City of Brotherly Love
When naming a newborn, you feel the weight of the decision, the fond hope that the right name might provide a push along a hoped-for path.
Even as names seek to nudge destiny, sometimes they merely set up irony: Faith, the fiery atheist; Victor, the embittered failure.
We can’t know all the thoughts that coursed through William Penn’s mind when he chose Philadelphia as the name for his new city, tucked onto the peninsula between the Delaware River and the Schuylkill. What we do know is that he chose boldly, aiming for the vault of heaven, daring irony to strike. The name he gave his city combined the Greek words for love (phileo) and brother (adelphos), setting up the enduring civic nickname: the City of Brotherly Love. Then Penn gave his city a street grid, a charter and a diplomatic first act that he hoped would enable it to live up to that name.
So how did it turn out, this Holy Experiment?Read More
In modern popular culture, the verdict is often rendered with a sneer. “City of Brotherly Love” has turned into a phrase invoked more often in sarcasm than admiration.
In 1994, a Gallup Poll named Philadelphia America’s most hostile place. The most durable stereotypes about the city cluster around its fans’ penchant for booing and the colorfulness of its crime and corruption.
So William Penn’s choice can sometimes seem less destiny than irony.
But that judgment is neither complete nor fair. It ignores so much evidence.
Thanks to its founder’s impetus, and to the furthering energy of citizens from Benjamin Franklin to Richard Allen, from Lucretia Mott to John Wanamaker, from Richardson Dilworth to Mary Scullion, Philadelphia has remained one of America’s most inventive laboratories for exploring the civic potential of brotherly love and sisterly affection.
Destiny vs. Irony
Its history can be read as a long duel between destiny and irony, each vying to seize the upper hand in interpreting City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia hosts a continuing dialogue about what brotherly love looks like in the civic sphere.
Be clear on this: It won’t do to reduce the notion of brotherly love to saccharine sentiment, to feelings only tender and soft.
Brotherly love does not imply the absence of conflict. Have you ever seen young brothers together? Their bond, strong as cement though it might be, gets expressed often as not through competing, jousting, gibes, and dares.
Anger is also a way to express caring, and in Philadelphia’s long history, a common one. Even today, some of Philadelphia’s best rowhouse citizens, who work doggedly to keep blocks decent and children safe, regard their hometown with what can only be called an angry love. It is loyal, it endures – but it has spikes and edges.
Like the nation that chose this city (and not by accident) as the spot to declare, then define, itself, Philadelphia has struggled to define brother. Who is inside the circle, who not?
The city’s story follows a cycle: high aspiration thwarted by weakness, strife, and division, then redeemed by a new round of noble struggle, which broadens understanding and widens the circle.
Penn himself, while nobly distinguished among colonizers for his fair and respectful relations with the native Lenape, had a blind spot about blacks. He owned slaves, and excluded blacks from many of the protections of Pennsylvania’s charter. While he founded his city upon a writ of religious tolerance that made it a rare and fruitful haven, he still excluded Catholics, Jews, and Muslims from the franchise.
Some Quakers later on repaired the lapses of Penn and other forebears, becoming leaders of the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones helped advance Penn’s vision of religious freedom by insisting that it extended to the black person as well.
Abolitionist Lucretia Mott also sounded the clarion call that women, too, deserved a full role in America’s civic drama – that in fact, they were vital to bringing phileo to the polis.
As Philadelphia thrived, thanks in no small part to Penn’s legacy of openness, immigrants poured in. The inevitable backlash flared, especially in the nineteenth century. The Nativist riots of 1844 in Kensington were anti-Catholic bias at its ugliest. But in the long run the disorder helped make the case for the consolidation of the city into a larger, more governable but also more diverse whole.
Back and forth through the decades the dialogue flows around the city’s public squares, noisily and sometimes violently: Will the City of Brotherly Love embrace the destiny of its name, or reject it with cruel irony?
Along with dark moments – riots and beatings and tribal corruptions – Philly has birthed great testaments to shared civic bonds, from Fairmount Park to the settlement houses to the Free Library to the Mural Arts Program.
Its National League ball team once taunted Jackie Robinson most shamefully, but the Phillies now boast two beloved African American MVPs, whose jerseys are proudly worn on backs white as well as black.
