The Marlborough Footwashing

Today, the Pocopson creek flows unrestricted through Chester County farmland until it reaches the Brandywine. This was not always the case. Towards the end of the 18th century a water-rights dispute arose between two Quaker farmers. Isaac Baily’s farm was upstream from that of Richard Barnard and Baily had built a dam for his own irrigation purposes. Unfortunately, this dam significantly restricted the flow and had a serious impact on the availability of Richard Barnard’s water.


Water use rights clearly identify Barnard as the injured party 1. However, all of his attempts to explain this to his neighbor were met with contentious replies. Quakers (Friends) were loath to take anyone to court, let alone another Quaker. Thus, no legal action was taken and other Friends became involved, but Isaac Baily remained intransigent.

This state of affairs caused much frustration to Richard Barnard. One day Barnard described the issue to a traveling Quaker Minister 2 . The response was brief but pointed. The minister said “Richard, more is required of some than others”. This answer precipitated some deep reflection. After some consideration and prayer, the next step became clear. 

Early one morning Richard Barnard collected a bottle of water and cloths before beganing the hike upstream to his neighbor’s farm. He arrived and knocked on the door, only to find out that Isaac Baily was still in bed. Undeterred, Barnard pushed forward, entered his neighbor’s bedchamber and expressed a deep desire for friendship. To consummate this friendship, Barnard announced his intention to wash Baily’s feet. At first, the response to this overture was the same contentiousness that Baily had become known for. Barnard had to be quite insistent to accomplish his purpose. However, as Baily’s feet were washed and then dried, a calm fell over the scene. Afterwards, Baily rose, dressed and accompanied Barnard to the door.

The day did not pass before Richard Barnard overheard the work of the dam being breached so that the water could flow unrestricted. The story does not end here. Richard Barnard and Isaac Baily soon became fast friends. Several years later, Barnard broke his leg in an accident. This kind of event can be devastating for any farmer whose livelihood depends on physical activity. Fortunately, Isaac Baily was there to invest much of his own time and effort to sustain the Barnard farm through the crisis.

As the years unfolded, the need for a new Quaker Meetinghouse in the neighborhood became clear. Richard Barnard and Isaac Baily each donated two acres of their farms to establish a new lot upon which to build a meetinghouse. They were also the leading donors for its construction at $100 each (a considerable sum in those days). The result was the Marlborough Meetinghouse. Eventually a small schoolhouse was built on the same lot.

The descendants of Richard Barnard and Isaac Baily still farm in Chester County 3, a mile or two from the original foot washing event. Most of the original Baily farm has succumbed to development, but the farmhouse is still there and the Pocopson creek flows through a peaceful horse pasture. The Barnard homestead survives intact and is an active dairy farm still managed by Quakers. The land and farmhouse are part of the Marlborough Village Historic District.

The Marlborough Meetinghouse also survives. It is the home of a small, but vibrant, Friends Meeting. Direct descendants of Richard Barnard and Isaac Baily are among the members and attenders today. Meetings for Worship are held every Sunday at 11:00 AM. Visitors are most welcome.

1 This case falls under the concept of the Riparian doctrine. According to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School: “In dealing with water rights, the riparian doctrine states that water belongs to the person whose land borders a body of water. Riparian owners are permitted to make reasonable use of this water provided it does not unreasonably interfere with the reasonable use of this water by others with riparian rights.” Reference:

2 As with many Quakers today, Meetings of that time did not have pastors, since their silent worship did not include prepared sermons. Any participant could deliver a message. However, those Quakers who spoke frequently and effectively were recognized (or “recorded”) as having a Gift of Ministry. One of the responsibilities of Recorded Ministers was to travel and share their gifts. It was just such a traveling Minister that Richard Barnard consulted with.

3 These descendants do not occupy the original Barnard and Baily homesteads. However, they have both established well respected local retail enterprises that market, not only the fruits of their farms, but other local produce as well. Barnard’s Orchards sells their own apples, greenhouse flowers and summer produce ( Baily’s Diary sells milk, butter and cream from their own cows and pasteurized on site ( ).