Why the name Sunbury? Perhaps the lay of the land reminded settlers of their former homes in Sunbury Township in Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna flowing between Kingston Forty Fort and Wilkes-Barre is not unlike the Big Walnut Creek flowing east of Sunbury and Galena, and both areas were once forests with rich soil.
But why was either place named Sunbury?
Carleton and Dilly Burrer had a passion for learning the derivation of the name Sunbury. They spent many vacations traveling to places named Sunbury in the USA as well as in England. There is also a Sunbury in Australia, but they all seem to come from Sunbury-on-the-Thames in England.
The Burrers traced the name Sunbury to the Saxons, noting in their research notes “… the Saxons were, in fact, the true founders of Sunbury. … We know this through a remarkably informative Saxon document known as the Sunbury Charter, by which King Edgar (959-980) granted to his faithful kinsman Sunna ‘… in perpetuity, a certain parcel of land, called Sunna’s Burh and Sunna’s Haw’.”
The charter’s description hinges on its reference to Sunna’s Burh and Sunna’s Haw. These Saxon terms suggest that it was a Saxon lord called Sunna who founded the community, gave it his name, and settled his followers around his own palisade residence.
The word “burh” might be a corruption of the word “beorg,” or hill, that refers to the distinctly higher ground around a Vicarage, which would have been even more prominent in those far-off days.
“Whatever the truth, we can see how Sunna’s Burh evolved, by the time of the Sunbury Charter, to Sunnanbyrig, and within a hundred years to Suneberie; and, in the course of centuries, to Sunbury,” wrote Carleton Burrer.
The founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn, was very popular and was knighted in England for winning so many naval battles.
Upset about young William’s conversion to Quakerism, the admiral told his son he was disinherited. However, before the admiral died, they reunited, and the father asked the king to be sure to take care of his son.
William inherited his father’s property and money, and in 1681 King Charles II granted to William Penn first proprietary lands and governorship of what was to become Pennsylvania.
William’s sons Richard and John were originally from Middlesex in England, which included the Parish (Manor) of Sunbury. Following William’s death, Richard and John laid out the Manour of Sunbury, established as a proprietor’s holding in the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania from 1768 to 1813.
That land holding encompassed the same area that our earliest pioneer families came from who settled in Delaware County; and that’s how Sunbury traveled from England to Pennsylvania and on to Ohio.
It is a matter of record that Benjamin and Gilbert Carpenter were very prominent in the early history of Luzerne County, Forty Fort, Kingston, and Wilkes-Barre area along the upper Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania; and that the Carpenters came to Delaware County before any townships were named.
Gilbert Carpenter was a builder and an early gristmill owner. Benjamin Carpenter, in July 1806, purchased two tracts of land in Delaware County from Col. Byxbe before leaving Pennsylvania. He and his brother, Gilbert, had sold considerable property they owned in the Wyoming Valley area and, in 1807, moved with their families to Delaware County.
On February 10, 1808, Delaware County was set off from Franklin County by act of the Ohio Legislature, and it was directed that on the first Monday in May 1808 there was to be an election held to select county commissioners and other county officers.
The legislative act authorized Associate Justices Moses Byxbe, Thomas Brown and Josiah McKinney to divide Delaware County into townships. They divided it into three townships — Berkshire, Radnor and Liberty.
On June 16, 1808, Delaware County commissioners formed Sunbury Township, which encompassed the balance of the county not previously laid out. Sunbury Township consisted of what is now Harlem, Trenton and Porter townships, and the east one-half of Kingston, Berkshire and Genoa. On the north, it included all the area east of Marlboro Township — what are now Bennington, Harmony, Peru and Lincoln townships in Morrow County.
There is no way to know who suggested the name Sunbury, but all of those early pioneers would have been familiar with Richard Penn’s Sunbury Manor in Pennsylvania.
The land in Berkshire Township, before 1806, was a part of Sharon Township in Franklin County. Sharon Township’s boundaries had changed from time to time until, through the efforts of Major Thomas Brown, Berkshire Township was organized.
The original Berkshire Township included parts of what are now Brown, Kingston, Berlin, Orange and Genoa townships, as well as all of present-day Berkshire Township. It was named Berkshire because Major Brown and Col. Byxbe had come from Berkshire County in Massachusetts.
As the years passed, Sunbury Township was whittled away as other townships were formed to comply with the uniform size of townships.
Finally, the Myers brothers, Lawrence and William, from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, had acquired enough land in Berkshire Township to plat the village of Sunbury. We’ll never know if it was named for Sunbury Township or for the Manor of Sunbury back in Pennsylvania, but we do know that at one time there were five Sunburys in Ohio.
And now you know …
Polly Horn is the Myers Inn Museum curator. Her parents were Bill and MarianWhitney, and she grew up working at the Sunbury News.