New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

Typed notes of Jeannette Eckman (1947)
With permission of Delaware Historical Society
Original Home Plot of Ambrose Backer
in Duke of York Period
Present Owner - Kathleen F, Booker

The earliest known owner was Ambrose Backer, a Dutch citizen
who was naturalized by William Penn, 1683; he is mentioned in New
Castle court records during the Duke of York period, when he and
his son Adam are among those assigned to emergency work on the
dykes, authorized in 1675. Ambrose was an overseer of work on a
highway in 1679. His daughter-in-law was killed by a horse in New
Castle in 1680. The son Adam disappears from the records.
In 1681, there was re-surveyed for Ambrose Backer, the ground
between Third and Fourth Streets beginning at DelawareStreet and
running north 343 feet to the house and lot of George More (the
little Dutch house site) . William Penn, by later surveys, confirmed
this property to Backer. Backer's house had long been on
the Kensey Johns site at the corner of this property when testimony
is given in a court case brought by John Cann in 1682-3. The
court record of the 1681 resurvey describes this Third Street plot
of Ambrose Backer as "several lots lying together...by him bought
of several persons." Record of the earlier owners has not been
found in this search.

Ambrose Backer, or Baker as he is called after his naturalization,
sold off in 1692 and '93 the north part of this property, and
at the time he died, 1696, owned from Delaware Street to the line
of Silsbee's alley, extending 169' deep from Third to Fourth Streets.
In the deeds, Third Street was then called "the Green or Market
Place" and Fourth Street was Beaver street .

In his will, made 1695 and proved in 1696, Ambrose Backer
left his whole estate, real and personal (not itemized), to his
wife Alchee for her lifetime; but if his daughter Hermina married,
with her mother's consent, she was to have half the estate.* The
daughter did marry during her mother's lifetime, Edward Cole, a
cooper, of New Castle. The estate of Ambrose Backer included, besides
the Third Street property  plantation at Swanwyck.Just
how the property settlement was made has not yet been clearly
worked out in this search. But by a deed of 1701, Edward Cole
and his wife property, a sold to Alchee Backer (Hermina's mother) and
Adam Hay for 113 pounds 17 shillings 8 pence,  all their right,
title, and interest, claim etc. in and to "all the real estate
mentioned in a will made by Ambrose Backer unto his daughter
Harmainky".. The only mention of real estate in the will was that
the daughter should have half of it when she married. The 113
pounds may have been a mortgage on Hermina's half, which was later
paid off,  or cancelled at her mother's death.In 1710, following
the death of Adam Hay of Swanwyck (who then owned a 120-acre
plantation there and left a substantial estate to his wife Gertrude
and their seven  children) - Edward Cole, no wife mentioned, executed
an indenture of release of all claim to the Swanwyck plantation
formerly of Ambrose Backer, and to three lots which Adam Hay had
sold between 1701 and 1710 (on ThirdStreet ) to Samuel Silsbee,

 * An additional bequest was "10 pounds to the poor belonging to

Mary Scott and Jonathan Savage (see summaries of #10 and #12, and
#16). These lots were all north of the 140'x 169' corner plot.
Edward Cole and Hester his wife in 1718 sold for 20 pounds
to Jonathan Savage a 25'x 169'lot off the north end of the
140'x 169' corner plot. This would leave Cole's lot 115'x 169',
with the house  near the corner of Wood Street, where he lived, as
this deed and his will, proved the next year, 1719, indicated.
Cole left his whole estate to his second wife, Hester, until his
daughter Ann should marry or reach the age of 18 years, when she
is to have half the whole estate .In the will he suggested that
his wife defray debts and charges by selling a 20'lot next to the
one they had sold to Jonathan Savage. There is no record that
Hester sold or mortgaged any part of the property.

Whether Ann was the daughter of his first wife Hermina Backer
or of the second wife Hester, whom he must have married after 1710,
is not clear, but his will is like that of his first  father-in-law,
Ambrose Backer, to his daughter Hermina, Cole's first wife.Circumstantial
evidence points to descent of the whole 140'x 169'
plot through Cole's daughter Ann. How or by whom the Jonathan
Savage lot is recovered has not been found, but this property,
house and 140'x 169'lot, was owned in 1767 by Richard Griffith,
yeoman and Sarah his wife and Mary Griffith ,spinster . Richard
Griffith,Sr., father of Richard, by will of 1752,left his plantation
to his wife Ann (who in this search is presumed on
circumstantial evidence to have been Ann Cole), in the interest of
herself, his daughters and a son Richard, a minor. To his older
son Edward, two other properties in New Castle. Edward disappears
from the records, and by Ann Griffith's will, 1761, she leaves her
estate to Richard Jr. and his sisters. One of his sisters was
Mary who appears in the deed with Richard Griffith Jr. and his
wife Sarah when they sold to John Thompson Esq.in 1767 for 45
pounds that part of the former Ambrose Backer-Hermina and Edward
Cole property which extended from Delaware Street 140' along the
Green by 170' deep to Beaver Street.

From John Thompson this property, without change in description,
went to William McKennan of Red Lion Hundred, who in 1788 sold it to
Kensey Johns Sr., attorney, for 350 pounds.William McKennan, son
of William McKennan Sr., Presbyterian clergyman of New Castle
County, was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Revolution in June
or July 1776, served through the war and was a Captain in 1781.
He took part in the siege of Yorktown and returned from there to
Delaware early in 1783 with the Delaware detachment which camped
"at Christina Creek near New Castle". He was the first Secretary
of the Delaware State Society of the Cincinnati in 1784. He was
elected to the State House of Representatives 1791, 1793, 1795.
In 1797 he offered his Red Lion property for sale as he intended
to leave the state. He died in 1803.

Kensey Johns in 1789 sold a plot at the north end of the 140',
which included the site of #8, to Joseph Boggs for 250 pounds. This
plot then had on it a small brick house. In 1792 Kensey Johns
bought back the Boggs property at public sale along with the adjoining
30' lot to the north which was also owned by Boggs; and
two years later he sold the small brick house on a plot beginning
22' from the n.e. corner of the brick office adjoining his dwelling
and running 42.5' north along the street , and back to a depth of 120'
for part of its width and by a widening of the north lot part-way
between the two streets, extended to Fourth Street at a width there
of 38'.

Kensey Johns Sr. probably began to build his house and office
soon after his purchase of the old house and lot in 1788. This
old house or part of it, which may have been more than a hundred
years old in 1788 must have been incorporated in the kitchen wing
of the new house. The location of the oldest back part of the
present house corresponds with the line of the earliest houses on
the street which were set back much further than the later houses.

The Kensey Johns house descended to Chancellor Johns** grandchildren,
children of Governor Thomas Stockton who died in 1846.
Miss Fidelia and Miss Nancy Stockton, daughters of the Governor, did
not marry, lived in the house until their deaths. Miss Lizzie Moore,
a granddaughter of Governor Stockton, lived there in the early 1900's.