The Conestoga Area Historical Society
Who was James Hendricks
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James (Jacobus) Hendricks was an Indian translator, farmer, explorer, and someone who owned one of the earliest Conestoga Wagons ever recorded. 1
James was born about 1665, his parents were Alburtus 2 and Helchey Hendricks. For genealogical information on the this family see the Hendricks Family Association web page at
His parents came to the Delaware River about 1662 as indentured servants (people who agreed to work for someone for certain period of time). The family was Dutch and at that time, 20 years before Pennsylvania was founded, the area was controlled by the Dutch.
James grew up along the Delaware River, then known as the South River, near what is now Chester, Pa. His parents owned a farm so he undoubtably worked on the farm as a young man, he was probably trained as a cooper since that was his father's occupation.
(A cooper was a skilled wood worker who made wooden barrels).
James couldn't read and write, he used his mark when he wanted to sign a document. His mark was J. H. 3 We shouldn't assume he wasn't smart because he couldn't read, in those days being able to read and write wasn't as important as it is today. You really didn't need to be able to read and write in order to make a living. James was smart enough to speak three languages, he served as an Indian translator 4 so he had to speak English and Delaware (the Indian language in the Philadelphia area) 12 and he probably spoke Dutch, the language of his parents and the one used when he was a child.
James must have had an adventurous spirit, he first came into this area in 1690, hunting for mines. In 1714 he bought 1,000 acres from the Penn land office, paying 10 pounds for the land. 5, that's about 1/20th of the land area of the current Conestoga Township and would be worth millions of dollars today. James shows up as a taxpayer in Conestoga Township from 1718 to 1727. 6 This was on the Chester County tax list, Lancaster county was formed in 1729.
Later he gave or sold this land to his brothers and his children, including his brother Tobias who was one of the first Justices of the Peace in Lancaster County. James Hendricks later sold land to John Postlewaite and this land would become the site of the first court house in Lancaster County.
In 1729 James Hendricks sat on the Grand Inquest that established the townships in Lancaster County. 7
Also in 1729 John and James Hendricks were set up by the Penn government on lands on the west bank of the Susquehanna, at Wrightsville, now York County, this was an attempt by the Proprietary government (the children of William Penn) to establish settlers on the land claimed by Maryland. 8
I couldn't find a marriage for James but in a 1733 deed his wife is listed as Mary.9
In 1734 a tragedy occurred when James accidently shot his son, James Jr., while out
hunting.10 (The account of the accident is included in the Pa. Gazette article on our front page).
About 1738 James was interviewed by the Proprietary government. The following narrative was created because in 1738 they were trying to resolve a land dispute between the Colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Had Maryland won this dispute most of Conestoga, Pequea and Martic Twp. would be in the state of Maryland.(11)
You'll notice a lot of differences in spelling, this is because in 1733 there was no single way to spell a word, if you spelled Pennsylvania with one "n" it wouldn't be wrong.
James didn't write this, he told his account to someone who summarize it and wrote the information down.
Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, Vol. XVI Page 522
James Hendricks, aged 73
"Knows Part of Cecil County in Maryland, and Lancaster, Chester, and Philadelphia Counties in Pensilvinia. Does not know the Bay of Chesapeak, but knows the River of Susquehannah, Part of which lies in Maryland, and Part in Pensilvania. Has seen Indian Forts and Indian Towns; apprehends the Difference between an Indian Fort and Town is, that the first is an House or Number of Houses surrounded by Stakes of Wood and a Bank of Earth east up, and the other is only a Number of Cabbins, built near each other, without being so surrounded. Says that he, near fifty Years ago, saw about 40 Indian Cabins or Houses upon the upper Point of Land which forms the Mouth of Octorara Creek that runs into Susquehannah River aforesaid, within about Half a Mile of the said Creek and River; which Town had Stakes of Wood, and a Bank east up round it. That the Affirmant was then told, by some of the Indians there residing, that they called the same Place meanock, which they said, in English, signified a Fortification or Fortified Town. Has also seen the Ruins of another such Fortified Town, on the East side of Susquehannah River aforesaid, opposite to a Place where one Thomas Cresap lately dwelt. That the Land there, on both sides of the River, was formerly Conajocula. Further says that the Indians, who lived in the said last mentioned Towns before he saw the same, were moved from thence, lower down (to) the said River to Conestoga. (Int. 132, fol. 748) Has known the said River Susquehannah, near fifty years, and first became acquainted with it, by searching thereabout for Mines. That he knows the Place on the said River called Conestoga, and that near 50 Years ago (that must be 1690 or after) he and another Person travelled to Conestoga, and this Affirmant understanding the Indian Language, enquired of several of the Indians there, whether any Christian People had ever travelled so high up the said River as Conestoga aforesaid ? and was informed by them that there had not, but that this Affirmant and his said Companion were the first; for which reason this Affirmant does believe no Christian People had ever, before that time, travelled so high up the said River."
