Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

News » Author Archives: Joshua Lisowski

Pennsylvania Hall

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 groups on Sixth Street about two blocks north of Independence Hall

[caption id="attachment_16554" align="alignright" width="300"]Despite the huge crowd, the attack on Pennsylvania Hall was remarkably calm. Most of the crowd only watched the blaze and prevented firefighters from extinguishing it. (Library Company of Philadelphia) Despite a horde of spectators, the attack on Pennsylvania Hall was remarkably calm. Most of the crowd only watched the blaze, though the group was a buffer between firefighters and the blaze. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The riot at Pennsylvania Hall occurred at a time of backlash against abolitionism, despite its long history in the region. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS), the nation’s first and best-known antislavery group, helped secure Pennsylvania’s gradual abolition law, the nation’s first, in 1780.  In 1794 abolitionist allies from New York, Delaware, and New Jersey had joined efforts with the PAS to form the American Convention of Abolition Societies, which met a number of times between 1794 and 1829, four times in Philadelphia. The group held its final meeting in Philadelphia in 1837, a pivotal year that saw the end of that organization but the beginning of the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society (PASS), whose members sought immediate rather than gradual abolition of slavery.  When abolitionist women and men started the process of bringing this more aggressive type of antislavery to the greater Philadelphia area by forming the Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society (PFASS) in 1833 and the Philadelphia Antislavery Society in 1834, many PAS members not only welcomed but joined the new organizations. 

[caption id="attachment_16556" align="alignright" width="300"]Pennsylvania Hall before the fire. (Library Company of Philadelphia) Pennsylvania Hall before the fire. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Soon, however, the rise of immediate abolition agitation, combined with the success of the PAS, created a backlash that resulted in churches and meetinghouses refusing to rent facilities for antislavery gatherings. Gradual and immediate abolitionists in Philadelphia then joined forces to form the Pennsylvania Hall Association, to raise money for and oversee construction of a very large and modern meeting hall at  Sixth and Haines Streets (between Arch and Race Streets).  PFASS members played a large role in raising funds to build the hall, collecting roughly $40,000 within a year.  Many members of the Pennsylvania Hall Association were local white Quakers affiliated with one or more of the region’s antislavery groups. Black antislavery leaders in the antislavery community also played important roles in fundraising and in overseeing construction, which began in 1837 and ended in time for a grand opening celebration beginning on May 14, 1838.

During its brief existence—three days from start of the grand opening to its destruction—Pennsylvania Hall housed the offices of the eastern district of the PASS, a free produce store, an antislavery reading room, the antislavery Pennsylvania Freeman newspaper, several meeting rooms, two large lecture rooms, and a large hall known as the “Grand Saloon.”   The Association celebrated the hall’s opening by inviting abolitionists from all over the northeastern United States to attend a multiple-day ceremony that included meetings of the PASS, the Philadelphia Lyceum, and the Antislavery Convention of American Women.

Resistance to the hall and what it symbolized emerged immediately, and ended with one of Philadelphia’s most famous acts of riot and destruction.  As the abolitionists gathered, onlookers--already resentful of the abolitionists whom they blamed for the growing black population in the city and the resulting job competition--spread rumors of racial “amalgamation” and inappropriate behavior at the hall.

Crowds formed around the building immediately upon its opening, and on the third day of the conference, when women inside the hall began to speak about the horrors of slavery, before an audience that included black and white men and women, the crowd outside began to throw bricks through the windows.  Despite half-hearted efforts by Mayor John Swift (1790-1873) to disperse the crowd, the attack escalated on May 17, 1838. A group later identified as dock workers broke down the doors, allowing a diverse white mob to enter the hall and set a number of fires, fueling them by the gas that was piped in for lighting.  Sheriff John G. Watmough (1793-1861) gathered about a dozen of the troublemakers, but was prevented by the crowd from maintaining custody. By the end of the night Pennsylvania Hall was a smoldering shell.

During the following decade the abolitionists unsuccessfully sought justice in the court system. No one was convicted of the crime, though dozens were arrested, and five men were investigated for their role in the incident.  Finally, in 1847, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared the county responsible for damages, and the Pennsylvania Hall Association received $27,942.27. 

