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The History of Amity Township
The history of Amity Township is the oldest incorporated
township in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Berks County's
oldest structure, the Mouns Jones House is located in
Amity Township. St. Gabriel's Church which was Berk's first
congregation to be organized is also in Amity.
Amity Township, bordering the eastern bank of the
Schuylkill River is located in southeastern Berks County
about 55 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The location of
the Township influenced its history and development in
various ways. Its location along the the Schuylkill made
access possible to the eastern portion of Penn's new
colony by water and by roads established down the valley
of the Schuylkill. This accessibility partly explains the
presence of various nationalities in the Township soon
after its settlement.
The Swedes were the first people to settle within the present boundaries of Amity. Land was granted for the
settlement by William Penn in the year 1701. The grant was known as the Swede's Tract. It has been suggested that
settlement was made several years later since the Swede's would not have taken possession of the land until all
legal preliminaries had been completed. However, the date 1701 always has been used as the date of the
establishment of the new colony on the Schuylkill. This settlement at Douglassville, called Morlatton by the early
inhabitants of the region, is unique in the history of the county. It was not an extension of the frontier, cabin by cabin,
as was the case in much of the westward movement in the country. This settlement was made by a group of Swedish
people who formerly had resided along the Delaware. A young Swedish pastor, Reverend Andrew Rudman, was the
leader of this band of settlements. In many respects it is similar to the colonization of Connecticut when entire
congregations led by pastors would migrate from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to areas beyond its western
William Penn soon discovered that his new colony contained a nucleus of Swedish inhabitants, many of whom were
farmers. What should be more natural than for Penn to attempt to induce some of these people to settle on fertile
lands in the interior of his new province, thus freeing cultivated tracts along the Delaware for his Quaker brethren who
were unaccustomed to the dangers and rigors of life in the wilderness. Although Penn's biographers are silent on
the matter, the claims made by Swedish sources that Penn urged the Swedes to settle further inland in order to be
able to purchase their farms are probably correct.
Penn offered land to the Reverend Andrew Rudman for virtually nothing. The Rev. Rudman and his followers
selected 10,500 acres along the Schuylkill at the present site of Douglassville.
The Swedes were good farmers. They sought out rich meadowlands which would furnish an ample supply of hay for
their cattle. Many of them engaged in fur trade with the Indians. The fertile land along the Schuylkill in the
Douglassville region became known as Morlatton or Molatton. There are may variations and spellings of the name;
i.e. Manathanium, Maltatten, Morlatten. The spellings seem to vary with the nationality of the writer.
Difficulties of the Early Settlers
The establishment of the settlement in the wilderness was a stupendous task. In addition to making provision for
shelter and providing for the supply of food, it was necessary to obtain a means of replenishing tools, firearms
and other necessary equipment.
The Swedes were not the type to waste much time in "hand-wringing" over the difficulties that faced them. The first
problems were food and shelter. Utilizing materials at hand, the early pioneers erected log "houses consisting of
but one room, the door so low as to require you to stoop". The description of housing among the early Swedish
settlers is based on the accounts of an early Swedish traveler who visited his countrymen in America during the
early part of the 18th century.
Records of this period disclose that the Swedes were energetic workers as by 1720 or shortly thereafter they
were paying sizeable amounts of quit-rents. These quit-rents were amounts of grain or produce due to proprietor
of the province. The amount of the quit-rent depended upon the acreage of land under cultivation.
Despite the rigors of frontier life, the settlers at Morlatton had not forgotten the spiritual side of human existence. It
is evident that as soon as housing had been provided and the basic conditions of a food supply had been met,
the Swedish pioneers made provisions for organized worship.
Communication was a most essential element for the early settlers. Early records note several efforts of the
inhabitants of the settlement at Morlatton to lay out roads to neighboring communities. In March 1709, they joined
other settlers located to the east of their community in presenting a petition to the court in Philadelphia to have
road laid out from the house of the late Edward Lane, now Collegeville, "unto Monatania".
