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Romance of Old Philadelphia

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THE story of Philadelphia during the last decade and a half of the eighteenth century is bound up with the story of George Washington. In 1783 he said farewell to the city with which he had been so closely associated during much of the period of the Revolutionary War, and he thought it was a final farewell. On December 15, the day of the General’s departure for his home at Mt. Vernon, Jacob Hiltzheimer wrote in his diary:

“I sincerely congratulate him on the noble resolution he has made, not to accept public office hereafter, but to pass the remainder of his days in private. This is undoubtedly the surest way to preserve the honors he so justly acquired during the late war,”

For a brief period Washington was permitted to remain on his estate. During this time Congress was in session first at Annapolis, Maryland, then at Trenton, New Jersey, then at New York City. Pennsylvania’s executive authority was still in the Supreme Executive Council of which Benjamin Franklin was president from 1785 to 1787. But both Franklin and Washington were required in 1787 for the sessions of the convention called to form a constitution for the United States, which was to replace the loosely drawn Articles of Confederation in force since 1781. On September 13 of that year Washington reached Gray’s Ferry in his chaise. There he was met by a Troop of the City Light Horse and a large crowd of people, who led him into the city. At once he sought quarters in the boarding house kept by Mrs. Mary House at Fifth and Market Streets, but he was not permitted to remain there more than a few minutes, for Mr. and Mrs. Robert Morris called and insisted on his going to their house on High Street, east of Sixth Street. From here, during more than four months, he made almost daily journeys to the State House, where he sought “the consolidation of our Union.”

To the arduous political labors of that long summer he was obliged to add about one hundred and twenty social engagements. Almost every day he went out to dinner or tea, or both. Twice during the summer he had the relief of going fishing, once near Valley Forge and once at Trenton. The brief records of his journeys to the homes of friends who were proud to honor him are contained in a small memorandum book of seventy-eight pages. of which thirty-five are devoted to the months in Philadelphia.1

Twelve days passed before there was a quorum of the delegates. Then, on motion of Robert Morris, Washington was made president of the body. Franklin was a regular attendant. “I attended the Business of it five Hours every Day from the Beginning,” he wrote to his sister.

(A study sketch by Rossiter, in Independence Hall)

During the weeks of that summer there was great interest on the part of Philadelphia in the momentous work going on in the State House, and there was great rejoicing on September 17 when the body completed its labors, labors of which Samuel W. Pennypacker said, in his Washington’s Birthday address in 1902:

“From that box, drawn, as it were, by unwitting fishermen out of the sea of uncertainties and perplexities, came forth a génie whose stride is from ocean to ocean; whose locks, shaken upon one side by Eurus, on the other by Zephyr, darken the skies; and whose voice is heard in far Cathay and beyond Ultima Thule.”

The completion of the constitution and its adoption by ten of the United States was celebrated on July 4, 1788, by what The American Museum called “a great federal procession.” And it was a great affair, far surpassing in extent and magnificence anything of the kind the city had known.

The dawn of the day was greeted by “a full peal from Christ Church steeple, and a discharge of cannon from the ship Rising Sun, which was anchored off Market Street.” “Ten vessels, in honor of the ten states of the Union, were dressed and arranged thro’ the whole length of the harbor,” the contemporary account continued. Each ship flew at the masthead a white flag on which was emblazoned the name of the state represented by that ship.

But the great procession was the event of the day. This was made up of eighty-eight distinct parts or floats. First came twelve axe-men dressed in white frocks, with black girdles, Then there were, at intervals, companies of the City Troop, horsemen who bore banners with the dates of the original Independence Day, of the coming of the French allies, of the definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain, and of the completion of the Constitution. Richard Bache, on horseback, attended by a herald, proclaimed the new era. The Constitution was represented by Chief Justice McKean, and his associates, in their robes of office, who rode in a car in the form of an eagle, drawn by six horses. The citizens represented the ratifying states. Other United States and city officers followed. A citizen and an Indian chief were seated in a carriage, smoking the calumet of peace together. The new federal edifice was represented by a float drawn by ten white horses, on which was a structure supported by thirteen Corinthian columns, the frieze being decorated with thirteen stars; ten of the columns were complete, while three were imperfect. The Federal ship Union, mounting twenty guns, thirty-three feet long, was built up from the barge which formerly belonged to Serapis the ship which was defeated by the Bon Homme Richard under Captain John Paul Jones. Foreign diplomats and representatives of the trades and professions completed the spectacular pageant.

