The Mystery of John Toy

By | 4 July 2014

Previous research and published genealogies have all suggested that Daniel Toy was the first with the Toy surname to arrive in Delaware, but my research over the past year or so suggests that it could have been a fellow named John Toy.

Introduction to John Toy

John Toy first came to my attention when I was perusing a card index maintained at the Hagley Library, which contains notes and cross-reference information about powder mill employees. This particular card referenced payroll and tax receipts in the du Pont petit ledgers, listing records from August 1818 through December 1822. Given these early dates, my first thought that this must be Daniel Toy mistakenly identified as ‘John’, or perhaps this was a middle name that was new to me. In any case, I just filed the information away for future investigation.

John Toy Ledger

Petit Ledger Records

The du Pont Company acted as a kind of bank for its workers – pay was credited monthly to the workers account and charges were withdrawn. The transactions might be simple withdrawals of cash for personal expenses, or they might be transactions between employees and others associated with the du Pont community, such as the local doctor, company store, a boarding house or the Sunday School. These itemized transactions were maintained in the du Pont Petit Ledger, which can be viewed in its original form at Hagley.

While many of the du Pont petit ledgers are available online from Hagley, not all of them are. In particular, the ledgers from 1818 and 1819 aren’t online, so I made a trip to the “Soda House” at the Hagley Museum, which houses the du Pont Company Collection and the complete set of the ledgers. This is where the mystery begins…

I easily found the 1818 records identified in the card index. John Toy started working in the powder yards in August 1818. He started at laborer’s wages, but quickly became a powderman earning $24 per month in September of 1818. He was employed continuously through early in 1823, when he closed his account and took the balance of $640.13 as a check. John Toy reappears in the ledgers five years later. He works as a laborer in the powder yards earning $15.50 per month until August 5, 1830, when he again takes the balance of $196.02 in his account and disappears. He is not seen again the du Pont Company records.

What the ledger also shows is that John Toy and Daniel Toy are two different people. There are separate entries for the two for the same months of employment. These records also prove that Daniel and John knew each other. From March of 1821 through January of 1822, John is boarding with Daniel and Rosanna, paying them $8 per month.

1821 Board Payments to D Toy

1821 Board Payments to D Toy

So who is this guy?

Manufacturers Sunday School

The petit ledgers also contain entries for payments for a Sunday School subscription, suggesting that John had a child attending the Brandywine Manufacturer’s Sunday School. Enrollment records for the school are also available at Hagley and a search here turns of one relevant entry. Anne Toy, age 11, entered the school on June 28, 1829. She was student number 314. Her father is given as John Toy, identified as a laborer and a Catholic. It is recorded that Anne had “Gone to Philadephia” in October 1830.

The October 1830 date is consistent with John’s departure from du Pont employment at the end of August 1830 so I’m pretty sure we have the right person and know that John had a daughter Anne born about 1818.

Wilmington Irish Roots

From the Sunday School records we know that John was Catholic. The best source for information about Catholics in Wilmington, Delaware before 1900 is the Wilmington Irish Roots website maintained by Joe Lalley and his team of volunteers. This site contains transcribed and indexed nineteenth century sacramental records for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. This source also turns up just one relevant record. On August 16, 1829, John Toy and his wife Margaret McDermod have a daughter baptized in the Coffee Run Parish. Her name is Elenor Toy, and she was born in Christiana Hundred on July 15, 1829. Her sponsors where Charles Doherty and Bridgit Carroll.

1830 US Census

If John and family didn’t leave for Philadelphia until October 1830, then he should appear in the 1830 census for Christiana Hundred and that is indeed the case. John Toy with a family of five appears on page 31 of the census (Daniel appears on page 32).

The family includes two adults born between 1791 and 1800, which is the same census age group for Daniel Toy, so we don’t know if John was older or younger. The family includes one daughter born between 1816 and 1820 (Anne) and a daughter born between 1825 and 1830 (Elenor). The family includes an unknown son fitting between Anne and Elenor (1821-1825). We also know that one of the adults was an alien – “foreign born and not naturalized” (Ireland?)


John ToyThis is really all I know for sure about John Toy after a year of sporadic research. I’ve looked in later records for John, Margaret and the children in Pennsylvania but found no credible leads.

There is a peculiar relationship between the petit ledger entries and the birth of the children. The first child is born in 1818 and John starts working in the powder yard. A son is born between 1821 and 1825 and John leaves du Pont in 1823. Looking for better work? The third child is born in 1829 and John moves to Philadelphia in 1830. I’ll never know if there is a relationship.

Given the pattern of chain emigration among Hagley workers and the fact that they lived under the same roof for a period of time, I feel confident that Daniel and John are related, but have no idea if they are brothers, cousins or even nephew and uncle.

Given that John appears in the du Pont records two year before Daniel, I feel that John must be the older of the two, but it could just be that John was single and more able to pull up roots and travel to the United States.

