Philadelphia recognizes a piece of regional history through The Montiers family

One of Philadelphia’s true first families will receive a long-overdue recognition this week. The Montiers are descendants of Philadelphia’s first mayor, Humphrey Morrey, appointed by William Penn in 1691. That alone would place them prominently in Philadelphia’s history, but even more remarkable is that the Montiers are African-American. This piece of Philadelphia history is an American story as well.

Like Penn, Humphrey Morrey was from England and a Quaker. He was a merchant and served a 10-year term as mayor. In 1682, Morrey, along with 15 others, founded Cheltenham Township, in Montgomery County. The founders chose the name to honor their former home in Cheltenham, England.

Many Quakers owned slaves when they first arrived in America, though Quakers later were among the first to condemn slavery. The Morreys were one of those slaveholding family. This is where the Montier story begins.

Cremona Satterthwaite was a servant in the Morrey household. After Humphrey Morrey’s death, his son Richard inherited his property. Not long after, Richard freed the family’s enslaved people, but Cremona remained a servant in the household. Richard fell in love with Cremona. Although they couldn’t legally marry, they did live together as man and wife. They had five children between 1735–1745. Richard and Cremona were known as a couple, and accepted as such throughout their community.

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Richard Morrey died in 1753 and left Cremona 198 acres of land in the Edgehill section of Glenside, Cheltenham Township. This was unheard of for that time. The original two-story barn structure built by Richard and Cremona’s youngest daughter, known as Cremona, Jr., and her husband, John Montier, still stands on Limekiln Pike. They also built a more prominent home in front of it that also still exists. Both homes were built in the late 1700’s, in a time when it was unheard of for African-Americans to own such homes.

Later descendants Elizabeth and Hiram Montier lived even more lavishly. In 1841 they celebrated their union with elegant wedding portraits. Today, these extremely rare paintings hang in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This week the City of Philadelphia will begin celebrating the extraordinary history of this African American family, with events surrounding a program written and produced by WHYY’s Karen Smyles. The Montiers: An American Story was screened on Wednesday, March 14th at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The screening was followed by a brief conversation, led by Deesha Dyer, social secretary to President and Mrs. Obama.

On Thursday at 10 a.m., Councilman Derek Green will recognize descendants of the Montier family with a City Council resolution. As a native Philadelphian who has seen the family’s names on street signs for years, and even went to the University of Virginia with one of the Montier descendants, Green says he is thrilled to honor the family and to thank them on behalf of the City of Philadelphia.

On Friday, March 16th The Montiers: An American Story will premiere on WHYY at 8:30 p.m. Like Councilman Green, producer, Karen Smyles is a native Philadelphian. She says she has been fascinated by The Montier family history since first learning it in 2009. “This is a part of history that needs to be shared,” she said. “It has so many ties to things we are dealing with today, surrounding issues of race and culture.”

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