Immediately after the close of the Constitutional Convention which this pageant celebrated, Washington left Philadelphia for the South, again hoping to enjoy the freedom of the life on his lands on the banks of the Potomac. But the country called him to be the first President under the Constitution which he had helped to formulate, and so, early in 1780, he passed once again through the city by the Delaware. His friends there were reluctant to see him go to New York, which was to be the capital for a year; Robert Morris and Benjamin Franklin, John Penn and General Mifflin, Benjamin Chew and John Ross, Thomas Willing and William Brigham, and scores of others were eager to renew the round of dinners that had made the convention months such a notable time in the city’s social history.

Less than three months later Mrs. Washington, or Lady Washington, as many persisted in calling her, followed her husband to New York. On Friday, May 22, the two troops of Light Horse, accompanied by the Governor of the State, the Speaker of the Assembly, and many others went to a point near Darby to meet her. Mrs. Robert Morris with a company of ladies in carriages joined the escort there. When Mrs. Washington arrived all went to Gray’s Garden for luncheon. In the party were Governor Thomas Mifflin, Judge Richard Peters, Temple Franklin, Benjamin Chew, Jr., Robert Morris, Jr., William Morris, Richard Bache, John Ross, Robert Hare, George Harrison, Samuel Meredith, Captain Miles, thirty-nine “gentlemen troopers,” a number of Continental officers, as well as twenty ladies. The bill of expenses for the luncheon shows that that company consumed ten bottles of Madeira wine, one bottle of champagne, two bottles of claret, forty-five bowls of punch, ten bottles of American porter, one bottle of ale, and two bottles of crab cider.

When the company reached High Street, Mrs. Washington was greeted by the ringing of bells, the discharge of thirteen guns, and the shouts of great crowds of people.

Mrs. Washington remained in Philadelphia over Sunday. Then, accompanied by Mrs. Morris, she proceeded to New York. There, on May 29, at the opening levee, Mrs. Morris occupied first place on the right of the hostess. This position of honor was accorded her whenever she was present at a similar function, either in New York or Philadelphia.

There was joy in Philadelphia when it was learned that the capital was to be removed for a season from New York to the city where the Constitution was born. Eagerly preparations were made for the accommodation of Congress and other bodies. The building at the southeast corner of Sixth and Chestnut Streets was devoted to the use of Congress, and ever since has been known as Congress Hall. The Supreme Court met in a building at Fifth and Chestnut Streets.

Vice President Adams sought quarters at Bush Hill. Mrs. Adams, on November 21, 1790, wrote a letter which gave a delightful picture of conditions as she found them:

“Bush Hill, as it is called, though by the way there remains neither bush nor shrub upon it, and very few trees, except the pine grown behind it, yet Bush Hill is a very interesting place . . . The house is better furnished within, but when you come to compare the conveniences for storeroom, kitchen closets, etc., there is nothing like it in the whole house . . . When we arrived in the city we proceeded to the house. By accident, the vessel with our furniture had arrived the day before, and Brieslin was taking in the first load into a house all green-painted, the workmen there with their brushes in hand. There was cold comfort in a house, where I suppose no fire had been kindled for several years, except in a back kitchen; but, as I expected many things of this kind, I was not disappointed nor discomfited. As no wood nor fodder had been provided beforehand, we could only turn about and go to the City Tavern for the night.

“The next morning was pleasant, and I ventured to come up and take possession; but what confusion! Boxes, barrels, chairs, tables, trunks, etc.; everything to be arranged, and few hands to accomplish it, for Brieslin was obliged to be at the vessel. The first object was to get fire; the next to get up beds; but the cold, damp rooms, the new paint, etc., proved almost too much for me. On Friday we arrived here, and late on Saturday evening we got our furniture in . . . Every day, the stormy ones excepted, from eleven until three, the house is filled with ladies and gentlemen. As all this is no more nor worse than I expected, I bear it without repining . . .

“I have not yet began to return visits, as the ladies expect to find me at home, and I have not been in a state of health to do it; nor am I yet in a very eligible state to receive their visits. I, however, endeavoured to have one room decent to receive them, which, with my own chamber, is as much as I can boast of at present being in tolerable order . . . Mrs. Lear was in to see me yesterday and assures me that I am much better off than Mrs. Washington will be when she arrives, for that their house is not likely to be completed this year. And, when all is done, it will not be Broadway. If New York wanted any revenge for the removal, the citizens might be glutted if they would come here, where every article has become almost double in price, and where it is not possible for Congress, and its appendages, to be half so well accommodate for a long time.”

