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Seven Years’ War

Philadelphia and the surrounding area played a significant role in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), also known as the French and Indian War and the Great War for Empire. Beginning in North America and spreading to Europe, India, and the West Indies, the war was a struggle for colonial dominance between France and Great Britain that grew to include all major and many of the lesser powers in Europe. As the most significant port on the east coast, Philadelphia and the surrounding region, including New Jersey, were drawn into the conflict. The war accelerated the region’s transition from a town and hinterland into a major urban area as Philadelphia became a haven for refugees and a staging area for troops and supplies. The war also transformed the region’s economy and politics as Quaker power diminished and the electoral base broadened with the addition of many who benefited from the wartime economy and qualified for the franchise.

[caption id="attachment_13812" align="alignright" width="575"]A black and white map of North America. Colonies and some prominent cities are labeled. Shaded parts of the map represent territory claimed by France. Philadelphia’s size and position near French territory (shaded in above map) in modern western Pennsylvania meant the city played a significant role as a military staging area for British troops and members of the newly constructed militia of Pennsylvania. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In 1754, Pennsylvania possessed no standard organization for colonial defense. While independent military organizations, known as the Associators, had existed since King George’s War (1744-48), a more-uniform institution would be required to meet the needs of the growing conflict. Awareness of these needs helped Pennsylvania Assemblyman Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) garner support for passage of the first militia law in Pennsylvania in 1755. Following the pattern of similar laws in the New England colonies, the law permitted the men who volunteered the right to choose their own officers. Such a democratic approach was opposed by Governor Robert Hunter Morris (1700-64), who stood in league with the Proprietary interest of the colony and prompted passage of a second version of the law. As a result, two competing militia organizations existed in the colony for a brief time. The Associators remained the principal defensive force of the city, while the militia served as the first line of frontier defense.

New Jersey raised troops for colonial defense as well. Since the colony’s borders were not threatened with invasion, its troops were sent to the New York frontier to aid in the defense of that colony. Much of the New Jersey regiment was taken prisoner at the siege of Oswego in 1756.

Quakers, Pacifism, Defense

From the outset of the war, significant division existed among Pennsylvania Quakers as to whether they should take any role in the defense of the colony. Some Quaker leaders objected that taking any role in the defense of the colony would violate their vows as pacifists. Others who viewed support for defense as within the Quaker mission of spreading peace may have been influenced by calls for aid from beleaguered frontier communities beset by Indian raids. Most Quakers serving in the Pennsylvania Assembly supported appropriating money for defense purposes between the fall of 1755 and summer of 1756. As it became clear that the conflict would last longer than initially anticipated, some grew more reticent to vote money for military measures. Six Quakers resigned from the Assembly, an action that provided opposition groups an opportunity to dislodge the Quaker majority in the fall 1756 elections.

[caption id="attachment_13990" align="alignright" width="228"]A color painting of a white-haired Caucasian male facing the viewer with his hands behind his back. He is wearing a red coat with gold buttons, a white shirts, and has a sword on his left hand side. John Campbell, Lord Loudon, oversaw the British military for the first three years of the Seven Years' War. (Project Gutenberg Books)[/caption]

In addition to raising troops, Philadelphia served as a military staging area. In late 1756, the British commander, Lord Loudon, dispatched the Sixtieth, or Royal American, Regiment to the city. At the time, Philadelphia did not possess any barracks to house them, which touched off a major controversy. Numerous inn and tavern keepers refused to take the British soldiers at the rates then being offered by the Crown. The commander of the Royal Americans, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Bouquet (1719-65), sought to make an arrangement with the mayor of the city, but to no avail. On receiving word of the situation, the commander of British forces in North America, John Campbell, Lord Loudon (1705-82), threatened to use force to acquire shelter for these troops, who were suffering from the effects of exposure to the weather and an outbreak of smallpox. At this point, a committee led by Benjamin Franklin succeeded in getting the tavern owners and innkeepers to accept the prescribed rates, ending the controversy.

Philadelphia also served as the staging area for the successful campaign led by Brigadier General John Forbes (1707-59) against Fort Duquesne in 1758. On his return, Forbes died in the city and was interred in the cemetery at Christ Church.

