Here to return to
THE BEGINNINGS OF CITY GOVERNMENT
WILLIAM PENN FAR IN ADVANCE OF HIS AGE-WHY THE TREES OFFENDED — A BRUTAL SHIP CAPTAIN-PENNSYLVANIA’S ONLY WITCHCRAFT PROSECUTION — HUMPHREY MORREY, FIRST MAYOR, AND THE BLUE ANCHOR WHARF — “TO PRISON HE MUST GO” — SHEEP RAISING IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE — STUFFING THE BALLOT BOX IN 1705 — “BLACK-BEARD’S” CHARMED LIFE — FORBIDDEN AMUSEMENTS — THE ELECTION RIOT OF 1742 — AN UNWILLING MAYOR-ELECT.
WHEN William Penn planned his colony on the Delaware he had the amazing notion that he wanted his people to be governed in such a way that they would be happy. He had had enough of rulers who cared nothing for the people except as they ministered to the satisfaction and comfort of those in authority. It was his purpose, on the contrary, to do righteously, to show mercy, and to make it evident in all things that government’s sole excuse for existence was to add to the sum of human happiness.
His own bitter experience of persecution and imprisonment because of his religious convictions convinced him that it was time to make a fight for civil liberty, and that it was his duty to take a leading part in the contest.
In 1679, when Charles I called for the election of a new Parliament, Penn prepared and circulated a pamphlet which he called “England’s Great Interest in the Choice of this Parliament.” In this were many declarations that sound like a prophecy of the Declaration of Independence, issued nearly a century later from the city for whose founding he had not then made any preparation. He spoke of three rights of the individual that could not be altered or abrogated:
“The first of these fundamentals is right and title to your house, liberties and estates. In this every man is a sort of little sovereign in himself . . . Only your own transgression of the laws (and those of your own making too) lays you open to loss, which is but the punishment due to offences, and should be in proportion to the fault committed.
“The second fundamental that is your birthright, is legislation. No law can be made or abrogated without you.
“Your third great right and privilege is executive; that is, your share in the application of those laws that you agree to be made.”
Though this apostle of human liberty and of reform in government had been interested for many years in the colonization of New Jersey, he had not had a full opportunity to put into practice these principles. But when, in 1680, he asked Charles I to give to him a tract on the Delaware, in payment of a claim for sixteen thousand pounds, the sum advanced to the crown by Penn’s father, he dreamed of inviting to these lands men and women to whom would be presented the opportunity of tasting the delights of real liberty. He had in mind not only those of the Society of Friends who had shared persecution with him, but also “the good and oppressed of every nation.” For them he wanted “to found an empire where the pure and peaceable principles of Christianity might be carried out in practice.”
His object was absolutely unselfish. It was not even his wish that his name should be connected with the colony. At first he proposed that the name should be New Wales. When this was rejected by those in authority, he proposed Sylvania. But, as he wrote to his friend, Robert Turner, “They added Penn to it; and though I much opposed it, and went to the King to have it struck out and altered, he said it was past, and would take it upon him; nor could twenty guineas move the under secretary to vary the name; for I feared lest it should be looked on as a vanity in me, and not a respect in the King, as it truly was, to my father.”
A few weeks after the granting of the charter for Pennsylvania, Penn wrote to those who were already living within the bounds of the new colony:
“I wish you all happiness . You are now fixed at the mercy of no governor that comes to make his fortune great; you shall be governed by laws of your own making, and live as free, and, if you will, as sober and industrious people. I shall not usurp the right of any, or oppress his person . .. . In short, whatever sober and free men can reasonably desire, for the security and improvement of their own happiness, I shall heartily comply with . . .”
His purpose was even more clearly set forth in a letter written in 1681, in which he said:
“As my understanding and inclination have been much directed to observe and reprove mischiefs in government, so it is now put into my power to settle one. For the matters of liberty and privilege, I propose that which is extraordinary, and to leave myself and successors no power of doing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of an whole country.”
Penn’s remarkable frame of government, which was dated April 25, 1682, was so far in advance of the age that, as Bancroft says, “its essential principles remain to this day without change,” while another competent critic has said that in it was “the germ, if not the development of every valuable improvement in government or legislation, which has been introduced into the political systems of more modern epochs.”
The government was to consist of the governor, a Provincial Council, and a General Assembly. These bodies, which were to make laws, create courts, choose officers, and transact public affairs, were to be elected by the freemen, by ballot. By freemen were meant not only landholders, but “every inhabitant, artificer, or other resident, that pays scot or lot to the government.”
Regulations as to taxes, trials, prisons, and marriage were clearly set forth in a code of laws enacted in England on May 6, 1682. It was also arranged that every child of twelve should be taught some useful trade. Members of the council and assembly, as well as judges, were to be professing Christians. Everyone was to be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and this not as a mere matter of toleration, but because it was an inherent right.
