This Grand Old Man

By J. L. Starkey

Some legends are told

Some turn to dust or to gold

But you will remember me

Remember me for centuries

-Pete Wentz

It was the quote that I just couldn’t forget:

“This grand old man settled in Adams County, Conewago Township, Pennsylvania, where he bought and improved a farm he called Eden. He died January 8, 1758 at the age of 59 years on his farm.”

– PaGenieGirl, Find a Grave

The grand old man is my sixth-great-grandfather, Samuel Lilly [1]. I’ve read countless Find a Grave tributes and have contributed a few dozen of my own (you can find me there along with hundreds of other genies!), but this memorial took root in my soul. Add to that the fact that Samuel named his farm Eden, and I had to know more about him.

On the surface, that was an easy task. With certain ancestors, it’s easy to find almost everything you would want to know, and that was certainly the case with Samuel Lilly. But this time, those documents weren’t enough. I had to know more. But how, and where?

By branching out, I discovered the rest of this grand old man’s story.

Who was Samuel Lilly?

Samuel Lilly’s Eden: York County, Pennsylvania [2]

Born around 1699 in Bristol, England, Samuel Lilly is the immigrant ancestor for thousands of Lilly descendants. I knew that my grandfather had Pennsylvania roots, but it wasn’t until I researched Samuel that I learned how deep those roots were.

A devout Catholic born during the reign of William III, Samuel found his faith at odds with English law, which may explain his desire to start a new life in Pennsylvania [3]. Details of his early years are somewhat unreliable, though, thanks to fraudulent genealogist Gustav Anjou.

All fraud aside, most researchers agree that Samuel’s first wife, Esther Bennett, died around 1728 after the birth of the couple’s second child (my fifth-great-grandfather), Richard. Samuel married Anna Price one year later, and the family immigrated to Philadelphia when Anna was pregnant with her first child, a boy named Thomas, who was born at sea.

The family first settled in Chester, Pennsylvania, around 1730, where Samuel worked as a fuller [4]. Dismayed that there was no priest in the area, he soon moved his family to Conewago, as there were rumors of a Jesuit settlement there.

The rumors were true, although “settlement” was probably an overstatement. Samuel didn’t seem to mind, though, because in Conewago, he found the religious freedom that had eluded him in his native England.

In Conewago, Samuel Lilly found Eden.

Building Eden

Conewago Creek as it looks today [5]

In 1745, Samuel settled his family on 50 acres of land in present-day Lancaster County. He would name the property Eden, and he would remain there for the rest of his life [6].

In 1749, Samuel purchased “the privilege of a mill dam for a fulling mill” from fellow resident Patrick Heany. The deal was both economical and optimistic, and Samuel paid just twenty shillings at its inception. Thereafter, for the next 999 years, he or his descendants could renew the terms for the price of one grain of pepper per year [7].

Yes – 999 years.

The 999-year agreement [FamilySearch image]

Apparently, Samuel wanted to take care of his family for a good long while, and while the deal didn’t last as long as planned, the family would remain connected to the property for over 150 years. The mill was torn down in 1910, ending an era where “old Lilly’s mill” catered to upper-crust society and Jesuit visitors alike [8].

Through it all, Samuel’s faith never wavered, and he found a church home in Conewago Chapel, now known as The Church of the Sacred Heart. Records show that he was the third member of the congregation to be buried in the church graveyard, sometimes referred to as God’s Acre [9].

Interior of Conewago Chapel as it looks today [10]

Samuel Lilly’s grave
[Find-a-grave image]

Today, the cross at Samuel’s grave serves as a stunning reminder of his influence in the area [11]. It is indeed a beautifully fitting memorial to this grand old man [12].

I was thrilled to find so many details about Samuel – I really was. Over the years, I amassed a collection of books, land records, indentures, news articles, and photos that painted a pretty clear portrait of this amazing ancestor.

You know what I didn’t find?

His will.

Two abstracts of Samuel’s will are available on Ancestry, and from those I learned that his son Thomas and his wife survived him, though his wife’s name wasn’t given [13]. However, the actual will wasn’t available. Without that document, it was difficult to prove that Samuel’s son Richard was my fifth-great-grandfather, since there weren’t many records connecting the two.

Additionally, I wondered if the will would provide more proof that Samuel’s daughter Esther really was that Esther Lilly. (You might remember her as the widow of the diabolical Dudley Digges of “Haunted Hanover” fame.). That will could connect so many dots, but where was it?

To track it down, I could have called the Pennsylvania State Archives or the York County Courthouse for assistance. But I wondered if the will was already somewhere online.

It was time to pay another visit to the gold mine.

Where there’s an abstract, there’s a will

Will abstract with discrepancies highlighted in red [Ancestry image]

If you haven’t taken advantage of the image search function at FamilySearch, your research plan is missing a step! There’s a reason I call it the gold mine, after all. Over the last few years, image search has broken down countless brick walls in my family tree…for free!

Using Samuel’s will abstract as a guide, I searched for York County, Pennsylvania, legal images for the years 1750-1760. The first result returned was “Will Records, 1749-1779,” and the first set of images on that link was “Wills and Index 1749 1762.”

Will records with an internal index? Excellent find!

Index listing…is that a 0? or a 6? Or…? [FamilySearch image]

There was indeed a Samuel Lilly in that index, and his will was on page 105. No, wait – it was on page 165. Or 185? Maybe it was that.

Turns out, that number was an eight, and that will? It absolutely was online. I knew that, because thanks to image search, I was looking at it. And suddenly, my questions had answers [14].

