Skippack Historical Society

The Vision of William Penn

King Charles II's charter to William Penn

The Origin of Skippack

William Penn's Holy Experiment
By Andy McClay, Historian, Skippack Historical Society

Soon after William Penn received his royal charter in l681,which granted him the province of what is now Pennsylvania and Delaware, he traveled in areas of what is now Germany and Holland to find people to come over to the new colony he wanted to form across the sea. He appointed agents in the larger cities and they would form companies of emigration.

There were established religions in these countries and those who were in other religious groups or who were separatistsWilliam Penn at the age of 22. within the established religions were, limited in their worship. Penn preached to these people and invited them to his lands on the Delaware River where they could have free exercise of their religion, whatever it was. Penn was a Quaker, which in his English homeland was also not an established religion. Penn's guiding principle always was tolerance of other viewpoints. Remember also that farmers in Europe in those times did not own the land they worked. The land was owned by one of the aristocracy. The possibility of owning your own land was a huge enticement.

Penn and his agents had interested a number of people from all along the upper Rhine river from such places as Mannheim, and Krefeld, Mulheim and Heidelberg. These became the original Pennsylvania Germans and in 1683 the first group came to Philadelphia. Pastorius was their leader. They found that the land along the Delaware was already taken by the Quakers so they moved upcountry seven miles to form a village later called Germantown. Dirck Sipman in the town of Crefeld may have been one of these agents.

The town of Crefeld in Germany is on the upper Rhine near Dusseldorf and is significant to our interest in the settlers of our region. In 1682 William Penn conveyed 5000 acres of land in his province to Dirck Sipman of Crefeld upon the condition that a certain number of families were to be taken across the ocean to settle upon them.

When you bought land from Penn you had the privilege of "locating" that land. You could buy thousands of acres and designate where that land would be (so long as it was in Penn's province.) Then you would get a patent on that land and if no one else had a patent on that parcel, it would be granted to you. Dirck Sipman surveyed and located hundreds of his acres in Germantown and in 1698 sold all of his remaining acres (all unallocated) to Matthias Van Bebber, a Dutch merchant who came to Germantown in 1687. Van Bebber was the son of one of the, first Crefeld purchasers in Germantown. He reasoned that the German immigrants wanted their land along a stream and Germantown was somewhat disappointing in that respect. He looked northwest to the first heavy streams. Van Bebber located his lands on the Skippack and Perkiomen Creeks, the first streams of importance as you go northwest from the Wissahickon Creek of Germantown. The Dutch and German immigrants originally expected to be able to have land along a stream, either the Delaware or the Schuylkill. A stream provided good farm land and water power. Here was a region cut by two streams; the Perkiomen and the Skippack, and Matthias Van Bebber bought 5000 acres from Sipman (later 1166 more acres), ten square miles of land which became Skippack and Perkiomen Township.

Note that the vast majority of settlers here were the Dutch and German people. Van Bebber was a Crefelder and a Mennonite. As people from Crefeld arrived in Philadelphia or Germantown, and especially when Mennonites arrived, Van Bebber was probably on hand to interest them in the land on the Skippack Creek. Already this was called "Bebber's Town" or Bebber's Township. It bore this name as late as the printing of Scull's map in 1759. The area called Bebbertown covered substantially the same land as that within the present townships of Skippack and Perkiomen.

Van Bebber conveyed 100 acres of land to seven trustees for the inhabitants of the township to build a meeting house and a school house for the education of every citizen of the township. This was the first township in this country to have provision for education of all the youth of the town.

A petition was drawn up by 34 residents of Skippack and Perkiomen Township (called Bebbertown) to have the government survey the township. This gives us an idea about the number of landowners.

The word Perkiomen in the language of the Delaware and Lenape means "where cranberries grow" according to Zelsberger, a missionary to the American Indians. The name Skippack is controversial. One historian in the last century indicated that the word in the Indian language meant "still water or pool", which some find improbable. The early settlers pronounced the name Schuppach and this was the pronunciation even 75 years ago. It happens that there are several towns on the upper Rhine with similar names and they mean "pushed up stream". So at least one historian suggests that the name refers to a people forced to move up the stream. Van Bebber did move the new arrivals up to where the streams were. This is only speculation of course. But it may be that the settlers called the stream by the name of a town in the region of Germany where they originated.

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