The penalty of death was to be inflicted sparingly; some two hundred offenses which were named as capital by English law were to be punished in a lighter manner. Provision was made for the freeing of “black servants” at the end of fourteen years.
In the attempt to give a human touch to the government of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, Penn may have made mistakes, but he succeeded in laying the foundations of many of the institutions that have helped to bring to the people the happiness he sought for them. One of his biographers calls attention to the fact that for the greatest mistake of all, the attempt to combine in himself feudal sovereignty and democratic leadership, he was not responsible. Yet somehow he managed to make this seem a possible combination, so long as he remained in power. Janney says that his success was due to his “sweetness of temper and weight of character.” During his absence however, and in the days of his successors, there was clashing, dissension, and tumult.
If Penn could have kept his hand on the government for a generation, there would have been a wonderful difference in the results attained, in spite of the fact that he had a most heterogeneous crowd to deal with, who were much more ready to yield to the spirit of the age than to be influenced by a leader’s beneficent vision.
A few kaleidoscopic glimpses of some of the crude first attempts at government, as well as some of the incidents of a later day, are illuminating.
There is little record of Philadelphia’s form of government from 1682 to 1691, but it is known that the Proprietors’ Provincial Court exercised all sorts of powers over the lives and property of the citizens.
Then there are curious records of the Grand Jury, which seems to have had jurisdiction over matters civil as well as criminal, small as well as large. Witness these Presentments of the Grand Jury to the First Court in 1683:
“Wee the Grand Jurie &c Present
“That the Swamp coming into the Blue anchor be forthwith made passible for footmen.
“That Coquenakar Creek att ye Northend of the City of Philadelphia be made also forthwith passable for footmen.
“That the Creek att Tankanney & Cunner Rambos be bridged or Cannowed.
“I Nicholas More present to the grand Inquest all the trees that are amongs the houses in the City that do Imperforat the prospect of the houses.
“Itam the roade betwixt the blew Anker and the Society’s Land which is now for the most part Impassable.”
To the Second Court presentment was made:
“That Stumps in the City Streets be removed.
“That men to pass upon ye grand & petit Inquests are snapt up without a previous Summons, & made to pay for their entertainment to boot.”
During the same year, 1683, a case was tried before the Council sitting as a Court of Admiralty which tells eloquently of the difficulties encountered by those who took passage on the emigrant vessels of the day, and the extent of the captain’s authority. Complaint was made by March and others against Kilmer, Master of the ship Levee of Liverpool that Kilmer had “trod upon” one of the complainants, and that when objection was made the Master beat him and made his mouth bleed. The captain owned that he had done so.
John Fox complained that the Master bid him clean the Deck. “He answered that it was clean already. Whereupon ye Master beat him.” The Captain admitted the truth of this charge also.
Again it was charged that the Captain, noting that a cask of water was leaking, ordered Nicholas Newton to “put a pegg into it, which he did, but still it runn out, whereupon the Mr. struck him several blows.” The Captain owned that he had done these things.
Yet the Governor and Council contented themselves with reprimanding the Captain, “and advised him to go with the Passengers and make up the business wch accordingly he did.”
The first case against counterfeiters was on the docket of the grand jury in 1683. The testimony showed that the defendants had indeed coined money, but that to quote the account by S. W. Pennypacker in “Colonial Pennsylvania Cases,” they had merely tried to supply the colony with a medium of exchange of an intrinsic value at least equal to that of the Spanish coin and the New England shilling. But for this “Heynous and Grevious Crime” Pickering, the coiner, was sentenced to make full satisfaction to all who had received money from him, and to “pay a fine of forty pounds into this court towards ye building of a Court house in the Towne.” To Samuel Buckley, who helped Pickering, the Court said, “Considering thee to have ben more Engenious than he that went before thee, hath thought fitt to fine thee, and doe fine thee ten pounds toward a Public Court house.” Robert ffenton, the third defendant, because he confessed, and because he was acting as a servant, was sentenced to “Sitt an hour in the Stocks.”
Before the days of taxation it was a common thing to apply the fines to certain crying public needs, as was done in the case of the counterfeiters.
During the year 1683 was recorded also Pennsylvania’s sole witchcraft prosecution. On the 27th of 12th month Margaret Mattson appeared before William Penn and the Council to answer to charges made in a true bill found by the Grand Jury. To the charge she pleaded “Not guilty.”
Henry Drystreet testified: “He was tould 20 years ago that the person at the Barr was a Witch & that Several Cows were bewitcht by her. Also that James Saunderling’s mother tould him that she bewitcht her cow, but afterwards said that it was a mistake, and that her Cow would do well againe, for it was not her Cow but another Person’s that should dye.”
After hearing two other witnesses whose testimony was no more convincing, the Jury “brought her in guilty of haveing the Comon fame of a witch, but not guilty in manner and form as She stands indicted.”
