Category: Robert Mitcheson

Robert Mitcheson, Philadelphia Merchant

When my English-born three-times great-grandfather Robert Mitcheson arrived in Philadelphia from the West Indies in 1817, he was a 38-year-old unattached merchant. Within two years he was married and had started a family, established a new career and was on the way to becoming an American citizen.

Robert (1779-1859) grew up in County Durham, England, where his father was a farmer and small-scale landowner.1 Robert became an iron manufacturer as a young man, then spent some time in the West Indies. Family stories say he was largely occupied in the West Indies trade. In 1817 he sailed from Antigua to Philadelphia with the intention of settling in the United States. He applied for naturalization – a first step towards citizenship — in July, 18202 and took an oath of citizenship on Sept. 12, 1825.

Perhaps he had met his future wife, Scottish-born Mary Frances (Fanny) MacGregor, on a previous trip to the city. I have not found a record of their marriage, but it probably took place in Philadelphia. The couple’s first child, Robert McGregor Mitcheson, was born on August 15, 1818 and baptized at St. John’s Episcopal Church in north-end Philadelphia.2

In 1819 Robert was listed in a city directory as a distiller, and the following year’s directory clarified that he made brandy and cordials. The business was located at 275 North Third Street, in the Northern Liberties area of the city. The distillery continued to appear in each annual directory until 1835, when Robert was simply listed as “gentleman”, with his home address on Coates Street.

This painting of Monteith House, the family home in Spring Garden, was painted by a young Catharine Mitcheson. Robert’s wife, Fanny, grew up near Port of Menteith, Scotland. Bagg family collection.

The family appeared in the U.S. census for the first time in 1830,3 living in Spring Garden, then a largely rural part of Philadelphia. Robert owned a large lot bounded by Coates (later renamed Fairmount Street) and Olive Streets, between Eleventh and Twelfth Streets. There, he and Fanny raised their five children: Robert McGregor (1818-1877), Catharine (my two-times great-grandmother, 1822-1914), Duncan (1827-1904), Joseph McGregor (1828-1886) and Mary Frances (1833-1919). Two other children, Sarah and Virginia, died as babies. Two of their sons graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Robert M. became an Episcopal minister, and Joseph, who went by the name MacGregor J. Mitcheson, was a lawyer.

Robert never became part of city’s elite, despite his financial success. For one thing, he was a newcomer living in an old city. Founded in 1682, Philadelphia was the birthplace of the United States and many of its citizens were known as the descendants of colonial and revolutionary families. Also, Robert appears to have been a low-key person. A search for his name in local newspapers brought up only one article that named a long list of people involved in establishing a refuge for boys.

The only obituary I was able to find appeared in a Montreal newspaper, where daughter Catharine Mitcheson Bagg and her husband, Stanley Clark Bagg, lived.4 It said: “As a citizen of Philadelphia for more than 40 years, he has done much, in a quiet and unostentatious manner, for the advancement of her interests and the relief of the distressed. He enjoyed a well-earned reputation for unwavering integrity in all the transactions of his long life – prolonged almost to his 80th birthday — and his remarkable urbanity of manner which the firm, yet elastic step of his manly person, were but slightly impaired up to the period of his dissolution. He was universally respected and died serenely, with a Christian’s hope and faith.”5

Robert appears to have travelled back to England at least once, probably to visit family members and take care of some business, as he had inherited property in Durham when his father died in 1821. A land transfer document dated September 16, 1835 described him as “Robert Mitcheson, iron manufacturer, late of Swalwell, now of Philadelphia”.6 Several weeks later Robert Mitcheson, gentleman, appeared as a passenger on the Pocahontas, sailing from Liverpool to Philadelphia.7  

Perhaps he also visited his brother William, an anchor maker and ship owner in London. A short biography of his son published by the St. Andrews Society in Philadelphia described Robert as a “retired merchant and shipowner,”8 however, I cannot confirm whether Robert owned any ships or perhaps invested in his brother’s business.

In 1875, the Mitcheson property belonged to R.M. Mitcheson et al. It appears to take up a whole city block, except for the Friends Meeting House, highlighted in green. Most of the buildings were probably boarding houses. Source: City Atlas of Philadelphia, vol. 6, wards 2 through 20, 29 & 31. G.M. Hopkins, 1875.

After Robert left the distillery business he reinvented himself again, this time as a landlord. The city was rapidly expanding and there was a need for housing. Many people lived in boarding houses and Robert saw rents from boarders as a way to generate income for his grown children after he died. In his will, he left 14 “dwelling houses” located near his house, as well as several nearby other buildings, in trust to sons Robert M. and MacGregor J..9 They were to collect the income and pay certain sums every year to their other three siblings, and to look after repairs to the buildings.

The Mitcheson gravestone at Saint James the Less Church, Philadelphia.

