Philadelphia - Our First Capital

Philadelphia coat of arms

Philadelphia is rich with history, but even today, most do not know that Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies for a long time.  Many do not know it also acted as the capital of our struggling country during the American Revolution.  How did the city of Philadelphia, certainly not the first settlement in the fledgling country, become “the place to be” during the 1700s?  Williamsburg was a bustling metropolis.  New York City was ideally located.  What made Philadelphia the place for the delegates to gather all those years ago?  In order to understand that, we must go back and look at its history.

William Penn
In 1646, the first church was built on Tinicum Island by the Swedish.  This group came to the area first, although that did not stop King Charles II from giving a land grant to William Penn in 1681. Before the Swedes and the Dutch arrived, the area was inhabited by the Lenape Indians.  The land we know of as Philadelphia and Pennsylvania was actually part of New Netherland when it was settled by the Dutch.  The English did try to establish a settlement in the area in 1642 near the Schuylkill River but the Swedes and Dutch burned their homes, so the settlers evacuated the area.
The Old Courthouse

As stated above, King Charles II of England gave the land grant to William Penn.  Only 50 Europeans were still surviving in the area by 1682.  The land called Pennsylvania by King Charles, was as repayment for William’s father’s loyalty to the Crown during the English Civil War when the Roundheads took over, kicking out King Charles’ father.  William Penn did not want the land named after him, but the king insisted.  When Penn arrived in the New World, he went about purchasing the land from the Lenape.  He was a Quaker and believed in peace.  He felt if he purchased the land from the native tribe, they would not attack the settlers for taking away the land.  This was a historic decision.  No other Englishman purchased the land from the native tribes, just taking what the kings had given them or taking what they wanted and calling it their own.
King Charles II

When William Penn planned the city of Philadelphia, he used a grid pattern because he wanted a uniformity that reminded him of London. He liked having the streets running north and south and east and west. The city itself got the name from “philos” for love/friendship and “adelphos” for brother.  The streets were first named for prominent landowners, but later were named for trees.   The city originally ran from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River (east and west) and from South Street to Vine Street (north and south).  As more and more people settled around the city, it incorporated those areas into the city as well.  William Penn wanted the city wide and with orchards. Obviously if you walk the streets today, there certainly does not appear to be room for orchards.
Congress Hall and New Theater
First Bank
Library and Surgeon's Hall
Corner of Market
Second Street North

State's House

(Pictures from a display at Independence Center in Philadelphia.  I took them while traveling to that great city in 2011.)

By 1701, the city had grown to over 2500 people.  That was quite an explosion in only 20 years!  It wasn’t just English – it was Welsh, Irish, German, Swedes, Finns, Dutch, and African slaves who made up the population.  William Penn’s idea of religious freedom and a home for all.  Of course, at the time, slaves were arriving by ships from Africa, and while later Pennsylvania would abolish slavery, at this time, slavery was allowed.  James Logan became the first mayor in 1701.
Independence Hall

William Penn established a charter to make Philadelphia a city with aldermen, councilmen, and a mayor.  He felt it was important that everyone was represented by the government.  Philadelphia was ideally situated along the Delaware River, making it a perfect port for exporting and importing goods.  This also made it important for settlers.  They could arrive by ship here and then migrate to other areas in the colonies.  The main trade in Philadelphia was with the West Indies.  Sugar cane arrived as part of the Triangular Trading route.  As the surrounding areas of Philadelphia became agricultural, the people began to export grains, lumber, and flax seed.  While many first moved to Philadelphia seeking religious freedom, others arrived in search of opportunity.  After all, as a growing city – think of all the jobs which would need filling or even creating – bakers, cobblers, coopers, blacksmiths, etc.
William White

By 1750, Philadelphia was a major city.  Christ Church was the main place of worship although there were many other churches.  Men of all faiths often gathered at Christ Church to worship (remember the freedom of religion? Well, no one ever said – no you cannot worship here because it’s not your faith.)  The Pennsylvania State House was built here (we know it as Independence Hall).  Soon the streets were paved.  Schools were built as children were born and the families grew.  Even libraries, thanks to Benjamin Franklin, were established in the city.
Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia in 1723 seeking his own fortune.  While he worked for his brother in Boston, he could not publish his writings.  He traveled to Philadelphia and soon had his own printing press and newspaper.  He was responsible for Philadelphia’s first firehouse, first library, first hospital, and many more places!!!  He was quite the forward thinking man!
In 1752 the first hospital opened.  The College of Philadelphia, which later became the University of Pennsylvania was established here.  Even a militia was formed to protect the city as tensions began to rise against the British.  The First AND Second Continental Congresses were both held in Philadelphia.  And of course, we all know that the Declaration of Independence was signed here in 1776.