The War’s Drag on Commerce

The industries and port of Philadelphia, the major trading and ship-building center in North America, were significant in supplying the needs of the British forces in North America. The city supplied British troops with everything from candles to fresh provisions. But the war interfered with commerce as well. Before the outbreak of hostilities, ships from the Philadelphia area traded up and down the eastern seaboard as well as internationally. Part of this trade had always been illegal, and during the conflict, the Pennsylvania colonial authorities made greater efforts to suppress the illicit trade with the French through the neutral ports of the West Indies.

The conflict significantly altered the social make-up of Philadelphia. Refugees poured into the city from western Pennsylvania because they feared Indian attacks. In addition, roughly 450 Acadians who were forced out of their homes in Nova Scotia because the English feared they would be loyal to the French settled in Philadelphia in a row of one-story wooden structures on Pine Street. Both groups became dependent on the protection and philanthropic support of the city’s Quaker population.

As the transformation of Philadelphia and the surrounding area from a colonial town into a city accelerated during the Seven Years’ War, the conflict significantly altered the political makeup of the city. The power of the Proprietary Party continued to diminish, and the working classes began to feel their political power as they had been mobilized in groups such as the Philadelphia Associators. The Seven Years’ War also touched off the subsequent Pontiac’s War (1763-66), which caused additional upheaval on the western Pennsylvania frontier. The panic caused in 1764 when angry frontiersmen known as the Paxton Boys marched toward Philadelphia further eroded the political influence of the Quakers, who became increasingly associated with strict pacifism. Opponents accused the Quaker leadership not only of failing to protect the colonists during Pontiac’s War, but also of aiding Indians. The controversy led some rising political figures such as Benjamin Franklin to call for Pennsylvania to dispose of the Proprietors and become a Royal colony. The resulting political awareness among groups outside of the Quaker-dominated Proprietary interest would become a power force in the protests against British tax policy leading to the American Revolution.

James R. McIntyre is an Assistant Professor of History at Moraine Valley Community College, Palos Hills, Illinois. He serves as the editor of The Journal of the Seven Years' War Association.

James R. McIntyre

James R. McIntyre is an Assistant Professor of History at Moraine Valley Community College, Palos Hills, Illinois. He serves as the editor of The Journal of the Seven Years War Association.

World War I

Although the United States’ military involvement in the First World War lasted just over a year, the conflict in Europe had a lasting impact on the Philadelphia region. The war created new opportunities for the industrial base of Philadelphia, Chester, and Camden, and as men and women enlisted for military service, the region developed a sense of a patriotic community through food drives and bond campaigns. World War I, known at the time as the Great War, also reshaped the region’s social landscape. African Americans migrated from the South in large numbers to fill industrial jobs, and women found new opportunities outside the home. However, the war also caused a serious backlash toward German Americans, one of the region’s earliest and long-lasting population groups.

[caption id="attachment_11554" align="alignright" width="300"]A photograph from April 26, 1918 depicting a supply convoy of military supply trucks outside city hall. Supply convoys, such as this, carried supplies from the region's production facilities to its harbors for transport to the Allies in Europe. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

As Europe became engulfed in a bitter war in 1914, most Philadelphians supported the position of neutrality proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson. While the United States did not deploy combat troops in the early stages of the war, it did send munitions, weapons, textiles, and other goods to England and France. Philadelphia played a vital role in that supply.

In the Philadelphia region, the war in Europe sparked meetings, discussions, and public gatherings, and major events had local impact. For example, after local newspapers reported that German armies committed atrocities in Belgium in 1914, residents of Philadelphia and the surrounding area raised money for Belgian relief. In May 1915, twenty-seven Philadelphians died when a German U2 boat torpedoed and sank the British ocean liner Lusitania. Eight of them were members of the family of Paul Crompton (1871-1915), vice president of the Surpass Leather Company in Northwest Philadelphia. He was en route to England with his family and a large shipment of sheepskin accoutrements that had been purchased by the British Army.

Backlash Against German Ancestry

While most in the Philadelphia region supported U.S. neutrality, the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) generated enough antagonism to prompt discriminatory actions against residents of German ancestry. Federal agents raided the offices of the Tageblatt, a German newspaper in Philadelphia, and arrested staff members for treason. Philadelphians pressured the school board to halt the teaching of the German language, and vandals defaced statues of Goethe, Schiller, and Bismarck. As in other American communities, sauerkraut was renamed “Liberty Cabbage,” and Christmas legends such as Kris Kringle and Santa Claus were banned from public mention.

