History of the Farmstead
The centerpiece of the Barclay Farmstead is the 16-room farmhouse, built by Joseph Thorn between 1816 – 1818. The house exemplifies many characteristics of the federal style of architecture popular in the decades immediately following the American Revolution. These characteristics include a symmetrical façade and simple, flat brickwork. Additional architectural features of note include the Flemish bond brickwork and fanlight on the front façade, and the rear arched-porch.
The property, which was 168 acres at the time it was purchased by Joseph Thorn in 1816, is reminiscent of the rich agricultural heritage in Cherry Hill Township. The property was first settled, though not developed, by the prominent Kay Family of West Jersey in 1684. Journals from that time indicate that the land was covered with a vast forest that stretched from the Atlantic coast to the grasslands of the west. Early settlers considered this dense forest a vast, though bountiful, wilderness.
Prior to European settlement in the Delaware Valley, the land was home to the Leni-Lenape, which translates to “Original People.” The Leni-Lenape, or “Delawares,” as they were nicknamed by the settlers, had developed a vast trail system that ran as far as the Atlantic Ocean. Hunting and, to a lesser degree, farming, supplemented their primarily fish-based diet. The Leni-Lenape and Europeans, including the Quakers, peacefully coexisted until the effects of disease, alcohol and diminishing land caused their rapid decline throughout the 18th century. By 1802, the last of the Leni-Lenape tribes had left New Jersey, but their paths, trails, and foodways were integrated into European settlement.
The Kays, and many settlers in the south, or west Jersey region were Quakers seeking religious freedom in the new country. In fact, South Jersey, as far down as Salem, was settled by Quaker colonists several years before William Penn’s settlement in Philadelphia. Two Quakers, John Fenwick and Edward Bilinge, purchased a majority of the West Jersey land. Provincial capitols for this political division were located in Burlington and Salem. The trustees of the many land title agencies distributed persuasive literature describing the religious freedom and economic opportunities in west Jersey for both Quakers in England and other disenfranchised groups throughout Europe, including many Germans.
Society of Friends
The Society of Friends developed out of the religious and political turmoil that plagued England in the 17th century. Originally called the “Children of Light” or “Friends of the Truth”, they believed in a personal, rather than collective, religion. Members were dubbed “Quakers” when founder, George Fox, told officials of Derby, England that they should “tremble” before the word of the Lord. The judge is reported to have replied, “you are the Quaker, not I.” The nickname, though resented at first, was later accepted and used by the Society of Friends.
Firmly rooted in Christianity, the Society of Friends developed a strong belief system, but lacked a systematic theology or dogma, as found in most modern religions. A primary tenant of the Quakers is the belief that a direct experience or relationship with God is available to anyone who seeks it through quiet, diligent contemplation. This search for your “inner light”, the pinnacle of the Friends’ belief system, is attainable within every individual. Therefore, all are created equal before God—regardless of sex, race or religion. Another tenet of Quakerism, and probably the best known, is their strong pacifist ideology. Quakers refused to fight in wars, including the American Revolution, War of 1812 and Civil War. Instead, they would offer their services in hospitals and other volunteer outlets.
The belief in the equality of the sexes encouraged many Quaker women to seek advanced education and participate as leaders in their respective communities. They conducted their own business meetings and were some of the first female landowners in the country. More importantly, Quaker women used the respect and freedom afforded them to pursue a number of reform issues including prison reform, temperance and abolition. As the suffragist movement gained momentum in the early 20th century, Alice Paul, a Quaker from Moorestown, worked hard to ensure the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress.
Education was another cornerstone of the Quaker faith. In fact, the Quakers generally established their own schools with a rigorous curriculum that was classic in nature, including lessons in Latin, Hebrew, arithmetic, geography, literature, writing, etc.
At the height of the Quaker belief system stands a devotion to God, truth and honesty. Accordingly, Quakers refused to swear oaths, which implied a double-standard of behavior. Nor would they remove their hats, except in the presence of God. They did not recognize ministers and refused to pay tithes to provide ministers for the Church of England.
