by Bob Imhof
Born in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey on April 18, 1768 or according to Memoirs – Autobiographies of Wealthy Philadelphia Citizens published in 1846, Mr. Ridgway was born in Monmouth County, New Jersey on March 15, 1767.
- Son of John and Phoebe Bellangee Ridgway and youngest of five children. John was a farmer and known as “Gentleman John”
- Original American Ridgway family arrived in Pennsylvania prior to William Penn and lived in Bristol, Bucks County and were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Jacob Ridgway was the youngest great grandson of the pioneer Ridgway family. The family name was originally spelled “Ridgeway”.
- John Ridgway died in 1774 when Jacob was six years old and upon the death of his mother he moved to Philadelphia to live with his eldest sister whose husband had been chosen as his guardian.
- Version #2 John Ridgway died in 1774 when Jacob was six years old and upon the death of his mother he moved to Philadelphia to live with his oldest brother John, only nineteen years of age.
- Jacob’s first mercantile career began in the dry goods house of Thomas Shaw and Shaw’s son.
- In 1794 at age 26 he left the employ of the Shaw’s and went into partnership with his brother-in-law James Smith in a grocery store on Water Street.
- The shipping business was of great interest to Mr. Ridgway and in partnership with James Smith the firm of Smith & Ridgway was created. This partnership was very successful but problems between England and France caused their ships to be seized.
- Due to these problems Mr. Ridgway moved with his family to London, England with his family to protect his business assets and represent other American businesses and established a partnership titled Merton and Ridgway while retaining his business interests in Philadelphia.
- Mr. Ridgway traveled extensively in England, France and Belgium developing his business network in Europe and finally settled in Antwerp, Belgium where he lived until 1813 prior to his returning to the United States and retiring from business. His residence in Philadelphia was across the street from Independence Hall on Chestnut Street.
- While residing in Antwerp, Mr. Ridgway served as United States Consul while developing his shipping business empire.
- In 1817 Mr. Ridgway purchased in excess of 100,000 acres of land in Northwestern Pennsylvania the bulk of which was in McKean County and 40,000 acres that would become part of
- Elk County in 1843 when the county was established from pieces of Clearfield, Jefferson and McKean counties.
- At the time of this huge land purchase as a result of the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix (now Rome, New York) Mr. Ridgway’s personal wealth was estimated at $6,000,000 making him the second richest man in Pennsylvania after Steven Girard and fifth richest man in the United States.
- Mr. Ridgway hired three agents to look after this land purchase including Jonathan Colegrove, Jr. who handled the selling of the lands in McKean County, Paul W. Skull who handled the selling of the lands in the Bradford area and most notable James Lyle Gillis.
- On December 21, 1821, Mr. Gillis and family arrived at what would eventually be called the Montmorency Farm. The name given to the original site of Ridgway is based on the following possibilities:
1. Paul Busti, of the Holland Land Company in Philadelphia and the person most instrumental in selling the lands that would eventually become Elk County to Jacob Ridgway was born in Montmorenci, Italy near Florence.
2. James Lyle Gillis named the area Montmorency after Lord Montmorency of England.
3. A third option recently discovered is based on the amount of time Mr. Ridgway spent in Europe especially France, Belgium and England developing his trading partners in the shipping business. Montmorency, located in the northern suburbs of Paris was the fief of the Montmorency family, one of the oldest and most distinguished families of the French nobility, who owed their name to the location of their ancestral castle on the promontory of Montmorency. The castle of Montmorency was destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years’ War and was not rebuilt. After the Hundred Years’ War, the Montmorency moved their residence to the Château d’Écouen in Écouen, 5.6 km (3.5 mi) to the northeast of Montmorency.
- Mr. Gillis was married to Mary Brockden Ridgway the daughter of Thomas Ridgway in 1816. Thomas had drowned while in the employment of his brother Jacob, the couple had met in Victor, New York.
- Jacob Ridgway married Rebecca Rawle in 1794 and they had five children, Suzannah, Phoebe Ann, Benjamin, John Jacob and Caroline. Mr. Ridgway passed away on April 30, 1843 just twelve days after the formal creation of Elk County.
- Phoebe Ann Ridgway Rush the second daughter was born in 1799 and spent most of here early life in Paris and was married to Dr. James Rush in 1820. Dr. Rush was the son of Dr. Benjamin Rush a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Phoebe Ann was the most distinguished woman in the City of Philadelphia for almost fifty years and built a mansion on Chestnut Street between Nineteenth and Twentieth Streets that would accommodate 800 guests. The mansion had twenty-five tables in its dining room and used 6,000 candles to light the room. The mansion was converted to the Aldine Hotel in 1877, considered one of the finest hotels in Philadelphia. Dr. Rush died in 1869 and at the time of his death he had over $1,000,000 of Ridgway money from his wife’s estate; she had passed away in 1857 in Saratoga, New York.
- Jacob Ridgway’s will consisted of fifty-seven parts and to his daughter Suzannah Ridgway Rotch Barton he bequeathed the County Seat of Clermont, his summer residence situated in the Northern Liberties of the City of Philadelphia near the Delaware River. The small town of Clermont located in McKean County, Pennsylvania is named for Mr. Ridgway’s summer home. James Lyle Gillis was bequeathed the Montmorenci Farm of 400 acres that he established for Mr. Ridgway beginning on December 21, 1821.
- His son John Jacob Ridgway received the land where Ridgway is now situated and practically half of McKean County and the entire land from Johnsonburg up through Instanter, Glen Hazel and Clermont almost to the New York State Line.
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