Robert died at age 79 and was buried in the cemetery at St. James the Less, a small, Gothic-style Episcopal church built around 1846 as a chapel of ease for wealthy families in the area. Robert is said to have helped found that church. His story doesn’t end there, however.

Sadly, his estate was the focus of a court battle that took almost 30 years to resolve, by which time both executors had also died. In addition to a dispute between the brothers, the case focused on a legal error in the way the trust was set up10 and who was to inherit the final balance of income.11

See also: See my previous post about Robert Mitcheson’s younger years, “A Restless Young Man,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 24, 2023, You can also search this blog for articles about Robert’s parents and grandparents, wife, sister Mary and other siblings, and some of his descendants.

Notes and Sources

1. Pennsylvania, U.S., Federal Naturalization Records, 1795-1931 [database on-line]. Original data: Naturalization Records. National Archives at Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Accessed Feb. 15, 2023.

2. I found records from St. John’s Church at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 2013.

3. “United States Census, 1830,” database with images, FamilySearch (, accessed Feb. 16, 2023), Robt Mitchinson, Spring Garden, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing 323, NARA microfilm publication M19, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 158; FHL microfilm 20,632.

4. Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB) was Robert’s son-in-law and also his nephew: Robert’s older sister, Mary Mitcheson Clark, was SCB’s maternal grandmother.

5. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 28 March 1859, p. 2, Bibliothèque et archives nationale du Québec,, accessed Feb. 17, 2023.

6. Clayton and Gibson, Ref No. D/CG 7/379, 16 September 1835, Durham County Record Office,

7. “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists Index, 1800-1906,” database with images, FamilySearch (, accessed Feb. 17, 2023), Robert Mitcheson, 1835; citing ship Pocahontas, NARA microfilm publication M360 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 419,525.

8. Biography of MacGregor Joseph Mitcheson in An Historical Catalogue of the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia with Biographical Sketches of Deceased Members, 1749-1907, printed for the Society 1907; p. 287, Google Books, accessed July 19, 2013.

9. Will of Robert Mitcheson, March 5, 1859. Philadelphia County (Pennsylvania) Register of Wills, 1862-1916, Index to wills, 1682-1924. Volume 41, #105, FamilySearch, (, image 191-194, accessed Feb. 18, 2023.)

10. Mitcheson’s Estate, Orphan’s Court. Weekly Notes of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the County Courts of Philadelphia, and the United States District and Circuit Courts for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Members of the Bar. Volume XI, December 1881 to August 1882; p. 240. Philadelphia: Kay and Brother, 1882. Google Books, accessed Feb. 17, 2023.

11. Mitcheson’s Estate, Pennsylvania Court Reports, containing cases decided in the courts of the several counties of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Vol. V, p. 99. Philadelphia, T. & J.W. Johnson & Co., 1888. Google Books, accessed Feb. 17, 2023.

This article is also posted on the collaborative blog Genealogy Ensemble.

The Legendary Robert Mitcheson of Knitsley

There’s a local legend in County Durham, England about a farmer who outwitted a would-be robber on his way home one dark night. As the tale goes, farmer Robert Mitcheson, of Knitsley, was at the Wolsingham Fair when he noticed a well-dressed stranger who seemed to be watching him. He became quite concerned when he realized the man’s horse was in the stable next to his own mount, so he mentioned his suspicions to the stableboy. When the man came for his horse shortly after Mitcheson left, the stableboy delayed the stranger as long as he could.

While Mitcheson was still a few miles from home, he heard a horse galloping behind him. His own horse was fast, however, and he managed to stay ahead of his pursuer. He also remained on the main highway, rather than take his usual shortcut through a thickly wooded ravine.

Mitcheson made it home safely, but a few days later, a deep grave was discovered in the woods. The stranger and his accomplices had probably planned to rob and kill him there.1

Knitsley is between Lanchester and Consett; Wolsingham is to the southwest.

When I first ran across this story, I had no idea whether this farmer was related to my Mitcheson family in northeast England. I now suspect he was. Robert Mitcheson (1728-1812), a farmer in the hamlet of Knitsley, in northern County Durham, was the eldest son of my five times great-grandfather Robert Mitcheson, of Lanchester Parish, and he had a son and a grandson, both named Robert Mitcheson, who also farmed in Knitsley.

Initially, all I knew about Robert Mitcheson of Knitsley was his date of baptism: February 1, 1728.2  Now I have discovered a surprising amount of information about this man and his descendants. They are listed in a variety of directories on Find My Past and Ancestry, in the UK census, and in land tax and poll book records.

The first clue I came across was a big one: the transcription of a monumental inscription. It made it clear that Robert Mitcheson of Knitsley lived well into his 80s, and it provided the key to finding his many descendants.