Though the hall stood for only a short time, it had an important and lasting effect on the regional and national antislavery movements.  People who had previously ignored abolitionists, or expressed irritation at them for “agitating” and endangering the Union, began to reconsider their stance in light of this obvious attack upon free speech.  Abolitionists took advantage of this opportunity to argue that those who denied black freedom also sought to hamper white freedom. The women contributed to this endeavor by marketing a variety of goods made of wood from Pennsylvania Hall. 

In the end, the hall offered a graphic symbol of the struggle for both black and white freedom, and a reminder of the power of proslavery forces in the United States.  Abolitionists were able to use this symbol to portray their cause as a defensive movement for freedom and to tout the proslavery position as a danger to white as well as black liberty.

Beverly C. Tomek is the author of Pennsylvania Hall: A ‘Legal Lynching’ in the Shadow of the Liberty Bell (Oxford University Press, 2013) and Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania (NYU Press, 2011). She earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Houston and teaches at the University of Houston-Victoria.

Maps and Mapmaking

[caption id="attachment_16527" align="alignright" width="300"]A color map of Philadelphia county, with colored lines outlining different neighborhoods. A box of statistics is compliments the other labels on the map. Mapmakers required a variety of specialists to produce accurate maps. John Melish printed this 1819 map of Philadelphia County after three years of surveying, consulting with engravers, and gaining approval from the state legislature. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As the country's largest city, and for a time capital of the new nation, Philadelphia was well situated to chart the young republic's changing geography. Using its capacity to attract all the manufacturing elements necessary for successful publishing—printers binders, colorists, engravers and others—Philadelphia became the home of the nation's first full-time geographical publisher and soon became the center of the American map publishing industry.        

In the early years, the major market for cartographic products centered on geographies, general atlases, and gazetteers that served the republic's increasing appetite for maps. Map publishing in Philadelphia began with Mathew Carey (1760-1839), who had already published several periodicals. His initial venture centered on his plans in 1792 for publishing an American edition of Guthrie's Geography  (1786) with maps as illustrations. In 1795, he issued the first edition of Carey's American Atlas, which contained some of the first depictions of the individual states of the union. Carey was a general publisher; maps were not his primary product. However, he led the way in using the "cottage industry" of individuals and small firms found throughout Philadelphia to provide needed services.   

Carey's domination of Philadelphia publishing during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did not prevent others from relocating to take advantage of the commercial opportunities found within the city. The nation's first full-time geographical publisher, John Melish (1771-1822), a native of Scotland, settled in Philadelphia in 1811 after many travels around his new country. Melish has been considered one of the founders of the American commercial map trade.

Melish assumed the mantle of America's premier map publisher and geographer from Carey after the publication of his Map of the United States. This ranked as a significant and influential milestone in American cartography. Recognizing the curiosity of Americans about their own country especially after the War of 1812, he furnished a large-scale map of the entire United States as well as all of the North American British and Spanish possessions that bordered America. This map, which first appeared in 1816, became an invaluable tool in determining boundaries, which were still in flux between the United States and its neighbors, including Florida, Mexico, and Canada. The 1818 edition of the map was used for delineating the boundaries between the United States and Spain and was specifically mentioned in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819.  For the first time, it gave Americans a view of the vastness of a country augmented by the Northwest Ordinance and the Louisiana Purchase

[caption id="attachment_16528" align="alignright" width="575"]A map of the United States and surrounding areas with colored lines outlining the states and boundaries. John Melish’s Map of the United States became an invaluable tool for government entities and a curious public. As the boundaries of the United States shifted, Melish published updated versions of the map, resulting in five map revisions between 1816 and 1822. (Library of Congress)[/caption]


Magnet for Talent

Carey's and Melish's contemporary presence in Philadelphia drew significant talent to the city in the fields of cartographic engraving and printing. Chief among this talent was Benjamin Tanner (1775-1848), who relocated his engraving business from New York to Philadelphia by 1805 and serviced both Carey and Melish. He was joined in Philadelphia by his younger brother, Henry Schenck Tanner (1786-1858), by 1810. The younger Tanner worked principally with Melish.  Melish’s death in 1822 cleared the way for Henry S. Tanner to succeed him as the premier American map publisher.