Penn’s Legacy Persists
Through it all, the legacy of William Penn, his dreams, wisdom and example, still hums in the city’s blood – despite our cantankerous failings, our ritual suspicions about the latest bidders to join the circle of brothers and sisters.
Philadelphia, by its very name, is an unfinished dream of civic feeling and common purpose, an audacious wager upon the better angels of our nature.
We, the heirs and inhabitants of a city named for love, remain quick to anger, prickly and prideful, wary of the new.
It is our way, and God knows we have some reason for it.
But we are also stubborn in love, fierce in loyalty, and our embrace of those we let inside the circle is warm, protective and unfailing.
We need to let more in, and more easily, with fewer tests.
But we Philadelphians are young, still, in this Holy Experiment, and still learning.
May the Spirit that inspired civic heroes such as William Penn, Absalom Jones, Barnard Gratz and St. Katharine Drexel to the heights of brotherly love and sisterly affection continue to guide us.
Chris Satullo is Executive Director of News and Civic Dialogue at WHYY.
Topics: Tolerance, Intolerance, and Cooperation
Few regions in the United States can claim an abolitionist heritage as rich as Philadelphia. By the time Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1805-79) launched The Liberator in 1831, the Philadelphia area’s confrontation with human bondage was nearly 150 years old. Still, Philadelphia abolitionism is often treated as a distant cousin of the epic nineteenth-century ⇒ Read More
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During the 1850s, Northern abolitionism developed, Southern defense of slavery hardened, and debates over the expansion of slavery gripped the nation. When pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions met at Christiana, Pennsylvania, a mere 20 miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the events that followed and the subsequent trial in Philadelphia became flashpoints that deepened the sectional ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s Civil War sanitary fairs represented the spirit of patriotic volunteerism that pervaded the city during the Civil War. These grassroots efforts, climaxed by the Great Central Fair of 1864 in Logan Square, provided a creative and communal means for ordinary citizens to promote the welfare of Union soldiers and dedicate themselves to the survival ⇒ Read More
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On Friday, August 28, 1964, a scuffle with police at the busy intersection of Twenty-Second Street and Columbia Avenue sparked a three-day riot involving hundreds of North Philadelphians hurling bottles and bricks at police and looting stores. With the Columbia Avenue Riot, Philadelphia joined six other cities, including Jersey City, Paterson, and Elizabeth, New Jersey, ⇒ Read More
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Crime is inextricably linked to Philadelphia’s shifting economic fortunes. Its history reflects the region’s status as a port and point of entry for goods, immigrants, and migrants, where concentrations of both wealth and poverty developed in a center of American commerce and industry. As a type of economic activity, forms of crime changed dramatically as ⇒ Read More
Delaware Avenue, the north-south thoroughfare closest to the Delaware River in Philadelphia, owes its existence to the richest man in America, who wanted a grand avenue along the central waterfront. The street, including a portion renamed Columbus Boulevard in the 1990s, played a significant role in the development of Philadelphia’s maritime activity, particularly food distribution ⇒ Read More
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Since the early nineteenth century, several reform efforts have aimed to improve Philadelphia-area public schools. While the historical context and the individual actors changed over time, a firm belief that basic education for all could foster social equality animated reform in every era. Of course, race- and class-based inequality did not disappear, but educational reform ⇒ Read More
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Headed by black founding fathers Richard Allen (1760-1831) and Absalom Jones (1746-1818), the Free African Society was founded on April 12, 1787, as a nondenominational mutual aid society and the first dedicated to serving Philadelphia’s burgeoning free black community. Members contributed one shilling per month to fund programs to support their social and economic needs. ⇒ Read More
Friends Neighborhood Guild, a Quaker-founded settlement house and neighborhood center in North Philadelphia, for more than a century has helped residents confront urban issues by offering services, participating in neighborhood redevelopment, and acting as a broker for interactions across ethnic and class lines. Established in 1879 as Friends Mission No. 1 at Beach Street and ⇒ Read More
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Published in London in 1857, Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends is among the earliest novels written by an African American. Although it is not strictly a historical novel, The Garies reflects the deteriorating conditions of the free black community in Philadelphia during Webb’s childhood and early adulthood, in particular, the 1838 disenfranchisement ⇒ Read More