The Society of Friends remained a powerful religious—and political—influence over the Delaware Valley well into the mid-19th century. The Society still exists at present, though in considerably smaller numbers. Today, as in the 19th century, members are organized into local congregations called Monthly Meetings. The conduct of any given member in a Meeting was of utmost importance and scrutiny in the 18th and 19th century. Gathering for worship and business were at the center of a Quaker community. In fact, it is through the meticulous minutes and records of several local “Meetings” that we are able to learn a great deal about the Barclay Farmstead’s first developer, Joseph Thorn.
The Thorn Family
Joseph Thorn, a 4th generation American and devout Quaker, purchased the original 168-acre property from Samuel Kay in 1816 for approximately $10,500. At the time of the purchase, Joseph, his wife Ester and their 6 children, transferred from the Evesham Meeting to the Haddonfield Meeting, which was considerably closer to his new home.
Joseph married Esther Dudley Borton, a widow, mother of three girls and a Quaker, at the Evesham Monthly Meeting on December 17, 1801. Joseph was 34 at the time. Within the first year of their marriage, Esther gave birth to their first child, Joshua (1802). By 1813, the Thorns had five additional children: Josiah (1803), Hannah (1805; died in infancy), Joseph (1808), Rebecca (1811) and Nathan (1813). A seventh child, Hannah, was born in 1816, shortly after the Thorns purchased and built the Farmstead. All of the children attended the Haddonfield Friends School, which still operates today on Haddon Avenue in Haddonfield. School was in session six (6) days a week from 8 AM until 4 PM. The six surviving Thorn children all lived fairly successful lives, moving between Philadelphia and the Midwest.
In the wake of the War of 1812, and several subsequent recessions, the American economy began to waver. The remarkably inflated price of cotton prompted Great Britain, the country’s largest importer, to look elsewhere for its supply. America’s cotton industry quickly plummeted. Other domestic staples, such as wheat, as well as land values, were soon to follow, sending merchants and farmers into economic chaos. By 1821, the country witnessed one of its first full-force depressions.
Joseph Thorn was unable to insulate himself from the economic downfall. By 1825, he had stopped making payments on his mortgage. Then, in February 1826, the Sheriff of Gloucester County, Enoch Doughty, issued a writ commanding Joseph Thorn to levy and sell as much of his property as was necessary to satisfy the numerous claims of his creditors. Indeed, Joseph Thorn’s questionable financial dealings prompted the Haddonfield Preparative Meeting, an agency of the Haddonfield Monthly Meeting, to investigate his financial dealings in 1825. It should be noted, however, that the meeting later absolved his indebtedness in 1826, blaming the poor economic status of the country as the cause of Thorn’s financial problems. Nonetheless, the Thorns lost their property in the sheriff’s sale to Joseph W. Cooper, of Camden.
The Cooper/Barclay Era
In 1826, Joseph W. Cooper (b. 1799), a descendant of the founding family of Camden, NJ, acquired Thorn’s property for $7,600.00. Several years earlier, the young Joseph Cooper had inherited his uncle’s large estate in what is now North Camden. He married Rebecca Champion in 1835 and together they had eight children. Cooper eventually became president of the successful Cooper’s Point Ferry and, in 1855, built a fashionable home for his large family on State Street in Camden, where he lived as a prosperous businessman and city councilman until his death in 1871.
Cooper’s intention for buying the Thorn property in 1826 for $7600 is still vague. Initially thought to be a lucrative and temporary investment, Cooper held onto the property, according to hearsay, to serve as a summer retreat for his family while satisfying his amateur interest in agriculture and farming. Indeed, a general lack of maintenance at the property during this time, as well as the addition of a front and side porch in the latter half of the 19th century, indicate summer, rather than year-round, usage.
The property eventually passed to one of Joseph Cooper’s daughters, Ellen Champion Cooper, though there is no evidence that supports she lived in the home. In October 1882, Ellen married a successful Philadelphia attorney and non-Quaker, Charles Barclay, despite much discouragement from her parents. Within a year, Ellen and Charles had their first child, Walter Cooper Barclay (b. September 30, 1883). Unfortunately, Ellen contracted blood poisoning during labor, and died just twelve days later, on October 11, 1883, at the young age of 30. Her residence at the time of death was listed as Collingswood.
