Historical and biographical sketches/08 William Moore of Moore Hall

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William Moore was a son of John Moore, collector of the port of Philadelphia, and was born in that city on the 6th day of May, 1699. In his early youth he was sent to England to be educated, and he graduated at the University of Oxford in 1719. His wife is said to have been a descendant of the Earl of Wemyss, and this tradition receives support from the fact that in his will he refers to the noble and honorable family from which she sprang. His father having become interested in the Pickering tract in Charlestown township, Chester Co. Pa., in 1729, gave him a lot of 240 acres on the Pickering creek, adjacent to the Schuylkill, on which he had been living for some years, and there he passed the remainder of his long and eventful life. On it he erected a frame house which was later superseded by a stone mansion overlooking the river. The latter is still standing and has ever since borne the name of Moore Hall. He also built a saw mill and the Bull tavern, a famous hostelry in the colonial days. He lived in considerable style, and had a number of slaves and other servants. In the Weekly Mercury for February 28th, 1737-8, he advertises for sale “a young man who understands writing and accounts, and lately kept school.” He was an enthusiastic churchman, and at different times was a vestryman of St. James' Episcopal Church, on the Perkiomen, and of Radnor Church, in Delaware County. He was Colonel of one of the Chester County militia regiments during the time of the troubles with the Indians. As became a gentleman of his standing, he early began to take a part in political affairs, and in 1733 was sent to the Assembly, being re-elected each succeeding fall until 1740. There is a letter to him in the Taylor MSS., which says:

“A few days agoe a noted minister of the gospel, beyond New Garden, and several of his congregation told me they were Informed by Isaac Wayne that thee declines Serving the County as a representative in Assembly the ensuing year and has Consented that he shall put thy name with his on a Tickett for Sheriff in order to Establish him in that post. This Information flies like the wind, and has given a vast number of those who were in thy interest a violent shock to hear that a Gent., on whom they so much relied should desert their service at a time when ye Publick affairs seem to challenge the Strictest attendance, for to help a p'son of so feeble a charracter as Wayne into an office which so little Concerns the true Interest of an English Subject as that of Sheriff.” This letter probably marks the beginning of an antagonism between Wayne, the father of the Revolutionary general, and Moore, which subsequently led to important results. It also lends some strength to the belief that during the time of his legislative service Moore belonged to the Quaker and anti-proprietary party. An anonymous piece of satire concerning him, purporting to be a confession published in 1757, says:

“I once made myself believe I could act the Patriot and accordingly made Interest to be chosen for a Representative, then I opposed loudly all Proprietary Innovations and was warm for the Liberty of my Country but getting nothing but the Honour of serving my Country I found that a Post of Profit might with my skill be more advantageous.”