In 1693 Elinor Arme was ordered to “stand at the whipping post for a quarter of an hour with a paper upon her breast reciting her wicked and notorious sin.”
At that time the whipping post was at Second and Market streets. Here also were the stocks and the pillory. They remained until October 1, 1726, when they were burned by some of those who were opposed to them. But they were soon rebuilt and were in use for a long time afterward.
Six years before the burning of the pillory it was used for the punishment of three mariners who were tried by Judge William Asheton, of the Court of the Province of Pennsylvania, in November, 1720, on the charge of mutiny. It was proved that the defendants did “barbarously misuse, bind and turn adrift in a small Boat,” the owner of the schooner on which the mariners had shipped, a relative of the owner, and the mate.
The court decided that “it would not amount to piracy, yet it was committed with much excess of cruelty, and was a Fact of so Horrid and black a nature, as would justify the greatest severity which could be us’d upon them. Therefore the sentence was that the men “stand in the Pillory with their Ears Nail’d thereto, in the Market Place, for the Space of two Hours, on the Market Days; and afterwards, on the said days . . . whipped it on their bare backs, and have Twenty One Lashes at Eight several Places of the city,” where the court should direct.
Earlier candidates for punishment at the whipping post were named by the Court of Quarter Sessions on July 4, 1693. The “Constable of Philadelphia or annie other person whatsoever,” was given “power to take up negroes, male or female, whom they should find gadding abroad on the first dayes of the week, without a tickett from their Mr. or Mris., or not in their Company, or to carry them to gaole, there to remain that night, & that without meat or drink, & to cause them to be publickly whipt next morning with 39 lashes well laid on, on their bare back, for which their said Mr. or Mris. should pay 15d to the whipper att his deliverae of ym to their Mr. or Mris.”
A petition was made to the Court by Philip England, who stated that he had been authorized to keep an “Ordinarie and Ferrie att Schuilkill” by the Proprietor, October 16, 1683, and that it was then ordered that he should have the sole right there to transport passengers for “monie or reward.” For this right he paid seven pounds a year. But after he had gone to great expense William Powell had begun to ferry people over the river near him. William Powell was called before Court for contempt, and soon after had pretended to sell his boat “to certain people who doe employ Nathaniell Mullinax to ferrie them over.”
Mullinax, being called, said that most of the people of “Harford & Marion & some of Darbie hired him and that he knew no reason why he might not work for his living as well as others.”
But the Court ordered that he be committed to the common jail till he give sufficient security that “hee shall ferrie no more persons horses or cattle over Skuilkill att Wm. Powell’s for gift or byre or reward directlie or indirectlie and that his boat be forthwith seized and secured by the sheriff.”
Two somewhat similar cases, one in 1685, the other in 1686, throw light on the peculiar custom of service that sometimes was almost slavery. Eleazer Cossett was petitioner in one of these cases. He owned that he was indentured servant of a man named Scot, that he was willing to serve his master anywhere in the province, but that Scot planned to sell him out of the province, into foreign parts (Virginia), and had even taken him on board ship for the purpose, though he had managed to escape. His appeal was that he be allowed to remain in the province, The petition was granted.
Elizabeth Day’s complaint was that she had served her “Mr., Griffith Jones, 4 years according to Indenture,” but that he refused to grant to her the freedom she claimed was hers by right. John Busbie and Jeremias Osborn thereupon deposed “yt about the 3d instant 4 years agone ye petr and ye deponents being shipmates arrived at Upland in ship Amity, — Richard diamond, master.”
But Griffith Jones “alidged yt she was bound for 5 years and yt on shipboard she consented to it.”
Evidently the Court had reason to doubt Jones’ word, for it ordered the petitioner discharged from her Indenture.
Probably Captain Jones felt like expressing his opinion of the Court, but there was known to be an order “against speaking in or Interrupting the said Court without leave first asked and then given by the bench.” That this order was not to be looked on as a dead letter was shown by the Court’s action when Thomas Howard was “for breach of the rule fined by the Court one shilling.” But it is stated that he “saucilie answered Let the Court get it how they can.” The record does not tell what happened!
Not many years after this order was issued, Philadelphia was able to boast a charter and a regular form of government. It was long thought that the city’s first charter was dated in 1701, but in 1887 Colonel Alexander Biddle found among the papers of his grandfather, Colonel Clement Biddle, a charter which bore the date 1691. Humphrey Morrey, who was named mayor in this document, was therefore the first mayor of the city. Morrey came to Philadelphia in 1683, and at once built for himself the “large Timber House, with brick Chimnies,” of which Robert Turner wrote to William Penn, as is related in Chapter II. No one has yet found the papers which tell of his service, though fortunately a document filed more than sixty years later makes the following quotation from the minutes of the Provincial Council of 1691:
“August 3, 1691.