In the second half of the twentieth century, the Center City neighborhood that became known as the Gayborhood formed in the vicinity of Locust and Thirteenth Streets. The community and the geographical spaces it occupied played a vital role in the social and political struggles of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people locally and ⇒ Read More
On March 5, 1910, between 60,000 and 75,000 workers complied with the Central Federated Union’s call for a general strike in solidarity with the striking streetcar workers employed by Philadelphia’s Rapid Transit Company (RTC). Business and political elites feared that the strike would spread to other parts of Pennsylvania and to cities where workers had ⇒ Read More
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The revival of immigration to Philadelphia and its surrounding region in the early nineteenth century provided one of the most powerful elements in reshaping the city’s society. After a decline in immigration during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, the growing industrialization of the Philadelphia region began to attract streams of ⇒ Read More
For most of the decades since the United States’ immigration restriction acts of the 1920s, Philadelphia was not a major destination for immigrants, but at the end of the twentieth century the region re-emerged as a significant gateway. Beginning with changes in U.S. law in 1965 and accelerating by the 1990s, immigration added large, diverse ⇒ Read More
European settlement of the region on both sides of the Delaware River dates to the early seventeenth century. The population grew rapidly after 1682, when Pennsylvania’s policy of religious tolerance and its reputation as the “best poor man’s country” attracted people from all walks of life. By the time of the American Revolution, Philadelphia was ⇒ Read More
The Women’s National Indian Association and the Indian Rights Association, both founded in Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century, led the way in setting a national agenda concerning the plight of Native Americans. They continued a local tradition of reform movements promoting rights and freedom. Founded in 1879, the Women’s National Indian Association organized by ⇒ Read More
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The Killers is a sensational urban gothic tale written by the journalist, novelist, and labor activist George Lippard (1822-54) in 1849. It exposes Philadelphia’s class and racial conflicts and its gang warfare, criticizes corruption in government and finance, and lambasts the city’s new experiment in incarceration, the solitary confinement system of Eastern State Penitentiary. Illustrated ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia was a center of patriotic fervor and activity during the American Revolution. Many of its residents, including women, participated in the war for independence by providing material and moral support for the “patriot” cause. On June 12, 1780, one such Philadelphian, Esther De Berdt Reed (1746-80), penned a broadside entitled “Sentiments of an American ⇒ Read More
From its earliest days as an English colony, Pennsylvania needed lawyers to run the government, settle disputes, and keep the peace. As Philadelphia became a large city and important commercial, insurance, banking, and shipping center on the eve of the American Revolution, its lawyers were crucial to every civic endeavor, including the making of a ⇒ Read More
Liberia; Or, Mr. Peyton’s Experiments (1853) is a hybrid work containing fiction, history, and biography along with transcriptions of documents on Liberia. The work argued that free blacks could not prosper in North America but had opportunities for advancement and self-determination in Liberia, a black Christian republic. The Americo-Liberian settlers would not only rise themselves ⇒ Read More
Lynching, the extralegal killing of a victim by individuals or a mob, notably by hanging or burning, was commonplace in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Though accounts vary, in the heyday of lynching following the Civil War, at least 3,500 incidents were recorded; more than 80 percent occurred in the ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia has had a greater influence on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday traditions than any city other than King’s birthplace, Atlanta. Observed on the third Monday in January since 1986, the federal holiday commemorates King (1929-68) and his civil rights activism. Ceremonies at the Liberty Bell and a focus on community service are among Philadelphia’s ⇒ Read More
Modern Chivalry is a rich American novel, penned by the army chaplain, editor, Pennsylvania lawyer and judge, state legislator, and writer Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816), published in installments from 1792 to 1815. A social and political satire, it features two main characters, Captain John Farrago and his Irish servant, Teague O’Regan, who engage in humorous, ⇒ Read More
Despite eras of suspicion and the relocation of many its members to the West during the nineteenth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the LDS Church or Mormon Church) not only persisted in the Philadelphia region but also grew and spread, especially in the early twenty-first century. Strong evidence ⇒ Read More
For more than sixty years, West Mount Airy, nestled in the northwest corner of Philadelphia, has earned a reputation as a national model of racial integration. In the years following World War II, when many American neighborhoods were experiencing rapid racial transition, homeowners in West Mount Airy worked to understand and put into practice the ⇒ Read More
