necessary to create farmland or pasture. It was money in the bank, to be used when needed.

     In July and August of 1745 an epidemic of Diphtheria spread through the Gwynedd Friends. More than 60 people died, almost all of them children, the entire next generation of Welsh. One may imagine the grief of their parents as they tried in vain to comfort their children, as their throats swelled from the toxin released by the bacteria. Then they either suffocated or died of heart failure. Probably in their mother's arms.

    From this time on the birthrate of Gwynedd Welsh dropped dramatically. Some of the settlers purchased land in the great Welsh Tract (Merion, PA) and relocated there. The influence of the Welsh in Gwynedd then declined. Gradually, they were replaced by Germans.


The Schwenkfelders

     The Schwenkfelders were a religious sect from Harpersdorf, Germany. They suffered religious persecution which in many ways mirrored the miseries of the Welsh Quakers. They escaped to America in six migrations from 1731 to 1767.

The third migration, the largest, consisted of 44 families of 170 persons. They left Haarlem, Holland aboard the Saint Andrew in June of 1734. After a tragic and grueling voyage they arrived in Philadelphia on September 22, 1734.

The landing of the Saint Andrew on September 22, 1734

     Unable to find a large contiguous tract of land to settle in as a group, these third migration settlers spread out in Montgomery County Pennsylvania in what were called The Upper and Middle Districts. The Middle District was located in the forest above Gwynedd Township in what today is Towamincin, Salford, Worcester, Skippack, and Schwenksville. The Middle District was called the Central Church. (The beautiful meeting house of the Central Schwenkfelder Church stands today on Valley Forge Road in Worcester.)

By 1776, 45 of the 113 land owners in Gwynedd Township were Germans. 100 years later West Point would be founded by people of German decent. The Welsh names of Evans, Thomas, Hugh and Foulke would give way to the Heebner's, Kriebel's, Luken's, Vaughan's and others.


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