Once upon a time, the coast of Philadelphia was very different than it appears today. James West set sail for the colony of Pennsylvania some time after finishing his apprenticeship with George Wight of Bristol, England and becoming a Burgess in 1679, signifying he had mastered his trade and was ready to operate independently. When he first arrived on these shores is not certain: at the time of this writing it is not clear whether he lived in America before the arrival of William Penn or not. What does appear clear is that his first grant for a lot was not on the Delaware, but on the Schuylkill River. There appear to have been two warrants for land: one in 1863 and one in 1864. The city did not expand evenly from the shore of the Schuylkill to the shore of the Delaware as William Penn the founder had envisioned, however: the preference for settlement along the shore of the Delaware became apparent almost immediately. By 1689, if not before, James West too had switched to the shore of the Delaware, purchasing the Penny Pot House “of the widow” and requesting an additional forty feet of the bank upon which to conduct his business as a shipwright.
His descendants are not as numerous as one might think: at least two (and disputably, three) of his sons pre-deceased him. What became of his daughter Mary is not clear to this writer at this time, nor what became of the young James West who was apprenticed by Pentecoast Teague to Jacob Usher, carpenter. Only his son Charles, who inherited the shipyard from his father, is known at this time to have had descendants.
James West is my eighth great grandfather through the line of my paternal grandmother. I became involved in researching this portion of my family tree when Richard Remer contacted me on Ancestry.com in March of 2011. He was inquiring about shipwrights of colonial Kensington, and specifically about Charles West, who had purchased land in Kensington, Philadelphia from Anthony Palmer. He has shared much information with me and provided many clues and insights along the way. Thanks, Rich!
The only reason that Rich found the “clue” in my tree that attracted him was that just ten days before that a woman who works for an architectural firm writing a Preservation Plan for the Indian King Tavern (Haddonfield, NJ) contacted me. She was interested in a death date for my ancestor Mary (Polly) Denny, nee West: Samuel Denny, her husband, had owned the tavern for about a year (1804-1805). In the process of answering that question to her satisfaction I had taken my tree back two more generations. Sort of a “perfect storm” of genealogical activity.
On June 4th of this year I was contacted again through Ancestry.com by the Chairman of West’s Shipyard Preservation Trust. He informed me of the upcoming excavation at the Hertz Lot (AKA West Shipyard). I attended the kickoff meeting on June 27th with my cousin Audrey and visited the dig on July 20th with my husband, Terry. The possibilities were just so exciting that I started the ”James West, Shipwright of Northern Liberties” tree at Ancestry.com. It is a tree composed of editors, not guests, and all are descendants or researchers of the James West family. This blog is intended to act as as an adjunct to that tree, providing a means of communication among the many tree members and other interested parties in the simplest way possible.