A few other important Philadelphia men include:
Robert Morris – he began his life in Maryland in 1734.  He was a shipping partner with Thomas Willig.  He helped smuggle supplies to the city during the Revolutionary War.  He owned the President’s House and let George Washington live there.  It was the grandest house in the city after all and was perfect for our first president.

John Bartram – was born in 1699.  He was a botanist.  In 1765 he became the King’s botanist but later was known to discover many plants.  A high school in the city is named after him.  He founded the American Philosophical Society.
Benjamin Franklin – he may not have been born in Philadelphia but he spent most of his life there. Besides discovering the presence of electricity in lightning, he created bifocals, the Franklin stove, and the armonica. He helped write the Declaration of Independence with Thomas Jefferson and three other notable men.
Betsy Ross – she sewed our first flag – the famous flag with thirteen stripes and thirteen stars on a blue field.
Peggy Shippen – she married Benedict Arnold and many believe she convinced Arnold to become a traitor while he was residing in Philadelphia.  Of course, no one knows for certain, but she was a prominent lady during the occupancy of Philadelphia by the British.
Gilbert Stuart – most of you don’t know this – but he is person who painted the picture you see every day of George Washington – his face on the dollar bill.
Bishop White – William White was the head of the Anglican Church in Philadelphia.  He took over when Jacob Duche was recalled to Britain. He became the rector at Christ and St. Peter’s Churches.  His brother –in-law was Robert Morris.  He was the Chaplain of the Continental Congress and then the US Senate.
Samuel Powel was the first colonial mayor of Philadelphia.  He came from a wealthy family and entertained George and Martha Washington.  During the Revolution he was one of the few wealthy families who sided with the colonials.
John Dickinson - was born in 1732.  He was a lawyer and fought during the Revolutionary War. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress.  He signed the Articles of Confederation.  Dickinson College is named after him.

Many more famous Americans passed through Philadelphia while it was becoming a country.  Philadelphia was centrally located at the time of the Revolution and because of its location along the Delaware River, made it easily accessible.

The Original Thirteen Colonies

Our country started as 13 colonies and became one nation.  What do we know about those 13 colonies? One of the things I learned was that some of the original colonies did not start off as English colonies.  This makes a lot of sense when you think about the different countries traveling across the ocean after Christopher Columbus.  Think about it – Columbus discovered America in 1492, but the first English settlement wasn’t until 1607.  What happened between those years?
Let’s take a look at each colony as it was settled.

Virginia was founded in 1607 by the London Company.  The men who came over were seeking wealth, hoping to discover gold as the Spanish were doing in Central and South America. James I supported the London Company’s plans.  The first settlement – Jamestown was named after him, as was the James River, where the settlement was struck out.  Unfortunately, fortune did not smile upon the London Company and they went bankrupt.  In 1624, Virginia became a royal colony.  The House of Burgesses was set up as the first official government body in the New World.

Massachusetts was founded in 1620 by the Puritans, who were separatists.  They were seeking religious freedom.  They were Englishmen and women who left England, living in Holland for a time, because they did not want to belong to the Church of England.  They traveled to the New World on the Mayflower.  When they arrived, they became friends with the Wampanoag tribe.  We all know the story of the First Thanksgiving.  The people who landed here wrote out the Mayflower Compact, which was the first official document to draw up a government.

New Hampshire was founded in 1623 by John Wheelwright.  He was sent over by James Mason, a lord who lived in Hampshire County, England.  He wanted settlers to create a fishing colony in the New World.  They created a settlement at Odiorne’s Point. New Hampshire was actually part of Massachusetts until England gave them a royal charter in 1679.

Maryland was settled in 1634.  Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, who was a member of the Irish House of Lords requested a land charter from King Charles I.  He had originally attempted to create a settlement in Newfoundland but it failed.  Unfortunately, he died before he received the land charter, but it was given to his son, the 2nd Lord Baltimore.  As a Catholic from Ireland, Lord Baltimore had wanted the colony to be a refuge for Roman Catholics.  The charter was actually a proprietorship which means the people have the right to establish a government and hand out land.  Maryland was named after Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria of France.

