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1. Beginning of boroughs in Pennsylvania 7

2. Their antiijuity in England ,S

3. Boroughs in other States .S

4. Meaning of town and borough in Pennsylvania 10


1. Chester THE first TOWN AND STARTING rOINT 11

2. Land system, and its influence on their growth... 11

3. Proprietary influence. Instructions about found-

ing thk first town 15

4. Penn's establishment of villages 17

5. Legislative and other influences 20

6. Towns laid out by speculators 21

7. Number op TOWNS AND cities IN 1880 22


1. Germantown. Its origin, and form of govern-

ment FROM 1G91-1707 23


Involved in the cjuestion of adoption of county


Pennsylvania institutions 31

3. Bristol a type of boroughs in 18th century 33


1. Borough legislation in this century 42

2. Officers in small and large boroughs 45

3. Power? of the borough council 4G

4. Administration of Justice 40

5. Possibilities of the borough system to secure good

government exemplified in york and norki.s-


6. Distinction between a borough and a city 4'J

7. Lack of such anomalies in the Pennsylvania bor-

ough, AS are found in boroughs of England 50


The charter from Charles II. granting William Peun a
princely domain to the west of the Delaware river, gave him
the authority to " divide the country into Townes, Hundreds,
and Counties, and to erect and incorporate Townes into Bor-
roughes, and Borroughes into Citties, and to make and con-
stitute Ifaires and markets therein, with all other convenient
priviledges and munities." This has been the fundamental
clause in the municipal history of Pennsylvania since 1681.
It gave Peun the right to perpetuate the iustitutions already
in existence on the banks of the Delaware, or to modify them
if he chose, and transplant to the new province other English
institutions that he might consider necessary for the well
governing of his people. This right he exercised by estab-
lishing the county as the largest political division of the
province, by modifying the existing town with its court into
the township under the authority of the county com-ts, and
lastly by founding towns and villages, which he incorporated
into the city and borough. Thus, by introducing the county,
the township, the borough, and the; city, he fixed the seal of
his enduring influence upon the local government of Penn-
sylvania. The boroughs were established within a few years
after the proprietary's arrival, and though they were but a
handful during the colonial period, they form the connecting
links between their numerous successors and the ancient bor-
oughs of England. He who lives in a Pennsylvania borough
to-day is as closely connected with the times of Edward the

8 Pennsylvania Boroughs. [136

Confessor as his brother farmer in the township or " tun-
scipe," for both borough and township are common institu-
tions of Anglo Saxon days. Many years ago Thomas Madox
thus discoursed on the antiquity of boroughs : " Monsieur
Littleton saith, Buroughs are the most ancient Towns in
England; for in old times Cities were Buroughs, and so
called. The truth of the matter is this, Burgh es might well
be the most ancient Towns in England. It was according to
the Native Language of this Countrey to style them so. The
Anglo Saxons called a City as well as a Town Burh or
Burgh." ^ The burh had an earlier meaning than that of the
town ; it was once, according to the dictum of Stubbs, " merely
the fortified house and court yard of a king or noble ; then it
became the more organized form of the township," and
gradually grew into the town with its charter of privileges,
with its i^ort-reeve, or its bailiff or mayor, its aldermen, and
other corporate officers.

Considering the importance of the borough in the muni-
cipal histoiy of the middle ages, and in both municipal and
parliamentary affairs of modern England, and the frequency
with which the word occurs in the annals of her history, it
seems not a little strange that in the spread of English insti-
tutions in the United States, it has not found a more general
acceptance. It may be that towns in several of the States
are occasionally called boroughs, just as writers speak of
boroughs in Italy or France, in a general way, but the three
States of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut are the
only ones now possessing borough systems. In New Jersey
the first boroughs date back into the early part of the last
century ; they developed on independent lines, without uni-
formity of purpose or system till the enactment of a general
law in 1878, which now regulates their future incorporation.
Connecticut introduced a borough system with the beginning
of the pi-esent century, to secure better local government for

' Firma Burgi, p. 2.