“Present, Thomas Lloyd, Deputy Governor and six Councillors, Humphrey Morrey the present Mayor of the city of Philadelphia, on behalf of the said city, moves the Governor and Council to lay out and regulate the landing-place near the Blue Anchor Wharf, whereupon it was ordered that the said Mayor and the aldermen of Philadelphia have noticed to attend the Governor and Council about the 8th hour in order to view the said landing.”
‘It was in consequence of the petition that quoted this bit from the records of 1691 that the Blue Anchor Wharf was continued free for the use of the public, as described in the preceding chapter.
No one knows how long the original charter remained in force. At the time William Penn was absent in England, and before government under its terms had been in operation one year Governor Fletcher appeared in the Colony and took Penn’s place. Though he suggested that Morrey continue as mayor, that friend of Penn refused to be continued.
In 1694 Morrey was in opposition to the authorities, for he joined with Isaac Norris, Edward Shippen and others in presenting to the Assembly a memorial asking that the grievances of the people be adjusted by putting in office “men of good repute and Christian conversation, without any respect to any profession or persuasion in religion.”
Yet less than two years before this Morrey had ranged himself on the side of intolerance by taking part with those who caused the arrest of John MacComb, tavern keeper, and William Bradford, the first printer in the colony, for daring to print and circulate a paper in which an attack was made on certain leaders and teachings of the Quakers. As a result these men were condemned for “publishing, uttering and spreading a malicious and seditious paper.”
That Morrey’s heart must have failed him in the prosecution is indicated by a curious passage in “News of a Trumpet Sounding in the Wilderness,” printed by Bradford in 1697. Bitterly Bradford spoke “of the fact that MacComb, his co-defendant, when his Wife was in danger of Death by a Flux, and another of his Family Sick also, that dyed a short time after, . . . could not prevail so much as to go home to take leave of his Wife, or set his house in order, tho’ earnestly desired by him, promising to appear at any time they should require him; No, that favour could not be granted, but to Prison he must go, altho Humphrey Money, the Mayor and Chief Magistrate of the place, offered to be bayl for him, at which Sam Jenings raged and bitterly reflected upon him, for that he knew his place no better. And what was all this for? surely some heinous Crime one would think, why, ‘twas nor more nor less than for letting a person have two of the printed Appeals to the yearly Meeting . . . for 2d piece, as they cost him.”
This difficulty was only an incident in Bradford’s stirring relations with the authorities. On “20th 7 mo. 1692,” at a Councill held in “ye Councill Room at Philadelphia,” a message of warning was made ready for the printer of independent views and fearless behavior:
“Wm. Bradford a professed printer here though under severall obligations of fidelity to the Government and severall tymes cautioned not to publish any paper or book which might either reflect on our authority, or contain personal reflections to the promoting of feuds & animositys among the Inhabitants here, yet through his Enmity & officiousness he hath prostrated the use & service of his press to gratify a troublous member of a disaffected Society.”
Next day “the Board intending to caution the printer concerning the Order of yesterday ‘s sitting Did send for Wm. Bradford & his servant. But the Sheriff returned Answer That the Sd Bradford is gone out of Town to stay for a week. And his man is gone to Mr. Salwys plantacon.”
Morrey, who came into conflict with Bradford because of the printer’s failure to heed the warning, ended his days in a pursuit that was in great contrast to his rather belligerent attitude in this case. In 1701 he retired to his country estate and became a breeder of sheep. Evidently he was interested in this pursuit even before his selection as mayor, since it is recorded that in 1690 there was presented to the Commissioner of Property “the Petition of Humphrey Morrey and James Fox for themselves and in behalf of those concerned in a flock of sheep in Philadelphia.” This petition requested “a convenient piece of land somewhere about the town for keeping them.” It was “ordered that about sixty acres be laid out in Square between the Broad Street and so far towards Dellaware as Conveniently may be so that it be near Dock Street and Walnut Street.”
Evidently sheep raising in the public land was a profitable occupation, for in 1693 Morrey’s property was rated at £600, his being the seventh largest estate in the Province.
Although the taxes imposed on property holders at this period were quite small, taxation was as unpopular as it has always been. When the law of 1692, which fixed the rate was passed, a petition of various citizens was sent to the Assembly couched in words as follows:
“The Thing therfor touching which we at present give you the trouble of these Lines, is a certain Bill, promulgated for the Assessing and Leavying One Penny per Pound out of the supposed Value of every Man’s Estate, either Real or Personal, and two Shillings per Head for those not otherwise Rated which Great Tax on it will doubtless Amount to a great Sum of Money, for which we know no present Necessity, neither is there any particularly alledged in the said Bill; so the deep Impression it will make on our Estates is very grievous and very discouraging to us... .
“If it be so heavy and grievous, when there is no Necessity for (as we are sensible of at present) what may we expect will come on us, when there is any Colour or Pretence of a Necessity indeed?”