A tumultuous, racially polarized Election Day in Philadelphia set the stage for the October 10, 1871, murder and martyrdom of Octavius V. Catto (b. 1839), an African American leader who struggled against segregation and discrimination in transportation, sports, politics, and society. Election Day in 1871, just one year after the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. ⇒ Read More
Indian-brokered alliances more than Quaker pacifism anchored the “long peace” in the decades that followed Pennsylvania’s founding in 1681. The Iroquois Covenant Chain and the Lenapes’ treaties with William Penn (1644-1718) established the diplomatic parameters that made the long peace possible and allowed Pennsylvania to avoid the kind of destructive frontier warfare that engulfed the ⇒ Read More
During the colonial period, the diversity of the region that became southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware made trade and diplomacy difficult. The many cultural, especially linguistic, barriers between various Native American and European groups required go-betweens, or intermediaries. The intermediaries who were called upon to interpret across cultures and help maintain the ⇒ Read More
In May and July 1844, Philadelphia suffered some of the bloodiest rioting of the antebellum period, as anti-immigrant mobs attacked Irish-American homes and Roman Catholic churches before being suppressed by the militia. The violence was part of a wave of riots that convulsed American cities starting in the 1830s. Yet even amid this tumult, they ⇒ Read More
The Octavia Hill Association of Philadelphia was founded in 1896 to provide clean dwellings at reasonable rents to some of the city’s poorest residents, who were often exploited by profit-hungry landlords. Still active as a real estate management company, the Octavia Hill Association has a history of responding to changing economic conditions and housing needs. ⇒ Read More
The ODUNDE Festival, held in South Philadelphia each year on the second Sunday in June, celebrates the history and heritage of African people around the globe and serves to instill and encourage cultural pride. Taking its name from the word meaning “Happy New Year” in the Yoruba language (placed in all capital letters by the ⇒ Read More
Popes use their visits to encourage faith, emphasize their priorities, and fulfill their role as pastors. The places visited use these trips to highlight their successes, history, and culture on an international stage. Prior to the visit of Pope Francis (b. 1936) to Philadelphia on September 26 and 27, 2015, only one other pope had ⇒ Read More
During eight decades of continuous operation (1908-87), Pennhurst evolved from a model facility into the subject of tremendous public scandal and controversy before the federal courts ordered it closed and the remaining residents moved elsewhere. Twenty years after its closure, the Pennhurst campus was recognized as an International Site of Conscience and its history became ⇒ Read More
Held in 1913 in South Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Emancipation Exposition marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with events and exhibits celebrating African American progress. At a time when the African American population in Philadelphia was growing and gaining in political influence, the event’s organizers also experienced a backlash of criticism as they secured ⇒ Read More
Pennsylvania gained a reputation as the birthplace of American abolition soon after the American Revolution, but that status caused unrest as debates over slavery grew contentious in the antebellum years. The tension led to a number of riots, one of the most notable being the 1838 destruction of Pennsylvania Hall, a meeting place for antislavery ⇒ Read More
Founded in 1921, each year the Philadelphia Award honors one or more Philadelphians for service “to advance the best and largest interests of Philadelphia.” Awardees have included scientists, educators, university administrators, directors of nonprofits, philanthropists, ministers, lawyers, politicians, artists, writers, and sports figures. Established by Edward Bok (1863–1930), retired editor of the Ladies Home Journal, ⇒ Read More
Even as it underwent a painful process of economic restructuring in the years after World War II, Philadelphia garnered national attention from efforts to integrate historically white building trades. Dubbed the “Philadelphia Plan,” the program requiring federal contractors to practice nondiscrimination in hiring tested the liberal coalition formed in the aftermath of the New Deal ⇒ Read More
What does it mean if a place loves you back? That was the question posed by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) when it chose the slogan “The Place That Loves You Back” to promote the Philadelphia region as a tourist destination in its 1997 advertising campaign. This was of course not the city’s ⇒ Read More
Beginning in the late nineteenth century, children’s play became an important concern of urban reformers, who regarded playgrounds—outdoor environments designed, equipped, and sometimes staffed, to facilitate children’s play—as essential components in shaping behavior and ordering urban space. Many public and semipublic playgrounds established as a result of their efforts became permanent features of the Philadelphia ⇒ Read More