137] Pcnnsylrania Boroughs. 9

the larger villages than was afforded by the " town " system.
Virginia thought to have a borough system at the beginning
of her colonial life, and as early as 1619, says Mr. Stith, had
eleven boroughs which sent members to her first legislative
assembly.^ These were not boroughs in the sense of incor-
porated villages or towns, as the towns were yet to be ; tliey
were really plantations and hundreds, though by a stretch of
language two or three of them were sometimes called cities.
Representation being given these divisions in the House of
Burgesses, after the manner of parliamentary representation
in England,^ it was quite natural to style them boroughs, and
the historian probably had the parliamentary boroughs in
mind when he* gave this name to the Virginia plantations.
In her subsequent history, Virginia had two municipal
boroughs that also had representation in the House of Bur-
gesses, but there are now none in the iState. Town has been
the name generally given to the incorporated village, and in
this, as in many other particulars, Virginia has set the fashion
for the Southern States.

Lord Baltimore's charter of 1632 empowered him to "erect
and incorporate Towns into Boroughs, and Boroughs into
Cities," but Maryland did not produce towns any more than
Virginia, and those that did struggle into existence were
called towns and cities, not boroughs.^ In the grant of Maine
to Sir Ferdinando Gorges in 1639, he was permitted to incor-
porate " Citties, Borroughs and Townes," and constitute the
usual fairs and markets therein, but neither in the forests of
Maine, nor in any New England colony did the boroughs
take root with the original settlements. In New York the

'HistoryofVa., p. 161.

' It is stated on p. 420 of Campbell's " History of the Colony and Ancient
Dominion of Virginia" that actual residence in the place he represented
was not necessary lo render a candidate eligible to a seat in the House of
Burgesses. This is un-American now-a-days.

3 As late as 1716, a law speaks of boroughs that might be erected there-
after. See Laws of Maryland.

10 Pennsylvania Boroughs. [138

incorporated village is so styled till it becomes a city. This
custom prevails in several States, particularly in the West,
where the institutions of New York have been largely
adopted. In Kansas we find the anomaly of styling all
incorporated villages cities. It is no uncommon thing there
to find a mayor and council presiding over their little city of
less than four hundred souls. Thus in various States of the
Union we see the borough, the town, the village, the city, all
meaning essentially the same thing, all derived from the
municipal life of England. They might all have been styled
boroughs, but it was the taste of the people to call them

It may perhaps insure greater clearness to explain here
that we have used the word "town" in this paper as it is
used in Pennsylvania, where it is applied indifferently to a
large village, a borough, or a city, but not to the township.
The term borough has not this general application, like the
town, but always means the incorporated village or town pos-
sessing a particular form of government. Boroughs are by
courtesy sometimes called cities, but cities are not called

Writers upon the political history of Pennsylvania have,
so far, given little or no attention to her borough system.
This may partly arise from the fact that there were but few
boroughs in the early years of the colony, and these had no
greater signification in the general politics of the province
than the township. Being so few and small, and without
separate representation in the Assembly, they escaped notice.
Mr. Foster has ably shown us what political influence has
been exerted upon Hhode Island by her towns throughout
the whole extent of her history.' No such dominant power
was exerted by the towns of Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, in
the quiet of her early years, the Keystone State was laying

'See Foster's "Town Government in KhoJe Island:" Johns Hopkins
University Studies, Fourtli Series, No. II.

139] Pennsylvania Boroughs. 11

the foundations of a borough system that has since become a
most important factor in her local government. To judge
how important this factor lias become, let us first take a view
of the outward progress of the towns before beginning the
study of their government. Let us see what care was taken
to foster their growth.

Growth of Towxs.

It is now a little over two hundred years since the good
ship "Welcome" sailed up the Delaware with William Penn
and his companions on their way to build a new State. Many
great changes has Pennsylvania seen since that day. Within
the limits of the province the little village of Upland was
then the nearest approach to a town. It had been founded
by the Swedes about the year 1645, and in 1682 it possessed
a mixed jiopulation of Swedes, Dutch and English, and had a
c-ourt with jurisdiction over the neighboring territory along
the Delaware, but it was not an incorporated village. For
.some reason Penn changed its Swedisli name to Chester.