Others soon migrated to the city to compete with Tanner. Samuel Augustus Mitchell (1792-1868) entered the Philadelphia cartographic scene with his 1831 edition of A New American Atlas.  Mitchell’s maps and atlases covered the entire spectrum of map publishing: atlases, state maps, guidebooks, and special maps. Mitchell's maps could be found throughout the country. His greatest contribution to American cartographic knowledge came from the many and various geographies compiled under his auspices.  

By the 1830s, schools looked for current and well-illustrated geographies and primers as part of their educational programs. Mitchell recognized the need for these textbooks and in 1839 issued his first school geography and atlas. Reviews throughout the country of his work were favorable, and within a few years a Mitchell's geography became standard in many classrooms, both secular and religious. Among his most popular titles were Mitchell’s School Geography, Mitchell’s Primary Geography, Mitchell’s Ancient Atlas, and Mitchell’s Ancient Geography. Many of these texts, first appearing between 1839 and 1845, underwent reprintings and revisions into the late nineteenth century. One biographer stated that the Mitchell company enjoyed an annual sale of over 400,000 copies of its works.

[caption id="attachment_16529" align="alignright" width="191"]A color lithograph showing elegant designs surrounding figures of a woman dressed in patriotic colors, George Washington, and other figures surrounding text advertising a company. The color lithography techniques mastered by Peter S. Duval allowed his studio to produce intricate color images, like this 1850s advertisement for his P. S. Duval & Co., quickly and inexpensively. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The introduction of the lithographic art into printing provided a cheaper form of reproduction for large as well as limited runs of maps. The first known lithographic map produced in the United States appeared in 1822, but no Philadelphia imprint appeared until 1830 when Cephas Childs (1793-1871) printed Plan of Land situate in Passyunk Township, Philadelphia County, Belonging to the Heirs of Henry Hill Esqr. Deceased. Childs hired Peter S. Duval (ca. 1804-86) in 1831 to run the lithographic shop, and Duval quickly rose to the top of the profession. Duval experimented in color lithography in the early 1840s and mastered the technique by early 1843. This innovation became crucial for the effectiveness of new forms of maps, including the cadastral (or land ownership) county map, the county atlas, and the fire insurance map. 

The lithographic revolution spurred the cheap production of limited-run editions of maps. Maps now commonly appeared as appendixes to city directories; published briefs of title; annual reports of railroad, canal, and other transportation companies; auctions of property; and land development surveys. Publishers such as Mitchell still relied heavily upon the old copperplate engraving techniques, but this was cost effective only if there was a large publishing run.

More Than Just Maps

Maps were only a part of the lithographer's business. Map publishers, however, continued to act as the managers of projects, raising the cash necessary for a successful production, engaging surveyors to conduct the surveys and consult official records, hiring lithographers and printers to engrave and print the product, and delivering the finished map. 

Map publishers relied heavily upon subscriptions to finance their projects. A promoter would announce a project and seek subscribers to help underwrite the costs. These promoters or their agents would work with local newspapers to advertise their projects. Most counties had no detailed commercial maps prior to 1850, and local editors strongly urged residents of the area to support the various projects, often relying upon local pride to help the cause. The practice of allowing the speculator to become the "publisher" while requiring the address of the printer on the map might lead one to assume that dozens of publishers worked in Philadelphia. In truth, there were only a few; most of the county maps published in Philadelphia came from the Robert Pearsall Smith Map Manufactory.  Between 1846 and 1864, Smith issued over 200 different maps that carried over 70 publishing names. A typical county map project, such as those for Mercer County, New Jersey (1849); Jefferson County, New York (1855); Adams County, Pennsylvania (1858); and Elkhart County, Indiana (1861), might last for over two years between the initial prospectus and surveys to the issuance of the completed map.

The large land ownership wall map reached its zenith in 1860-1861 with the Smith's publication of Map of the Vicinity of Philadelphia by D. Jackson Lake and Silas Norman Beers. This map covered the region from Wilmington to above Trenton and measured about five- to six-feet- square.  At least fifteen editions are known to exist, each with a different variation in the title and the inset plans.

