Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church at Wicaco, Southwark, Philadelphia

By Bob Josuweit
History Committee

“At a special Court held by the Governor at New Castle in Delaware River the 13th and 14th days of May 1675, it was ordered, that the Church, or place of worship in this Town and the affairs thereunto belonging be regulated by the Court here, in as orderly and decent a manner as may be,

“That the place of meeting at Craine Hoeck do continue as heretofore- that the Church at Tinnecum Island do serve for Uppland and parts adjacent.

“And whereas there is no Church or place of worship higher up the River that the said Island, for the greater ease and convenience of the inhabitants there. It’s ordered, that the Magistrates of Uppland do cause a Church or place of meeting for that purpose to be built at the Wickegkoo, which to be for the inhabitants of Passayunk and so upwards. The said Court being empowered to raise a Tax for its building, and to agree upon a competent maintenance for their minister: of all which they are to give an account to the next General Court, and they to the Governor for his approbation.” Signed E. Andross.”

The Churches at Craine Hoeck, Tinnecum, and Wicocoa were Swedes’ Churches, and sufficiently point out the location of the Swedes.Swedish Lutheran Church at Wicacao

The place name Wicaco was an Indian village, called on Lindstrom’s Map Wichgua Coingh, and consisted of a tract of land of about 800 acres, fronting on the Delaware River, and commencing at Moyamensingkill, afterwards known as Hollander’s Creek, extending up the Delaware in breadth 400 rods, in length into the woods 600 rods. It extended up; it is believed, beyond the present line of South Street, and westward as far as Seventeenth or Eighteenth Street, about Long Lane near South Street, and thence in a diagonal line to Hollander’s Creek (now Oregon Street). Wicaco is an abbreviation of Wichocomoca, “a dwelling place”, from Wichgua, “a house”.

The place name Wicaco was an Indian village, called on Lindstrom’s Map Wichgua Coingh, and consisted of a tract of land of about 800 acres, fronting on the Delaware River, and commencing at Moyamensingkill, afterwards known as Hollander’s Creek, extending up the Delaware in breadth 400 rods, in length into the woods 600 rods. It extended up; it is believed, beyond the present line of South Street, and westward as far as Seventeenth or Eighteenth Street, about Long Lane near South Street, and thence in a diagonal line to Hollander’s Creek (now Oregon Street). Wicaco is an abbreviation of Wichocomoca, “a dwelling place”, from Wichgua, “a house”.

Wicaco continued until, on May 14, 1762, an Act was passed by the General Assembly to create a Municipality in the Southern Suburbs to be called the district of Southwark. The bounds commenced on Cedar Street (now South Street) at the Delaware River, and proceeded thence west to Passyunk Road; along the latter to Moyamensing Road; thence by Keeler’s Lane to Greenwich Road, thence to the Delaware River, and along the several courses of the same to the place of beginning. Southwark, sometimes but improperly called the Southern Liberties, was the oldest district in the County of Philadelphia.

The events of the Revolution were held to supersede this Charter in the same manner as the City Charter was supposed to be nullified on September 29, 1787. The General Assembly passed an Act to appoint Commissioners to lay out the district of Southwark, marking out the courses of the principal streets, not only in that district, but also in Moyamensing and Passyunk. This was preparatory to the passage of an Act of April 18, 1794, which erected a full Corporation under the title of “The Commissioners and Inhabitants of the District of Southwark.” They laid out a large number of streets, and most of their plans were confirmed by the Supreme Executive Council in 1790, and so remained as Southwark until 1854 when it became a part of the City of Philadelphia.

The order of the Court, promulgated by Governor Andross, does not appear to have been complied with as to the erection of a new building, as to a Church, or place of Meeting, not is there anything to show that a Tax was levied for the purpose. The Congregation was therefore compelled to make other arrangements, so in 1677, they took an old log blockhouse, built in 1669, as a place of refuge from marauding Indians and a defense against the unfriendly Dutch, and fitted it up. It had “loop holes for defense”, and was a very plain structure, so neglected and weather-worn that in 1679 it was necessary “for Upland Court to order that the members of the Congregation at Wicaco Church be required to contribute their share to the expenses of repairs.” The Congregation brought fire-arms with them to Church, ostensibly to shoot wild game that they might meet on the road. Even after the Congregation took possession the old house was sometimes used as a refuge. Tradition preserves the story that “some evil-disposed Indians from Jersey meditated an attack upon the Settlement while the men were away. It so happened that the women were engaged in making soap, which they forthwith took, scalding hot, to the block-house and not knowing what their fate might be if captured, they also took fuel to keep it hot. With their Conches an alarm was sounded, and when the Indians began to undermine the building, the scalding soap was poured down and thus they were kept at bay till the men came and drove off the savage assailants.”

Kensington, and by the aid of a canoe came down the river to Wicaco and Tinnicum, as services were held at these places alternately. He died in the year 1692.

The members of the Parish in Wicaco lived partly in the City of Philadelphia, and partly in various surrounding districts: Wicaco, Moyamensing, Passyunk, Kensess, Bond’s Island, Pennypack, Kalkanbrook, Amasland, Matzong in Chester County, Nitshamene in Philadelphia County, and Manathanim in Berks County (and now in 1922 the members of the Parish come from the northern portion to the southern portion and from the Eastern to the Western portions of Philadelphia County, from Bucks County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, in Pennsylvania and from Camden County, Gloucester County and Burlington County in New Jersey.)

When the Rev. Andrew Rudman arrived at Wicaco in 1697, all the Swedish people dwelling in places named above, as well as those who dwelt on the other side of the Delaware River, in New Jersey, who lived and had their houses from Raccoon’s Hill (where Swedesboro now stands), and thence up along the river, and the congregation at Tinnicum, united themselves into one Parish, and as the Churches at both Wicaco and Tinnicum were in a very ruinous condition, they insisted that a new Mother Church should be built.

The congregation had bought a tract of land at Passyunk, at what is now “Point Breeze”, exactly where the lower road to Penrose Ferry strikes the Schuylkill, and later bought an adjoining tract, which was occupied by the Rev. Mr. Rudman and some of his successors. The dwelling (or Glebe House) was burned down in 1717 and immediately rebuilt.
If the city streets were cut through it would be at 30th and Geary Streets. It was abandoned as a parsonage about 1727.Point Breeze tract today (PGW still pays land rent to our trust)

Point Breeze tract today (PGW still pays land rent to our trust)

After the glebe-land was bought the Swedes near the Schuylkill and at Kingsessing desired that the Church should be at Passyunk, while the Swansons and others, living at Shackamaxon and above, wanted it built on the site of the old block-house church at Wicaco.

That the Church and Congregation would increase the value of their property by its proximity to the City of Philadelphia, and the difficulty experienced by the lower settlers in coming over the Schuylkill should be relieved by a flatboat, which the congregation should maintain at its own expense, and to which the Church Wardens should keep the key.

A meeting was called the 16th of May, 1698, at which a tedious discussion took place. At length it was proposed to have it settled by lot. “Having by prayer and singing invoked the blessing of God on the undertaking two pieces of paper were prepared, on one of which was written Wicaco, and on the other Passyunk. These were shaken in a hat and thrown upon the ground, when, upon taking one up and opening it, the name of Wicaco appeared. Dissension at once ceased, and all joined in a cheerful hymn of praise.

Written by Amy Grant

Amy Grant is a graphic designer and web developer. She is the founder of the Southwark Historical Society, a volunteer based group that studies the Southwark Historical District located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.