I live in a historic house in that several generations of the Dickinson family lived in for about 70 years. When I leave that house on my morning commute, I come to the traffic light at the intersection in Marple Township where Sproul Road turns left and heads down the hill and on to Radnor, while Marple Road begins and heads down hill towards Darby Road and Haverford.
As I sit at the traffic light, I see several Dickinson gravestones in the graveyard–people who used to live in the house I now live in. When I pass, I always say hello to them in my mind, if not by voice. I’ve done some research on them–and generally know who’s who and how they are related. Near them is another more prominent gravestone, one of the largest in the cemetery, for George Brooke Lindsay.
After years of passing by this intersection, I was curious about who George was, went searching for an answer, and uncovered a whole seam of local history that also connected me to another part of my morning commute.
George Brooke Lindsay was born in 1852 at the Lindsay family home in Haverford, and then the family moved to a farm in Nether Providence. He went to public school and then studied law in the office of Ward & Broomall in Chester. The partners there were John M. Broomall and William Ward, who were both elected to Congress.
George went on to have a successful career as a Delaware County lawyer. He was politically active, serving as solicitor for the borough of North and South Chester, and president of the Chester Veteran Republican club. He was also a director of the Chester National bank, the Chester Union Railway Company and the Chester & Media Electric Railway Company, secretary of the Chester free library and treasurer of the Law Library association of the Delaware County Bar.
His interest in libraries continued after his death in 1918: he left an estate of about $200,000 that he asked to be used to build a law library to be called the Lindsay Law Library. That library was built in Chester, and for years was affiliated with what is now Widener University. The Lindsay Law Library survived until 2009, when as reported in the fall 2009 issue of the Widener Wolfgram library:
“The Lindsay Library has been associated with the library for 35 years. It was originally set up as the law library for the Chester Bar through a trust from George Brooke Lindsay, a prominent Chester lawyer. The library has been housed in Wolfgram since 1974, but recently the trustees voted to migrate from the print-based library model to a more contemporary electronic delivery model, bringing to an end 35 years of mutually beneficial service to the community. Following the move of Lindsay from the 4th floor, that area will be slowly converted to a comfortable Quiet Study and Reading Room so that students will have an area in which to read, write and reflect and be insulated from the buzz of the activity on the other floors of the library.”
In searching further, I found that George was the great-grandson of a Revolutionary War ancestor, William Brooke, born in 1746, who was commissioned a captain in the Fourth Company, Chester County Volunteers, and later rose to major, and in later histories was referred to as “General Brooke”. During the occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-78, Captain Brooke had a narrow escape from the British:
"It sometimes happened that some of our military scouts were captured by the enemy, when not sufficiently on their guard. About this period, such a party under the command of the late General William Brooke, of Haverford, who was then a captain, were one night taking their ease at a house, late the property of George Swain, when the house was suddenly surrounded by a larger party of the enemy. Brooke determined not to be taken, leaped from a window and ran, but in getting over the fence into the road found that a partial dislocation of his knee had happened. Putting his foot through the fence, and giving his leg a quick extension, the joint was brought into a proper condition, when he hastily made his escape."
The British were raiding the countryside during that winter, and on December 11, 1777, they showed up at Captain Brooke’s farm on Darby Road in Haverford and confiscated the following items:
Six sheep, six cows and two calves.
Beds, bedding and wearing apparel.
Household and kitchen furniture.
Provision and poultry. . . . . . .
Fat and store hogs. . . . . . . .
Two tons of hay and grain in the sheaf.
As a result, his wife and two young children “were obliged to turn out in the snow and seek shelter” with neighbors. During that raid, the Hessian troops saw “a splendid mahogany chest of drawers, known as a high boy”, and one of them forced open the top drawer with a bayonet, in the belief that the chest contained treasure. This damaged chest of drawers remained in Captain Brooke’s possession until his death in 1829, when it passed into the possession of his son Thomas Brooke, and then in turn it passed to his son, George Brooke, Esq., of Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
Captain Brooke died at his Haverford home, a farm at the confluence of the Darby and Ithan Creeks, in 1829, and was buried beside his wife, Margaret Moore, at the same church where they were married, Old St. David's Church in the far corner of township.
I think of the Captain and his family every day. After leaving the Dickinsons and George Brooke Lindsay at the Marple Presbyterian Church cemetery, my commute takes me on Sproul Road north to Darby Road, where I turn right, and continue past Captain Brooke’s farmhouse, the site of the British raid. As you come over a small rise and approach the Blue Route overpass heading east on Darby Road, Captain Brooke’s house sits high on an embankment to the left just before you cross Darby Creek.
The current owners are very aware and interested in the history of their house and its former occupants, and they have shown me the original portion of the house where Captain Brooke lived and where the British soldiers plundered.
Each day when I drive to my office, I pass through not only 21st Century Marple and Haverford, but hundreds of years of our history as well. I love learning the history of the area, as it brings these people and their lives and times to life again.
On my morning commute, I see the British dragoons coming down the road. I cross Darby Creek where the British troops had earlier crossed to raid the Burns farm. I imagine the terror of Margaret Brooke and her young children as the soldiers on horseback appear at her door and then rip apart her home and take away her belongings.
We are living in the same space they lived in, in houses they built, we travel on roads that they were familiar with, cross streams that they forded with much more difficulty, and we attend churches and use libraries that they built. And mostly we pass by them, unaware of their lives.
When you pass their way next time you travel those roads, give a wave to George Brooke Lindsay, and his great-grandfather Captain Brooke, and thank them for their service and their contributions to our community and its history.