One last bit of intriguing information, which shows that someone from the du Pont community sponsored Daniel’s emigration, is found in an entry at the beginning of the petit ledger for 1827-1828. I’ve seen this type of entry several times, and it appears to be a list of money that is owed by employees but not yet paid. This entry reads:

A list of our men for whom we went security for passage money to be repaid if they came

Line seven on the list reads “ Danl. Toy” 2 adults and one child. In other situations, the sponsor is the one who would be charged for the passage money.  Could John Toy be the sponsor?  I couldn’t find the payment in the petit ledger for either John or Daniel.

If anyone has information about this John Toy family, or has other lines of investigation to suggest, please contact me!

14 thoughts on “The Mystery of John Toy

  1. susan

    my grandfather was born in the toy tavern and aunt chalotte was my moms aunt they are the direct decendents of the toys they also had the general store around the corner susan

  2. Nancy Van Dyke-Dickison

    Since Daniel came to du Pont in 1817 and the date of this record is 1827, could this be Daniel sponsoring another family? Daniel is already at du Pont as the title says “Our men.”

    I wonder if a “Coyle” could have sponsored Daniel and Rosanna as Daniel is married to Rosanna Coyle/Coile and there are several Coyles working at du Pont. John is rather a mystery man. Enjoyed your article. Nancy

    1. Rhys Post author


      I’m not sure what to make of this. In other places where you see this type of information, it often has the person responsible for the payment penciled in. I’ll go back to see if I can find any passage charges in a ‘Coyle’ account.

  3. Nancy Van Dyke-Dickison

    Does Daniel appear in the 1818 Ledger?

    1. Rhys Post author

      No. I’ve gone through the ledgers for 1917, 1918, and 1919. Daniel’s first entry is in May 1820.

  4. Nancy Van Dyke-Dickison

    Rhys, I just recalled something my aunt told me (daughter of Grace H. Toy Van Dyke) about the name “Toy.” She said it used to be spelled “Toye.” She had no other information, but I imagine her grandfather James F. Toy must have told her. I remember somewhere seeing a John Toye at the bottom of a list with Daniel Toy. I do so much roaming around the internet, I will have to see if I can find it again.

    1. susan

      we have the pic of grace toy she was beautiful getting the info for you on sam and pauline had another function yesterday talk to you soon

    2. Rhys Post author

      Thanks Nancy. I have heard this as well, but never seen the spelling ‘Toye’ ever associated with one of our family. If you find that reference, let me know.

      1. susan

        hi reese ill ask my mom about the toy spelling she might know susan

  5. Elizabeth

    Wonder if you know of anything about James Toy Marsh, Sr. circa born 1815 New York, Married Martha Ostrander. He names his some James T.Marsh, jr. I assume the “T” stands for “toy”. If your reasoning is correct then James Toy Marsh, Sr, would have been named after his Father’s Father? I have not siblings for James T. Marsh, Sr., or parents. Hit a brick wall. Any suggestions?

    1. Rhys Post author


      Unfortunately, I have nothing in my records for James Toy Marsh, junior or senior, but I’ll do a little digging. I know of two main Toy family lines in the United States – one originating in Northern Ireland (my line) and one originating in Cornwall, England. Do you have any idea which line produced James Toy Marsh?

      Regarding the name – you say you know nothing about siblings. The naming pattern is related to birth order, with the oldest receiving the first name of the father’s father. Without knowing anything about the siblings, we can only speculate about the source of the name.

      When I have seen Toy as a middle name, it’s generally been associated with the mother’s line and I suspect that James Toy Marsh’s mother was born a Toy.

      1. Elizabeth

        Thank you for the information that you sent me in the email. Unfortunately, these were the only facts that I had for James T. Marsh, Sr and Jr. My brother-in-law did have a DNA analysis which I think can help narrow down this search for the origins. So, Toy is a Irish surname? I did some research after I wrote to you and it looks to me that our James T. Marsh is related to Phelps, Nathaniel.

        In regards to his middle name, I will pass along this information to my Mom-in-law as she is on a quest to find James T. Marsh’s mother and father. I do not have any of his siblings, so I was trying to research his wife’s family as she is an Ostrander from Albany, New York. I know they are a historic family with documentation via the Dutch Reform Church.

        I really appreciate you helping out and thank you for replying to my e-mail.
        Elizabeth Kelly

      2. Elizabeth

        Thank you for helping me out. It seems that the Marsh line for us ends there. But, I am sure with some digging we can figure out who his parents and siblings are.
        I appreciate you getting back to me.
        I have let my mom-in-law know about the naming pattern. I will pass on the information regarding were the Toy name originated. She went to Ireland to research our family name “Kelly” but that is looking for a needle in a haystack. Maybe she can do some digging on the Toy name in Ireland.
        Thank you,


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