When he erected the three counties of Chester, Philadelphia
and Bucks, he made Chester "shire town" of the county which
took its name, and here was passed the "Great Code of Laws"
for the guidance of the new commonwealth. Upland had
been living and growing as best it might, with little thought
of companions or rivals, but with the arrival of Penn came
a new era of planting villages and towns, and Ujiland awoke
one day to find itself distanced by a younger competitor.
The builders of the province were very anxious to establish
towns, for they recognized them as the nerve centres of the
body politic. The land system they adopted was intended
to promote rapid settlements and encourage towns, but the
wisdom of their ways is not always apparent. William Penn
adopted no new system of distributing lands peculiar to Penn-
sylvania, but followed the examples of neighboring provinces.
Especially wa.s his own personal experience in the settlement

12 Pcnnsi/h-ania Boroughs. [140

of West Jersey of value to liim, and in general he introduced
the same system with modifications into his own province.
For example, the constitution of the land office became almost
the same as provided for in the West Jersey "concessions."
In Pennsylvania it consisted of the secretary, auditor-general,
receiver-general, surveyor-general, the deputy surviycus, and
the commissioners of property, who acted in thr |uo|,ii.t;:i\ 's
place during his absence, with authority to punliasc^ lands
and grant them for such sums or quit-rents as they deemed
reasonable. By the Frame of Government of 1683, there was
to have been a "Committee on Plantations" in the Provincial
Council, with the special duties of locating cities, ports, mar-
ket-towns and highways, but as the council was much smaller
than originally intended, no committees were created, and
such matters were settled by the whole council. With the
commissioners, the council and the special land officials, Penn-
sylvania was not lacking in men to carry out a consistent
policy, but unfortunately she was lacking in a sound sys-
tem that would inspire confidence an'd secure satisfaction
among new settlers. Mr. Gordon, who has carefully studied
tiiis subject, tells us that there was no general and accurate
system for the division of lands. " No system whatever,"
he says, "can be traced in the records of the land office."'
Another high authority says, "In the times of the pro-
prietaries the land office was said by the legislature to
be pretty much of a mystery. This is not to be wondered
at when it is considered that the grants of lands and con-
firmations of titles were matters in the breasts of the pro-
prietaries and their officers, who dispose of their territory
according to their own will and pleasure, professedly by
formal methods, but frequently by informal modes and agree-
ments of their own, varying with the expediency of the times
or the change of officers, or special influences."^ It was often

I History of Penna., p. 549.
'Sergeant's Land Laws of Pennti., p. vi.

141] Pennsylvania Boroughs. 13

the case that more than one system was in operation in the
province at the same time, and it is manifest that such a lack
of fixed policy must have retarded the growth of tiie colony.
The large number of officials simply made confusion worse
confounded. The quit-rents to which most of the lands sold
by the proprietaries were subject, were most vexing to the
spirit of the settlers, and kept them in a chronic state of
unrest. The first purchasers under William Penn paid one
shilling a year for a hundred acres,' but a half-penny or a
penny an acre became more customary rates later, and some-
times the exactions were heavy enough to check materially
the growth of a town.^

Offsetting these ^disadvantages were other influences that
encouraged town building, especially the personal influence of
the proprietaries, who owned large tracts of land known as
manors, reserved from the Indian purchases. In the " Con-
cessions " of Berkeley and Carteret in East Jersey these rules
were expressed, " That in Laying out Lands for Citties
Townes Villages Burroughs or other Hamletts, the said
lands be devided into seaven parts, one seaventh part whereof
to be by Lott laid out for us, and the rest devided to such as
shalbe willing to build thereon, they paying after the rate of
one halfe penny or one penny p'acre according to the value
of the Lands yearly to us."* Penn pursued a similar plan
on the west side of the Delaware. At first from every
hundred thousand acres sold or surveyed, one-tenth was to be
reserved to himself, to be kept together in one tract. Later
instructions to his surveyors indicate that the proprietary
share was increased beyond the original tenth. It became an

' Gordon's History of Penna., p. 550.