The charter of the city, dated October 25, 1701, made easier the administration of city affairs, including the levying of taxes and the enforcement of the laws. Some of the local regulations were quite odd. An action of a Grand Jury of 1702 called attention to a number of matters that seem strange to modern citizens:
“Wee the Grand Inquest for the Corporation do present George Robinson, Butcher, for being a person of ievill fame as a Common swarer and a Common Drunker and particularly upon the twenty-third day of this instant for swaring three oaths in the market place and also for uttering two very bad curses the twenty- sixth day of this instant.
“Wee . . . present John Smith of this Citty living in Strabery Alley for being Maskt or Disgised in women’s aparell; walking openly through ye streets of this Citty, and from house to house . . . it being against ye Law of God, ye Law of this province, and ye Law of nature, to ye staining of holy profession, and Incoridging of wickednes in this place.
“We, the Grand Jury for the body of the citty, hawing through Severall Informations, and by our owne knol’dge Seriously Considered these following particulars which are common Nuciences and Aggreuiances to the Inhabitants of this Corporation, which we humbly offer to the Maior and Commonalty of the Citty to redress, as they in their wisdom shall see meete.
“first. we the said Grand Jury doe present to your consideration the great abuse the Inhabitants of this city doe receive by the great liberty of Mens sons and servants taking lecentious liberty in robbing of orchards and committing many unruly Actions especially on the first day of the week, Commonly Called the lord’s Day.
“2ndly. The great abuse and the Ill Consiquence of the great multitudes of Negroes who Commonly meete togeither in a Riott and Tumultious manner on the first days of the week above said.
“3dly. We also present to your consideration the great damage the Inhabitants of the Citty Do Dayly sustaine by the great loss of their sheepe and other Dammage by Reason of the Unnecessary Multitude of Doggs that are needlessly kept in the Citty which we humbly desire you will Speedily Redress.
“4thly. We Desire that some speedy care may be taken of the prevention of hay and Reed stacks being placed in close yards and in fences among the Throngs of Buildings which may, if not prevented, prove very detrimental to the Citty by Reason of the Causilty of fire.
“5thly. we also present to your consideration, the great Anoyance that Inhabitants of this Citty doe Dayly Receive by Reason of butchers killing their meat in the street, and Throughing the blood, Dung and Gargdish in the streets, which is very hurtful to the health of the said Inhabitants.
“Also to prevent Negroes from working on the first day of the week.”
The Grand Jury of 1703 also had its grist of strange presentments.
“We, of ye Grand Jury for this Citty, Do present Alex. Sander paxton and his wife, for Letting a house to John Lovet, he being a stranger, and have not Given security for the In Damnifieing of the Corporation.
“We doe also present John Furnis and Thomas McCarty, and Thomas Anderson and henery Flower, barbers, for Trimming people on first Days of the week, commonly called Sunday, contrary to the law in that case made and provided.
“We present John Joyce, Jr., for haveing of to wifes at once, which is boath against ye Law of God and Man.”
In 1714 the Grand Jury called attention to the fact that Peter Evans had sent to Francis Phillips a “certain callenge in writing”:
“Sir You have basely slandered a Gentlewoman that I have a profound respect for, And for my part shall give you a fair opportunity to defend your self to-morrow Morning, on the west side of Jos. Carpenters Garden, between seven and 8, where I shall expect to meet you Gladio cinctus, in failure whereof depend upon the Usage you deserve.”
This document was laid before the Jury, and a strange verdict was given:
“If, upon the whole, the Court do Judge the words contained in the said letter to be a challenge, Then we do find the said Peter Evans guilty. But if the Court do Judge the words contained in the said letter are no challenge. Then we do find the sd Peter Evans not guilty.”
Evidently Francis Phillips did not like the attitude of city officials in the matter, or in some other matter, for the records show that soon afterwards he was indicted for attempting to “deprive, annihilate and contemn” the Mayor and Recorder by uttering “those English words following openly and publicly: ‘Tell the Mayor and Robert Assheton, that they are no better than Rogues, Villains and scoundrels; for they have not done me justice, and might as well have sent a man to pick my pockett or rob my house, as to have taken away my serv’t.”
By 1717 the Grand Jury, out of patience with such scurrilous language, proposed a remedy:
“Whereas it has been frequently and often presented by several former Grand Jurys for the City, The Necessity of a Ducking Stool and house of Correction, for the just punishment of scolding, Drunken women, as well as Divers other profligate and Unruly persons in this place . . . we . . . Do Earnestly again present the same . . . That those publick Conveniances may not be longer Delay’d . . .”