Soon President and Mrs. Washington began to get settled in the home of Robert Morris, which had been occupied by General Howe while the commander of the Colonial forces was at Valley Forge. Mr. Morris, who had been instrumental in having the seat of government removed from New York to Philadelphia, at once offered his house for the use of the President, and Washington gratefully accepted this further evidence of the devotion of one of his closest friends. Mr. and Mrs. Morris moved to the house which had been confiscated from Joseph Galloway during the Revolution. This had been bought from the Supreme Executive Council since it adjoined the other residence.

The mansion occupied by the President has been described by Charles Henry Hart thus:

“It was built of brick, three stories high, and the main building was fifty-five feet six inches wide by fifty-two feet deep, and the kitchen and wash house were twenty-feet wide by fifty-five deep, while the stables would accommodate the twelve horses. The front of the house had four windows on the second and third floors, two on either side of the main hall, and on the first floor three windows and a single door approached by three heavy grey stone steps. On each side of the house were vacant lots used as a garden and containing shrubbery.”

This property Mr. Morris bought in August, 1785. At once he rebuilt the house, which had been destroyed by fire in 1780. To it he removed in 1786 from the residence he had long occupied on Front Street, below Dock.

In preparation for his removal to his friends’ house, Washington wrote to his secretary, Tobias Lear:

“The house of Mr. Robert Morris had, previous to my arrival, been taken by the corporation for my residence. It is the best they could get. It is, I believe, the best single house in the city. Yet without addition it is inadequate to the commodious accommodation of my family.”

In another letter he spoke of some household arrangements in a way that showed his intimate knowledge of these things:

“Mr. and Mrs. Morris have insisted upon leaving the two large looking-glasses which are in their best rooms, because they have no place, they say, proper to remove them to, and because they are unwilling to hazzard taking them down. You will therefore let them have, instead, the choice of mine . . . Mrs. Morris has a mangle (I think it is called) for ironing clothes, which, as it is fixed in the place where it is commonly used, she proposes to leave and take mine. To this I have no objection, provided mine is equally good and convenient; but if I should obtain any advantage beside that of being up and ready for use, I am not inclined to receive it . . . Mrs. Morris, who is a notable lady in family arrangement, can give you much information on all the conveniences about the house and buildings, and I dare say would rather consider it as a compliment to be consulted in those matters . . . than a trouble to give her opinion of them.”

It was November 27, 1790, when the President and Mrs. Washington reached the city. At the first levee given Mr. and Mrs. Morris were, as usual, honored guests.

During the President’s residence in Philadelphia his household accounts were carefully kept in the handwriting of his secretary. These accounts, which are now in the possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, furnish a commentary of unusual interest on the home life of the first man in the nation. A few items selected at random may be quoted. It will be noted that sometimes dollars and cents were used, while sometimes the more familiar pounds, shilling, and pence were employed, the shilling being then about thirteen cents in United States money:

Fred Kitt, deliv’d him to pay his weekly accounts                                     $123.35
12 lb. hair powder for Mrs. W—n                                                                   16/
Paid a man for mowing the Garden                                                                 7/6
Gave G. W. Custis to buy a Greek Grammar                                                  .37
8 yds. Chintz and 11/4 yds. Linen                                                                     4.84
Whitewashing the house                                                                               33.33
James Green, for five weeks services                                                        15.00
Polly Glenn, a mos. wages                                                                              5.00
C. McKay, 2 weeks working for Mrs. Wn,                                                  2.98
F. Kitt, and wife, wages                                                                                 50.00
Cask of lamp oil                                                                                            54.93
Castor oil for Oney                                                                                           .50
One year’s rent of house                                                                         1333.33
30 cords of wood, cordage, etc                                                                 321.71
Hauling wood 2                                                                                              20
Gave a man who had a very sagacious dog, for the family to see his
             performance                                                                                     $3.00

2 phials best ink                                                                                                  .50
Hats furnished the President’s Household                                                   31.84
Postage of a letter to printers at Winchester, (Virginia)                                   .27
Paid for President to see Elephant                                                                  1.75

Mrs. Washington was a careful housekeeper. She always kept her hand on the helm. On occasion she could do everything necessary to make a comfortable home. She was a good cook, and one of her treasured possessions was a “Book of Cookery,” in manuscript, which contained more than five hundred and fifty recipes, carefully indexed. While most of these were in the handwriting of the great grandmother of Eleanor Parke Custis, to whom the book descended, Mrs. Washington’s notes are scattered through the pages. From the manuscript, now in the Historical Library of Pennsylvania, a sample recipe is copied:


“Take 2 Chicken, or a hare, kill & flaw them hot, take out theyr intrills & wipe them within, Cut them in pieces and break theyr bones with a pestle, yn put half a pound of butter into ye frying pan, & fry it till it be browne, yn put in ye chickin & give it a walme or tow, yn put in half a pint of faire water well seasoned with pepper and salt & a little[?] put in a handful of parsley, & time, & an onion, shred all small fry all these together till they be enough, & when it is ready to be dished up put into ye pan ye youlks of 5 or 6 eggs, well beaten and mixed wth a little wine vinegar or joice of Leamons, stir them well together least it curdle yn dish it up without any more frying.”