This document isn't dated but James Hendricks says "near 50 years ago" and the compiler suggests 1690 which means this was written probably a few years before 1740. James says he is 73, that means he was born about 1665.
We don't know when James Hendricks died, he had to be alive about 1740 when the account that appeared in the printed Pa. Archives was roughly dated but at 73 he may not have lived much after that. There is no will or intestate record for him in Lancaster County which included York county and points west at that time.
1 See Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol.57, page , which cites James Logan's Account book, 1717-1719.
In his account book James Logan writes under Dec. 31, 1717, "
Sundry Accot. Dr. to James Henricks of Conestogoe viz. Conestogoe Waggon &Store Dr. £ 22 for
his Waggon &Thrill horse bought of him for that money".
There are other wagons at Conestoga, notably Joseph Cloud's, John Ball's and John Miller's but only the wagon sold by James Henricks was labeled a Conestoga Wagon.
2 Alburtus gives his children's names in his will, Chester County Wills, Vol. A , page 29,
3 James Hendricks used his mark to sign his appraisal of the estate of Martin Chartier, his mark was a J.H. (Journal Of The Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. 29, p. 132)
4 In 1718 James Hendricks acted as a interpreter for a treaty between the Indians and the Penn government. Journal Of The Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. 43, P. 7
5 Early Pennsylvania Land Records, Minutes of the Board of Property of the Province of Pennsylvania. Edited by William Henry Egle. Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., Baltimore, 1976.
Minute Book "H" Page 591
28th of the 10th Month, 1714
Signed a Warr't to James Hendricks for 1,000 acres near Strasburg at £10.p. C't.
6 James Hendricks was listed as a tax payer in Conestoga Chester county from 1718 to 1727.
7 In 1729 James Hendricks served on the Grand Inquest (Jury) that established the townships of Lancaster County Journal Of The Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. 92, p. 114
8 Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. 82, page 98.
9 Abstracts of Lancaster County Deeds and Oaths of Allegiance by Thomas Mayhill p. 29
126a & 350a-No Description shown in 1751
Survey 19 Oct. 1716 to James Hendricks by warrant 1,100a., who with wife Mary 15 Oct. 1733 granted 12a. to John Linville who with w. Ann 18 Oct. 1733 gr. 126a to John Postlethwaite; 1733 adj. owners, Melchior Preniman, John Stone, King's Road, toward Phila., Thomas Baldwin, Jeremiah Langhorne.
10 Account published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, March 11, 1731. The shooting occurred Feb. 26, 1731.
11Maryland claimed the 40th parallel as its northern boundry, this runs just south of Millersville. The discussion about Indian forts came about because Maryland claimed its northern boundry was at the location of an Indian fort, based on Augustine HerrmanÕs 1670 map which showed an Indian fort at Washington Boro, on the 40th parallel. James HendricksÕ interview was to dispute this claim and show the Indian fort was located on the Susquehanna at the Octorara Creek. Eventually this dispute was resolved in PennsylvaniaÕs favor and the famous Mason Dixon line was established.
12 See the Colonial Documents, Vol. 3 Page 45, he served as a translator for a meeting in Philadelphia on June 16, 1718.
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