GENERATION 8.3 – THIRD CHILD OF BERHARDHUS VAN LEER
Branson Van Leer owned property in Philadelphia and on the Reading Furnace farmland. During the time the British occupied Philadelphia, he was living on the Reading Furnace property. Apparently the British occupied his Philadelphia home as he submits an “estimate of damages done by the British Troops” of 200 pounds on Nov. 19, 1782.
This is the only Van Leer documented to be a slave-holder in Pennsylvania. A tax assessment in 1775 shows ownership of 2 Negroes, 2 horses, 5 cattle, and 4 sheet.
A legal document dated March 16, 1784, has also been preserved in which Dr. Branson Van Leer signified his intention to free a Negro Boy named Cesar when he shall arrive to the age of Twenty one years which will be on the Thirty-first day of the third month in the year of our Lord one thousand and seven hundred and ninety-eight.
Under Pennsylvania law, any slaves born after 1780 must be freed upon reaching the age of 28. Branson is, therefore, more generous than required by law. His legal document also will preclude his heirs from transporting Cesar to a slave-owning state should Branson die before 1798.
Dr. Branson Van Leer was one of the original members of the Committee of Observation for Chester County, established in December 1774 with Anthony Wayne as chairman. Other members included William Branson’s sons-in-law Thomas Hockley and Richard Flowers. During the Revolution, he was a surgeon in the 4th Battalion of the Chester County Militia under Col. John Ralston. (Ref. “c” below)
Branson Van Leer married Rebecca Mather, the daughter of James and Margaret Mather. Margaret died between 1784 when he was mentioned in her father’s will (Ref. “a” below) and 1798 when her husband died (Ref. “f” below). They had no children.
Dr. Branson Van Leer died in Philadelphia during a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1798. A will was dictated on his deathbed, leaving all his property to his brother Samuel. There were two witnesses, both of whom also died during the epidemic. George Van Leer formally contested this will in 1801, charging that Branson was “deranged” at the time. The will was upheld in court. (Ref. “g” below)
“Vanleer Papers,” at Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA. These notes references the following original sources:
- Chester County Wills, Book 6.
- Chester County Tax Assessment, 1775.
- Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol 5, page 451.
- Cope College Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Depredations by the British Army, Chester County Historical Society of PA.
- Chester County Wills, Book X, p. 66.
- Yeats Manuscript, 3rd Floor, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.