A place to gather and share information about the Thomas Willcox and Elizabeth Cole Willcox Family of Ivy Mills, PA. For more information see the Home page link above or contact Deniane Kartchner at Denianek@gmail.com. My husband is a descendant of Thomas and Elizabeth's son James who married Prudence Doyle. Their son John's daughter Prudence married John Christopher Kartchner.

Note: This is a work in progress! I am trying to verify everything before I post, but feel free to send me corrections and/or suggestions. It’s also not a complete history of Ivy Mills or a website for current operations, although I will gladly try to answer any questions and/or lead you to the right information.

Willcox home: regular stop for Jesuit priests and first Catholic parish in Concord

Saint Thomas the Apostle at Ivy Mills Catholic Parish
#140 on Concord Township’s Historic Resources Inventory
109 Ivy Mills Road

MaplewoodIn seventeenth century Europe religious strife was common. Dissenters from established churches were routinely subjected to punishments ranging from fines and imprisonment to the death penalty. England was no different: the established Church of England held the favored position and sought to bring everyone into its fold. Members of other religious groups escaped such harsh measures by emigrating. The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock first fled to Holland. Puritans endured the hard voyage to the Massachusetts Bay colony, not to champion religious toleration, but to demonstrate that they could “purify” the Church of England in which they technically remained. Others found refuge in small enclaves on the Continent, or tried to stay out of harm’s way by staying silent.

William Penn, a member of the dissenting Society of Friends, had a different idea. Penn came to realize that the best way to show that a policy of religious toleration could result in a just and flourishing society was to establish a colony dedicated to that ideal. Granted the territory of Pennsylvania by English King Charles II in 1681, Penn began his “Holy Experiment.” He sought to apply his ideas that all persons should be allowed to worship freely, and that “the government was to be based on justice, liberty and equal opportunity.” (5)

Habits and convictions of centuries are not changed quickly. There were stumbles and misunderstandings in the earliest years. But by 1775, there were at least sixteen different faiths in the colony, serving persons from at least nine different countries, and only 35 percent of Pennsylvanians were English. (6) No other colony was as diverse or as welcoming, and Pennsylvania’s example was vital to the eventual inclusion of the ideal of religious freedom in the US Constitution. (7)

An important part of the story is what happened in Concord Township. Concord was founded in 1683, with “First Purchasers” settling on “plantations” ranging from 100 to 500 acres. Concord Friends Meeting was established in 1686, from a group that met first at Chichester. In 1702, Saint John’s Concord, Episcopal was founded. Meeting minutes and other sources tell the story of a thriving, harmonious community of farmers, millers, and merchants.

In 1729, Thomas and Elizabeth Willcox established a paper mill just downstream from the Newlin Mill on the West Branch of Chester Creek. Catholics, they opened their home as a regular stop for Jesuit priests from Maryland going to Philadelphia to minister to Catholics there. Because it was the first stop in what later became the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, that small community was its first parish.

Evidence shows that Willcox built a flourishing paper business, and became a respected member of the community in a way that would have been impossible in England or even New England, where lack of religious toleration would have excluded him from such an opportunity. The mission station at Ivy Mills served the parish until 1856, when the (now) old church of Saint Thomas the Apostle parish of Chester Heights was completed.(8)

Footnotes

5 Edwin B. Bronner, The Quakers: A Brief Account of Their Influence on Pennsylvania (1986), 21.
6 Sally Schwartz, “A Mixed Multitude:” The Struggle for Toleration in Colonial Pennsylvania (1987), 1-3.
7 J. William Frost, A Perfect Freedom: Religious Liberty in Pennsylvania (1990), 1-3.
8 See Robert P. Case, Concord Township Pennsylvania, 1683-1983 Vol. I (1983) and Robert P. Case & Virginia M. DeNenno, Concord Township Pennsylvania Vol. II (1998).






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