“A Battle For Freedom And Independence In And Beyond Colonial Times, Surrounding the Lives of The Cliveden House”
‘The Battle of Germantown, An Incident in History – What Began As A Summer Retreat, To A Colonial Landmark” 1763-1998
Gregory V. Boulware
Paying close attention to the ‘scuttle-butt,’ gossip, and rumors about, I remember hearing something about an occultist and his group back in history class. It was something about George Washington and a mystic back in the 16th or 17th century. It was during, I think, the French-American and British war of the colonies. The old mansions in Germantown reflect upon the general’s visit along with the French leader, Lafayette.
The mansions along ‘The Great Road’ held a complete and authenticated history of events from back then.
What I do know up to this point is what has been said, stored, and recorded:
~ “The Battle of Germantown” occurred at the Cliveden Manor. “It was also the country home of Pa. Chief Justice Benjamin Chew. On October 4, 1777, a British regiment occupied Cliveden and defended it from full assaults by the Colonials. Over 70 soldiers died on these grounds. Although it was an American defeat, Washington’s bold strategy helped to win French aid for the cause of independence.” – “The First Protest Against Slavery was here in 1688, at the home of Tunes Kunders, an eloquent protest was written by a group of German Quakers. Signed by Pastorius and three others, it preceded by 92 years Pennsylvania’s passage of the nation’s first state abolition law.” ~
What began as a summer retreat, to a colonial landmark, became the site of a viciously nasty war, “The Battle of Germantown.’ Many have wondered if this was an accident in history.
Cliveden Manor is a story of a colonial family, the servants, and its slaves.
Before William Penn and the Mayflower, the Native Americans lived on the land now known as the United States of America. Here in the northwest, the Philadelphia-Germantown area is where the Quakers settled to farm and establish businesses. They were mostly of German descent, hence the name Germantown.
This area was also a haven for runaway slaves. “The Underground Railroad” ran through this region of the country as well. There existed a number of “Safe-Houses” for escaped African-American Slaves (not known then as African Americans) such as, The Mennonite Meeting House and the Johnson House. The route to freedom for Black people often led to Canada, although a number of African descendants decided to settle in Germantown where they felt safe from persecution.
The great-great grandfather of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew (1772-1810), John Chew arrived in Virginia from England in 1622. The Chew family and the Penn Family were friends and business associates. The protégé of Penn, Benjamin Chew was legal counsel to the Penns’ and eventually family tied by way of marriage of Chew and Penn offspring. The two families also had ties with other prominent families in Pennsylvania and other colonial settlement areas.
It took Chief Justice Chew four years to complete construction of the Cliveden (1763-1767). The house was named after a mansion that Chew admired. The Cliveden was specifically designed to become a summer retreat from the home in the city, Philadelphia, six miles away.
Philadelphia was then the capital of Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia was a bustling town. Everything came out of and through the city of “Brotherly-Love,” such as, mail, business transactions, shipping, etc.
The ‘Yellow Plague’ drove the Chews to reside full-time in the sleepy rural farming community.
The Chews were among several wealthy families in the region. Not only was Ben Chew a protégé of Penn, he was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer-jurist and served as a representative of the three lower counties of Delaware, Maryland, and Connecticut. Later, his service led to a political career.
With the “Great-Road” (Germantown Avenue), the view of the mansion was majestic. Its’ majestic stance was not obstructed by tall trees and shrubbery, as it stood atop a hill, basically, alone in those days. The year 1777 marked the ‘Battle of Germantown’ between British and American troops. British Commander Colonel Thomas Musgrave, head of the British regiment, quartered in the house of the Chews, while his troops bivouacked behind the orchards of the Cliveden. The house was placed under British protection.
General Washington’s troops marched down from the ‘Skippack’ farming area through Chestnut Hill and into Germantown on October 4th, 1777. During the dark early morning, with visibility at a minimum, the fog thickened sky was enhanced by thickening smoke of cannon and musket fire.
From the ‘Billmeyer’ house, not more than a city block from Cliveden, General Washington commanded the American troops during their engagement with the British troops occupying Cliveden.
At times, neither side could tell who the enemy was. There were incidences of friendly fire deaths (where soldiers accidentally shot each other by mistake). The American soldiers donned white pieces of cloth, sticking out from under their head-gear, so that their brethren could tell who they were. They tried to burn the house; it would not burn. It was unscathed by musket and cannon fire, most likely due to the thickness of Cliveden’s walls. The Americans withdrew to the ‘Peter Wentz’ farm up through Skippack Pike, to their previous camp and later to ‘Valley Forge,’ from their unsuccessful siege on Cliveden in the winter of 1777-1778.
“The Revolutionary War” has many chapter levels throughout for the fight for independence from England. The “Battle of Germantown” was a bitter defeat for the American army. The Chews reportedly were not at the house during the battle.
Mr. Chew was in exile during the battle, after an arrest warrant was issued. Even though he lived in America, he was British. His loyalties to America were called to question.
