Locating Alexander Wilson's Bristol Township and the Milestown School

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BioOne sees sustainable scholarly publishing as an inherently collaborative enterprise connecting authors, nonprofitpublishers, academic institutions, research libraries, and research funders in the common goal of maximizing access tocritical research.Locating Alexander Wilson's Bristol Township and theMilestown SchoolAuthor(s): Albert Filemyr, and Jeff HoltSource: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 126(2):401-405. 2014.Published By: The Wilson Ornithological SocietyDOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1676/13-174.1URL: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1676/13-174.1BioOne (www.bioone.org) is a nonprofit, online aggregation of core research in thebiological, ecological, and environmental sciences. BioOne provides a sustainable onlineplatform for over 170 journals and books published by nonprofit societies, associations,museums, institutions, and presses.Your use of this PDF, the BioOne Web site, and all posted and associated contentindicates your acceptance of BioOnes Terms of Use, available at www.bioone.org/page/terms_of_use.Usage of BioOne content is strictly limited to personal, educational, and non-commercialuse. Commercial inquiries or rights and permissions requests should be directed to theindividual publisher as copyright holder.http://dx.doi.org/10.1676/13-174.1http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1676/13-174.1http://www.bioone.orghttp://www.bioone.org/page/terms_of_usehttp://www.bioone.org/page/terms_of_useand temporal variation in clutch size, brood size, andfledging success. Condor 91:114.STHER, B. E., T. H. RINGSBY, . BAKKE, AND E. J.SOLBERG. 1999. 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Nestlingsize rank in the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)influences subsequent breeding success of offspr-ing. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 45:466470.TREMBLAY, J. AND L. N. ELLISON. 1980. Breeding successof the Black-crowned Night-Heron in the St. Law-rence estuary. Canadian Journal of Zoology 58:12591263.TUCKER, G. M. AND M. F. HEATH. 1994. Birds in Europe:their conservation status. BirdLife International. Cam-bridge, UK.VOISIN, C. 1991. The herons of Europe. T. & A.D. Poyser,London, UK.WHITAKER, J. I. S. 1905. The birds of Tunisia. Volume 2.R. H. Porter, London, UK.The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 126(2):401405, 2014Locating Alexander Wilsons Bristol Township and the Milestown SchoolAlbert Filemyr1 and Jeff Holt2,3ABSTRACT.The correction of a long standingerror in what was thought to be the location of theMilestown School where Alexander Wilson, the Fatherof American Ornithology, taught from 1796 to 1801.Received 21 October 2013. Accepted 11 February 2014.Key words: Alexander Wilson, Bristol Township,Milestown, Milestown School, Wilson.Two years after his arrival in the New World,Alexander Wilson- not yet The Father ofAmerican Ornithology - accepted a position asteacher at the Milestown School in Pennsylvania.Five years later, in 1801, Wilson moved toBloomfield, New Jersey, where he briefly taughtbefore assuming a new position at the Union Schoolat Grays Ferry, Philadelphia, in February 1802.The history and circumstances of the schools inBloomfield and Grays Ferry are well known, butthe location of the Milestown School has consis-tently been misidentified in the literature treatingWilsons biography and movements in America.In a recently published biography, AlexanderWilson: The Scot Who Founded American Orni-thology, the authors, Edward H. Burtt, Jr. andWilliam E. Davis, Jr., write: ..in 1796,settled about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphiain Milestown where he taught school until July1801. (Burtt and Davis 2013:27). The source ofthe statement in the Burtt/Davis book may havecome from two previously published books onWilson. In the 1961 book written by RobertCantwell titled Alexander Wilson: Naturalist andPioneer, A Biography, he wrote that Milestownwas within the limits of Bristol Township, nineteenmiles from the center of Philadelphia. The OldYork Road, to Trenton and on to New York, ranthrough Bristol, which stood on the DelawareRiver;Just inside the Bristol limits was Bark-hams Lane, and Wilsons schoolyard beyond it.(Cantwell 1961:89). Thereafter, Clark Hunter in his1983 book, The Life and Letters of AlexanderWilson, wrote the school at Milestown, some20 miles from Philadelphia, more or less on theroad to Trenton and New York (Hunter 1983:65).Based on these references, our initial search for theschool in Milestown started in Bristol Township,Bucks County, Pennsylvania which is along the3 Corresponding author; e-mail: jefflaw@msn.com2 1215 Taft Avenue, Woodbury, NJ 08096, USA.1 1314 Lenore Road, Meadowbrook, PA 19046, USA.SHORT COMMUNICATIONS 401Delaware River about 18 miles from Center CityPhiladelphia. Research into the history of this BristolTownship failed to uncover any mention of aMilestown or a school associated with that town.This was our first indication that Cantwell and othersmay have gotten the location of Milestown