A touch of Philadelphia, too

Business opportunities lured some Dover Friends to more lucrative destinations within the changing economy. With their many Quakers, Lynn, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, especially, beckoned.

As a widely repeated quip goes,

Friends went to Pennsylvania to do good, and they did very well, indeed.

Among those who went to Penn’s Fair City was Lydia Brown Hanson’s nephew Moses Brown (1793-1878), who left Dover in 1815 to join his brother Jeremiah in the domestic textile trade. Moses, I should emphasize, was not the famed Rhode Island Quaker. These were the sons of William Brown and Abigail Peaslee, whose daughters Lydia, Alice, and Anna all married under the care of Dover Meeting. The brothers’ move to Pennsylvania came the year after the first textile mill in Dover was built – were the Browns selling its fabrics?

In Philadelphia, Moses had the good fortune to marry Mary Waln Wistar, a descendant of a socially prominent Quaker family, and their son Thomas Wistar Brown was born in 1826.

Described as a successful dry goods mer­chant who never went to college, T. Wistar Brown became a self-taught scholar and patron of education. A long-time manager of Haverford College and for 25 years its board president, he gave the college three professorial chairs and much of its old library and books, among his many philanthropic endeavors.

His profile calls him a quiet man of strong faith and convictions – including a refusal to succumb to the use of the telephone and automobile. As a young man he had followed Abraham Lincoln on horse­back on the way to the first inaugural, and he saw Lincoln’s Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin, spattered with mud after a hairbreadth escape from an assassin’s bullet. During the Civil War he escorted the wife of his cousin, General Isaac Wistar, through enemy lines to visit her husband at Fort Monroe.

He was also a founder, with other Quaker businessmen, of the Provident Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Philadelphia.

Brown and family members are buried in the plot at the end of the lane in Dover.


When he died in 1916, the Evening Post of New York in a long tribute said of him: “There was a blend of the stoic in his Christian resignation; he saw much and suffered much, gained much and lost much. He was one of the last of the old generation of Quakers who inherited from their forefathers discipline and patience, silence, and self-control. He faced life with quiet fortitude.”

He is buried with his wife, Mary Farnum, and other kin in the T. Wistar Brown Cemetery, now managed and used by Dover Monthly Meeting.

At times I do wonder if the City of Brotherly Love is reflected in the naming of some of Dover’s streets – Arch, Chestnut, Locust, Maple, Spring, Central, Broadway (from Broad) – as a result of the Philadelphia connections. A number of the city’s other streets carry Quaker family names, including Hill Street, named for a Varney and Hill land development partnership rather than its inclines.


Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in a Nook edition at Barnes & Noble.

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.


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