Current events and topical subjects provided much business for mapmakers. Mitchell and others were quick to issue maps of the Mexican-American War, Texas, and the Far West during the 1840s. The Civil War devastated the county map business as publishers changed their focus to meet new demands for mapping the war. 

[caption id="attachment_16530" align="alignright" width="575"]A color map of the united states with different color outlines and shading around different states. There are labels visible throughout the map. P.S. Duval used inexpensive color lithography techniques in this 1861 military map to tint states and territories based on their political standing during the Civil War.(Library of Congress)[/caption]


City Consolidation Mapped

Publishers did not ignore the potential of street and road maps of cities, states, and other geographical areas. City maps were often included in the general atlases, although some individual maps of Philadelphia occasionally appeared, both as separate items and as part of other publications, such as city directories. The consolidation of Philadelphia city and county in 1854 spurred the publication of several maps of the newly enlarged city, several of which were issued by Rufus L. Barnes (1794-1868), who had worked in map production since the early 1830s.  Barnes also produced several large maps of Pennsylvania in the 1840s and 1850s. John L. Smith (1846-1921) assumed the business upon his retirement. The Barnes-Smith firm operated a retail store unlike many publishers.  

Urban areas presented a unique and complex approach to map publishing. Unlike the county maps, in which roads and houses were few and scattered, the density of cities called for new methods of mapping. R.P. Smith created a prospective map of Philadelphia in 1849 that depicted lot lines, addresses, and building outlines but failed to garner the financial support necessary to carry the project any further. At the same time, George T. Hope created the first American fire insurance map (Maps of the City of New York), which appeared between 1852 and 1855. One of the contributors to this map was Ernest Hexamer (1827-1912), who moved to Philadelphia to create the Maps of the City of Philadelphia, which first appeared in 1857.  Hexamer continued to supply fire insurance maps to Philadelphia until the firm was merged with the Sanborn Map Company of New York in 1915.

Following the Civil War, publishers seized upon a new format to rekindle the county map business to help satisfy the American need to celebrate its history before and during the Centennial. The Philadelphia map publisher Henry Frederick Bridgens (1825-72) converted his Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania (1860) into an atlas with the same title in 1861, thus giving birth to the county atlas. The growth of the county atlas started slowly owing to the disruptions of the Civil War. By 1866, only six county atlases had been published. With the war over, however, fifty-five additional titles appeared between 1866 and 1870 as the atlas replaced the map as the principal format for dispensing land ownership information in America. All but nine of the sixty-one titles that appeared in this period had New York or Philadelphia imprints.

[caption id="attachment_16589" align="alignright" width="248"]color portrait of Mathew Carey Map publishing in Philadelphia began with Mathew Carey (1760-1839), who had already published several periodicals. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Philadelphia's position as the center of American map publishing was increasingly threatened not only by publishers in Boston and New York during the 1850s and 1860s, such as J. H. Colton, Henry F. Walling, and Frederick Beers, but also by new firms in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, including Rand, McNally & Company. Some of the Midwestern companies initially relied upon Philadelphia printers and lithographers for their technical work. Soon they transferred their business to local printers or, in the case of Rand McNally, chose to consolidate all facets of the business under one roof.  

New Firms Despite Competition

Despite the increasing competition, the city continued to attract new firms. Starting in 1865, the G.M. Hopkins Company emerged as one of the mainstays in American urban cartography. Louis H. Everts (1836-1924) moved from the Midwest to Philadelphia to produce many county atlases and county histories during the 1870s. Ormando Wyllis Gray (1829-1912) relocated his map publishing operations from Boston in about 1871 and concentrated on more general map publishing.   