wrong.Additional comments made by Cantwell alsosuggest that the search might need to beginelsewhere. Cantwell notes that during his tenureat Milestown, Wilson bought a horse and beganmaking trips into Bucks County north of Miles-town (Cantwell 1961:100). While not disposi-tive, this statement nevertheless suggested that ifMilestown was actually located in todays BristolTownship, then Wilson was already living inBucks County and thus, would not be making tripsinto Bucks County.Further evidence to suggest that the location ofMilestown is not in Bristol Township, BucksCounty can be found in a letter dated August 22,1798 from Wilson to his father in Scotland and re-printed in volume one of the 1876 two volume set ofbooks titled The Poems and Literary Prose ofAlexander Wilson. In that letter, Wilson indicatesthat the letter was written from Milestown, BristolTownship, Philadelphia County (Grosart1876:63). Certainly, Wilson himself must haveknown where he was living. Thus three questions.Was there a Bristol Township located within thegeographic boundary of Philadelphia County? If so,was there a Milestown in that Bristol Township?And further, was there a school in that community?The answers to these three questions are yes. Therewas a Bristol Township within Philadelphia County(Fig. 1), there was a Milestown in that township(Fig. 3), and there was a school in Milestown(Fig. 2). In fact there is still a school on the generalsite of the Milestown School. (Fig. 3)Milestown (or Miles Town) can date its historyto 1695 when Griffith Miles acquired 250 acres ofFIG. 1. This detail from the 1808 map by John Hills (surveyed 18011807) titled Plan of the City of Philadelphia andEnvirons clearly shows Bristol Township located in Philadelphia County. This area is now within the present dayboundary of the City of Philadelphia. (From the collection of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia PA. Usedwith permission. Hills 1808).402 THE WILSON JOURNAL OF ORNITHOLOGY N Vol. 126, No. 2, June 2014land and built a cabin where the intersection ofHaines Street and Old York Road now exists in theOak Lane section of Philadelphia (Mears 1890).This is 7.5 miles north of center city Philadelphia(Fig. 4). Shortly thereafter, other Welsh familiessettled in the area and it became known asMilestown. This geographic area of PhiladelphiaCounty was then known as Bristol Township(Fig. 1).In 1745, a one-story school house was built inMilestown. The authors, and previous researchers,have been unable to locate any records of thisschool prior to 1761. In 1761, Joseph Armitage,who owned the school building and the land it wason, gave the building and a quarter acre of land,located within one square of York Road to agroup of citizens to act as trustees of the landand the school (Mears 1890:52). The school wascalled the Milestown (and occasionally Armitage)School (Fig. 2).In 1791, trustees of the school agreed that theschool house could also be used as a house ofworship. Two local congregations shared space inalternating Sunday afternoons. This decision is ofinterest to students of ornithology as John Bach-man, while studying for the ministry, taught at theMilestown School a few years after Wilson. In theearly 1870s, the then Reverend Bachman, who hadcollaborated with John James Audubon in theproduction of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of NorthAmerica (and whose daughters married Audubonssons), wrote regarding his time at Milestown: Ihave some pleasant reminiscences of the old schoolhouse at Milestown. It was there that Wilson, theornithologist, first tried his hand as a pedagogueWilson visited us occasionally from Philadelphiaand I always joined him on Saturdays in looking forspecimens in ornithology. (Mears 1890:56)In a four page history of the Milestown School,authored in 1884 and located in the Account BookFIG. 2. This detail from the 1808 John Hills map (surveyed 18011807) titled Plan of the City of Philadelphia andEnvirons clearly shows Milestown located within Bristol Township, Philadelphia County. It also shows the location of theSpread Eagle Inn and the Milestown School. (From the collection of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia PA.Used with permission. Hills 1808).SHORT COMMUNICATIONS 403of The Trustees of the Milestown School, 17971884 among the early teachers noted are:Alexander Wilson, the OrnithologistJohn Bachman, a student of divinity.wholater was a pastor of St. Johns LutheranChurch in Charlestown, SC. (Account Book1884: unnumbered)The school house where both Wilson andBachman taught was replaced in 1818 on thesame general site. This new school, known as theOctagonal School, lasted until 1875 when it wastransferred to the School District of Philadelphia(Mears 1890). It had been in private control since1745. By this time it was known as the EllwoodSchool. A new building was erected in 1875 andlasted until 1957 when the current EllwoodSchool was built (Ellwood 1950). All the previousbuildings, and the current building, were and areon the same general site first used in 1745. Thecurrent address for the Ellwood School is 6701 N13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19126 (Fig. 3).FIG. 3. This present