The “Mischianza” was held at the Walnut Grove, May 18th, 1778, honoring the farewell of General Sir William Howe. He was scheduled to return to London, England. Two of the Chew girls were escorted by Brits to the Ball. The ‘Mischianza’ was a festive occasion with a mock tournament of medieval knights, their squires, and pages; in jousting events, dancing, colorful fireworks displays, and an elaborate banquet.
‘Blair McClenachan’ (owned the mansion thru 1779-1797), lived in Philadelphia during the war, he made most of his fortune by outfitting privateers. This man also had political aspirations. Mr. McClenachan held republican sympathies with France while serving the democratic society in Philadelphia. Like Chew, he also used Cliveden ad a summer retreat. While he and his family resided at the Cliveden, McClenachan suffered economic reverses. He sold off all his land investments, Cliveden being the last property to go. However, before that he entertained some prominent individuals during his tenure at Cliveden. The English translator of the “Marquis de Chastellux” was one such visitor; General Washington was another.
The war began to change its’ tide in favor of the Americans by late spring, 17178. Mr. Chews’ exile-imprisonment came to an end.
Benjamin Chew, believing himself to be a practical man, maintained a low profile for the duration of the Revolutionary war. Around 1779, he and his family moved to Delaware, where a plantation was owned by his family. This is the same plantation along with the plantation in Maryland where Chew sent his slaves after being written out of meeting by the Quakers for owning slaves.
According to a census report, Chief Justice Chew owned slaves from the eighteenth century into the first decade of the nineteenth century. His father also owned slaves. The census taken in 1820, reported Chew owning two male slaves; their names were not recorded. In 1797, a report showed ownership of three slaves. Also, in the Chew service were four free-Blacks, who were slaves, three males and one female. There was one Black Man that the Chews had a fondness for. His name was “James Smith.” Mr. Smith entered the Chew services in 1819 until his death in (age 52) 1871. It was believed that Mr. Smith also had a fondness for the chews.
Although it was not uncommon for whites to own slaves in the north as well as in the south, the Civil War, and the “Emancipation Proclamation” changed the horrible and despicable practice of slavery.
The Cliveden Manor owned by Blair was rented to the Spanish Ambassador, Don Juan de Miralles. This was a burden he badly needed to dispose. He owned the mansion from 17179 thru 1797. He died in 1812.
The Chew family re-acquired the Cliveden for the Marquis de Lafayette on July 20th, 1825, as part of his triumphal tour of Revolutionary War Sites. With the victory of the Americans, George Washington also returned to Germantown, and a visit to the Cliveden in the company of Philadelphia Mayor, Samuel Powell.
Chief Justice Chew, Sr. would probably feel right at home in the Cliveden of today, as it has changed very little, with the exception of some modern conveniences added to the dwelling. The current household furnishings are those used by the Chews at Cliveden and/or the families’ other residences.
In 1972, Cliveden was acquired by the National Trust for Historical Preservation, for all people to experience.
Anne Sophie Penn (1805-1892) and Samuel Chew, III (1832-1887), were the two people throughout the Chew generations that were most impressive. The relationship and hardships that these two shared and endured showed a great belief and love of the Chew house would have probably disappeared altogether. They struggled through the family squabbles, the wars of the country, the monetary pressures, and the changing of the times and neighborhood.
“Samuel Chew, III, who died at the early age of fifty-five, was a man of gentle manners, or great kindness of heart, and of dignified courtesy.”
“For Anne, life at Cliveden was a mixture of joy and tension. She and Sam divided the responsibility for the care and management of the land. Anne worried about the future of Sam and Mary’s children, while Cliveden remained a center of social activity.” By the 1880’s, the estates’ place in history was assured. Cliveden was now recognized as a historic site.
The stair, hall, and entrance hall, both hold and entertain great beauty and interest. The three long guns (muskets) give a sense of presence of the soldiers who fought and died in the ‘Battle of Germantown’ (the framed survey map-boundary line between the Pennsylvania and Maryland), lend a real sense of history.
The ‘Civil War,’ ‘Slavery,’ ‘The Emancipation Proclamation’ – the ring of freedom for all Black People and People of Color, leaps into mind with a powerful explosion of pride and passion. The painting, “Storming the Chew House,” also promotes a vivid glance of history.
Just across the street, behind the mansion, the existence of ‘Slave Quarters’ stand erect today while being occupied by residents of color – remind us all, “Slaves were born and bred in this area of Philly (bought and sold in Center City – Head House Square), ‘Germantown,’ ‘Roxborough,’ ‘Mount Airy,’ ‘Chestnut Hill,’ and beyond…the suburbs of ‘Colonial Philadelphia’ and its ‘suburbs.’
The Suburbs? Are they truly a heaven from the rigors of city life or are they the heaven of retreat from the horrors of the past and present – the lying lie of “No Slavery in The North,” when there is no more room in hell, will the dead truly walk the Earth?
Are the ‘Kelpian’s’ continuing the tradition of Sabbat?
Til Next Time…
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