Hopkins introduced the urban real estate atlas format with the Atlas of (the late borough of) Germantown in 1871. The urban atlas publishers included pertinent information important to real estate brokers, insurance companies, and railroads. As the form matured, the atlas type became standardized in that each street, property and building was carefully plotted with boundaries noted.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of Philadelphia map publishing firms concentrated on publishing real estate atlases.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marked a decline in Philadelphia's influence on the American map publishing industry. William M. Bradley & Brother continued publishing many Mitchell imprints into the 1890s, but this series faded and with it went Philadelphia's share of the general map and atlas business as Rand, McNally & Company of Chicago assumed the role of leader in this field. Much of the success of Rand McNally lay in new production methods revolving around wax engraving not embraced by the Philadelphia publishers and engravers. A survey of those map and chart publishers in Philadelphia listed in the 1906 city directory shows that most of them focused upon county and urban atlases and street maps. 

Philadelphia map publishers continued their dominance over the American urban atlas throughout the first half of the twentieth century. They produced many atlases of American cities. These publishers often opened offices in other cities to coordinate their mapping activities there. The Depression had an adverse effect on urban atlas publishing similar to that of the Civil War on the county wall map. The deaths of the founders of the significant firms brought second-generation ownership without the marketing skills to maintain significant operations in a changing market. The 1930s and 1940s saw a consolidation of some map publishers and the removal from Philadelphia of others. Lewis L. Amsterdam (1899-1991) founded Franklin Survey Company in 1928 after spending time as a map salesman for other companies. During the twentieth century, the Franklin Survey Company, now Franklin Maps, absorbed both the Hopkins and J.L. Smith companies. Located in King of Prussia since 1986, it continued the tradition of map publishing started by Mathew Carey in 1793.  

Jefferson M. Moak is a professional archivist, historian, and genealogist.  He has worked at the Map Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the Philadelphia City Archives, and most recently as senior archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia. He has undertaken extensive research into the architectural, cartographic, and neighborhood histories of Philadelphia, publishing several guides to Philadelphia research, including Atlases of Pennsylvania (1974), Philadelphia Mapmakers (1976), Philadelphia Street Name Changes (1995, 2000), and Architectural Research in Philadelphia (2001-2002).

National Parks

[caption id="attachment_16121" align="alignright" width="300"]photograph of the Preseident's House Independence National Historical Park is affiliated with 34 sites throughout Philadelphia, including three places in this photo: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, and the President’s House Site, viewed from near Sixth and Market Streets. (Photograph by G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

National parks figure prominently in Greater Philadelphia’s cultural, economic, and natural landscapes.  Morristown (1933), Independence (1948), Valley Forge (1976), and First State (2015) National Historical Parks all preserve and provide access to sites associated with the American Revolution and early American history. Together they welcome nearly six million visitors each year and create more than four thousand jobs in surrounding communities, thereby generating considerable economic activity throughout the region. Alongside other regional units of or supervised by the National Park Service, including historical sites, memorials, heritage areas, historic landmarks, historic properties, an agency headquarters, and a sprawling nature reserve, the national parks reflect a longstanding and ongoing investment by the federal government in protecting the region’s rich natural and cultural resources.

[caption id="attachment_16539" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photo of a park service ranger speaking to tourists before they begin the Independence Hall tour. A National Park Service ranger tells visitors outside Independence Hall what to expect on the tour they are about to take. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.)[/caption]

Established in 1916 amid a Progressive impulse to preserve the nation’s scenic treasures, the National Park Service began its work primarily in western states, far removed from the East’s burgeoning population centers.  Agency leaders worked to shift the balance by establishing parks throughout the eastern states and expanding their scope to include sites of historical significance.  Doing so, however, put the National Park Service into competition with state and local preservation organizations, which had spread throughout the country following the Civil War.  Also at odds with this mission was the War Department, which since the 1890s had been charged with supervising national military parks.

[caption id="attachment_16275" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the front of a house, with trees and a cannon in the foreground. George Washington turned the Ford Family Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey, into a headquarters for the Continental Army during the winter of 1779. The Ford Mansion became part of the first national historic park in 1933. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Despite the increasingly competitive heritage landscape, National Park Service leaders scoured the region looking for footholds to expand the agency’s stewardship across all federal parks.  Their search led to Morristown, New Jersey, in 1932.  Although no battles ever occurred there, Morristown was storied for its association with George Washington (1732-99) and two encampments of the Continental Army, particularly during the hard winter of 1779-80. Because Morristown was not a battlefield, it was not subject to the War Department’s supervision. Although a private organization formed to protect Morristown’s historic structures during the 1870s, it struggled financially during the 1920s and 1930s despite growing public interest in the site. Against the backdrop of George Washington’s two-hundredth-birthday celebrations in 1932, National Park Service leaders together with local enthusiasts convinced Congress to establish the nation’s first national historical park at Morristown. President Herbert Hoover signed the act into law in 1933.