Other recipes told how “To dress a dish of Mush-rumps,” “To mak a lettis tart,” “To mak an Hartichoak Pie,” “To mak a Cold Posset or Sullibub.”

The home of the President and Mrs. Washington became noted for generous hospitality. One of the guests who was welcomed there, Henry Wansey, an English manufacturer, wrote of his experience on June 6, 1794, when, after presenting a letter of introduction to the President, he was invited to take breakfast with the family:

“I was struck with awe and admiration, when I recollected that I was now in the presence of one of the greatest men upon earth, the great Washington, the noble and wise benefactor of the world! As Mirabeau styles him; — the advocate of human nature — the friend of both worlds. Whether we view him as a general in the field, vested with unlimited authority and power, at the head of a victorious army; or in the Cabinet, as the President of the United States; or as a private gentleman, cultivating his own farm; he is still the same great man, anxious only to discharge with propriety the duties of his relative situation. His conduct has always been so uniformly manly, honorable, just, patriotic, and disinterested, that his greatest enemies cannot fix on any one trait of his character that can deserve the least censure. . . .

“Mrs. Washington herself made tea and coffee for us. On the table were two small plates of sliced tongue, dry toast, bread and butter, &c. but no broiled fish, as is the general custom. Miss Custis, her grand-daughter, a very pleasing young lady, of about sixteen, sat next to her, and her brother George Washington Custis, about two years older than herself. There was but little appearance of form; one servant only attended, who had no livery; a silver urn for hot water, was the only article of expense on the table.”

The young people of the President’s household, as well as their elders, were fond of going to the theatre. There are many entries in the household account book telling of the purchase of tickets, while more than once there appears the charge for a “box at the New Theatre.”

(From the engraving by Birch) 
(From the engraving by Birch)

A letter written by Ezekiel Forman to Dr. John Rockhill on March 25, 1793, told of this play house, which was opened on Monday evening, the 17th of February, “with one of the most brilliant and numerous audiences I ever beheld on a similar occasion — the stated days or rather evenings of performance are Monday, Wednesday & Friday Nights in every week and sometimes occasionally Saturday evenings — the doors open at five — the curtain draws up at six, exhibition is commonly finished at twelve O’clock.”

Henry Wansey gave a fuller description of the theater and of the people who went there:

“It is an elegant and convenient theatre, as large as that of Covent Garden, and, to judge from the dress and appearance of the company around me, and the actors and scenery, I should have thought I had still been in England. The ladies wore the small bonnets of the same fashion as those I saw when I left England, some of chequered straw, &c., some with their hair full dressed, without caps, as with us, and very few in the French style. The younger ladies with their hair flowing in ringlets on their shoulders. The gentlemen with round hats, their coats with high collars, and cut quite in the English fasshion, and many in silk striped coats. The scenery of the stage excellent, particularly a view on the Skuylkill, about two miles from the city. The motto over the stage is novel: — ‘The Eagle suffers little birds to sing.’ Thereby hangs a tale. When it was in contemplation to build this Theatre, it was strongly opposed by the Quakers, who used all their influence with Congress to prevent it, as tending to corrupt the manners of the people, and increase too much the love of pleasure. It was, however, at length carried, and this motto from Shakspear was chosen. It is applicable in another sense; for the State House, where Congress sits, is directly opposite to it, both being in Chestnut street, and both houses are often performing at the same time. Yet the Eagle (the emblem adopted by the American government) is no way interrupted by the chattering of the mock birds with their minor songs.”

The President and his household were especially interested in a performance given for the benefit of seamen from the port of Philadelphia who were in captivity in Algiers, having been taken there by pirates. At this time, and for some years afterward, there was great excitement in the city because of the depredations of the pirates, as well as because of the privateers of Great Britain, which captured vessels on any pretext.

The anger caused by these trying acts of a power with which the country was at peace was very great. Lord Lyndhurst, an Englishman who visited the city in 1796, wrote to his mother that feeling still ran high, and said that he feared a war with England was sure to result, since there was a conflict between the President and the Senate, and the Lower House, which did not wish to see the ratification of the proposed treaty with England. “The Opposition here are a set of villains,” the young Englishman insisted.

