GENERAL HISTORY OF BUCKS COUNTY
Bucks County is one of the three original counties established by William Penn. It is located in the southeastern corner of the state and is bordered on the east by the Delaware River. Philadelphia adjoins its southerly corner. Montgomery County, formerly part of Philadelphia County is its western neighbor. Northampton County, formerly part of Bucks, forms its northerly border.
For thousands of years, the area was the home of the Lenape Indians, and the even earlier Archaic period and Woodland Indians. The history of European settlement in Bucks County can be traced back in time well before William Penn received the charter for Pennsylvania on March 4, 1681. Swedes, Dutch and English all travelled throughout the region.
Bucks County was named for the English shire or county of Buckingham which was generally abbreviated to Bucks. It is not clear if the name was in honor of the fact that the Penns were an old Buckinghamshire family or that many of the first English Quakers who came over with William Penn on the Welcome came from that county.
The earliest permanent settlements in the county were along the Delaware River near Philadelphia. Thomas Holmes "Mapp of Ye Improved Part of Pensilvania in America, Divided Into Countyes, Townships and Lotts" initially printed in 1681 showed that along the Philadelphia County line and the Neshaminy Creek, developed lands extended up into what eventually became Hilltown Township. Along the Delaware River, development ended near the current borough of New Hope with William Penn's private Manor of Highlands which totalled over 7,500 acres.
Most of the original grants were narrow strips of land fronting either the Delaware River or the Neshaminy Creek. Many of the larger tracts of lands were owned by land investment companies or wealthy land speculators and not by immigrant settlers. At this early date, only a small percentage of these tracts were probably actually settled. By 1692 the southerly part of Bucks County was so thickly settled that it was divided into townships.
The great majority of the original settlers in the county were English Quakers. However, Penn's colony was also a haven for religious minorities from throughout Europe. Welsh, Irish, and German settlers also arrived in large numbers. With the English Quakers firmly entrenched along the Delaware River in lower Bucks County, the other groups settled in the remaining developed portion of the county.
A group of Dutch settlers, by way of settlements in New York and New Jersey settled along the Neshaminy Creek in the townships of Bensalem, Southampton, Northampton and Middletown. Much of the lands they settled had been originally surveyed to English purchasers who did not actually take up residence.
In the second decade of the eighteenth century a new group of settlers pushed its way into northern Bucks County from Philadelphia (Montgomery) County by way of the Perkiomen Creek into Milford, East and West Rockhill and Richland Townships. This group was made up of German settlers. Many of the early settlers of Hilltown as well as in New Britain to the south, were Welsh Baptists. The German immigration soon outnumbered the English and Welsh in northwestern Bucks. Many of the Germans were Mennonites, a German sect, similar to the Quakers.
After 1720, several waves of Scotch Presbyterians came via Northern Ireland. These groups settled in several regions of central and upper Bucks County. These Scotch-Irish established large communities centered in Newtown, Upper Makefield and Warwick Townships. Subsequent waves settled in Bedminster and the Red Hill area of Tinicum Township in upper Bucks County.
The Walking Purchase of 1737, "officially" opened the northern half of Bucks County to settlement. This purchase was an outright land grab orchestrated by William Penn's sons. Citing an 1686 agreement made by their father, the Penns purchased additional land above William Penn's earlier purchase of July 15, 1682. The purchase would extend as far as a man could walk in a day and a half. Three men, noted for their strength and stamina, were chosen to undertake the "walk". The three set a blistering pace, and only one of the three men completed the walk. Over fifty miles were covered in the eighteen hours. The surveyors who accompanied the party, then compounded the land grab by drawing a line northeast from the end of the walk, rather than a right angles to the line of the walk. In all, over 750,000 acres of land were obtained.
The opening of the upper reaches of the county coincided with the immigration of a large number of Germanic people. Although the original purchasers and settlers were English or Scotch-Irish, the Germans, who followed the waters of the Perkiomen Creeks from Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties, soon dominated the northern half of the county.
Next: Notes about William Penn