day map of the area in Philadelphia once known as Milestown shows Pennsylvania Route 611 (OldYork Road), North Broad Street, Oak Lane Avenue and the Ellwood School. (E OpenStreetMap contributors, DeBrandt2013; www.opendatacommons.org/licenses/odbl.deBrandt).FIG. 4. Counties of southeastern Pennsylvania showingthe actual location of the Milestown being in the presentCity and County of Philadelphia as opposed to the oftencited but incorrect location in Bristol, Bucks County.404 THE WILSON JOURNAL OF ORNITHOLOGY N Vol. 126, No. 2, June 2014Additional support for the location of theMilestown School being in Philadelphia Countycan be found in multiple comments contained inthe letters of both Wilson and Bachman whomention that during their respective tenures atMilestown, they lived at a boarding house operatedby the Kulps (Grosart 1876, Mears 1890). UnitedStates Censuses from this time identify two Kulps(Isaac Kulp and Isaac Kulp, Jr.) having residencesin Bristol Township, Philadelphia County (1790US Census, 1800 US Census). In 1724, BenjaminArmitage built a public house on York Road,across from Haines Street. This property wasbought by Jacob Kulp in 1790 and sold to his son,Isaac, in 1797, who operated the Inn until 1810(Mears 1890). The 1808 map of Milestownidentifies a Spread Eagle Inn on York Road(Fig 2), across from what is now Haines Street.Bachman in one of his letters further notes that theKulp boarding house was located a few hundredyards from the Milestown school house (Mears1890:56). This distance matches approximatelythe site of the school and the York Road/HainesStreet intersection.So how did Cantwell (and others) mislocateMilestown and the school? The answer lies in theevolution of the city of Philadelphia and ofPhiladelphia County. Originally, the city ofPhiladelphia was confined generally to the areanow known as Center City. Philadelphia Countyextended well beyond the city limits. As thepopulation grew, the county areas outside the cityborders were divided into townships. By the early1800s, the population in the surrounding town-ships exceeded that of the city. Eventually,mostly for police protection, the townships ofPhiladelphia County agreed to consolidate withthe City of Philadelphia. Thus, in 1854, Phila-delphia County and the City of Philadelphiabecame one geographic and political entity.Former townships were divided into wards withBristol Township disappearing and becomingknown as Ward 22. Today, that area is commonlyknown as Oak Lane. The designation of what wasthe community of Milestown disappeared frommaps about 1900.The Bristol Township that is located in BucksCounty was incorporated in 1692 as BuckinghamTownship. The towns name was changed toBristol in 1702 and remains to this day, athriving municipality in the Commonwealth ofPennsylvania.Thus, when Cantwell was researching andwriting his biography of Wilson, the only BristolTownship that would have appeared on modernmaps would have been the Bucks County town.The Philadelphia County township of the samename had vanished into the recesses of history.Knowing where the Milestown School waslocated, which was within the confines of Philadel-phia County, will hardly alter the remarkable storyof Alexander Wilsons rise from being a poet, aweaver, a peddler, and a school teacher to becomethe universally recognized Father of AmericanOrnithology. Yet, for students of history there is alesson to be learned, to wit, view historical factscum grano salis.LITERATURE CITEDACCOUNT BOOK OF THE TRUSTEES OF THE MILESTOWNSCHOOL (PHILADELPHIA, PA). Records 17971884.Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,Pennsylvania. Collection Am. 248.BURTT, E. H., JR. AND W. E. DAVIS JR. 2013. AlexanderWilson: The Scot who founded American ornithology.Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts,USA.CANTWELL, R. 1961. Alexander Wilson: naturalist andpioneer, a biography. J.B. Lippincott Company,Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.DEBRANDT, D. 2013 My Oak Lane Ave. www.myoaklanephiladelphia.com (accessed 20 Sep 2013).ELLWOOD PUBLIC SCHOOL DIAMOND JUBILEE BOOKLET.1950. Ellwood Public School, Philadelphia Pennsyl-vania, unpublished, from the private collection ofRobert Cohen, Flourtown, PA, USA.GROSART, A. B. 1876. The poems and literary prose ofAlexander Wilson, the American ornithologist.Volume 1. Alexander Gardner, Paisley, Scotland.HILLS, J. 1808. Plan of the city of Philadelphia andenvirons. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Phila-delphia, Pennsylvania, USA. APSdigobj3534.HUNTER, C. 1983. The life and letters of Alexander Wilson.American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia Penn-sylvania, USA.MEARS, A. DE B. 1890. The Old York Road: and its earlyassociations of history and biography. 16701870, Harperand Brother, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.UNITED STATES CENSUS, BRISTOL, PHILADELPHIA, PENN-SYLVANIA. Series: M637; Roll: 9; Page: 291; Image:562; Family History Library Film: 0568149.UNITED STATES CENSUS. BRISTOL, PHILADELPHIA, PENN-SYLVANIA. Roll: 42; Pages: 146147; Image: 215;Family History Library Film: 363345.SHORT COMMUNICATIONS 405


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