Derivation of the name "Amity"
In the "History of Montgomery County" the author records
the settlement of some Swedes at Douglassville a few
years after 1699 and the connection of this settlement with
a group of Germans at New Hanover. A road was laid out
from New Hanover to Germantown. Along these roads, the
word "Amity" was used to designate a locality.
The name was adopted by the inhabitants of the area to
symbolize their relations with the Indians. Although
Sweden lost the colony in 1638, the Swedish settlers sent
a letter to their homeland in 1693 asking for ministers and
religious books. In this letter they stated, "We live in great
amity with the Indians, who have not done us harm for
many years." From this incident, those Swedish settlers
who migrated up the Schuylkill beyond the Manatawny
called their settlement, Amity.
Incorporation of the Township - 1719
By 1719, The settlement had progressed to the point that a need was felt for a local government. Accordingly, an
application was presented to the court in Philadelphia to from a township from the Swede's Tract, consisting of
the 10,500 acres. The township was called "Amity". According to early records, "the application was granted, the
township was erected and a constable and other necessary township officers were appointed, but no record was
made of the proceedings and the application had to be renewed twenty-five years afterward."
It should be noted that at this time Amity Township was part of Philadelphia County, as Berks County was not
erected until 1752.
The petition for the erection of Douglass Township, presented to the Court of Philadelphia in 1736, refers to
Amity Township stating, "There are at least thirty families and said lands which are not in Hanover or Amity
Townships." The official existence of Amity Township at this time was recognized by the Surveyor General,
Benjamin Eastman. Mr. Eastman made a draft of the proposed township, Douglass, and certified that this land
was not a part of any other township. Part of his official record is as follows: "Beginning at a corner of Amity
Township by the River Schuylkill and extending thence by the said township N. 20L 700 perches, then No. 70W
89 perches; thence N70 W89 perches to upper corner of said township."
The population of Amity Township increased steadily during the first half of the eighteenth century. However, it
is impossible to pin-point the populations at this time as the records list only the number of taxables. In the vast
majority of cases these were only the heads of families. Thus, by estimating the average size of the families of
the day one can arrive at an approximate population. For example, the names of 16 persons are recorded in
the group that obtained grants of land and settled in the vicinity of Douglassville in 1701. It can be assumed that
most of these persons were the heads of families, as 8 of them were recorded as living along the Delaware in
1693. The average number per family at this time was seven. Therefore, if all of the households of the new
settlement at Morlatton contained an average of 7 persons the population would have been slightly in excess of
Today, Amity's population is estimated at over 10,000. It's proximity to major cities like Philadelphia and New
York City make it attractive to commuters.
| Time Line
1701--1705 Settlement of Berks County by the Swedish
1708 Church services first held at Morlatton (Douglassville)
1716 Oldest house in Berks County built (Mouns Jones)
1719 Amity Township founded
1720 St. Gabriel's Church, Morlatton founded by Swedish Lutherans (first church in Berks County)
1765 George Douglass mansion, White Horse Tavern built
1767 Daniel Boone explores west of the Appalachians
1771 Black Horse Tavern built
1775--1783 Revolutionary War
1861--1865 Civil War
1863 Emancipation Proclamation, Battle of Gettysburg
1914--1918 World War I
1920 Woman's Suffrage ratified
1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor
1959--1960 New building at St. Gabriel's Church used as Amity Elementary School
1972 St. Gabriel's Church used as food preparation center for Hurricane Agnes flood victims
1991 USSR dissolves
1995 St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church, Douglassville celebrated its 275th anniversary
2001 Sept. 11 Terrorist Attack at World Trade Centers, Pentagon, and flight over Shanksville, PA
2002 Development agreement for senior housing to be called the Villa at Morlatton, Douglassville
Please feel free to add your own line of history! E-mail Lydia below to make an addition to the time line here. Thank you in advance!