At this period Philadelphia contained about fifty thousand people. Samuel Breck, who came to the city in 1792, wrote in 1842 that there was at the earlier date as much society of elegant and stylish people as at the later time, when the city had 270,000 population. “There was more attention paid then to the dress of servants and general appearance of equipage,” he added.

“Dinners were got up in elegance and good taste. General Washington had a stud of twelve or fourteen horses, and occasionally rode out to take the air with six horses to the coach, and always two footmen behind his carriage.”

Another writer of the day says that the inhabitants then “indulged themselves in the gratification of luxury and dissipation . . . The streets were crowded by the gay carriages of pleasure, going and returning in every direction; new and elegant buildings were seen rising in every quarter.” The port “was thronged with shipping from every trading country in Europe, and both the Indies; like Tyre of old “her merchants were princes and her traffickers were the honourable of the earth.”

Perhaps the greatest display of wealth was made by William Binghan, of whom Breck wrote in his Recollections:

“I was often at his parties, at which each guest was announced; first, at the entrance door his name was called aloud, and taken up by a servant on the stairs, who passed it on to the man in waiting at the drawing-room door. In this drawing-room the furniture was superb Gobelin, and the folding doors were covered with mirrors, which reflected the figures of the company so as to deceive an untravelled countryman, who having been paraded up the marble stairway amid the echo of his name . . . would enter the brilliant apartment and salute the looking-glasses instead of the master and mistress of the house and their guests.

“This silly fashion of announcing by name did not last long, and was put a stop to by the following ridiculous occurrence: On a gala-evening an eminent physician, Dr. Kuhn, and his stepdaughter [Miss Peggy Markoe, who soon afterward married Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Dr. Franklin] drove up to the door. A servant asked who was in the carriage. “The doctor and Miss Peggy,” was the reply. “The doctor and Miss Peggy!” cried out the man stationed at the door. “The doctor and Miss Peggy!” bawled out he of the stairs, which was taken up by the liveried footman at the door of the drawing-room into which Miss Peggy and her papa entered amid the laugh and jokes of the company . . .

“There is too much sobriety in our American common sense to tolerate such pageantry, or indeed any outlandish fashion contrary to the plain, unvarnished manners of the people. Thus have the repeated attempts of our young dandies to introduce the moustache on the upper lip been frustrated, and so with the broadcloth gaiters and other foreign costumes.”

Henry Wansey, after paying a visit to the Bingham house, wrote:

“I dined this day with Mr. Bingham. I found a magnificent house and garden in the best English style, with elegant and even superb furniture; the chairs of the drawing room were from Siddon’s in London, of the newest fashion; the back in the form of a lyre, adorned with festoons of crimson and yellow silk, the curtain of the room a festoon of the same; the carpet of the Moore’s most expensive pattern; the room was papered in the French-taste, after the style of the Vatican at Rome. In the garden was a profusion of lemon, orange and citrus trees; and many aloes, and other exotics . . . Mr. Bingham told me, that in the year 1783, he bought a piece of land adjoining to Philadelphia for eight hundred and fifty pounds, which now yields him eight hundred and fifty pounds per annum, and he has never laid out twenty pounds upon it.”

Thomas Twining, another Englishman, who visited the Bingham mansion in 1795, spoke of it as the finest house in the city, and of its owner as “the principal man in Philadelphia and the wealthiest, probably, in the Union.”

In great contrast to the stiff formality of the Bingham establishment were the homelike surroundings of the Morrises, who were among the social leaders of the city during the residence of Washington there. “There was a luxury in the kitchen, table, parlor and street equipage of Mr. and Mrs. Morris that was to be found nowhere else in America,” Breck wrote, enthusiastically. “Bingham’s was more gaudy, but less comfortable. It was the pure and unalloyed which the Morrises sought to place before their friends without the abatements that so frequently accompany the displays of fashionable life. No badly-cooked or cold dinners at their table; no pinched fires upon the hearth; no paucity of waiters; no awkward loons in their drawing rooms. We have no such establishments now.”

Gayety was added to Philadelphia’s life by the presence of many of the great men of France who had been driven abroad by the Revolution in their own country. Talleyrand, Vicomte de Noailles, the Duc de Liancourt, and the Ducs de Montpensier and Beaujolais, and the Bishop of Autun, were at this time attracted to the city where Lafayette had been welcomed more than fifteen years before, when America was in the midst of its Revolution.

