The Lester Family

The Lester Family

The Lester Family
Elma Stewart, 1984
Lyndell C. Miller, Revised 1995
Reference: Roberts, Clarence Early Families of Upper Bucks 1925


Peter Lester, the first of the Lesters in Pennsylvania, came there in 1682 from Leicestershire, England and settled either in Chester or Philadelphia county. He was a member of the Society of Friends and declared intentions of marriage at Chester Monthly Meeting of the Friends with Mary Duncoff (or Duncalf), 6 month 6, 1685 (the old style of dating), or 4 month 6, 1685 (the new style of dating.)

(Double-dating had become common practice for the days January 1 through March 24 between the years 1607 and 1752. In 1752 the colonies switched to the Gregorian calendar which we now use. Before that, the American colonial year began March 25 and ended the next March 24. So March was the colonists' first month of the year until September, 1752. The Quakers dated in the manner of "1st mo. 16, 1700, which would have been up to 1752 "March 16, 1700."

"Lester" is a version of "Leicester." The name is taken from the locality of that name, which was Peter's home shire located in East central England. One historian points out that this region was spelled "Leicestre," taken from "Ligeracestre, afterward Leicestre, and Leycester, the came on the river Ligera, which is probably a corruption of the British 'Lloegr,' the name of the Midlands Britons: Leire (Leicester) preserves the 2nd Saxon form of Lloegr. Leire is the ancient name of the Soar river, principal tributary of the Trent, in the county of Leicester." Other spellings of the name have been "Lister", "Leister," and in the case of the passenger ship list for our Peter when he emigrated from England, "Luister," with the optional spelling put in brackets as "Leicester" (that is, "Luister (Leicester).") So this passenger-ship list acknowledges the variations in spelling used at that time. However, once Peter and his descendants used the name in America, it has always been spelled "Lester."

One account says that Peter Lester came to this country in 1682 with William Penn, who gave him a square of ground on Market Street in Philadelphia, which he afterward sold for 30 pounds. Another account says he bought land in Chester county or Philadelphia county about 1682 and sold it about 1699. On the other hand, a more detailed account comes from two other sources. This account begins with William Penn, an English teenager in training at Oxford University, who refused to conform to Church of England ways and was expelled from college. Young Penn, attaining his adulthood, leaned toward the new religious group formed by George Fox, called the Society of Friends. Penn became a member of this group, the Quakers, in 1667 at age 23 and became involved in Quaker settlement of an area where religious persecution was not a problem, then called West New Jersey. Penn applied to King Charles II of Great Britian in May, 1680 for land for what he called "the hold experiment." Within the year, on March 4, 1681, Penn received a charter from the King for a grant of 500,000 acres., To raise funds to settle his colony, Penn sold large tracts of land, starting in mid-July, 1681 and had sold out by April, 1682.

Altogether, Penn sold to 125 persons in two waves. A first group of 75 came to America in the summer or early Fall of 1681. The second group of 50 bought land from the Penn grant between October, 1681 and April, 1682. This second group set sail probably on the vessel "Samuel", which left London toward the end of May or early June, 1682, reaching Philadelphia in mid-September, 1682. One of this second group was "Peter Luister (Leicester)," who is recorded among those arriving at Philadelphia by the official passenger lists kept by ships' officers.

Probably Peter was accompanied to this country by a brother or other relatives, as the will of George Lester probated at Philadelphia on October 14, 1695 gave his estate to "kinsman Peter Lester." Also, the will of William Lester of the Manor of Rockland, county of New Castle, England, dated 9/24/1694 gives him a legacy as "cousin Peter Lester" and, as well, gave a legacy to "kinsman" George Lester.

In 1699, Peter purchased a tract of 316 acres in the Manor of Moreland, Philadelphia, now Montgomery county, Pennsylvania just to the northwest of Philadelphia, where he lived until 1712. Then he sold this farm and moved with his family to the Great Swamp where he had bought from Griffith Jones a tract of 600 acres of land by deed dated June 24, 1712. Then he sold this farm and moved with his family to the Great Swamp where he had bought from Griffith Jones a tract of 600 acres of land by deed dated June 24, 1712. This land was located on both sides of the road from Philadelphia north to the crossroads of Rich Hill, most of it being on the east side (now this farmland at Rich Hill is split by the freeway leading from Philadelphia to Bethlehem.)

