Wynnestay (the “e” was dropped from our name five generations ago) was the first estate built by Thomas Wynne’s family in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. Wynnestay is considered to be Philadelphia’s oldest existing private residence and is located in present day Wynnefield, close to Bala Cynwyd, PA. There is much to the story of the Wynn(e) family, so here is an attempt to share some of the history:
Thomas Wynne immigrated to America in 1682 onboard the Welcome, along with William Penn and a large group of Welsh Quakers. Thomas accompanied William Penn as his personal physician and fellow Quaker confidant. The group left Wales to seek a new Quaker society in America, escaping the persecution under the Church of England. The eight-week journey was very difficult and by the time the Welcome reached the Delaware Bay, thirty out of 100 passengers had died of small pox. Previously William Penn found a vast wooded area west of Philadelphia and claimed it as Penns Woods or Pennsylvania. He began splitting up the land amongst his Welsh friends and colleagues, in an effort to create a Quaker colony in the immediate area surrounding Philadelphia.
Thomas Wynne was quite an interesting man. He was a self declared doctor (or barber surgeon as was coined) and learned medicine from a local surgeon, Richard Moore, in his hometown of Caerwys in the parish of Yskeiviog, Flintshire, North Wales. After receiving his liscense to practice ‘chirurgery’ (surgery) in 1659, Thomas was jailed for six years from his involvement with the Relgious Society of Friends (as the Quakers were then known). He also enjoyed writing and in 1671 he published the controversial piece The Antiquity of the Quakers, Proved out of the Scriptures of Truth. Published in Love to the Papists, Protestants, Presbyterians, Independents, and Anabaptists. His strong views secured him a place amongst the elite Quaker that eventually left Wales for America. While here in the Delaware Valley, he had some brushes with the law, including being accused with seven other men of selling “drink & strong Liquors by Retail & suffer it to be drunk in their houses without a License, contrare to ye 40th Law of this Province”. The allegation did not stop him from gaining a formidable presense among the Friends, capped by William Penn appointing him speaker of the newly formed Provincial Assembly of Pennsylvania in March 1683. Thomas Wynne died in March 1691, leaving behind his wife Elizabeth, and between them, a family of thirteen: 11 daughters and 2 sons.
While in Wales, Thomas Wynne was intrigued by many Welsh Quakers organizing companies to buy land in Pennsylvania. In September 1681, with ‘John ap John’, Thomas arranged for 5,000 acres to be laid out in the new colony. Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Thomas first secured a property in the city on the Schyukill banks, which was the opposite end of where he wanted to be on the Delaware River. In the History of Philadelphia it is stated that “among the first brick houses built was that of Thomas Wynne. It was located on Front Street, west side, above Chestnut Street.” In fact, Chestnut Street was originally named Wynne Street, and only after Penn decided to name the east and west streets after varieties of forest trees was the name changed to Chestnut. Later on, Thomas and his second wife, Elizabeth Chorley, settled in Sussex County Delaware, a place where he eventually stayed.
It was not until after Thomas' death that his son, Jonathan, discovered his father had not claimed 100 acres west of Philadelphia acquired through his original 5,000 acre land deal. Jonathan fought to get ownership of the land and soon thereafter he found a perfect home to move his family into: the property soon to be known as Wynnestay. Built in 1689 and expanded in 1691, Wynnestay stayed in the Wynn family until 1856. Now over 300 years later Wynnestay is a historic landmark and is considered to be Philadelphia's oldest existing private residence.