Here is a transcription of that memorial stone in Lanchester parish churchyard:

“In memory of Robert Mitcheson of Knitsley who died November 12th 1815 [sic] aged 87 years. Also Jane his wife who died April 22 1810 aged 86 years. Also Robert their son who died at Hurbuck February 7th aged 79 years. Also Ann his wife who died at Knitsley in April 1827 aged 56 years and was near Roxby’s stone in this yard. Also Ann daughter of the two last named who died in Hurbuck March 26th 1834 aged 28 years. Also John Mitcheson son of the first named who died at Hurbuck June 25 1847 aged 87 years. Also Thomas John son of the above Robert and Ann Mitcheson who died at Lanchester 15th February 1881 aged 71 years. [P.R. – 61 years.]”3

That text is hard to follow, so here is a more complete summary, including several more children for Robert and Ann and three family members named Robert Mitcheson.

1. Robert Mitcheson (1728-1812) of Knitsley married Jane Heppel (1725-1810) in Medomsley Parish, County Durham, 1757.4 
2. Robert Mitcheson (1759-1837) married Ann Roxby (1769-1827) of Biggin, New Brancepeth, by licence in Lanchester Parish, 1795.5
3. Jane Mitcheson (1796-1876)
3. Elizabeth Mitcheson (1799-?)
3. Robert Mitcheson (1801-1883)
3. Ann Mitcheson (1804-1834)
3. Mary Mitchinson (1810-?)
3. Thomas John (1811-1881) 
2. John Mitcheson (1761-1847)

Robert Mitcheson of Knitsley, (generation 1) was a farmer all his life, living a few miles northwest of Lanchester village. Land tax records for this part of the county can be found online for 13 years between 1759 and 1827, and Robert appeared as a tenant in Conside and Knitsley Township in 1788, 1789 and 1795.6 Robert’s name continued to appear as a tenant between 1802 and 1810, and he died there two years later.

Rural scene in Lanchester Parish near Knitsley. JH photo.

He had two sons, Robert and John. In 1798, three years after son Robert Mitcheson (generation 2) married Ann Roxby, the name Robert Mitcheson appeared for the first time as an owner/occupier of a property in Burnop and Hamsteels Township.7 This was probably Hurbuck farm, which the family appear to have either worked themselves or rented out to tenants while they farmed at Knitsley.

By 1824, Robert (generation 2) also owned land in Knitsley and his son Robert (generation 3), now in his early 20s, was living in Knitsley.8

Over the years, various members of the Mitcheson family owned or rented several farm properties in this area. Farming was hard work, but grain brought high prices during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815). County Durham farmers also raised cattle and sold milk and meat to feed the region’s fast-growing population of coal miners. Meanwhile, land owners could boost their income from renting to other farmers, and land ownership was of value in itself in that it brought both social status and voting rights.

Map Source:  Ordnance Survey of England and Wales Revised New Series, 1902. Vision of Britain Historical Maps. (accessed Feb 28,  2022)


1. Consett and Derwent Heritage Initiative Facebook page, The Grave Wood, posted Nov. 15, 2016, (viewed March 13, 2022)

2. England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 (database on-line,, Robert Mitchinson, 1728, viewed Dec. 30, 2021) citing, England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. FamilySearch, 2013.

3. Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, “Northumberland and Durham Memorial Inscriptions;” Lanchester, All Saints, Durham, England, database, for Robert Mitcheson, 1815, Find My Past, (, viewed Dec. 30, 2021). Note: This transcription was incorrect about the date of Robert’s death. According to the burial record on Ancestry, he was buried on November 15, 1812, and he was included in the Index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903 in 1813 on Find My Past.

4. Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, “Durham Marriages,” Medomsley, Durham, England, database, for Robert Mitcheson, 1757, Find My Past, (, viewed Dec. 30, 2021).

5. England Marriages, 1538-1973, Lanchester, Durham, England, database, for Robert Mitcheson, 1795, Family Search Intl, Find My Past, (, viewed Dec. 30, 2021).

6. Durham County Record Office. Quarter Sessions – Land Tax Returns, Chester Ward West 1759-1830,, for Robert Mitcheson, Knitsley, (viewed March 02, 2022).

7. The National Archives, Land Tax Redemption Office: Quotas and Assessments, IR23; Piece: 23 UK, Land Tax Redemption, 1798,, database on-line, for Robt Mitchinson 1798, (viewed March 15, 2022), citing Land Tax Redemption Office: Quotas and Assessments. IR23. Records of the Boards of Stamps, Taxes, Excise, Stamps and Taxes, and Inland Revenue. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

8. Durham County Record Office. Quarter Sessions – Land Tax Returns, Chester Ward West 1759-1830,, for Robert Mitcheson, Knitsley (viewed March 02, 2022).