The new city was not allowed to wait long for the appearance of the ballot stuffier who operated in a truly modern way. The date, 1705, and the form of the report of the heinous proceeding are archaic, but the thing described does not seem so very ancient. The record is taken from a petition presented to the Provincial Council by Peter Evans, who was the candidate of the Country party at the election in question: “Having spent the whole day in the Election of Representatives, The Sherriff would and did adjourn till ye next morning, web not being condescended to, the Election of Sherriffe came on and upon a view a Candidate was Chosen . . . and the two were put up, one whereof was undoubtedly elected and so generally cryd out, Whereupon the Country party (among whom lay the interests of the last Elected), it being very late, withdrew for their severall habitations. After which the Towns party began to be eager for the Box, knowing that then they were able to carry on their Clandestine Designs (The Sheriffe having long before withdrawn), and accordingly amongst themselves they hatched it; permitting Servts and all that went for their Cause to have their Vote, and objecting against and denying others yt had Competent Estates to have any; beside, the Method of Electing was contrary to the positive Agreemt had, and the Practices used in such cases before on that day of . . . nominating only one at a time.”
A more serious problem confronted the City Fathers within a few years. In 1708 there was anxiety in Philadelphia because of the activity along the North Atlantic coast of privateers and pirates. It was a favorite practice of the freebooters of the sea to lurk without the Delaware Capes and pounce on ships from Philadelphia as they entered the open ocean. Governor John Evans appealed to Lord Cornbury to supply a man-of-war to be stationed at Philadelphia, but without success.
A French privateer attempted, in 1709, to land a force at Lewes, Delaware. The Governor of the state, who was there at the time, fearing that unwary captains would sail their vessels into the lion’s jaws, sent a messenger up the river in a boat, pulled by four sturdy rowers. They were instructed to warn every vessel they met and not to pause until they reached Philadelphia. To-day such a long pull at the oars, at high speed, would cause comment, but in those heroic days the journey was lookd on as a matter of course.
Four years later there was news that supplied the text for many excited conversations in the taverns, on the streets, and in the houses. Eight seamen arrived with a strange story. They said that while they were on the way to Jamaica, their captain died. Soon after they fell in with another sloop, whose commander persuaded them to mutiny. In one of the sloops the combined company started on a career of piracy. After capturing a ship the eight men deserted and hurried to Philadelphia. There they gave themselves up, but after hearing their story the Council not only commended them for their course in yielding themselves, but released them from custody. There was a law against piracy, but it was felt that in this case justice should be tempered with mercy.
The famous John Teach, or Blackbeard, as he was popularly known, was in or near Philadelphia at about this time. With bated breath the men on the water front told tales of his prowess, only to turn pale when they realized, perhaps, that they had been speaking to the dreaded man himself. He managed to appear and disappear in the most uncanny fashion. He seemed to bear a charmed life. No one knew when he would be on land again after one of his cruises, and no one could tell when disaster might come to the city’s shipping through him. There was therefore great relief when finally he was captured and punished.
The readers of The American Weekly Mercury of March 17, 1720, were treated to a startling story of piracy which Andrew Bradford served up for them:
“The beginning of last Month Arrived in the Capes of Virginia, Capt. Knot in a Ship of 150 Tons and 12 Men from London, the said Capt. within 200 Leagues of the Capes, was taken by a Pyrate Ship that was lately come from the Coast of Guiney, but last from Brasil, man’d with 148 bold Fellows; they took from Knot some provision, but restored him the Ship and Cargo. The Capt, of the Pyrates Obliged Knot to take 8 of his Men on board his Ship, and made him give an Obligation under his Hand, that he shiped them on Passengers from London, to Virginia. The Pyrates Captain gave those Men a Boat, which Boat, Capt. Knot was Obliged to let any of them have, when they requested, to go from his ship. The pyrates also put two Portuguese Prisoners on Board which they had taken on the Coast of Brasil, to be set on Shore in Virginia. When Knot arrived within the Capes, the wind turning Westerly, he came to an Anchor, upon which 4 of the Pyrates came to him and required him to hoist their boat out.”
The men rowed up the Bay and into “Black River.” Then they sought a Tavern, “where they might ease themselves of their Golden Luggage.”
At the tavern they spent money lavishly, one purchasing the freedom of a number of indentured English women servants. The price paid was £30. Later their extravagance brought them under observation, and they were “committed on Suspicion” of being pirates “to the County Gaol.”
The other four pirates landed at Hampton on James River, where they too, came under suspicion, and were arrested.
The Portuguese captives later told their story to a ship captain who understood the language. He immediately took them to the Governor. On their information the eight men were arrested, but at the trial they insisted that they had been taken from the coast of Guinea and had been forced to become pirates. The Portuguese testified that “they appeared as forward in Action and were as busy in Plundering as any of the Crew.”
The eight men were thereupon sentenced to death. Six were executed, but two were reprieved. “They died as they lived,” the account went on, “nor shewing any Sign of Repentance; their Bodies were afterwards hanged in Chains. They brought on shore with them in Spanish Gold and Gold Dust upward of 1500 Pounds sterling. Seven of the Pirates were English Men, the other a Mulatto.”