The refugees were received in the city with open arms and hearty sympathy. There were many who longed to see the country take some active part with those in France who were struggling for liberty, though there was great difference of opinion as to what should be done. This fact is illustrated by the minutes of the meeting of the Democratic Society, held on January 9, 1794. Among the members was Citizen David Rittenhouse and Citizen Charles Biddle. The titles given to the members were an indication of strong sympathy with those in France who had deposed their king. That day resolutions were adopted which sound much as if they were the product of some modern society, proposed with the Great War in Europe in mind:

“Resolved, that we view with inexpressible horror the cruel and unjust war carried on by the combined powers of Europe against the french republic — that attached to the french Nation (our only true and Natural ally) by Sentiments of the liveliest gratitude, for the great and generous service she has rendered us, while we were struggling for our liberties, and by that strong conviction which arises from a similarity of government and “of political principles, we cannot sit passive and forbear expressing our anxious concern while she is greatly contending against a World, for the same rights which she assisted us to establish . . . We cannot believe that they are making war against that Nation Solely, but against liberty itself. Impressed with this idea we cannot help concluding that if those lawless despots succeed in destroying an enemy in france so formenable to their tyraniccal usurpations, they will not rest satisfied untill they have exterminated it from the earth. . . .

“Resolved, that while America holds out the olive branch, and sincerely wishes to persevere in a pacific line of conduct, the world ought to be convinced, that she knows her rights, and that the same spirit which she has shewn in the acquisition of her Independence will be exerted with double energy in its defence.”

President Rittenhouse was absent when the paper was adopted, and when he was asked to sign it he offered his resignation, though he expressed cordial approval.

A different attitude to the French Revolution was taken by “the notorious William Cobbett,” an Englishman in the city who kept a bookstore and published a rather scurrilous daily newspaper called Peter Porcupine. “The journal was anti-republican in its politics, but, being conducted with extraordinary spirit and ability, was widely circulated,” the gossipy Breck wrote. “It was rancorous and malignant in the extreme against the French Revolution and all the enemies of England. . . . The hatred engendered by the long contest for an independence against England was not at all abated, notwithstanding the lapse of ten years, since peace took place, so that the foaming rage of this avowed Englishman who affected to despise us and our institutions, and ridiculed with surprising dexterity most of the leading men of the nation, helped to widen the breach which threatened to end in open war. The English flag was not safe in our river, and when it appeared there was generally the occasion of disturbance which required the influence of government to quiet.”

At length Cobbett’s pen brought him into the courts. Dr. Benjamin Rush sued him because of an attack on his professional skill, and the Englishman was ordered to pay five thousand dollars damages and costs. English friends in Philadelphia, in Canada and in England raised the money for him and he paid the award in full. Then he left the city and, soon afterward, the country.

Philadelphia’s friendliness for the French did not keep them from sneering at L’Enfant, the French architect who, late in the decade, helped to plunge Robert Morris deeper into the debt that was so soon to overwhelm him, by extravagance in planning and building the new residence of the financier which became known as “Morris’s Folly.” The architect was called a visionary and Philadelphians seemed to make up their minds that any French architect was to be looked on with suspicion.

One needs but to read the description of the unfinished house, as given by Benjamin Henry Latrobe in his Journal, to appreciate the attitude of the people to L’Enfant:

“I suppose the front must be at least one hundred and twenty feet long, and I think the flank cannot be less than sixty . . . The windows, at least some of them . . . are cased in white marble with moldings, entablatures, architraves, and sculpture mixed up in the oddest and most inelegant manner imaginable; all the proportions are bad, all the horizontal and perpendicular lines broken to pieces, the whole mass giving the ideas of the reign of Louis XIII in France of James I in England. . . . There is a recess, across which a colonnade of one-story columns was intended, the two lateral ones being put up, with a piece of their architrave reaching to the wall; I cannot guess what was intended above them. . . . In the south front are two angle porches. The angle porches are irresistibly laughable things, and violently ugly.”

The remainder of the account contains such strong expressions as “they look horrible,” “such a madness,” “wretched sculpture,” “of the worst taste.” Finally it was said: “It is impossible to decide which of the two is the madder, the architect or his employer. Both of them have been ruined by it . . . This is the house of which I had frequently been told in Virginia that it was the handsomest thing in America.”