German Americans throughout the region, especially in Philadelphia, protested the rhetoric directed against them as well as U.S. involvement in the war. German Americans asked Philadelphia officials to help develop a better understanding of Germany and its people and to denounce anti-German demonstrations. Many of Philadelphia’s German Americans also called upon the United States to cease shipping goods to the Allies. Their actions only served to deepen suspicions. Socialists and Quakers also opposed U.S. entry into the war.

War created a significant boost to the region’s industries, which produced clothing, ammunition, weapons, and war machines for the U.S. military and the Allies. Even before U.S. entry into the conflict on April 6, 1917, the war helped to reinvigorate the region’s textile industry, which had been suffering in the early twentieth century. For example, the Dobson’s Mills, located in Kensington, Manayunk, and Germantown, filled an order for 100,000 blankets to the French army in the first year of the war, while the Roxford Knitting Mill in Kensington filled a similar-sized order for underwear. Area shipyards expanded, producing 328 ships during the war years. The New York Shipbuilding Corporation in South Camden and the Pusey and Jones Shipbuilding Corporation in Gloucester City became major contributors to the war effort. The war also vastly expanded the Camden Forge, a major supplier for the shipyards. The Baldwin Locomotive Works manufactured artillery shells and other munitions. Seventy-five percent of the military’s boots and shoes came from Philadelphia tanners.

Du Pont Prospers

In Delaware, the gunpowder manufacturer E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company vastly expanded its munitions production, from $25 million in sales 1914 to $319 million in 1918. Providing 40 percent of the munitions used by the Allied Forces during World War I, DuPont became one of the wealthiest companies in history. Its profits during World War I later drew scrutiny from the U.S. Senate, which held a series of committee hearings in the 1930s to investigate the role of industry in the U.S. decision to enter the war. Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) was among the industrialists called to testify.

[caption id="attachment_11647" align="alignright" width="248"]Members of the South Philadelphia Women's Liberty Loan Committee standing on the steps of Rush Library in Philadelphia. Organizations such as the South Philadelphia Women's Liberty Loan Committee advocated the purchase of Liberty Loans to raise money for the war effort. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Homefront civilians contributed to the war in a number of ways. They donated extensively to the three major “Liberty Loan” campaigns, which allowed Americans to contribute capital to the war effort. Further developing a connection between the “Liberty Loan” and Philadelphia was the use of the Liberty Bell as the campaign’s official symbol. The campaign was so popular in Philadelphia that it was oversubscribed.

During the war, the City of Philadelphia urged residents to use less food and fuel, even going as far as to implement “heatless Mondays,” when people were expected to use no fuel, and “wheatless Wednesdays,” when they were to avoid using wheat or wheat products. Contributions to the war effort caused dramatic shortages in food, fuel, and other necessities. During the late years of the war, some Philadelphia businesses and other commercial buildings closed due to a lack of coal and food.

Rise of Americanization Programs

Progressive reformers also joined the war effort. Growing fears about the loyalty of immigrants spurred Americanization programs to promote assimilation of immigrants to American customs, language, and social norms. Advocates of Prohibition also used the war to their advantage by arguing that beer consumers were anti-American and pro-German. They suggested the grain used to make beer could be better used to feed those in need in Europe.
While the war created difficult conditions for many, it also opened doors to new opportunities. Many women filled the jobs of men who were drafted or serving in the military. They organized Liberty Bond drives and other fundraisers. Women joined the Red Cross in great numbers and served as nurses overseas, and some women enlisted in the military. While they did not serve in combat, they worked in offices and other clerical positions. The U.S. military enlisted nearly 2,000 women from the city of Philadelphia.

Wartime growth of industry and labor shortages in the North also drew southern African Americans to northern industrial cities in a movement that became known as the Great Migration. African Americans who wanted to escape economic hardship, threats of violence, and discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the South hoped to find better opportunities in the North. In Philadelphia, Camden, Chester, and other cities, African Americans sought employment in industries including Baldwin Locomotive, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Reading Railroad, and Midvale Steel. While African Americans were poorly paid and forced to perform the least-desirable jobs, their chances for economic independence and advancement were better in the Philadelphia region than in the South.