Connecticut was settled in 1635 by Thomas Hooker, John Winthrop, and other Massachusetts settlers who did not agree with the religious policies in that colony. Three different small settlements joined together to form the colony. Thomas Hooker was seeking profit and more religious freedom.  John Winthrop received permission to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony and formed the Saybrook colony. A New Haven colony was established by John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton.  Together they received a charter from Charles II and created Connecticutt, the Anglican version of an Algonquin word “quinatucquet” which means “upon the long river”.

Rhode Island was settled in 1636 by Roger Williams.  He was banished to England by the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he believed in separation of church and state and wanted freedom of religion for all.  He received a land grant from the Narragansett and Pequot tribes for his colony.  Ann Hutchinson was also banished to the area and created her own small settlement.  Two other small settlements joined with them to create Providence Plantation (an early name of the colony). It later became known as the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Delaware was formed in 1636 by Peter Minuit who established a Swedish trading post.  It was called New Sweden and was actually part of New Netherland.  Charles II gave New Netherland to his brother, the Duke of York at the time.  The Dutch took over after 17 years, but in 1664, the Dutch were conquered by the English under Sir Robert Carr.  New Sweden was renamed Delaware and became part of Pennsylvania until 1703.  The Duke of York leased the land to William Penn to give him access to the waterway.

North Carolina was formed in 1653 by some Virginia farmers who wanted to settle the land south of their colony. The lost colony of Roanoke was in North Carolina, but no sign of the people or the settlement exists.  The Spanish actually settled in the area first but all but one settler were killed by the natives.  A land grant was given to eight nobles for the settlement of the land south of Virginia but north of Florida to keep the Spanish from settling there.  It was first called the Province of Carolina until it was split in 1729.  The farmers who moved there brought with them their slaves and soon had plantations and began increasing their wealth.

South Carolina was formed in 1663 by a royal charter given to the eight nobles mentioned above.  The land was settled by wealthy settlers from Barbados.  The land was called Carolina since it is the Latin name for Charles Land.  In 1719, the settlers seized control of the colony from the proprietors. There was a lot of internal problems between the areas so the crown took over colony and made it into North and South Carolina in 1729.  South Carolina enjoyed the prosperity that came from the Low Country for growing.  Charles Town, named after the king, was the port that helped South Carolina become one of the most prosperous colonies.

New Jersey was founded in 1664 by Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. The land originally was part of New Netherland and belonged to the Duke of York.  First the land belonged to the Dutch, but when the English took control, the Duke of York decided to reward two of his friends who remained loyal to the king during the English Civil War.  The men advertised for settlers interested in religious freedom and representative government.  The Quakers bought the land charter from them.  The land later became called the Province of New Jersey.

New York was founded in 1664 by the Duke of York.  As mentioned above, the land – New Netherland was a large land mass that included New Jersey at first.  The land was actually first discovered by Henry Hudson who entered the Upper New York Bay on September 11, 1609.  There were Dutch trading posts all around the area.  The English captured the territory in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.  The Dutch captured the city of New York in 1673, but the area was given back to the English with the Treaty of Westminster in 1675.  When the Duke of York took control of the land, it was renamed for him – New York.

Pennsylvania was founded in 1682 by William Penn.  The land grant was given to him by King Charles after the English Civil War.  Penn’s father was owed a debt by the king who rewarded his son with the largest land grant given to one person in history.  Penn wanted to found a colony where religious freedom was available to all who arrived.  He was a Quaker and believed in peace.  He signed peace treaties with all the native tribes in the area.  None of those treaties were every violated.

Georgia was founded in 1732 by James Oglethorpe.  King George II gave the land charter to Oglethorpe who named the colony after him.  The colony was to serve two purposes – to provide a place for debtors who could start new and to create a barrier between the Spanish and the other colonies. The king did not want the Spanish moving north and gaining control or threatening his hold of the New World.  In 1742, the Spanish invaded in the War of Jenkins Ear.  The colony could not repay the Crown for its support so it became a royal colony in 1752.  Once it became a royal colony, slaves were brought in to advance the interest of the Crown – planting more tobacco and other crops that were in high demand.