History

Our first PastorIt is now over one hundred years since Father Joseph A. Coleman, OSA, said the first Mass in Bryn Mawr, and it is more than three hundred years since the first settlers came to Bryn Mawr. To understand Our Mother of Good Counsel, it is necessary to understand something of Bryn Mawr itself.

In 1681 King Charles II granted to William Penn a vast expanse of land in the New World as repayment of a debt owed to his father, Admiral William Penn. Here, between the colonies of New York on the north, New Jersey on the east, and Maryland on the south, the younger Penn hoped to establish a "Holy Experiment." As a young man he had converted to Quakerism, and now he wanted to set up a proprietary colony where he could put into practice what he had preached and written in England and Europe. The "Frame of Government" which he issued in 1682 expressed his belief in the essential goodness of human nature and in the principle of religious toleration. How, or if, a man worshipped was not of importance to Penn-but that he have the freedom of choice was. Of equal importance to Penn was that the traditional liberties of Englishmen should be guaranteed to all in the colony.

Pennsylvania, as the King insisted that the colony be called in honor of Admiral Penn, attracted and welcomed settlers fleeing religious and political persecution in England and on the continent. In addition, Penn's terms for the purchase of land were most liberal.

Before leaving England for his colony, Penn had agreed to sell 40,000 acres of land to a group of Welsh Quakers where they could establish a "Welsh Barony." Although he had a royal charter from the king to all the land in Pennsylvania, Penn regarded the Indians as the real owners of the land and deserving of compensation. On July 16, 1683 he purchased from the Lenni Lenape Indians (called by the settlers, the Delawares) all the land lying between the Schuylkill River at Manayunk and Chester Creek and as far up the Schuylkill as Conshohocken Hill. This became the Welsh tract.

Penn agreed that the Welsh settlers could be self-governing, making and administering their own laws, speaking their native language and practicing their religion as they chose. Thirty thousand acres were sold to seven Welsh companies in parcels ranging in size from 2000 to 5000 acres. Half of the land was laid out in the townships of Merion, Radnor and Haverford, and the remainder in the townships of Goshen, NewTown and Uwchlan. It was in the first group of townships that present day Bryn Mawr was located on land owned by Rowland and Thomas Ellis.

Rowland Ellis, a renowned scholar, translator and preacher for the Society of Friends, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1686 to begin his plantation. He prospered here and in 1704 began the construction of a substantial two-story fieldstone mansion which he called "Bryn Mawr" or "Great Hill" after his birthplace near the town of Dolgelly in Merionethshire in Wales. In 1719 Ellis sold his mansion and surrounding acreage to Richard Harrison, a tobacco planter and slave owner from Maryland. Harrison changed the name to "Harriton" by which the property has been known until the present day. His daughter, Hannah, inherited the house upon his death. She married Charles Thomson, a friend of Benjamin Franklin, and a man described by John Adams as "the Sam Adams of Philadelphia." Thomson served as Secretary of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789. He retired to "Harriton" and here made the first English translation of the Bible in America. Here he died in 1824. The house then passed into other hands.

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