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Dateline Frankford 1785

Joe Menkevich has one foot in the 18th century and the other one here with us in the 21st.  He brought back this news account of a crime in Frankford some 226 years ago on this date.  I transcribed it myself from the pdf which you can read here to see the original text.  It is a fascinating glimpse into the past.  It is amazing that we still have these documents preserved and even more amazing that they can be accessed by those who have an interest.

Headline: Philadelphia, July 26; Article Type: News/Opinion

Paper: Columbian Herald, published as The Columbian Herald or the Patriotic Courier of North-America; Date: 08-10-1785; Issue: 82; Page: [2]; Location: Charleston, South Carolina



Philadelphia, July 26

On Saturday last was executed agreeable to the sentence passed upon him by the court of Oyer and Terminer, for committing a rape on the body of a young girl of reputable parentage, and unblemished character, the unfortunate Francis Courtney.  He was a native of Ireland and had borne a good character until the day on which he committed the crime for which he paid his life as forfeiture.  About twelve months ago he landed on these shores and for the discharge of his passage money bound himself to Mr. William Morris of this city. With this gentleman he lived to the satisfaction of his master and the family until Sunday the 3rd inst. When instigated by the devil, and by his own lustful passions, he robbed an innocent young woman of her chastity and happiness, the circumstances of which unhappy transaction are as follow:

The unfortunate sufferer in this affair was a hired servant; born and for many years a resident of this city.  On Saturday the 11th of June, she removed to the house of a gentleman in the country, in which she lived until the time of her misfortune.  Having been three weeks absent from her former master and mistress, she felt desirous of returning to Philadelphia and paying them a visit.  Accordingly, upon request, she obtained liberty to go to the city, and for that purpose, was favoured with a horse.  She set off from the place of her residence on Sunday morning, took breakfast and dinner with the domestics of Mr. Morris’s family; of which Courtney was one and about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, she started from town with the view of returning home —- When she had proceeded as far as Poole’s bridge, she was overtaken by Courtney, who insisted on escorting her part of the way home, tho greatly against her inclinations.

It was the intention of the girl to turn off at Frankfort Mills but was dissuaded from her design by Courtney, who assured, that he could conduct her by a better way.  Accordingly they rode in company until they came to a narrow-land, about a mile below the Jolly Post.  Down this Courtney insisted on their turning as the nearest way home — She tho’t it was not the right way, however they turned down and rode for some time, till they came to a small piece of woods.  Here Courtney’s behavior first evinced the baseness of his intentions.  He made use of hard and menacing language, which so intimidated the poor girl, that she prepared for leaping off and for attempting her escape; but his alertness unhappily exceeded her’s.  Throwing himself on the ground, he seized her, drew her from her horse and dragged her across the road.  It was in vain that the unhappy girl screamed ‘murder’ as loudly as her feeble voice would permit; in vain was it that she strove to protect herself from violation, by her own exertions.  To suppress her shrieks, Courtney twice struck her with his fist on the neck and face; once attempting to thrust his handkerchief into her mouth, and once endevoured to tie it about her throat; however by thrusting her hand between her neck and the handkerchief, she preserved herself from being strangled.  But fruitless were her efforts for the preservation of her chastity!  No fortunate traveler was at hand who could fly to her assistance and minister a timely relief!  No friend or relative to drop the tear of compassion over her misfortune, or to pour the balm of consolation into her afflicted bosom!  No!  The die was cast.  Brutal strength prevailed over female imbecility.

Two women and a man were at a distance, hearing dismal shrieks, and supposing them to be some objects in distress, made towards the place from whence the sounds proceeded.   When they approached the unhappy young woman, they perceived that she was in a most pitiable situation.  Her hair was greatly disheveled, her neck and breast extremely bruised, her clothes tattered and muddy, and altogether, she resembled more a frantic person than one possessed of reason.  She ran with lifted hands toward Mr. Glen, who was the person that came with the women to her assistance.  He avoided her;  but pointing towards Courtney, who was endevouring to carry off the horse of the injured girl; but perceiving that he was in danger of being overtaken, he mounted his own horse and fled with the utmost speed.  At the Jolly Post he was overtaken, where his horse stopped, tho greatly to the surprise and confusion of his rider.  He then cried out for help, declared that his pursuer intended to rob him.  However his artifice availed him nothing.  He was apprehended and committed to prison.  The unfortunate girl in the meantime was, with much difficulty, brought to the Jolly Post, where after repeatedly fainting away, she was conveyed to bed.  The next day she was examined by a magistrate and it was requisite that she should identify the person who had abused her, Courtney was produced.  The moment she saw him she became violently convulsed, and it was a considerable time before she was sufficiently calm to declare that he was the very person.  Nor was she less agitated when at court she was desired to look at the prisoner at the bar and declare whether he was the identical  person by whom she had been violated.  She looked up, but the instant her eyes caught his, she fell into such a throng of convulsions, that it appeared a matter of difficulty to preserve her alive.  When she was somewhat recovered, she declared as before, that he was the very person.  The trial then went on.  Courtney was found guilty of the crime, sentenced to death and on Saturday last, as was mentioned above, made his exit from the stage of life.