At the time, Abington was the closest Friends Monthly Meeting, so Peter had his membership there until a nearby Gwynedd Monthly Meeting organized. A concerted move to Gwynedd by dozens of families had begun in 1698. Gwynedd as well as Abington were some 20 miles south of Peter's eventual home at Rich Hill (later to adjoin Richland on the south). On 8 month 29, 1716, Abington Meeting granted a certificate of change of membership to Gwynedd Monthly Meeting for Peter Lester, his wife Mary, and their daughter Elizabeth, "they having already removed to the Great Swamp." There at Gwynedd, he was an overseer of the monthly meeting. About 1715, permission was granted to the "Friends in the Swamp" to hold meetings for worship at the house of Peter Lester. They continued to worship at his house until 1723, when a small log meeting house was built near Peter's residence.

The Great Swamp was in the northwest Bucks county, Pennsylvania that included the grant of "Richland Manor" what eventually included not only Richland Township, but parts of Milford, Springfield and Saucon townships. The term, "Great Swamp", was used until about 1800, then "Richland" came into use both for Quaker monthly meetings and the township, this being used because of the rich sold that produced lush grass and heavy timber. Then came into prominence "Quakertown", including a new city area as well as the old Richland. "Great Swamp" actually was a misnomer. In Peter Lester's time, some water lay on the surface during wet sessions. Actually, most of the "Swamp" lay on the surface during wet seasons. Actually, most of the "swamp" was heavy timber with a four mile, largely open grass basin toward its center for the town of Richland (later Quakertown). This settlement in the Great Swamp was a kind of overflow of Quakers who were crowding the Abington, Byberry, and Gwynedd Monthly Meeting areas. And Gwynedd was the nearest early settlement where there was a Friends meeting house before Quakers moved to the Great Swamp.

Peter Lester is mentioned as a pioneer of this early migration from Gwynedd to the Great Swamp, he being spoken of as "our ancient Friend" in the settling of Richland Monthly Meeting. Friends clerk Samuel Foulke in 1773 reported: "The first settlement of Friends in this place was about the year 1710 by our ancient Friend Peter Lester, of Leicestershire, England, who with his wife and children and other families, became members of Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, and a meeting for worship was, with the concurrence of that Monthly Meeting held at the said Peter Lester's house for several years."

The first edition of Clarence Roberts' Early Friends Families of Upper Bucks says that, after Peter Lester and family had moved to the Great Swamp, they were soon joined by other Friends families, including sons in-law John Ball (he married daughter Cathareine) and Abraham Griffith (he married daughter Hannah), who settled on lands adjoining. Another historian, Ellwood Roberts, notes that Peter "and his sons in law [and their wives] were the pioneers of the extensive migration which occurred between 1708 and 1720. He had settled in Gwynedd, 20 miles distant. Peter Lester and his family located a short distance below where he is now, but later moved to the upper portion of the settlement [Richland, or Quakertown], where 5 or 6 generations of the family dwelt." In a later edition, Roberts says that John Ball, the son in law, was the first settler in the Great Swamp. Ball is said to have settled there March 25, 1712 after buying 600 acres of land from Griffith Jones. (Jones was the largest grantee in the Swamp region, having obtained 6,000 acres from Penn. However, he never reached the colonies and his land was taken over by others such as Ball and Lester). Abraham Griffith, the other son in law mentioned above, bought 300 acres on the same date and George Phillips, a brother in law of Abraham Griffith, purchased 300 acres.

Peter Lester's land included 600 acres. He naturally called it "Leicestershire." He sold 200 acres of this tract at Richland to son in law John Ball in 1717, (another report says this 200 acres was turned over to son Peter who sold it in 1741) and the remaining 200 acres to son Peter in 1721.

