IN THE BEGINNING: Charles V. Hagner - Prime Mover, First Historian

by James Proud, former Vicar of St. David's, Manayunk

The founding of St. David's Church springs from the American manufactories that grew at Manayunk (then called Flat Rock) on the Schuylkill River after a dam, canal, and locks were built there in 1818. The construction was promoted by the Schuylkill Navigation Company, a private corporate enterprise chartered by the Pennsylvania legislature on March 8, 1815 for the purpose of making the great river navigable above Philadelphia as far as Pottsville, a distance by water of almost 100 miles. That ambitious and successful enterprise was part of a grand national plan to ensure that the United States of America,newly freed from the political domination of Great Britain, would never again be an economic appendage of Britain, nor of any other foreign power.

Before,during and after the Revolutionary War leading Philadelphians such as Tench Coxe (1755-1824) were advocating and planning America's commercial and financial independence from Britain. In his time Coxe was the leading economist of the City and by the end of his life was acknowledged to be the father of the American cotton industry, being one of the first to urge that the South cultivate cotton for supplying an all-American domestic economic base. Philadelphia listened to its native son and became an important center for American cotton manufactories.

One of those manufactories was owned by the father of Charles V. Hagner (1796-1878) and it was located at the Falls of Schuylkill (now East Falls). In 1856, twenty-five years after the founding of St. David's parish and in the last year of the rectorship of Benjamin Wistar Morris, Hagner was invited to lecture at the 'Schoolroom' of St. David's. He spoke at two sessions and reflected on his life in the area. Later "at the repeated request of many persons" his two lectures were published privately as The Early History of Falls of Schuylkill, Manayunk: Records of Men and Customs.

In commenting on the late 1700s, Hagner wrote:

[T]here was much patriotic feeling prevailing on the subject of domestic manufactures, and a universal desire that we should become independent of other nations, especially in the event of war, and to avoid the difficulties our country had labored under in the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson, afterwards President of the United States, was a personal friend of my father, and knowing he had mills at the Falls, early indoctrinated him with the manufacturing fever, and he procured-how or where I never knew-some, what would now be considered very antiquated machinery, for spinning cotton.

Hagner began his history with childhood memories of the Falls of Schuylkill which, he recounted, had first been known as Fort St. David's (sometimes Fort of St. David's). The Fort had been a fishing company, or club, "originally established by a number of prominent and wealthy gentlemen of Philadelphia, among whom were many Welshmen, who gave the Society its name, St. David being their patron saint. It was organized and governed in the manner of a garrison or fortification. . . For beautiful scenery, romantic beauty, and fine fishing, there was no place in the vicinity of Philadelphia could in the least compare with 'Fort St. David's,' or, as it is now called, the 'Falls of Schuylkill'". It appears the Society even thought of itself as "his majesty's colony of Fort St. David's". As most of its members were ardent patriots during the American Revolution, the place was abandoned when they went off to battle. While it was in disuse the British occupied the City and destroyed the clubhouse, considering that its members had often "hatched treason within it".

After finishing his education at the University of Pennsylvania Hagner worked in his father's mill at the Falls of Schuylkill and in 1817 became its manager. Then in 1820 he became the second purchaser of water-power rights, or "mill seats", at Flat Rock where he then made his home. He was living there in 1824 when the residents of Flat Rock renamed their community Manayunk (an Indian name for the river) after considering and rejecting alternatives such as Udoravia and Bridge Water. With entrepreneurial spirit Hagner finished his mill and began making oil and grinding drugs, later adding a fulling mill and a number of power looms for weaving satinet, a cotton and wool fabric used for outer garments. "These were the first power-looms ever used in Pennsylvania for weaving woolen goods."

In November 1831 Hagner personally made a census, "very closely and correctly", of Manayunk. There was only one prior census and it had been taken in March 1827 by the pastor of the German Reformed Church. Between those dates, and because of the sale of water-power, the population "from the Domino road to Sherr's lane inclusive" had increased from 317 to 541 dwellings, and from 2070 to 3175 inhabitants.