2 thoughts on “Dateline Frankford 1785

  1. A couple questions, do we know what Frankfort Mills is? And where was Poole’s Bridge?

  2. July 3rd, 2011 at 8:16 pm, Jim Says: “A couple questions, do we know what Frankfort Mills is? And where was Poole’s Bridge?”


    “Frankford Mills” was a common term for the grist mill made famous by Lydia Darrah in December of 1777. Here is additional information:

    Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Date: January 23, 1782

    TO BE SOLD, A Brick House and Lot of Ground, with a well of good water in the yard, and a good stable, situate in Frankford, in the Fork of Bristol and Adamsroad, near Frankford mill . The stand is suitable for a tradesman or store, and has been occupied as such many years past. The whole in good repair, and under good fence. For terms of sale, apply to ISAAC WORRELL, in Frankford.

    Pool’s Bridge:

    Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Date: September 26, 1765

    Title: ON Saturday, the 5th of October, will be sold by publick
    ON Saturday, the 5th of October, will be sold by publick Vendue, on the Premises, a certain Lot of Ground, near Pool Bridge , containing in Breadth, on the old Road, leading from Philadelphia to Frankford, about 50 Feet, and in Depth about 120 feet, with one Brick Dwelling house, and Part of another thereon, now in the Tenure of Jacob Shryner, and Tobias Simmerman. The said Lot is bounded northward by a 20 Feet Street, leading from Front street to Second street continued, opposite the Barracks. This Lot is subject to an Annuity of Nine Pounds Currency, payable to Mrs. Margaret Hillegas during her Life, and no longer.

    POOLE’S BRIDGE.  By John Fanning Watson

    [[ This bridge, crossing Pegg’s Run at Front Street, was named as well as the neighbourhood, after one Poole, a Friend, who had his ship yard and dwelling on the hill there, called ” Poole’s Hill” in early days. It was then an establishment quite separate from the city population, and even from Front Street itself; for neither Front Street nor Water Street, which not long since united there, were then extended so far. “Poole’s Hill” was therefore the name before the bridge was constructed there, and designated a high bluff, abruptly terminating the high table land of the city at its approach to Pegg’s Run, and the overflowing marsh ground beyond it northward as high as Noble Lane and Duke Street. ]]

    Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Date: November 19, 1747

    To be SOLD, By Charles Vinegar, at the Sugar House, over Poole’s Bridge , all sorts of Blacksmiths tools, very reasonably.

    Also, here is a map of Gunner’s Run & the Frankford/Bristol Turnpike, North of Pool’s Bridge & the Cohocksink Creek:

    Daniel Pegg & Thomas Masters land & Mill Dam in Northern Liberties:



    ‪ Volume 3‬ By John Thomas Scharf, Thompson Westcott:

    [[[ “Beginning at the north side of Vine Street, in the middle of the Front Street of the city of Philadia, on Delaware side; thence proceeding north by east to Mr. Pool’s house; then north by east to Daniel Pegg’s porch, north by east, and then north by west to the Marsh & Mill Creek; and thence north, with variations west and east, to the Norris and Goodson lane.” [note1]

    In 1725 the Governor and Council received a complaint from the commissioners of Philadelphia County in regard to the high road to Frankford road, but, although various inquiries were ordered, nothing practical was done until 1747, when a commissioner made a report marking out the courses as ” Beginning at the place of intersection of the north side of Vine Street and the east side of Front Street, near Penny Pot Landing; thence north by east to a point opposite the bridge, near Pool’s Point; thence by the same course by various bearings to the causeway of Long Bridge (over the Cohocksink].” The road then ran by various points and boundaries, not now ascertainable, to Gunner’s Run and to Frankford Creek bridge, and to Penny pack bridge, and to the ford over Poquessing Creek, near the Widow Amos’, being in all eleven and three-quarters miles.

    [note1] Nathaniel Pool lived on Pool’s Hill, a little west of Front Street, about Callowhill. He was the ship-builder, and his ship-yard most hare been near the mouth of the creek and its intersection with the Delaware River. A person of that name, whether the original or his son is not known, passed Friends’ Meeting In marriage with Ann Till, in the year 1714. William Pool was the part owner of a vessel in 1709. Boards and staves were for sale on Pool’s Hill, “at the upper end of Front Street,” In 1754, by a person named Carpenter.

    Pool’s bridge shifted its name to the new bridge, but in time “the bridge over Pegg’s Run at Front Street” was the only name known after the old road had been abandoned and the line of the street altered. In 1812 the commissioners of the Northern Liberties granted the Northern Liberty Fire Company permission to place its engine-house at Pool’s bridge, and the structure did partially rest on the east side of the bridge. It was removed in 1829, when the culverting of Pegg’s Run had been nearly accomplished. This stream is said to have been navigable at one time as far west as Ridge road, and even to Twelfth Street. It ran through a valley, and there was a considerable descent to it from the neighborhood of Callowhill Street, while on the northern side the ground was low and swampy. Although great changes have been made in the configuration of the ground, all the streets which cross this run, although raised and paved, still show the descent all the way between the Delaware to Tenth Street.