(From the engraving by Birch)

In 1798 Latrobe came to Philadelphia from Washington, on the invitation of the president of the Bank of Philadelphia, who desired him to supervise the erection of the new bank building. To the people of the city the name Latrobe seemed French, and they were ready to pounce on him for anything that seemed visionary. This opportunity came, they thought, when the architect, after studying the water supply of the city, began to talk about water works. He looked with disfavor on the range of pumps to be found in every street, close to the footpaths, from which all the water for drinking or cooking was drawn. These, he felt, was largely responsible for the repeated epidemics of yellow fever.

The remedy suggested by Latrobe was the bringing to the city of water from the Schuylkill, by means of pumps, water mains laid under the streets, and hydrants. Naturally, since no other city in America had made trial of this plan, Latrobe was spoken of as a dreamer, another L’Enfant. But he persisted in the face of ridicule, secured his appropriation, built his engine and pumping stations, laid his pipes of hollowed-out cedar logs, planted his hydrants, and made ready to turn on the water.

Then the people learned their mistake. One night in January, 1801, the hydrants were Cleft open. At midnight, in company with three friends, and one of his workmen, Latrobe went to the water works, built a fire under the boiler, and set the machinery in motion. In the morning the surprised citizens found the streets covered deep with water from the hydrants, which were still pouring out the flood from the Schuylkill. Then they owned their error. Latrobe was not a dreamer after all!

Some of the pumps that made Latrobe shudder were outside the city gaol, on Walnut Street, and the inmates were supplied from them with water for the carrying out of the first of the regulations provided for their government:

“The prisoners shall be furnished with suitable bedding, shall be shaved twice a week, their hair cut once a month, change their linen once a week, and regularly wash their face and hands every morning.”

The yard of the gaol was the scene of one of the spectacular incidents of the period of Washington’s residence in Philadelphia. On January 9, 1793, the French aeronaut Blanchard made there the first balloon ascension in America. Washington and all the leading men of the city were interested, most of them having contributed to the expense of preparing the balloon. Just before the ascent the President handed to the aeronaut a passport which could be shown to anyone who, being unfamiliar with a balloon, might offer to do the man harm. The document authorized him “to pass in such direction and to descend in such a place as circumstance may render most convenient.” The balloon rose majestically, floated across the Delaware, and came down near Gloucester. Jonathan Penrose, Robert Wharton, and a number of other Philadelphians, followed on their horses and brought the aeronaut in triumph back to the city.

One of those who was most interested in the ascension was David Rittenhouse, the scientist, who, ten years earlier, had persuaded a carpenter to ascend in a balloon. This ascent was unsuccessful, probably more because of the timidity of the carpenter than for any other reason.

Rittenhouse was more successful as a government official than as an aeronaut. As the first director of the United States Mint he conducted the institution with great efficiency and economy. His estimate of expense for the first quarter of 1795 showed that he proposed to run the institution for a little more than six thousand dollars.

As Washington’s second term drew toward a close there was some clamour for his election for a third term, and many of the people of Philadelphia hoped he would yield. But the President thought this would be unwise, both for his own sake and for that of the country. One day in September, 1796, he sent for D. C. Claypoole, descendant of the James Claypoole who came to Philadelphia in 1633, the editor of Claypoole’s Daily Advertiser. Then he told the editor of his intention to retire from public life, and asked him to publish in the paper an address to the people giving some of the President’s “Thoughts and Reflections” on the occasion. This document, printed on September 19, 1796, was the Valedictory Address which added to Washington’s fame and to the love and reverence of the people for him.

The day came when, in accordance with Washington’s wish, the Electoral College chose another to be the head of the nation. John Adams, on whom the choice fell by a close vote, wrote to his wife on the day after his inauguration:

“Your dearest friend never had a more trying day than yesterday. A solemn scene it was indeed, and it was made yet more affecting to me by the presence of the General, whose countenance was as serene and unclouded as the day. He seemed to me to enjoy a triumph over me. Methought I heard him say, ‘Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in! See which of us will be happiest!’ When the ceremony was over, he came and made me a visit, and cordially congratulated me, and wish my administration might be happy, successful and honorable.”

Just after taking the oath of office, President Adams received from Mrs. Adams a letter of unusual power and tenderness:

“You have this day to declare yourself head of a nation. ‘And now, O Lord, my God, thou hast made thy servant ruler over the people. Give unto him an understanding heart, that he may know how to go out and come in before this great people; that he may discern between good and bad. For who is able to judge this thy so great a people?’ were the words of a royal sovereign; and not less applicable to him who is invested with the chief magistracy of a nation, though he wear not a crown, nor the robes of royalty.

