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Roxborough Township 1690
by John Johnstone

This page is dedicated to Margaret Collins, a woman well into her tenth decade of life, who solved a 300-year mystery as to the origin of the name "Roxborough" and it's correlation to the formation of a township in the year 1690. Also, many thanks to Polly Aird; who sent documents to support the information on this page.

During the 1680's, 11 tracts of land in the southwest section of German Township, made up what was soon to become the Roxborough Township we know today.

During the 1680's, most of the people who held early Government offices within Philadelphia, lived close to the Delaware River in Philadelphia or South New Jersey. In 1676, Andrew Robeson, Esquire, his wife Elizabeth and Andrew Jr. came to America on their own merchant ship from Great Britain. Andrew Sr. became Surveyor General for 300,000 acres in South New Jersey and resided in Gloucester, where he was Judge in that County. In 1690, Andrew Sr. moved to Philadelphia and purchased an estate called "Shoomac Park", named for the heavy growth of Sumac trees in the area. The estate was in the easternmost tract of land in what became Roxborough Township. The estate included a gristmill belonging to Joshua Tittery, near the mouth of the Wissahickon Creek, which then became the Robeson Mill. A large house was built on the property near the mill and was named the "Roxburgh Estate". Andrew Sr. became Chief of Justice in Pennsylvania until his death in 1694 and is responsible for making Roxborough a township in 1690.

The Robesons are known to be originally from Kelso, Roxburghshire, Scotland. Roxburgh (pronounced Rocs-burr-ah) was a small region in the southeast of Scotland. It was changed to the region of "The Borders" in 1975; however, the town of Kelso still remains as a historic Scottish village.

In 1690, the majority of Roxborough Township along the Ridge Road was referred to as the "Manatawna", which was comprised of plantations. In 1691, Wigard and Gerhard Levering, and their families moved from Germany to what is now the business district of Roxborough. That area became "Leverington" and retained that name throughout the 18th century. Leverington Cemetery and Leverington Presbyterian Church still remain in that section.

The majority of the Township's residents were German. They referred to the Township in their phonetic spelling as "Rocksburrow", as they would have no knowledge of the Anglo spelling of Roxburgh.

In 1706, Johannes Kelpius, a well-respected German Philosopher and "mystic" residing in the Township, not far from the Robesons, wrote of "foxes burrowing in rocks", hence, a poetic correlation between the phonetic spelling of Roxburgh Township as "Rocksburrow", where foxes burrow, convinced many that the township's origins related to foxes. Kelpius popularized his spelling of the township at the time, but not long after, the spelling was changed to its current Roxborough, which is actually more of an Irish version. Other spellings have also been noted in early writings as Roxbury and Roxboro. The Township could have retained Manatawna or Leverington as it's name, but thanks to the popular writings of Kelpius, the name remained as Roxborough.

So there we have the origins of the Township in it's early years; however, the Robesons remained in Roxborough until the mid-19th Century. The large (and the very first) estate house along the Ridge Road was removed during the construction of the Roosevelt Boulevard, but some of the rocky ruins from the Robeson Mill are present by the bridge on Ridge Road, crossing the Wissahickon. If you drop your W's, and pronounce Roxborough as "rocs-burr-ah", you are pronouncing it as it was meant.

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