    In time Pegg’s Run, the original name of which was Cohoquinoque Creek, was clogged up by the surface discharges into it, and, like Dock Creek, became a nuisance. In 1826 the commissioners of the Northern Liberties ordered that a culvert or sewer be constructed along it from Delaware Sixth Street to the east side of Oak [afterward Beach] Street. Thus it was covered in by a thoroughfare, to which, in 1829, was given the name of Willow Street.

    The bridges over Pegg’s Run were built from time to time, but it cannot be ascertained exactly when. An inference may be derived from the circumstances that in March, 1749, Second Street was ordered to be opened from Vine Street to the Germantown road, and in the early part of 1812 the United States Fire Company was permitted to build its engine-house on the bridge across Pegg’s Run at Second Street. It is probable that it was bridged at the Ridge road at an early date, although that far up it could only have been shallow and narrow. For several years after the beginning of the present century wooden bridges, slightly protected at the sides, spanned the creek, and its banks were occupied by tanneries, slaughter-houses, skin-dressers, soap-boilers, etc.

    A presentment which was made by the grand jury of 1683 related to the necessity that ” the creek called Coanxen [Cohocksink] be bridged or cannowed.” The inhabitants of Germantown and the upper western parts of the country speak of the “long stone bridge” and the causeway over to Kensington in a petition, in 1701, for the settlement of a road across the creek (which they also called Stacy’s Creek), to divide into branches to Frankford and Germantown. This bridge was somewhere about the present line of Budd Street, where it crosses Canal Street. In 1713 the grand jury inspected it, and a tax of one penny per pound was authorized ” to repair the new bridge by the Governor’s mill,” and for other purposes. In 1797 the Legislature passed an act to declare Cohocksink Creek a public highway. It was to be—

    “opened from the mouth thereof to the bridge on the road leading to Frankford … for the passage of all kinds of vessels and rafts which can float therein. And it shall and may be lawful for the inhabitants desirous of using the navigation of the said creek to remove all natural and artificial obstructions from the mouth thereof, up to the aforesaid bridge, so as that the said creek shall be navigable forty feet in width; Provided, nevertheless. That it shall and may be lawful to throw such drawbridge or drawbridges across the said creek as shall not obstruct the passage of the same.”

    Before the Revolution small vessels with falling masts occasionally went up the creek to the Governor’s mill, at Frankford road, carrying grain and returning with flour. ”

    While the grand jury of 1682 was looking after transit facilities in the young colony, it did not forget to allude to the demand for a ferry or bridge at” Tankanny” (Tacony or Frankford) Creek. A bridge was soon established, over which passed “the King’s road from Scuilkill through Philadelphia to Nesheminy Creek,” and in 1701 Frankford and Oxford were directed to equally contribute toward its repair, and Thomas Parsons was ordered “to cut open the old water course or pay the sum of 40 shillings toward the same.” In 1726 a petition was presented by the inhabitants in and about Frankford, setting forth—

    “The inconveniences of the road on both sides of the bridge there, for that on the farther side, there is occasion also for another bridge over the other branch of the creek, which is there divided A to prevent the Charge of the two bridges; that the Road also between the Mill House and the Creek is much too narrow; all which inconveniences might be prevented by turning the Road a little lower, and building one bridge, which would fully answer the end of two where the Road now passes, and therefore praying that the said road may be reviewed.”

    The consideration of this petition was postponed, and there is nothing on the minutes to show that it was ever called up again. Yet the change recommended seems to have been made. The old road was a little west of the present high-road to Frankford, just beyond the forks of the creek. Two bridges would have been necessary, but by shifting the road eastward the true object of convenience was gained. The long bridge at the south end of Frankford has the peculiarity that while it crosses the creek at the lower end by a span of forty or fifty feet, it continues up alongside of the branch of the creek, which just there turns northward for a considerable distance. The building of a bridge at Frankford was one of the subjects of dispute between the mayor and the corporation of the city and the justices and grand jury of the county in 1708.

    The justices proposed to lay a tax for the building of two county bridges and a court-house. The two bridges were ” on the northern road.” The county justices represented that the case was one of necessity, “for people now sometimes passed in Danger of their Lives over those two mentioned Bridges. Tho’ upon one of the greatest and most principal Roads in the province.” The bridge at Frankford was one of these, and the justices averred that the building of it was ” a very considerable thing.”

    East of Frankford, on the Point-No-Point road, and near Point-No-Point, Joseph Kirkbride was the keeper of the ferry in 1811, and for some years previously. In the latter year an act of Assembly was passed, giving to Kirkbride authority to erect a bridge over Frankford Creek,” where his ferry is now kept.” It was directed to be provided with a draw eighteen feet wide, and the floor must be eight feet clear above the water.for the passage of rafts and vessels.
    Kirkbride built the bridge, which he maintained for many years. Eventually the county of Philadelphia bought the rights of his representatives in the bridge, and it was made free. Near the ferry-house there gradually grew up a village, which was occasionally known as Point-No-Point. In time a change of the name was advocated, and the locality came to be known as Bridesburg. ]]]

    More than what you asked, but I hoped this answered your question.


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