In 1741 he was appointed by the Governor a justice of the peace and judge of the County Court. For about forty years thereafter he was president judge of that court. Whatever may have been his previous political creed, it is certain that henceforth he was one of the most decided and influential friends of the proprietaries in the province. In the disputes between the Governor and the Assembly he took an active part, and on the 23d of November 1755, he wrote to the Assembly that two thousand men were coming down to Philadelphia from Chester county to compel them to pass a militia law, a measure to which the Quaker majority were opposed. This was the first step in a struggle, of which he was the central figure, that shook the whole province, and finally required the intervention of the throne to decide.[1] During the two succeeding years a great many petitions were presented to the Assembly by citizens of Chester county charging him with tyranny, injustice, and even extortion, in the performance of the duties of his magisterial office, and asking for his removal. The names that were signed to these petitions are too numerous to be repeated here, but among them were those of some of the best people in the county. It is manifest to the impartial reader that while the haughty and aristocratic bearing of Moore doubtless gave offence, and may have at times led to arbitrary decisions, political rivalry had much to do with the complaints. In a broadside published in reply, Moore explains the circumstances of each case in detail, and says that the petitions were procured by Isaac Wayne, with whom he had had a quarrel, through spite and rancor, by “riding night and day among ignorant and weak Persons using many Persuasions and Promises.” The Assembly, after a hearing of the petitioners, which was many times adjourned in order to give him an opportunity to be present, but which he declined to attend, on the ground that they had no authority to make the investigation, determined that he had been guilty of extortion, and many other fraudulent, wicked, and corrupt practices and asked for his removal from office. Soon afterwards, on the 19th of October, 1757, Moore wrote a paper, printed in Franklin's Gazette and some other newspapers, in which he fiercely reviewed the action of the Assembly, calling it “virulent and scandalous,” and a “continued string of the severest calumny and most rancorous epithets conceived in all the terms of malice and party rage,” and based upon petitions procured by a member and tool of the Assembly at a tavern when the signers were incapable of knowing what they did. Immediately after the meeting of the new Assembly, which was composed mainly of the same persons as the preceding, a warrant was issued to the sergeant at arms for the arrest of Moore. He was seized at his home at Moore Hall by two armed men one Friday evening, early in January, 1758, hurried away to Philadelphia and there confined in jail. A warrant was also issued for the arrest of Dr. William Smith, provost of the University of Pennsylvania who it was believed had been concerned in the preparation of the libelous address. They were both brought before the Assembly where they refused to make a defence, though Moore admitted that he had written the paper and refused to retract its statements. It was ordered that he should be confined until he should make a recantation, and that the address should be burned by the hangman. They were both given into the custody of the sheriff, with directions that they should not be discharged upon any writ of habeas corpus. They were, however, released in this way, after the adjournment of the Assembly, in about three months. In August the Governor, after a series of quarrels with the Assembly about it, examined a number of witnesses, and went through the form of a trial, as a result of which he announced that Moore had purged himself of every one of the original charges, and that he had never known a more full and clear defence. Smith went to England to prosecute an appeal to the crown and on February 13th, 1760, there was signified formally to the Assembly “His Majesty's high displeasure” at their unwarrantable behavior in assuming power, that did not belong to them, and invading the royal prerogative and the liberties of the people. The time had not yet come when this authority could be resisted, and Moore and his friends came off victorious. As in most political contests, there was much unnecessary heat and some truth on both sides. There is plenty of contemporary evidence to show that Moore, admirable as was the part he played in those old days, and loath as I would be to take even one horse-tooth button set in brass from the dimity coat he wore,[2] was haughty in temper, and none too gentle in the exercise of power. “Unless they put me to the necessity of bringing ejectments, and in that case they are to expect no favor,” he wrote in 1769 to Benjamin Jacobs about some people who had made improvements on some of his lands. “This is a season,” he adds, “when most or all farmers have their barns or stock yards filled with the produce of their plantations.”

John Ross, the celebrated Philadelphia lawyer, noted in his private docket, in November, 1765, that a case in which he represented some young Quakers, accused of a criminal charge, had been adjourned three times by Moore without cause, though seventeen witnesses were present; “the first instance of that kind of oppression that ever happened in this province,” and that is was supposed to have occurred, “from his great love to Quakers.” At the time of the outbreak of the Revolutionary war he was an old man of about seventy-six years, and much troubled with the gout. He was, however, keenly alive to the importance of the struggle, and his sympathies, like those of the greater number of men who had secured wealth, position and reputation under the old order of things, were entirely on the side of the crown. The rebels he regarded as a rude rabble. Jacob Smith, a sort of political eavesdropper, made an affidavit that he heard Moore say, at Moore Hall, on the 7th of May, 1775, that the people of Boston were a “vile set of rebels,” and that “he was determined to commit every man to prison who would associate or muster.” There was much excitement abroad, and it was the way of the new men who were coming into power to compel by force those who were suspected of Toryism to recant. On June 6th, the committee of Chester county, of which Anthony Wayne was chairman, visited Moore Hall for this purpose. Broken in strength and ill in health, the Judge was brought to bay, confronted with a power which Great Britain, in eight years of war, was unable to subdue. The spirit, however, with which two decades earlier he had defied the Assembly and suffered imprisonment was still undaunted, and the paper he signed said, “I also further declare that I have of late encouraged and will continue to encourage learning the military art, apprehending the time is not far distant when there may be occasion for it.” The latent sarcasm was entirely unnoticed and the committee unanimously resolved that a perfectly satisfactory answer had been given. On another occasion a party from the American army, among whom was Isaac Anderson, afterwards a member of Congress from that district, which was sent to deprive the Tories of arms, went to Moore Hall, and found its haughty occupant confined to his easy chair. Among other things they discovered a beautifully wrought sword, whose handle was inlaid with gold and silver, which had probably been an heirloom. They were about to carry it off, when the Judge asked permission to see it once more. It had scarcely been given to him before, with his foot on the floor, he snapped the blade from the handle. Then, clinching tightly the hilt, he threw to them the useless blade, and with a gesture of contempt, and eyes gleaming, cried, “There: Take that if you are anxious to fight; but you have no business to steal my plate.” While the army was at Valley Forge, Col. Clement Biddle and others were quartered at Moore Hall and a committee of Congress met there in the early part of 1778. Moore died on the 30th of May, 1783. He and his old antagonists the Waynes, rest together in peace in the graveyard at Radnor. Moore lies directly in front of the door, and all the worshippers at that ancient and celebrated church, as they enter, pass over the remains of one who during his life was probably the most conspicuous and heroic figure in the county of Chester. Among his descendants are the Cadwaladers and Rawles of Philadelphia, the Goldsboroughs and Duponts of Delaware, and some of the English and German nobility.[3]