 “My thought and my meditation are with you, though personally absent; and my petitions to Heaven are, that ‘the things that make for peace may not be hidden from your eyes.’ My feelings are not those of pride or ostentation upon this occasion. They are solemnized by a sense of the obligations, the important trusts, and numerous duties connected with it. That you may be enabled to discharge them with honour to yourself, with justice and impartiality to your country, and with satisfaction to this great people, shall be the daily prayer of your “A. A.”

The President-Elect was asked to make his home in the fine house which had been erected by the State of Pennsylvania at the corner of Ninth and Market Streets in the hope that the presentation of this as an Executive Mansion would have weight in reconsidering the plan to move the Capital from Philadelphia to L’Enfant’s “City in the Woods.” But President Adams preferred to occupy the Morris mansion as Washington had done before him.

The day before the inauguration of his successor Washington gave a farewell dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Morris were present. Bishop White, brother of Mrs. Morris, was also one of the guests. He said afterwards:

“During the dinner much hilarity prevailed; but on the removal of the cloth it was put an end to by the President, certainly without design. Having filled his glass, he addressed the company, with a smile on his countenance, saying; ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health as a public man; I do it with sincerity, wishing you all possible happiness. There was an end to all pleasantry, and there was not a dry eye among the company.”

Before Mr. Morris left the house Washington gave him a small profile portrait of himself, as a token of his friendship. This was a prized possession of the unfortunate financier during the days of his failure and imprisonment, disasters which came as a result of the unreliability and rascality of James Greenleaf, a partner in his great land deals.

In the country’s history there is not a parallel to the rapid change in the fortunes of the man who was in 1797 the President’s intimate friend and associate, a welcome guest in his house, and within a year was languishing in a debtor’s prison, where, instead of the bountiful table for which his home had been famous, he would have had to share the diet laid down in the regulations of the institution but for the care of his friends to make other arrangements for him. The ordinary diet prescribed in a prison of the period was as follows:

“On Sunday, one pound of bread, and one pound of coarse meat made into broth.

“On Monday, one quart of Indian meal, and one quart of potatoes.

“On Tuesday, one quart of Indian meal made into mush.

“On Wednesday, one pound of bread, and one quart of potatoes.

“On Thursday, one quart of Indian meal made into mush.

“On Friday, one pound of bread, and one quart of potatoes.

“On Saturday, one quart of Indian meal made into mush.”

And on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday there was given, in addition, to each four prisoners, a half pint of molasses.

As has been indicated in a previous chapter, Washington did not forget his friend, but did what he could to cheer him in his confinement, writing to him, planning for him, encouraging him to look forward to the day of his release.

But Washington did not ‘live to see ‘that day. December 18, 1799, brought to Philadelphia the sorrowful news of the death of the Father of His Country, which occurred on December 14. That evening the Common Council of the city requested the Mayor to have the bells muffled for three days. And on December 26, according to Elizabeth Drinker:

“The Funeral procession in honor of the late Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States, Lieut. Gen. George Washington . . . took place. They assembled at the State-house — went from there in grand procession to ye Dutch Church, called Zion church in Fourth street, where Major Gen. Henry Lee delivered an oration to 4000 persons . . . Ye concourse of people in the streets, and at ye windows, was very numerous . . . So all is over with G. Washington.”

Now that Washington was gone the removal of the capital to the new Federal City on the Potomac did not bring such a wrench to the people of the city that had been the center of the nation’s life for nearly a generation. In November, 1800, the president, the cabinet members, the senators and the representatives took their departure. The government archives were packed in “about a dozen large boxes,” and these, together with the office furniture, were taken to Washington by sea, when three thousand people, practically the entire population of the city, cheered to the echo as the vessel made fast at the mouth of Tiber Creek.

Philadelphia quickly readjusted itself to the absence of the government officials and the members of the diplomatic corps who had helped to make the city’s social life gayer than ever, and who had stimulated the business life to an extraordinary degree.

With the beginning of the nineteenth century Philadelphians set themselves with fresh vigor to the task of developing the rich resources of the community and its surrounding country and preparing for a new era of prosperity. While perhaps no one stopped to formulate the idea, it was realized that the wonderful history of the century just ended put them under obligation to make the future worthy of the past. And this task has been accomplished. In spite of political shortcomings the country has always been proud of Philadelphia’s present as well as its past. Throughout the land the city is looked upon as a national possession, and it will always have a peculiar place in the affections, not only of its own people, but also of millions, many of whom perhaps will never enter its borders. For it is the City of the Declaration, whose story is unique, whose romantic records appeal to every loyal American.


1 This book is in the Library of Congress at Washington.

2 This was on October 2; before the close of November fifty more cords of wood were bought.

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