The danger from pirates was at its height in 1722. One day in July of that year it was reported that the only vessel that had entered the port of Philadelphia for a whole week was a sloop that had been plundered by a pirate on the outward voyage. All other vessels sought safety either by remaining in the port or by scurrying away from the Cape, near which lay a pirate vessel.
The vessel owners and captains soon became so wary that the pirates would adopt the ruse of entering the Capes, flying the English flag. A pilot boat would then be signalled and later captured. Pirates would then board the pilot boat and, when inbound vessels would signal for assistance in entering the river, their capture became easy.
Later Philadelphia took a hand herself in the privateering game. A number of vessels were fitted out and sent to sea to prey on the commerce of the enemies of England. The Pennsylvania Gazette of January 21, 1746, contained an appeal to those who were ready to help in one of these ventures:
“Now fitting out for a Cruizing Voyage against his Majesty’s Enemies and will Sail in Two Weeks, the Ship Pandour, William Dowell, Commander; Burthen about 300 Tons; to carry 24 Carriage Guns, nine and six pounderss 24 Swivels, and 30 Brass Blundersbusses, with 150 Men, is a new Ship, built for a Privateer, and every way completely fitted out for that purpose.
“All Gentlemen Sailors, and others, inclin’d to enter on board . . . may repair to the Commander aforesaid, or to the Sign of the Boatswain and Call, near the Draw-Bridge, Philadelphia, [originally the Blue Anchor] where the Articles are to be seen and sign’d by those who are willing to go the Cruize.”
In 1748 a Spanish brigantine managed to enter the Capes by the use of the pilot boat ruse. A sailor of one of the captured vessels, learning of the plan to take New Castle that night, swam ashore and gave warning. The town was saved, but several sloops were captured at Reedy Island.
Word was taken to Philadelphia of the coming of the terrible enemy, and the inhabitants decided that they could not escape pillage. To be sure, they had the sloop-of-war Otter, which had been sent for their defence in just such emergencies. But the Otter was undergoing repairs. The batteries were taken from the sloop and planted near what is now Lombard Street, below Old Swedes Church. Fortunately the enemy took warning, and the city heaved a sigh of relief.
But Philadelphia lawmakers had to contend with predatory gentry nearer home. The days when a man could safely go to bed leaving valuable property on the porch where he had been spending the evening were long since past. Burglaries were common, and sneak thieves were everywhere. One day in January, 1767, Neddy Burd, a student at the college in Philadelphia, wrote to his family in Lancaster:
“There is a nest of Robbers here which make People More careful about their Houses. Two Fellowes Hagarty & Morrison at Noon Day went into the Street Door of the Gov’rs House & stole two Silver Candlesticks out of the Pantry at the other End of the House they were happily detected & have received their punishment. The same Morrison went into a Tavern- keeper’s House (before the other thefts) & bore off a Man’s great Coat from the Back of his Chair while He warmed himself at the Fire, but was not catched. The same two Fellows & Consiglio & Bowman went into a Tavernkeeper’s House & Carried off a Mahogany Chest full of Player’s cloathes from a Room up two Pair of Stairs while the Family were at Supper.”
In the Pennsylvania Gazette of
October 31, 1765, a householder whose premises had been violated, advertised:
“Three Pounds Reward.
“Whereas in the Night, between Sunday and Monday last, the 27th and 28th instant, the House of Robert Moore, Cabinet Maker, was broken open, by cutting a Pannel out of the Kitchen Door, whereby they came at the Bolt, but this Noise awakening one of the Family, who perceiving a Man in the Room, cried out, when he immediately ran down Stairs, out of Doors, and over the Yard Fence. Then were more men heard below Stairs, who, as it appeared, were attempting to force open a Desk, but had not Time enough, they carried off a lightish coloured superfine Cloth coat, about half worn, with white Lining, a fine Beaver Hat, little the worse for Wear, Maker’s Name John Test, Philadelphia, two new Womens Shifts, and a white Apron. The Man that was seen had on a Sailor’s Jacket and Trowsers. Whoever will give Information of the above Things, with the Thief or Thieves, so that he or they may be convicted, and the Things, recovered, shall receive from the subscriber, Three Pounds Reward.
Elizabeth Drinker told in her diary for 1781 of the operation of another sneak thief:
“On ye second day of ye yearly meeting as Sally and Mary were about dressing, they missed 6 silk gowns, all nearly as good as new, which had been taken out of a Drawer in ye blue Room, by whom we could give no guess, but before night Wm Rush, who is a Magistrate, informed us, that six such gowns as we described were at Benj’n Paschalls, who is also a Magistrate, they were found on first day morning, thrown over a fence, and taken to Paschall’s by the Constables, who had taken up a woman, who had got privately out of Jail on seventh day afternoon, where she had been confined many months. She had not been above three hours at liberty, before she was taken up and sent back for her old misdemeanor.”