Morristown was not the agency’s first historical unit—it had established two historical monuments in Virginia in 1930—but was the first to be designated a historical park, which implied a scale and significance akin to iconic wilderness parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon.  It was a crucial step in prompting a massive reorganization in 1933 that placed all of the nation’s federal parks, monuments, and historic sites under National Park Service supervision. In the Historic Sites Act of 1935, Congress authorized the agency, for the first time, to seek out and preserve historic sites and properties of particular significance. In this regard, Morristown was a catalyst for creating an expansive history program within the agency that, in coming years, employed corps of researchers, architects, and preservationists.

A Nudge from the New Deal

The impact of the reorganization was immediately evident throughout Greater Philadelphia, in part because of additional initiatives of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. With the country deep in economic crisis, the Roosevelt administration sought to ease anxieties and provide job relief by commissioning a network of recreational areas on past-prime lands bordering the nation’s urban areas. These included nearly six thousand acres reclaimed in 1935 from a centuries-old iron plantation on the border of Chester and Berks Counties forty miles northwest of Philadelphia. Hundreds of men employed by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps set to restoring old buildings and landscapes so that by 1936, when administration of federal recreation areas passed to the National Park Service, agency leaders inherited a ready-made historic site. Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site entered the system in 1938, only the second historical site designated as such under the Historic Sites Act.

[caption id="attachment_16274" align="alignright" width="215"]A black and white photograph of the front of a church, with a visible tower and graveyard stones in the foreground. The Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church originally served the Swedish Lutheran population that settled near the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers in the 1670s. By the 1790s, the Swedish congregation began to dissipate and the church began to host Episcopal services to serve the area’s changing demographics. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, citizens motivated by patriotism and concern for the deteriorating urban environment around Independence Hall clamored to leverage the Historic Sites Act to create a national monument encompassing the hall and other buildings associated with the nation’s founding. Making the case for a large park was difficult, however, given a complex web of competing private property interests. The National Park Service made inroads during 1939 when it acquired the old Second Bank of the United States building, just vacated by the U.S. Customs Service and designated it the Old Philadelphia Custom House National Historic Site. In 1942, in South Philadelphia, the National Park Service brokered a cooperative partnership with the stewards of Old Swedes’ Church to establish Gloria Dei Church National Historical Site. In the meantime, a coalition of power brokers including politicians, lawyers, architects, and members of hereditary societies leveraged wartime patriotism toward generating support for a stronger federal presence. It came in 1943 when, with a special presidential waiver of a wartime prohibition against new parks, the National Park Service established Independence Hall National Historical Site. In 1948, having spent the remaining war years haggling over plans with park boosters and city officials, agency leaders and local supporters convinced Congress to authorize Independence National Historical Park.

[caption id="attachment_16091" align="alignright" width="300"]aeiral photograph of Independence Hall With "non-historic" buildings cleared away, new parks (shown in 1966) buffered Independence Hall from the city and created a more welcoming environment for tourists. (PhillyHistory.org).[/caption]

Though born of World War II, Independence very much embodied the Cold War era.  It was, after all, a park committed squarely to promoting the success of American democracy. Its singular focus on the Revolutionary era conveniently excused it from contending with constitutional failures such as those that prompted civil rights activism in the postwar years.  What’s more, the National Park Service’s development plan literally created the park’s historical  landscape. Throughout the 1950s, bulldozers cleared nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings to create a mall (initially a state park) north of Independence Hall and a landscaped park extending three blocks to the east. Although some within the agency warned against this approach of displacing people and businesses that did not harmonize with Independence’s historical aesthetic, it reflected the considerable influence of postwar-era urban renewal strategies, which favored “slum” clearance and the expansion of public space in city centers.  In this regard, the National Park Service’s energies in Philadelphia advanced a radical transformation of the city’s landscape that was more broadly coordinated by the City Planning Commission and its executive director, Edmund Bacon (1910-2005). The opening of a restored Independence Hall to the public in 1972 thus reflected Philadelphia’s new cachet as a center of historic preservation, but it also bespoke a new vision for urban life at the end of the twentieth century.