Competition for Jobs and Housing

White Philadelphians, especially recent immigrants, saw African Americans as competitors for jobs and housing and resisted their arrival. In July 1918, after an African American woman moved into a house at 2936 Ellsworth Street in Philadelphia, a white neighborhood, angry white residents stoned the house and attacked nearby African Americans. The event triggered a riot that lasted two days and resulted in deaths of one African American and two whites. The threat of violence became so intense that the Colored Protective Association formed to assert the rights of African Americans.

[caption id="attachment_11648" align="alignright" width="300"]Men of the 28th Infantry Division marching down Chest Street during a homecoming parade in 1917. For its pivotal performances in the defense of the Champagne-Marne line and the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the Twenty-Eighth Infantry Division, shown here marching on Chestnut Street, earned itself the moniker "The Iron Division." (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

While many of the area’s residents contributed to the war effort at home, thousands crossed the Atlantic to fight for the Allies in Europe. Nearly 60,000 men were called to arms from Philadelphia and surrounding neighborhoods. Large groups of these men served in single divisions, which resulted in numerous Philadelphians being killed at the same time. For example, 7,000 Philadelphian men served in the Army’s Twenty-Eighth Infantry Division, which saw constant combat at the front in Marne and Argonne, France, throughout 1918. The Seventy-Ninth Infantry Division also drafted a large portion of its men from Philadelphia.

The success of the Allies in Europe came at a price. As the war came to a close, the area experienced two major challenges. First, the industrial boom came to an abrupt end. No longer supported by the high demand for war matériel, many of the factories and mills in Philadelphia, Camden, and the surrounding area closed in the early 1920s. Dobson’s textile mills, for example, were hit particularly hard. The company, which had delivered 30,000 blankets to the United States Army each week and grossed $20 million in the last year of the war, began closing mills in the early 1920s. By 1928 the last of the Dobson’s mills had closed. In Camden, the New York Shipbuilding Company as well as other industrial firms had to lay off many of their employees. Massive layoffs exacerbated growing social unrest spurred on by the red scare.

The second challenge came in the form of an influenza epidemic. The epidemic struck Philadelphia, Camden, and other cities particularly hard because of their dense populations. Measures were taken to limit the spread of the infectious disease, such as closing theaters, schools, saloons, and other public places. In just four weeks between October and November of 1919, the influenza epidemic claimed the lives of many more Philadelphians than had been killed during the entire course of the war.

World War I provided the “Workshop of the World” and the surrounding area the opportunity to flex its industrial prowess. Philadelphia produced massive quantities of goods for the war effort, and the war gave women and African Americans the opportunity to become more active in public and in the workforce. However, the war also brought with it discrimination against German American citizens, food and fuel shortages, and the death of nearly 1,400 Philadelphia men. When the war came to an end, workers, beginning with African Americans and women, were laid off in great numbers, and industries and businesses began to close, creating new challenges for the years ahead.

Jacob Downs has a master’s degree in history from Rutgers University-Camden.

Jacob Downs

Jacob Downs has a master's degree in history from Rutgers University-Camden.

Jennifer L. Green

Jennifer L. Green is Director of Education for the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, an eighteenth- century living history farm in Media, Pennsylvania. She has previously worked at The Mill at Anselma, a colonial-era grist mill in Chester County, where her study of early American agricultural and industrial history began. In addition to the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, she has written multiple articles for ExplorePAHistory.

Michelle Mormul

Michelle Mormul received her Ph.D. in history at the University of Delaware in 2010. Her research focuses on trade and commerce in the eighteenth century and textile history.

Joanne Danifo

Joanne Danifo holds a master's degree in history from Rutgers University with a focus in administration and programming at historic sites. She has worked for the Elfreth's Alley Association, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and in freelance research positions.

David Sullivan

David Sullivan is an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Peter Hendee Brown

Peter Hendee Brown is an architect, planner, and urban development consultant based in the Twin Cities. He teaches private sector real estate development at the University of Minnesota and is the author of America’s Waterfront Revival: Port Authorities and Urban Redevelopment.  Before moving to Minneapolis in 2003, he lived for seventeen years in Philadelphia, where he practiced architecture and worked in Philadelphia city government, serving in the administration of Mayor Edward G. Rendell.

Michael Karpyn

Michael Karpyn teaches History, Economics, and Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics at Marple Newtown Senior High School in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. He has served as a Summer Teaching Fellow at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where he is a member of the Teacher Advisory Group.

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