Edward Foulke -- Our Immigrant Ancestor
Edward Foulke might have had second thoughts about immigrating to America while aboard the Robert and Elizabeth. The ship's voyage across the Atlantic took eleven weeks at sea, during which illness wracked the ship, killing 45 of Edward's shipmates.
But Edward turned to God to endure the hardships, later thanking "Divine Providence" for granting safe passage to himself, his wife and his nine children.
A descendant of ancient Welsh warlords through paternal lines and English kings through maternal lines, Edward had a valid claim to the family crest of Rhirid Flaidd, a Welsh knight of the 12th century.
Despite his noble heritage, Edward was a simple farmer in Merionethshire, Wales. The third son of Foulke Thomas, also a third son, Edward's Welsh name was Edward ap Foulke, literally "Edward, son of Foulke." He farmed the verdant hills called Coed-y-foel that still go by that name today.
Much of Edward's life in America is written, but the events leading to his departure were passed down by oral tradition until recorded in 1884 by Howard M. Jenkins.
According to the family tradition, Edward attended a military drill, mandated by law, at which a relative's kneecap was struck off during broadsword exercise. The bystanders exulted the victory, while Edward was "shocked to consider that the barbarous occurrence was a natural outgrowth of the system under which they lived."
His mind turned to emigration, but he was wary of uprooting his family.
When he broached the topic with his wife, Eleanor, she believed the idea to have "Divine origin" and declared, "He that revealed this to thee can bless a very little in America to us, and can blast a great deal in our native land."
But Edward still hesitated.
Meanwhile, large groups began to gather at Edward's house on first days, Quaker meeting dates, to hear Edward sing. Edward soon found the people these performances brought into his house were of no advantage to him, a feeling Eleanor shared.
They converted the impromptu concerts to scripture readings and only the "truest and most valuable" friends stayed.
After some time, Eleanor reminded Edward of his plan to emigrate, telling him that the benefits they had found in observing the first days were evidence the divine spirit was with them. When they decided to settle in Pennsylvania, many of the friends who had read scripture with them went also.
The family set out the third day of April 1698 from a Welsh port. In two days the family of eleven arrived at Liverpool. From an account of the journey that Edward wrote later, we know they spent almost a fortnight in Liverpool before departing on the Robert and Elizabeth for Ireland. The ship was docked in Dublin for another two weeks before beginning the intimidating journey across the Atlantic.
While at sea, Edward writes, the "sore distemper of the bloody flux broke out," killing 45 aboard, the crew tossing two or three corpses overboard each day.
But Edward made it safely to Pennsylvania, where he stayed with old friends from Wales. He purchased 400 acres of land about 16 miles to the north of Philadelphia (roughly-measured), and had built his home by November. The area was soon populated with the others who had come over on the Robert and Elizabeth, forming the township of Gwynedd.
Edward's land, later resurveyed to be 712 acres, became the site of the old Foulke Mansion, which was built by his grandson William on approximately the site of Edward's first rough-hewn log home. The mansion was in the family for more than a century until it was sold in 1855, and it stood until the mid-1980s. The Penllyn station on the Pennsylvania & Reading Railroad, used in the 1898 Reunion, was also built on Edward's land, near the Foulke Mansion.
Two hundred years later, Howard M. Jenkins described the land to the descendants gathered to celebrate the bicentennial: It is rolling land, mostly a light clay; sand lies in the knolls just across the turnpike to the south.
Although religious, Edward had not been a Quaker in Wales. It is presumed he joined shortly after arriving, and he subscribed five pounds when the Society of Friends built a new meeting house in Gwynedd in 1712. He was one of the overseers of construction, his son Thomas collected the money, and he was appointed one of the new overseers when the monthly meeting was established in 1718.
Edward died in 1741 at age 90, having transplanted his family when he was forty-seven, and living to see another four decades in America.
Section last updated July 20, 2001