The Freedom Valley Chronicles: Hector Street and Edward “Ned” Hector

People driving from Spring Mill into Conshohocken may not realize the roadway they travel – Hector Street – is named after a man who was a revolutionary.

A man who put his life on the line to fight for a new nation.

A man who has been called a hero for his actions in the Battle of Brandywine.

A man who became a symbol of a group of Americans who have rarely been acknowledged.

Edward “Ned” Hector.

While not much is known of his early life, we know he was born in about 1744.

We know that Mr. Hector served as a Private in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War as a member of the Third Pennsylvania Artillery which later became the Fourth Continental Artillery Regiment.

“He was a teamster – he drove a team of horses with a wagon,” explained Mr. Noah Lewis, a historical reenactor who brings Mr. Hector to life today.  Mr. Lewis is seen dressed as Edward “Ned” Hector in the top photo for this news article.

“He was also a bombardier within the artillery crew,” continued Mr. Lewis.

Mr. Hector served our country at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, in Chadds Ford.  According to the National Archives, Mr. Hector “showed great courage during the retreat from the battle when he refused to let his team [of horses] and wagon fall into enemy hands.”

In addition, Mr. Hector also fought in the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777.

Mr. Lewis indicated that Mr. Hector was one of upwards of 5,000 African-Americans who served in the Continental Army.  A larger number of African-Americans served in the British military during the American Revolutionary War, according to Mr. Lewis.

The Continental Army was defeated by the British Army at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.

After the American Revolutionary War, Mr. Hector moved into Plymouth Township.  According to Bean’s History of Montgomery County, Mr. Hector lived in a cabin at what later became known as the intersection of Fayette and Hector Streets.  He was likely one of the first free African-Americans to live in Plymouth Township.

He died on January 3, 1834.  He was likely about 90 years of age.  His wife of about 50 years, Jude, died two days later, according to Bean’s History of Montgomery County.  Several contemporary newspapers reported that his death occurred in Lower Merion Township.

The bravery of Mr. Hector during the Battle of Brandywine was noted in his obituary in the Free Press of Norristown on January 15, 1834:

“…When the American army was obliged to retreat, an order was given by the proper officers to those having charge of the wagons, to abandon them to the enemy, and save themselves by flight.  The heroic reply of the deceased uttered in the true spirit of the Revolution:  ‘The enemy shall not have my team;  I will save my horses and myself!’  He instantly started on his way, and as he proceeded, amid the confusion of the surrounding scene, he calmly gathered up a few stands of arms which had been left on the field by the retreating soldiers, and safely retired with his wagon, team and all, in face of the victorious foe…”

The Norristown Register in its news reporting had the quote of Mr. Hector – “Old Ned” – slightly different:

“The enemy shall not have my team.  I will save my horses or perish myself.”

Mr. Hector’s burial site is not certain, though some reports indicate he may be the person buried under the tombstone with an “E H” inscription at the Jonathan Roberts Burial Ground in King of Prussia.  This cemetery is located on DeKalb Pike, between Town Center Road and Kings Circle, in Upper Merion Township.

Mr. Lewis is seen here during a reenactment of Mr. Edward “Ned” Hector in battle.

While his name may be synonymous with Conshohocken, Mr. Hector did not ever live in the Borough of Conshohocken since the municipality was created – with roughly equal parts from Plymouth Township and from Whitemarsh Township – 16 years after his death.  According to Mr. Lewis, Mr. Hector lived in the Plymouth Township section that became part of the Borough of Conshohocken in 1850.

“I think the naming of Hector Street in his honor showed the level of respect that the local citizens had for Ned Hector,” stated Mr. Lewis.  “Ned Hector was both a local resident and someone who the local populations held in high regard.”

“It’s riveting to work on a street named after freedom fighter Edward “Ned” Hector. The streets of Conshohocken are entwined with both history and innovation, a balance that is hard to strike in a thriving community.”

Christina Wilson
East West Label Inc.

Hector Street is in two separate pieces within the Freedom Valley.  The longest stretch goes from Harry Street in the Borough of Conshohocken to the intersection of Barren Hill Road and Cedar Grove Road in Whitemarsh Township.  A smaller section of the roadway is located between West 1st Avenue and West Elm Street in the Borough of Conshohocken.

Others throughout the nation took note of the passing of Mr. Hector.

The Genius of Liberty, a newspaper published in Leesburg, Virginia, detailed Mr. Hector as “a coloured man, and a veteran of the revolution, who evinced remarkable bravery at the battle of Brandywine” in its obituary notice of February 15, 1834.

The Richmond Daily Palladium of Richmond, Indiana, explained that “Some years ago, a few benevolent individuals endeavoured to procure him [Edward Hector] a pension, but without success.  The legislature of Pennsylvania, however, at the last session, granted him a donation of $40 and this was all the gratuity he ever received for his revolutionary services.”  This news article was published on February 1, 1834.

The Brattleboro Messenger of Brattleboro, Vermont, printed that Edward Hector was “a brave soldier of the revolution” in its newspaper dated February 14, 1834.

Both the Sentinel and Democrat of Burlington, Vermont, on February 21, 1834, and The Charlotte Journal of Charlotte, North Carolina, in its edition dated March 1, 1834, also wrote similar words highlighting Mr. Hector.

Years after his death, The Reading Times mentioned details about “Ned Hector, a colored man, in whose honor there is now Hector Street” in its edition dated March 24, 1859.

The Hector family grew through the years.  The Conshohocken Recorder reported on March 13, 1886, that the funeral of Mrs. Leah Hector took place on March 8, 1886.  The newspaper reported that at the time of her death, Mrs. Hector – the wife of Mr. Charles Hector who was the son of Mr. Edward Hector – had 36 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Her life was symbolic of many others of her time.  According to the news article in The Conshohocken Recorder, Mrs. Hector was born into slavery in Virginia, sold twice, married twice, and was the mother of 13 children.  The newspaper indicated that Mrs. Hector lived in Pennsylvania for 90 years.  The newspaper reported that her funeral took place at the home of one of her sons, Mr. Albanus Fisher (a step-grandchild of Mr. Edward Hector) of Norristown, and she was buried at Christ Church Old Swedes Cemetery in Swedesburg in Upper Merion Township.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission installed a historical marker on September 19, 1976, to recognize the service of Mr. Hector and – through him – the countless other African-Americans who helped fight for the establishment of the United States of America.

The historical marker is located on the eastern side of Fayette Street, between Elm Street and First Avenue.

The decision to erect this historical marker was not without question.  In reading news articles of the time, there was debate whether Mr. Hector’s contribution to the American cause was sufficient to be recognized as an individual or for Mr. Hector to serve as a symbol of the unnamed thousands of African-Americans who served in the Continental Army.  There was debate whether the recognition of Mr. Hector was reflective of local demands or whether his historical impact was meritorious of state-wide recognition.

The Conshohocken Bicentennial Committee, local and regional historians, and others strongly advocated for the historical marker.

In the end, the Commonwealth decided to install the historical marker.

A parade was held along Hector Street on September 19, 1976, to honor Mr. Hector at the time of the dedication of the historical marker.  Among the officials attending the dedication were local, state, and federal leaders, including Congressman Lawrence Coughlin of the 13th Pennsylvania Congressional District.

The top photo and fourth photo provided courtesy of Mr. Noah Lewis.

The Battle of Brandywine was drawn by Mr. Frederick Coffay Yohn in 1898, and is provided courtesy of the Library of Congress

The photo of the Hector Street signage is provided courtesy of Google, 2016.

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© 2018 Richard McDonough