Public bathing became a civil and social imperative in the Philadelphia region and elsewhere in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Following the cholera epidemic of 1849, which devastated the American population, leaving hundreds of thousands of deaths in its wake, including that of President James K. Polk, it became ⇒ Read More
Puerto Ricans migrated to the Philadelphia area in search of better economic opportunities. A small stream of migration prior to the twentieth century grew during the two world wars, with many more migrants arriving from the 1950s onward. Many families settled permanently in the region, where their lives intertwined with black and white residents and ⇒ Read More
William Penn (1644-1718), the founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, had high hopes for Philadelphia. He wanted the city to become the economic and moral hub and showpiece of the nearly 50,000 square miles that he had been granted as Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods). Penn outlined his radical notion when he advertised the city for settlement in ⇒ Read More
George Lippard (1822-54) published The Quaker City; Or, the Monks of Monk Hall in 1844-45 in serial installments, which were then collated as a novel. A gothic tale, set in Philadelphia and inspired by a linked pair of real-life urban crimes, the novel juxtaposes a plot centered on greed, amorality, and debauchery against the then-popular ⇒ Read More
Much as New England was shaped by its Puritan heritage, the history of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley intertwined heavily with the Religious Society of Friends. Philadelphia gained one of its nicknames, “The Quaker City,” from its founding and settlement by the Friends, colloquially known as Quakers, a historically Christian religious sect that emerged during ⇒ Read More
In the 1830s and 1840s, as social and economic tensions arose from early industrialization and from a population that was at once growing rapidly and becoming more racially and religiously diverse, Philadelphia experienced a sharp increase in disorder that it was unprepared to handle. The fragmentation of Philadelphia County into numerous municipalities and the absence ⇒ Read More
In March, Philadelphians of many backgrounds join together to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, the city’s Irish citizens, and their heritage. Celebrated in Philadelphia since 1771, the holiday began as a Catholic holy day and evolved into a rambunctious affair marked throughout the region by parades, music, dancing, drinking, and wearing kelly-green clothing to symbolize the ⇒ Read More
The settlement house movement, a phenomenon of the Progressive era with origins in London, spread to Philadelphia in the 1890s as a large influx of needy immigrants and unsanitary conditions in the city attracted the attention of middle-class, college-educated reformers. Living among the poor in South Philadelphia, Kensington, and other neighborhoods, settlement house residents sought ⇒ Read More
From the arrival of Europeans in the seventeenth century through the era of the early republic, treaties were an important tool in diplomacy between native nations and colonial Pennsylvania and later the nascent federal government. Treaties followed indigenous modes of diplomacy, into which colonists introduced, and imposed, the signing of treaty documents. However, treaty councils ⇒ Read More
The Treaty of Shackamaxon, otherwise known as William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians or “Great Treaty,” is Pennsylvania’s most longstanding historical tradition, a counterpart to the foundation stories of Virginia (John Smith and Pocahontas) and New England (the first Thanksgiving). According to the tradition, soon after William Penn (1644-1718) arrived in Pennsylvania in late October ⇒ Read More
The Union League of Philadelphia, organized in 1862 as a political club for the support of the Union cause during the Civil War, developed into the premier urban social club of Philadelphia. Over time, it also became an important supporter of Republican political candidates and policies locally and nationally, acquired a significant collection of art ⇒ Read More
Vagrancy, generally defined as the act of continuous geographical movement by the poor, often has been interpreted to signify idleness, unemployment, and homelessness. Since the colonial era, it has been a driving social concern in the Mid-Atlantic region, where urban centers, including Philadelphia, attracted poor migrants seeking new economic prospects. Laws created to aid them ⇒ Read More
As Pennsylvania and other northern states became havens for enslaved people who sought to escape bondage, free blacks and sympathetic whites organized Vigilance Associations, which operated Vigilance Committees (sometimes called Vigilant Committees) to protect fugitives and potential kidnap victims. After black abolitionist David Ruggles (1810-49) formed the first such organization in New York City in ⇒ Read More
With the Walking Purchase of 1737, Pennsylvania officials defrauded the Delaware Indians out of a vast amount of land, perhaps over one million acres, in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys. John Penn (1700-46) and Thomas Penn (1702-75), the sons of William Penn (1644-1718), with James Logan (1674-1751), the provincial secretary of Pennsylvania, devised the land ⇒ Read More