About the time Hagner took the census there came to his door the Reverend Robert Davis, formerly rector of an Episcopal Church in Reading but invalided into early retirement. After introducing himself, Mr. Davis said his purpose was to organize an Episcopal congregation. Hagner doubted the success of such a project, saying he knew of only one Episcopal household other than his own in Manayunk. When Mr. Davis-known among the clergy as "Eusebius" Davis because of his published scholarship on the early church fathers-produced a memorandum book with names he had collected of almost 300 local residents who were raised as Episcopalians, Hagner asked him to return the following week. In the meantime Hagner called on a number of those named in Mr. Davis' book and found they were indeed Episcopalians. When Eusebius Davis called again the two men agreed forthwith to proceed with the organization of a parish.

They published the following notice signed by "Citizen" and dated November 26, 1831:

The inhabitants of Manayunk and its vicinity friendly to the establishment of a congregation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this place are requested to meet at the Academy in this Village on Saturday the 3rd day of December next at 6 oclock P.M. for the purpose of organizing a congregation.

The meeting was held. The Church minute book records that Mr. Davis "(present by request) was called to the chair but declined and was excused"; Mr. Hagner then was called to the chair; and those in attendance, after offering "their names for record", then proceeded to organize an Episcopal congregation to be known as St. David's Church, to elect twelve vestrymen (the first named being Charles V. Hagner) to serve until the following Easter Monday, and to obtain from Mr. Davis an appropriate form of constitution for inspection and revision at an adjourned meeting.

At the adjourned meeting held on December 10, with Mr. Hagner presiding and Mr. Davis reading the prayers, the Vestry chose for its constitution that of St. Stephen's Church, Philadelphia, appropriately revised, rather than the form approved by the Diocesan Standing Committee. Thus it was that the Constitution for "The Rector, Church wardens, and Vestrymen of St. David's Church", consisting of a Preamble and nine articles, was formally adopted and the parish began its corporate existence that day. On May 1, 1835 the first church building was consecrated on the Dupont Street site where the present house of worship stands.

Charles V. Hagner was returned to the Vestry at each annual Easter Monday election through 1839. Sometime after that last election, his local factories having burned down the year before, his involvement in the affairs of both St. David's and Manayunk came to an end. He concluded his history thus:

In the year 1839 I sold my mill and dwelling . . . left Manayunk, and dissolved my connection with it, and although I have ever felt much interest in it, I know very little about it from that period.

He had yet one more major contribution to make to St. David's, the church of which he was the prime mover, and to Manayunk, the community which he helped make the Manchester of America--he wrote the first important history of their beginnings.


Author's note: I am grateful to Sylvia (Mrs. Nicholas) Myers for introducing me to Hagner's The Early History of Falls of Schuylkill, Manayunk [1856: photocopied typescript in holdings of Roxborough Manayunk Wissahickon Historical Society at Philadelphia Free Library, Roxborough Branch]. All of the quotes herein, other than those from the St. David's Vestry Minute Book containing the record of the organizational meeting of the parish, are from Hagner. Among other works, I have referred to Dictionary of American Biography, eds. A. Johnson & D. Malone (1930 ed. Vol 4, pp488-489); J.S.Miles & W.H.Cooper, A Historical Sketch of Roxborough, Manayunk, Wissahickon [1940: Philadelphia, Geo. Fein & Co.]; and N.Myers, Manayunk: Philadelphia's New Hope [privately published].

Part 2

Stained Glass Windows

Stained Glass Windows at St. David's Church

About The Church

The Episcopal Church of St. David's, Manayunk, was founded December 3, 1831 to be the spiritual home for people churched in the Anglican tradition who had recently arrived in the area. For the most part, these were mill workers, and they had come, with their families, fo find employment in the local textile industry then being built near the new canal in the Schuylkill River.

In 1832 the cornerstone was laid for the first church built on the present site. That structure was destroyed by fire in 1879 and the church edifice now in use, designed by James Stafford, a Vestry member and local mill-owner, was consecrated in 1881.

St. David, the patron saint of Wales who died March 1, probably in 589, and for whom this parish is named, is so honored in his native land because his ascetic example, missionary zeal, and monastic foundations were significant contributions in maintaining the light of Christian life and learning during the European Dark Ages.