  1. For a detailed account of this contest see Annals of Phoenixville, p. 45.
  2. “Run away from William Moore of Moore Hall, in Chester County, a likely young Negro Man, named Jack, speaks but indifferent English, and had on when he went away a new Ozenburg Shirt, a pair of striped homespun Breeches, a striped ticking Wastecoat, an old Dimity Coat of his master's, with buttons of Horse-teeth set in Brass and Cloth sleeves, a Felt Hat, almost new. Whoever secures the said Negro and will bring him to his Master or to John Moore, Esq., in Philadelphia, shall receive Twenty Shillings Reward and reasonable charges. William Moore.”

    Penna. Gazette, Aug. 10, 1730.

  3. A MS. volume of surveys in the library of the Historical Society of Penna., made in 1733 and 1734, contains the following doggerel. The authorship is unknown.

        “Old moor of moor Hall
          Did with nothing at all
    Distroy a most Terrible Dragon
          which notable feat
          has Caused a whole State
    In songs for to bluster & brag on.
          But now he's outdone
          By a stripling his son
    Who is made up of nothing but Wonder
          for moor of moor hall
          whos Deeds were not small
    to his son must in Justice Knock under.

          The wonderous youth
          to tell you the truth
    Does fight in a way thats not common
          ffor though he hates Steel
            as men hate the De'il
    Or a Debtor the sight of a Sumon,

          Yet once on a Day
          there stood in his way
    a Creature as big as a Tyger
          he had two fierce Eyes
          off a very large size
    And seemed to have abundance of vigour.
          this youth of moor Hall
          was not Daunted at all
    at a Creature that looked so frightful!
          He made not a word
        but out with his sword
    and at him both furious and spitefull.

          the fight lasted long
          for the monster was strong
    well Known by the name of Poor Torry
          but maugre his Strength
          the youth was at length
    Victorious as I heard the Story,

          But this is a feat
          Scarce worth to relate
    A meer silly thing and a triffle
          to what he has done
          with his round barrelled gun
    and an excelent piece called a Riffle.

          this Hero he saw
          Just after a thaw
    a flock of large Ducks on the water
          and also Espied
          A Deer tother side
    a Deer you scarce ere Saw a ffatter.

          he looked down his gun
          which quickly was done
    and loaded with Ball and Small Shot sir
          at the Ducks he let fly
          and caused some to die
    ffor twelve out of thirteen he got sir.

          And what will you puzzel
          He mounted the muzzel
    Ere the Ball from the Barrel got clear, Sir
          And aimed so right
          That the Ball in its flight
    Passd quite thro the heart of the Deer, Sir.