'Quil-rents and quarreling over the same lots retarded the growth of
York. This confusion was probably increased through the neglect of the
land office- to give proper titles or record the deeds of sale, for the officers
were remiss in these important duties. John Penn himself, once stated
that the deeds were not always recorded. Hist, of York, p. 35.

' New Jersey Archives, vol. I., First Series, p. 42.

14 Pennsylvania Boroughs. [142

object of the proprietaries to liave these manors settled, and it
several times occurred, as in the instances of York and Pitts-
burg, that the proprietaries directed that towns should be laid
out in their manors and lots offered for sale.

In 1681, Penn issued his "Conditions or Concessions"
■which were agreed to by his purchasers. They are interest-
ing and instructive as being the most definite expression of
his plans of settlement. They were not new however, except
in details, for the policy of issuing such instructions had been
pursued in New Jersey. In 1665, Berkeley and Carteret
made certain "Concessions and Agreements" which served
as a model twelve years later for the " Concessions and Agree-
ments" of the West Jersey Proprietors, and these in turn
served as suggestions for Penn's "Conditions or Concessions."
As Penn was one of the proprietaries who authorized the
" Concessions " of 1677, we see how natural it was for him
to adopt similar measures in his own colony. One of the
fii-st things the proprietaries of West Jersey did towards
settling their province was to issue instructions to their com-
missioners in 1676 to sound the Delaware and find a good
healthy location for a town where navigation was also possi-
ble. It is curious to note likewise, that the first thing to be
done in Pennsylvania was to sound the river and found a
city, that it might be the centre of trade and the political
capital of the territory. So important was it held to found
this city at once for the colony, that the fii-st article in the
"Conditions" of 1681 begins by saying "That so soon as it
pleaseth God that the abovesaid persons arrive there, a certain
quantity of land, or ground plat, shall be laid out for a large
town, or city, in the most convenient place upon the river,
for health and navigation ; and every purchaser and adven-
turer shall, by lot, have so much land therein as will answer
to the proportion which he hath bought or taken up, upon
rent."' It was fully expected that more than one city would

' See Conditioas or Concessions in 2nd vol. of Poore's Charters and Con-
stitutions of U. S., p. 1516.

143] Pennsylvania Boroughs. 15

find a local habitation and a name, for the same article con-
tinues thus — "But it is to be noted that the surveyors shall
consider what roads or highways will be necessary to the
cities, towns, or through the lands. Great roads from city to
city not to contain less than forty feet in breadth, shall be
first laid out and declared to be for highways, before the
dividend of acres be laid out for the purchaser, and the like
observation to be had for the streets in the towns and cities,
that there may be convenient roads and streets preserved, not
to be encroached upon by any planter or builder, that none
may build irregularly to the damage of another."

Not having visited his colony, Peun thought that Upland
might be a good place for his city. He instructed the com-
missioners who came over before him, to sound his side of
the Delaware, " especially Upland, in order to settle a great
towne." "Be sure to make your choice" said he, "where it
is most navigable, high, dry and healthy. That is, where
most ships may best ride, of deepest draught of water, if pos-
sible, to load and unload at ye Bank or Key side, without
boating and litering it. It would do well . . . yt the scitu-
ation be high, at least dry and sound, and not swampy, wch
is best Knowne by digging up two or three earths, and seeing
the bottom."^ Having found such a choice spot, they were
to lay out ten thousand acres contiguous to it as the " bounds
and extent of the libertyes of the said town." In laying out
the lots they were to "let every house be placed in the middle
of its platt as to the breadth of it, so that there may be
ground on each side, for gardens or orchards, or fields, that it
may be a green country Towne, which will never be burnt,
and allways be wholesome." The original intention was to
lay out the city on a large scale ; the agreement was that the
adventurers were entitled to city lots in the proportion of ten
acres to every five hundred bought in the country, if the
place would allow it, but it would not. Such a ratio would

' Hazard's Annals of Penna., p. 528.

