This homestead is significant for its historical association with the Montiers, a Black family with ancestral ties to Humphrey Morrey, the first mayor of Philadelphia. The Montiers are also known for their descendants’ pendant portraits that currently hang in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Painted by Franklin R. Street in 1841, these portraits depict a family of great wealth, which was not typical of most nineteenth-century Black Americans. The Montier family house was built in 1772 in the Black community of Glenside, Pennsylvania. This recently restored Adam-style house, which still retains most of its original features, demonstrates the longevity of Black heritage sites not typically seen in architectural historical narratives.
In 1715, the Morreys manumitted their enslaved laborers. After her manumission, the Montier family’s matriarch, Cremona, entered into a common-law marriage with Humphrey Morrey’s son, Richard Morrey. Cremona gave birth to five children: Robert, Caesar, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Cremona Jr. Upon his death in 1753, Richard bequeathed Cremona 198 acres of land in a will written in 1746. However, women—let alone Black women—could not legally own land and the property was placed with a White trustee in her stead. This land was originally part of the 200-acre Morrey property in the Cheltenham township, purchased by Humphrey Morrey from William Penn in 1683. Due to this connection, by the early 1750s, the Montiers owned a considerable amount of land in Pennsylvania, situated in what was historically called “Guineatown”—land occupied by people of African descent who originated from the country of Guinea in West Africa. The property included land in present-day Glenside and property in Montgomery County now owned by Arcadia University. This is significant considering that few Black families owned property at the end of the eighteenth century, let alone more than an acre.
After Richard’s death, Cremona married a formerly enslaved man named John Fry, later giving birth to their son Joseph and daughter Cremona before her death in 1770. In a deed of trust recorded in the Philadelphia County Deed Book dated October 13 and November 13, 1770, John Fry inherited the 198-acre property after Cremona’s death and this land was to be divided among Cremona’s children. The deed makes a reference to the “children of Richard Morrey, deceased, by his freed woman, Cremona,” and after which lists the name of their children. According to Montier descendant and family historiographer, William Pickens III, Cremona Jr. married John Montier, possibly a free Black man who emigrated from either Haiti or Martinique. Cremona Jr. gave birth to Joseph, Solomon, Robert, and Hiram; the family lived in present-day Limekiln Pike in Glenside, where their original 1772 house, the Montier Family Homestead, still stands today.
In 1798, free Black people living in Guineatown established a burial ground located two blocks from the Montier Homestead, becoming one of the few places where Black people could bury their dead with dignity outside of portioned plots in potter’s fields or churchyards in the city proper. According to historian Donald Scott, this burial ground dedicated to the Montier family and their acquaintances is the earliest documented site of a Black-owned cemetery prior to the rural cemetery movement in the nineteenth century. The bodies of Montier family members were reinterred in Lebanon Cemetery, a burial ground for Black Americans that was closed in 1903. These bodies were then moved to Eden Cemetery located in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
The Montiers first lived in a barn that they built on their property in 1766 before moving into their main house, completed in 1772. In the 1840s, John and Cremona’s son, Hiram, renovated the house. The original homestead, located on one acre of the original 198-acre property, is a simple Adam-style house presenting a facade composed of irregular coursed, uncut field stone. The facade of the original house is divided symmetrically by four double-hung windows on the first floor with a paneled door in the middle and by six double-hung windows on the second floor. Each window is surrounded by paneled shutters. The facade was plastered in the twentieth century, but the plaster was eventually removed and the original field stone restored. The side-gabled roof is topped by two chimneys on each gable end of the front wing of the house; two dormers have been recently covered with aluminum siding. Most of the original interior has been restored or updated to its intended character.
In 1841, Franklin R. Street painted pendent portraits of Hiram Charles Montier, grandson of John, and Elizabeth Brown Montier to commemorate their marriage. Members of the Montier family, expanding their holdings, bought property in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia in the mid-nineteenth century. The Montiers were prominent businessmen and patrons of architectural projects, including the former Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Germantown, commissioned by the property transfer of descendant Charles Montier in 1862. The main house at the Montier Homestead was renovated in the 1990s. Today, the Montier homestead is a private residence containing three stories with four bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms. The original 1766 barn that housed the family before they built the homestead has been renovated into a private residence. On March 8, 2018, the Montier Homestead and family were honored by the city of Philadelphia and the Cheltenham township for their historical significance.
“Deed of Bargain of Sale,” Philadelphia County Deed Book G-7:539-543, dated January 6, 1746. Department of Records, Philadelphia, PA.
Mazzaccaro, Peter. “Cheltenham home for sale is a remarkable part of the area’s African American History.” Chestnut Hill Local (Philadelphia, PA), October 18, 2019.
“The Montiers: An American Story.” WHYY, March 15, 2018. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://whyy.org/montiers-american-story/.
Rothschild, Elaine W., “A History of Cheltenham Township.” Cheltenham Township Historical Commission, Montgomery County, PA (1976), 15-17.
Scott, Donald. “The Montiers: An American Family’s Triumphant Odyssey.” August 31, 2004. AfriGeneas – African American and African Ancestor Genealogy Digital Library. https://www.afrigeneas.com/.