John Lester, son of Peter and Mary Duncalf Lester, was born in 1689 in Springfield Township, Delaware county, Pennsylvania. He accompanied his father upon the move to Richland in 1712. He lived for a time on part of his father's farm, but in 1728 purchased a farm of 158 acres from Morris Morris and in 1748 bought 246 acres from Samual Mickle. Both tracts were located just west of the early borough limits of Quakertown along a road leading to Bethlehem.

John Lester first married Catharine Griffith at Gwynedd Monthly meeting in March, 1715-16, she died in winter of 1731-32.

Children of John and Catharine Lester

Mary, b: 12/?/1716, d: 5/30/1761, not married
Peter, b: ?/?/1718
Joseph, b: 8/15/1719
Isaac, b: 11/19/1721, d: 1/30/1762, married Eleanor Thomas, 1746
Samuel, b: 9/22/1724, died young
John, b: 1/22/1727, died young

John married second Dorothy Greasley, m: 2/?/1732

Children of John and Dorothy Greasley
Catharine, b: 9/23/1733, married Abraham Roberts, m: 4/?/1757
Priscilla, b: 1/18/1736, d: 3/17/1795, married William Foulke
John, b: 1/31/1738, d: 6/14/1801, married Jane Antrim, m: 10/7/1762
William, b: 3/18/1740

Children of John and Jane Antrim Lester, b: 12/26/1739, d: 1/26/1805
Sarah, b: 4/5/1763, d: 1/2/1815, m: Hugh Foulke
Shipley, b: 11/23/1764, d: 3/24/1832, m: Margaret Nixon, m: 11/23/1791
Hannah, b: 2/2/1767, d: 7/4/1850, m: Theophilus Foulke
Thomas, b: 3/1/1767, d: 8/22/1828, m: Mary Stokes, second, Hannah Green
Jane, b: 9/8/1771, d:?, m: Moses Wilson, 11/2/1797
John, b: 8/11/1774, d: 4/21/1831, m: Abigail Wilson, 2/27/1806, second, Mary Stackhouse, 3/15/1813
Isaac, b: 2/20/1777, d: 3/15/1780
Peter, b: 9/10/1779, d: 8/22/1785

Shipley and Margaret Nixon Lester were married November 24, 1791. Margaret was born, February 25, 1770, and died February 7, 1855, in Bucks county, PA., was the daughter of Samuel and Susanna (Roberts) Nixon.

Children of Shipley and Margaret (Nixon) Lester
Abel, b: 10/11/1792, d: 4/22/1868, m: Margaret Williams, 8/1821
Morris, b: 4/26/1794, d: 7/10/1801
Samuel, b: 12/8/1795, d: 4/10/1798
William, b: 9/29/1797, d: 9/4/1849, m: Ann Wilson
Albert, b: 8/15/1799, d:?, m: Ann ?
Jane, b: 1/5/1802, d: 10/6/1809
Hannah, b: 7/23/1804, d:?, m: John Hampton Watson, MD
Mary Ann, b: 9/15/1806, d:?, m: William Dalby
Shipley, Jr., b: 8/2/1809, d:?
Antrim, b: 2/9/1813, d:?

Shipley Sr., is buried in Richland Monthly Meeting Cemetery, 200 S. Main, Quakertown, PA.

Children of Abel and Margaret Williams Lester

Susan, b: 10/1/1822, d: 1/27/1823
Samuel Williams, b: 7/29/1824, d: 2/3/1910, m: Mary E. Walters, 1/16/1851
Sarah, b: 6/24/1826, d: 3/24/1850, m: Samuel R. Williams, 3/20/1845
Mary Jane, b: 3/1/1828, d: 1/1/1830, drowned, buried Richland
Jeremiah W., b: 11/17/1829, d: 12/22/1916, m: Elizabeth J. Wilson, m: 12/4/1852, to Colorado in 1859
Howard, b: 7/9/1831, d: 2/1/1896, m: Marietta Odle, 9/20/1855
Benjamin William, b: 5/10/1833, d: 8/12/1858, buried in Richland


This page was last updated August 21, 2006.