Contrary to the abstract, Samuel was survived by at least three sons, including my fifth-great-grandfather, Richard. His “unnamed” wife was Anna Price, though that information appeared to have been added after the will was completed.

Additionally, his death date, which was recorded as July 14, 1750, in the abstract, was corrected to 14 January 1758 in the will. That information made sense, given the probate date of June 28, 1758, which was the same in both the abstract and the will.

But the biggest find was at the very end of the document. Though no mention was made of Esther Lilly Digges or her husband Dudley, the first person listed as a witness was none other than Dudley’s father, John Digges! That information, plus the wills of Esther’s son and her brother, proved that she was indeed the daughter of Samuel Lilly [15].

The Digges/Lilly connection [FamilySearch image]

Another trip to the gold mine had ended in success…for a minute, anyway.

The will did contain answers, but it also created several questions, and I blame Samuel for that.

You see, this grand old man was apparently born with the gift of vagueness. For example, rather than detailing his property bequests, Samuel simply stated that each son would receive the land “where he now lives and is possessed of.” He included no details, no landmarks…nada.

Where, exactly, was all of this land located? The answers were (once again) hidden in the gold mine. To find them, I just needed a few more wills, along with a map or two…or six.

But who’s counting, right? Click here for the next chapter in this story!


  1. Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 1 February 2022), memorial page for Samuel Lilly (1699–8 Jan 1758), Find a Grave Memorial ID 66124873, citing Conewago Chapel Basilica Cemetery, Conewago Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Kenneth W. Deatrick Jr (contributor 49001908).
  2. By Jstuby – Own work by the original uploader (Original text: took myself), CC0,
  3. Derrick, Andrew. “Historical Background.” 19th- And 20th-Century Roman Catholic Churches: Introductions to Heritage Assets, Historic England, Swindon, 2017, pp. 2–4, Accessed 3 Feb. 2022.
  4. History of Cumberland and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania: Containing History of the Counties, Their Townships, Towns, Villages, Schools, Churches, Industries, Etc. ; Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men ; Biographies ; History of Pennsylvania, Statistical and Miscellaneous Matter, Etc., Etc. Chicago, Illinois: Warner, Beers & Co, 1886. Section III, p. 487, retrieved 1 Feb 2022 from FamilySearch @
  5. By Jstuby – took myself, CC0,
  6. Land Warrant for Samuel Lilly, 25 May 1745. Pennsylvania, U.S., Land Warrants and Applications, 1733-1952 [database on-line], Lancaster, 1745, digital images 54 & 55 of 658. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.Original data: Warrant Applications, 1733-1952. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania State Archives.
  7. Indenture between Patrick Heany and Samuel Lilly, 14 Apr 1749. York County Courthouse, York, Pennsylvania, Deed Record Book A, 1749-1762, p. 48 [digital image 48 of 650]. Retrieved 15 May 2021 from FamilySearch @
  8. “Interesting Mill Razed,” The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 6 May 1910, p. 1, column 6. Retrieved 2 February 2022 from
  9. Reily, John T. “Conewago : A Collection of Catholic Local History : Gathered from the Fields of Catholic Missionary Labor within Our Reach … : Reily, John T. (John Timon) : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, Martinsburg, W. Va. : Herald Print, 1 Jan. 1885, [See also: “Sequel to Early Gravestones – Oldest Near Emmitsburg,” The News, Frederick, Maryland, 7 Mar 1972, p. 4, col. 3-7. Retrieved 10 Mar 2018 from]
  10. By Stephen J. Taylor – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
  11. Burial record for Samuel Lilly, Historical Society of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, U.S., Church and Town Records, 1669-2013 [database on-line], PA-Adams > Conewago > Roman Catholic > Sacred Heart Basilica > digital image 660 of 678. Retrieved from Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  12. Reily, John T. (John Timon). History And Directory of the Boroughs of Gettysburg, Oxford, Littlestown, York Springs, Berwick, And East Berlin, Adams County, Pa.: With Historical Collections. Gettysburg [Pa.]: J.E. Wible, printer, 1880. Retrieved 2 February 2022 from HathiTrust. [See also: “Church of the Sacred Heart. Historically Known As Conewago Chapel.” Woodstock Letters, Volume XXI, Number 2, 1 June 1892 , Jesuit Online Library,——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-.]
  13. Will index for Samuel Lilley, York County, Pennsylvania Wills, 1749-1819. Lineages, Inc., comp.. York County, Pennsylvania Wills, 1749-1819 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000. Original data: York County Wills. Originals housed at the York County Archives. [See also: Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993. York > Abstracts of wills, 1749-1820, digital image 217 of 389. Retrieved from, Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Pennsylvania County, District and Probate Courts.]
  14. “Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994,” images, FamilySearch ( : 3 July 2014), York > Wills 1749-1779 vol A-D > image 120 of 647; county courthouses, Pennsylvania. Retrieved 15 May 2021 from FamilySearch.
  15. Will of Thomas Lilly, Adams County, Pennsylvania, Wills, Vol A-B, 1800-1817. Register of Wills, 1800-1851 ; Index to Wills, 1800-1864; Author: Adams County (Pennsylvania). Register of Wills; Probate Place: Adams, Pennsylvania. [See also: Will of Dudley Digges, Jr., Records of the Orphan’s Court and Register of Wills, 1808-1919; Will Books, Vol 1-3, 1808-1883, Estate and Proceedings Indexes, 1806-1980; Author: Cambria County (Pennsylvania). Register of Wills; Probate Place: Cambria, Pennsylvania.].

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