Essays » American Revolution
Few regions in the United States can claim an abolitionist heritage as rich as Philadelphia. By the time Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison launched The Liberator in 1831, Philadelphia's confrontation with human bondage was nearly 150 years old.
The First and Second Continental Congresses, held in Philadelphia in 1774 and 1775-81, engaged in the complex politics surrounding independence and heightened the city’s role in a world-changing moment in history.
Convening in the East Room of the Pennsylvania State House from May 1775 to July 1776, sixty-five delegates of the Second Continental Congress worked through deep political divisions to create the Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to a new nation and cemented Philadelphia’s reputation as a Cradle of Liberty.
Located six miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia, Germantown is one of America’s most historic neighborhoods. It is also one that offers provocative examples of how people consider the past.
Originally the Pennsylvania State House, this eighteenth-century landmark associated with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution evolved from a workplace of government to a treasured shrine, tourist attraction, and World Heritage Site. Its history encompasses more than 275 years of struggles for freedom and public participation in creating, preserving, and debating the founding principles of the United States.
On June 12, 1780, Esther De Berdt Reed (1746-1780), penned a broadside entitled “Sentiments of an American Woman” in order to rouse her fellow women to participate in the Revolutionary cause. As a result, dozens of women responded to Reed’s call, forming the Ladies Association of Philadelphia, a group of upper-class women who led a door-to-door campaign raising money for Washington’s Continental Army.
It began inconspicuously as a two-thousand-pound mass of unstable metal; it nearly ended up in the scrap heap; it cracked and lost its voice; it was all but forgotten. But then, gradually, it became a priceless national treasure. For more than a century, the Liberty Bell has captured Americans’ affections and become a stand-in for the nation’s vaunted values: independence, freedom, unalienable rights, and equality.
Northwest Philadelphia, bound loosely by the Roosevelt Expressway to the south, Broad Street to the east, and the suburbs of Montgomery County to the north and west, has origins as old as the city itself. Developing around the Schuylkill and Wissahickon Creek waterways, and later Fairmount Park, the Northwest expanded and changed with the advent of new technologies and the larger legal, political, and cultural trends of Philadelphia.
Perhaps no business, industry, or institution illuminates the history of the Greater Philadelphia region from the seventeenth century to the present day more clearly than shipbuilding and shipyards. This may seem surprising since Philadelphia and nearby Delaware riverfront ports lie one hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Why then did Philadelphia and surrounding southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey riverfront ports develop shipyards and become one of the greatest shipbuilding regions in the United States?
Slavery and the slave trade were central to the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Philadelphia as the region economically benefited from the institution and dealt with tensions created by slave trading, slave holding, and abolitionism.