This stately mansion belonged to one of America’s founding, aristocratic families, originally from England, Quakers who came to the provinces for escaping religious persecution.
The history of the dynasty’s American lineage started with William and Susannah Bickley, who landed in 1682, around the same time as William Penn; but the couple settled in New York instead.
Their sons Abraham and William Jr. arrived on this side of the Atlantic in 1692; the former settled in Philadelphia, becoming a successful shipping merchant and real-estate mogul.
Amongst the properties held by Abraham was a 250-acre tract at the Delaware River, northeast of Philly called “Belle Voir,” French for “Beautiful View.” After Bickley’s death in 1726, his son Samuel, also a shipping merchant, inherited the property and ultimately passed it on to his son, Abraham III in 1749.
Only eighteen at the time, Abe the third was left with the family fortune to live the life of an aristocratic gent in the country, a man who didn’t hold a job or run a business in his life.
Abe’s main responsibility was to gallivant around the countryside in a luxurious coach pulled by four plodding bay horses, with Bickley’s family coat of arms emblazoned on each door. A coachman and a groom sat always in the driver’s seat.
Promoting the family name as being one of the colonies’ richest and most renown was the main motivation behind his day-to-day endeavors, one of which was to change the name of the Belle Voir riverfront property to “Pen Ryn,” a moniker derived from the birthplace of an ancestor in Wales (Penrin), and building a mansion on the property that became his home.
Bickley married a woman from a prominent Philadelphia aristocratic clan, had seven children, three boys and four girls. Tories through and through, loyal to the English Crown, Abe and his family were totally unsympathetic to the American cause during the Revolutionary War, except for Abraham IV, Abe the third’s eldest son.
Abe the fourth supported the colonist revolt, for which he contributed large sums of money to support the rebellion, resulting in estrangement with his father who had pledged his allegiance to King George III.
The former never returned to Pen Ryn, establishing his residence in Philadelphia. The father died in 1782. The remainder of the family, after the war was won by Washington’s army, secluded themselves at Pen Ryn as a result of their bitter disappointment over the American victory.
The remaining five siblings remodeled the house in 1793, all living there as recluses after the death of their mother during the following year, staying together at Pen Ryn until death did them part, never marrying or spawning children. The youngest passing occurred at 71; and the eldest to die was Elizabeth at 94.
More at the next installment of this Christmas 2015 special report, dealing with the macabre. Thanks for your continued support. Happy Solstice.