Among breaches of the law at this period were reckoned bull-baiting, bear-baiting, cock-fighting, bowls, billiards and quoits. Stage plays also were prohibited. Keith, in “Chronicles of Pennsylvania”, tells of a wandering showman who arrived in Philadelphia and set up a stage just below South Street. As this was outside the jurisdiction of the city, the Lieutenant Governor was asked to put a stop to the scandalous performance. The request was refused, and the play was produced for sometime, to the distress of the staid Quakers of the city. For many years the Quakers were supreme in city political affairs. Most of the early officeholders were Friends. One of the most prominent of the Quaker mayors was William Hudson, whose political career began soon after his marriage to the daughter of one who was a leader in city and Provincial life. His service as Mayor for the years 1725-26 was remarkable for his efforts to alleviate suffering. Thomas Allen Glenn gives a pleasing description of him:
“He was one of the first Philadelphians to work for prison reform. He made almost daily visits to the prison, endeavoring to lessen the sufferings of the wretched inmates, and create in them an ambition towards a future useful life. He delighted in hospital work and in visiting the sick poor . . . In his dress he was rather inclined to be as fashionable as a consistent Quaker could well be. He was usually clad in a black velvet suit with large silver buttons, and silver shoe-buckles, and carried a long gilt-headed cane, with a leather loop and tassel. He appeared in public, except when he went to Meeting on First Days, in a fine Coach which was valued after his death — although then ancient — at £14, being a rare luxury at that time. He was a stout and successful defender of the rights of Quakers to remain with heads covered in the courts of justice, and while on the bench kept his own fashionable beaver firmly upon his head.”
The peaceful William Hudson, during whose term everything seemed to go smoothly, would have held up his hands in horror at conditions which led to riot the year of his death, 1742. The letter of a friend to William Penn tells the sad story of what was the first grave election disorder in the city’s history:
“The law for Chusing Inspectors by the Constables in the different Wards being elaps’d, and the Partys Not agreeing amongst themselves, tho that of the Governours made some fair Offers to the other, the Inspectors were to be chosen the old way, of that by view, on the day of Election a great number of Dutch appear’d for the Quakers, said not to be properly qualified they carried all the Inspectors to a man, upon this a number of Sailors in all I believe sixty came up to the Markett Street with clubs in their hands knock’d down all that stood in their way or did not fly before them and blood flew plentifully about. Mr Norris as a Magistrate went to make peace, and he was knock’d down had two severe Wounds on his head & had he not crept under the stalls I believe he would have been kill’d; old Mr Pemberton had several smart blows that lamed his hand for some time. Tom Lloyd, young Fishbourne, Rakestraw, Shad the barber and one Evans of North Wales an old Quaker of upwards of 60 years were all knock’d down and the last has lost his Senses as I am informed by the wounds he rec’d on his head, and number of other persons to me unknown shared the same Fate, I never saw such havock in my life before the Streets & Court house stairs were clear’d in a few Minutes, and none but the Sailors crying out down with the plain Coats & broad Brims then they took up great Stones & Bricks from the Lott you sold by the Meeting where the people had begun to bild and broke the Court house Windows all to pieces and those that were in the house got several Smart blows, at last the Dutch and other Country people being inraged return’d in a Body with Clubbs, and the Dutch were for getting guns but were prevented drove the Sailors before them they took to the Shipping and with the assistance of Mr Lawrence who was very active and Charles Willing they took 40 of them and sent ‘em to Gaol.”
Five years after this riot, stirred up in the interest of some one who wanted an office, the chief office in the city’s gift went begging. On October 6, 1747, Alderman Morris was chosen mayor by the Common Council. He was not present, so a committee made up of Charles Willing and Samuel Rhoads was appointed to tell him of his election. The committee reported that, when they went to Mr. Morris’s house they were told by his daughter that he was not in the city. Thereupon the Council adjourned until afternoon, when they would decide what it was best to do. At the afternoon meeting “the Recorder informed the Board that he had consulted the Attorney General, and it was His opinion that a written notice should be sent to Alderman Morris’s House, signifying he was so elected as aforesaid; and likewise that a Messenger should be dispatched into the Country where it was said he was gone, with a like notice, and endeavour to procure his assurance whether he would serve in the office or not.”
A notice was therefore sent to Mrs. Morris, but she refused to receive it. The bearer of the second notice reported that he had not succeeded in finding the truant Mayor-elect.
So the Council proceeded to make a second choice, and William Atwood was elected Mayor for the next year.
Possibly the fact that the mayor was expected to serve without salary made Alderman Morris choose to pay a fine rather than serve in an office that took time and brought nothing but expense.
That year the salary of the mayor was fixed at £100. In 1796 this was raised to $1000, and in 1805 to $2000.