Although Ellen’s young son, Walter, inherited the Cooper property, now called Chestnut Grove Farm, it was placed under the management of his uncle. However, Walter’s father, Charles, successfully fought this stipulation in court and was subsequently named administrator of Chestnut Grove until Walter came of age. Walter lived on the property under the care of his Aunt Nellie, while his father maintained his law practice in Philadelphia and ran Chestnut Grove as a dairy farm. During his school years, Walter attended both the Cheltenham Military Academy in Ogontz, Pa, and the Hamilton School in West Philadelphia. Walter wrote frequently to his father, and often inquired about the farm, which he clearly loved and finally attained on his 22nd birthday (September 30, 1905).
Just months after acquiring the farm, Walter married Mary Emma Lemunyon, of Vincentown, on November 28, 1905. In 1908, “ Emma,” as she preferred, and Walter purchased land in Haddonfield and built a home at 126 Fowler Street, where they lived for several years. In 1915, the couple decided to build a new home on Kings Highway in Haddonfield, and moved to the Farmstead for the construction period. It was at Chestnut Grove that their only child, Helen, was born on July 22, 1915. In 1923, the family moved to their completed home in Haddonfield, though summers were spent at the Farm until 1929. Walter maintained Chestnut Grove as a gentleman’s farm until his unexpected death on the farm in March 1936.
Following her father’s devastating death, Helen Champion Cooper Barclay, who had graduated from Centenary College in 1934, moved home to live with her mother and took a job as the secretary to the Superintendent of Haddonfield Public Schools.
Barclay Farmstead Museum
In 1954, Helen and her mother negotiated the sale of a portion of the farm to developer, Bob Scarborough, for $95,000. For sentimental reasons, Helen retained 32 acres, including the house and farm buildings, which were left under the charge of a caretaker. Helen eventually sold the remaining acreage to Cherry Hill Township in 1974 for $335,000, under the stipulation that the property be used as a public park and recreation center. By September 1974, the property was dedicated as the “Barclay Farmstead Museum,” and restoration of the farmhouse began in 1976 by restoration architect John M. Dickey.
Now listed on the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places, the Barclay Farmstead offers public tours, educational programs and events throughout the year, including the Township’s unique "Living History Educational Program."
A true treasure of the past, the Farmstead is maintained by the Township of Cherry Hill, with the assistance of the Friends of Barclay Farmstead, a volunteer organization devoted to continuing restoration and support of historic programming.
Matlack, T. Chalkey. A Book of Thorns Containing Some Account of the Thorn Family in America with Special Reference to the Descendants of Thomas Thorn and his Wife, Abigail Burrough of Waterford Township, Gloucester County, of the State of New Jersey. 4 vols. Moorestown, NJ, 1904. (Copies are available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the New Jersey State Asrchives in Trenton)
Rezneck, Samuel. The Depression of 1819 – 1822: A Social History. American Historical Review 39 (October 1933): 28 – 47.
Thorn Family Website: http://thorn.pair.com
Society of Friends
Frost, J. William. The Quaker Family in Colonial America: A Portrait of the Society of Friends. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.
Levy, Barry. Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Tolles, Frederick B. Quakers and the Atlantic Culture. New York: McMillan, 1960.
Prowell, George R. The History of Camden County, New Jersey. Philadelphia: L.J. Richards & Co., 1886.
Wolf, Jean K. Research, Analysis & Recommendations for the Barclay Farmstead Museum. Ardmore, PA: 1993. (available for review at the Barclay Farmstead)
Boyer, Charles S. Indian Trails and Early Paths. Camden History, Camden Historical Society. Vol. 2, Part 2. 1938.
Dorwart, Jeffery M. and Philip English Mackey. Camden County, New Jersey, 1616-1976: A Narrative History. Camden, NJ: Camden County Cultural & Heritage Commission, 1976.
McMurray, Sally. Families and Farmhouses in Nineteenth Century America: Vernacular Design and Social Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
de Lagerberg, Lars. New Jersey Architecture, Colonial & Federal. Springfield, MA: Walter Whittum, 1956.
Garvan, Beatrice B. Federal Philadelphia, 1785-1825: The Athens of the Western World. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1987.
Hand, Susan C. New Jersey Architecture. Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1995.