"Men and Things: Story of the Mouldens, Born Slaves But Made Free by Their Owners, the First Negro Family of the Catholic Faith on the Main Line and Truly a Rare Couple" in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (1936)


"Men and Things: Story of the Mouldens, Born Slaves But Made Free by Their Owners, the First Negro Family of the Catholic Faith on the Main Line and Truly a Rare Couple" in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (1936)


Fr. F. E. Tourscher, O.S.A, wrote this article on William and Julia Moulden in April of 1936 in response to Thomas A. Daly's March 17 article. Tourscher speaks about the Moulden's tavern and narrates important events in their lives.

Tourscher started at Villanova in 1892, a year before William Moulden's death and a few years after Julia Moulden's death. Though he may have briefly known William Moulden and his daughter Mary, most of what's covered in this article occurred before Tourscher began at Villanova.


Francis E. Tourscher, O.S.A.








Curfew sounds promptly at 11 o’clock. The bar at the roadside tavern closes business. Customers in the room at the time are invited to leave, or, if they choose, to join in night prayers with the family. And night prayers means recitation of the rosary.

One could not find such a tavern on the roadsides of the whole United States today, in all probability. It is not the fashion of “taverns,” as the beer-drinking places, even on city streets, are called today. Nor is it the fashion of their patrons. If the tavern-keeper were so inclined, the customers simply would not have it. They are only getting started at 11 o’clock. Curfew is out of fashion all together. More’s the pity perhaps.

Some people may doubt whether there ever existed such aa tavern with such conscientious proprietors, forgetting that in the pre-prohibition days there were States where licenses to sell hard liquors and beer were granted with considerable liberty but where there time limits on drinking and it was deemed within the functions of government to fix a time when bars should close and patrons should go home to bed or otherwise dispose of themselves.

But this particular tavern and its proprietors did exist. Reverend F. E. Tourscher, O.S.A., of Villanova College, tells the story, in adding some interesting information concerning “Billy and Mary Moulton” (Moulden, correctly), to whom Tom Daly made allusion in a recent column on this page.
They were a rare couple, ex-slaves and pure black. “When we knew them in the ’80s,” Mr. Daly said, “they gave a gay touch to the solemn celebration of St. Patrick’s Day at Villanova.” Father Tourscher adds that Mary’s silk gown was of vivid green and a band of the same color encircled Billy’s hat, with a large rosette on his coat. This no doubt caught the eyes of the collegians of the eighties.

Continuing, Fr. Tourscher writes: Apart from this mark of devotion to St. Patrick and a love of display in the “wearing of green,” I find in the old records at Villanova some notes that tell of other qualities in members of the Moulden family worth of interest.

William Moulden, Sr., was brought out to the Rudolph Farm (now the premises of Villanova College) by John Rudolph, the owner of the farm, about 1833. William was then about 15 years of age. He was the son of Isaac Moulden and Mary Marshall, who were the property of the Rudolphs on their estate in Maryland. William, however, was born in Philadelphia.

Slave Born But Given His Freedom: William Moulden was made a “freeman” September 5, 1840, by a certificate signed by Jane A. Rudolph, the widow of John Rudolph and one of the daughters of Thomas Lloyd first shorthand reporter of the Proceedings of Congress. Mrs. Rudolph, with her mother and sisters, lived in the farmhouse, Belle-Air, to the time of its purchase by the Austin Friars in 1842.

On the twenty-first day of February, 1841, William Moulden and Julia Thompson (both colored) were married in St. Denis’ Church, West Haverford, by Michael O’Connor, later the first Bishop of Pittsburgh. The “wedding dinner” for the Mouldens was held in the Rudolph home. William evidently was born of Catholic parents, the bondservants, of the Rudolphs or the Lloyds. Julia Thompson had been brought up by a Quaker family, “collectors in the Gulph”—probably this means that they kept the tollgate on the Gulph Road. Julia Thompson was received into the church in 1839, So far as is known the Mouldens were the first colored Catholic family on the “Main Line.”

In 1847, October 4, William Moulden acquired by deed a plot of land at the southwest corner of Lancaster Turnpike and Roberts Road where the Bryn Mary Telephone Exchange now stands. The tract contained two acres and sixty four perches, and is described as being bounded on the south or southwest by the “Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad”

Nesting and Raising the Brood: It was here, in a little frame house, that the Mouldens lived. Here, according to a note of Mrs. Maria Shea, who lived with the Lloyds a good part of her life, their thirteen children were born. The records of baptisms and confirmations at Villanova go back only to 1848. There are entries of twelve, perhaps only ten children in these records. They are described by Fr. Middleton as faithful and devout attendants at church services—always at church in all kinds of weather.

Some of the qualities of William Moulden and Julia may be inferred from the fact that they acquired and retained the ownership of what was then and is now a very desirable property in Lower Merion Township.

In their humble residence William kept his bar, under the License Laws of the time, and sold refreshments to wayfarers on the pike. Over the entrance was the legend in the nineties, “Liberty and Independence.”

William Moulden died April 1, 1893. By his Will date August 6, 1886, his property is left to his wife, Julia, and two surviving children, Mary and William junior. Julia, the faithful wife, died February 22, 1888. William junior died in Norristown, December 2, 1889. Mary, the last surviving member of the family, died April 7, 1898. All were buried from the church at Villanova and interred in the cemetery at St. Denis’.
F.E. Tourscher, O.S.A.
Villanova College



Francis E. Tourscher, O.S.A., “"Men and Things: Story of the Mouldens, Born Slaves But Made Free by Their Owners, the First Negro Family of the Catholic Faith on the Main Line and Truly a Rare Couple" in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (1936),” The Rooted Project , accessed February 25, 2024, https://rootedproject.org/items/show/4.

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