IG Peniisylvania Boroughs. [144

have required a "greene country Towne" of six or seven
thousand acres, whereas the plot of the city contained but
eleven hundred and eighty acres, or less than two square
miles. To allow each purchaser as much as was first intended
would have made the town more suitable for farming than
anything else. The plans were changed and smaller lots were
given in the town, but the owners were allowed to make up
their proportion in the adjacent liberty lands. Penn, himself,
gave up his own tenth and said to his commissioners, "I shall
be contented with less than a thirtyeth part to witt three hun-
dred acres." As the plot contained less than 1200 acres, it
is to be presumed that he reserved still less than tliis. Mr.
Gordon says "there is no record of this alteration, nor any
written evidence that it was approved by the inhabitants,
but a regular series of uniform facts iipon the books of the
land office establish it beyond a doubt."'

The commissioners looked about them to get a suitable
locality, but did not fix upon any spot with certainty till
Penn came, when they suggested the location between the
Schuylkill and Delaware, which the proprietary wisely deter-
mined should be the place of his first great experiment in
founding a city. He soon went to work with his surveyor-
general, Thomas Holme, to lay out the city for which he had
ali'eady chosen the name of "Philadelphia."

The streets were laid out in the well-known checker board
style, nine running from the Delaware to the Schuylkill, and
twenty-three crossing these at right angles, running north and
south, all varying from 50 to 100 feet in width. Five squares
of several acres each were located in different parts of the
town. These, in brief, were the main provisions about laying
out the first city of Pennsylvania, the one that has been a
pattern for all the rest. After the work was accomplished
the founder was pleased to write to the Free Society of
Traders in London, in 1683, that "Philadelphia, the expecta-

' Gordon, p. 78.

145] Pennsi/hayiia Boroughs. 17

tion of those that are concenied in this province, is at last laid
out, to tlie great content of those here, that are anyways inte-
rested therein.'" In a. letter to the Marquis of Halifax, in
Feb. 1684, he says, "Our capital town is advanced to about
one hundred and fifty tolerable houses for wooden ones; they
are chiefly on both navigable rivers that bound the ends or
sides of the town. The farmers have got their winter corn in
the ground. I suppose we may be five hundred farmers
strong. I settle them in villages dividing five thousand acres
among ten, fifteen or twenty families as their ability is to
plant it." What a really beautiful picture of colonization
Penn sets before us! As the colonists come pouring into
Philadel])hia from various parts of Europe, we see them
striking out in all directions into the new and untried regions,
families and friends joining together and dotting the land-
scape with their little villages. What a common religion,
mutual interests or ties of blood and friendship naturally d(.
to draw the people together, the proprietor wisely encourages.
In the fourth article of the " Conditions " it was specified
" that where any number of purchasers, more or less, whose
number of acres amounts to five or ten thousand acres, desire
to sit together in a lot or township, they shall have their lot
or township cast together, in such places as have convenient
harbours, or navigable rivers attending it, if such can be
found." It often happened that several families taking up a
tract would from natural causes soon form a village in the
township, and this gregarious instinct of man seems to have
been anticipated in some notable instances M'here a plan was
formed to have at the centre of the township a townstead or
village, in which each purchaser of land in the township was
to have a share of lots.^

' Proud's History of Penna., Vol. I., p. 262.

'Thomas Holme's map of 1684, to be found in the library of the Penna.
Historical Society at Philadelphia, contains the plans (pf the early surveys.
It will be noticed that the townsliip of Newtown in liucks County was laid

18 Pennsrjlrania Borough'^. [146

In Pemi's second extended account of tlie province to tlie
Free Society of Traders, he says : " We do settle in the way
of Townships or villages, each of which contains 5000 acres,
in square, and at least Ten Families ; the regulation of the
Country being a family to each five hundred acres. Some
Townships have more, where the interests of the people is
less than that quantity, which often falls out. Our Town-
ships lie square ; generally the village in the Center ; the

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Online LibraryWilliam Penn HolcombPennsylvania boroughs; → online text (page 1 of 4)