[caption id="attachment_16271" align="alignright" width="239"]a photograph of Washington's headquarters George Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge National Historical Park, seen here, has been restored by the National Park Service to give visitors a better understanding of Revolutionary War encampments. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The popularity of that vision during the 1970s owed, in part, to the remarkable breadth of activities associated with the nation’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976.  Bicentennial fervor made Independence a locus of veneration and protest.  But, even beyond Independence, the Bicentennial intensified National Park Service commitments throughout Greater Philadelphia.  A campaign emerged to put Valley Forge State Park—set aside in 1893 as Pennsylvania’s first state park—under federal supervision. Washington’s Continental Army suffered a difficult though transformative encampment at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. Public memory of its travails inspired significant commemoration over the years, but a shifting economy and runaway suburban growth exceeded the park’s capacity to protect its resources. After considerable debate throughout the early 1970s, Congress agreed in 1976 to make Valley Forge the region’s third national historical park.

Many Less-Visible Parks

[caption id="attachment_16273" align="alignright" width="300"]A photograph of the Edgar Allan Poe House. The temporary apartment of Edgar Allan Poe near Seventh and Spring Garden Streets became part of the Independence National Historical Park in 1978. Although Poe and his family only lived at this location for about a year in 1843-44, the National Park Service uses the site to interpret the entirety of Poe’s seven-year life in Philadelphia.[/caption]

Large historical parks ranked among only the most visible of National Park Service initiatives throughout the region at the end of the twentieth century.  Bicentennial energies brought Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial (the agency’s smallest unit at .02 acres) into the system in 1972 as well as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in 1978. The agency’s capacity to serve the region owed also to the presence of a thriving field office,  established in Philadelphia in 1956. Although the purview and the name of the Northeast Regional Office has shifted over the years, its purpose has been to provide a corps of planners and technicians to nearly eighty parks and other units spread across thirteen states. Its work is not limited to historical units.  Regional officers figured prominently, for instance, in brokering the establishment in 1978 of the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve across nearly a million acres of ancient forest in southern New Jersey. 

The Pinelands project heralded a new direction for the National Park Service favoring cooperative management—with state, local, and private interests—of mixed-use natural and heritage areas rather than exclusive federal control typical of national parks. This strategy   shaped much of the agency’s work throughout the greater Philadelphia area during the early years of the twenty-first century. Beyond sustaining its legacy units, the agency took an advisory role in managing the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (1988), the Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area (2000), the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River (2000), the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area (2006), and the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail (2009).  In addition, through its supervision of the National Register of Historic Places, the agency provided assistance to hundreds of historic properties and landmarks scattered throughout the region. 

The Greater Philadelphia area’s distinctive concentration of natural and cultural resources created significant responsibilities for the National Park Service. Despite dwindling budget appropriations in the twenty-first century, Congress continued to create new units to be managed. In 2015 these included the First State National Historical Park, Delaware’s first national park, which was designated to preserve and provide access to sites associated with colonial Dutch, English, Finnish, and Swedish settlements (reaching also into southeastern Pennsylvania). National politics and regional needs thus mixed again with shifting landscapes and the tides of memory to ensure an ongoing and dynamic role for the National Park Service throughout Greater Philadelphia.

Seth C. Bruggeman is an Associate Professor of History at Temple University.  His publications include an edited volume, Born in the USA: Birth and Commemoration in American Public Memory (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), and Here, George Washington Was Born: Memory, Material Culture, and the Public History of a National Monument (University of Georgia Press, 2008).

Beverly C. Tomek

Beverly C. Tomek is the author of Pennsylvania Hall: A ‘Legal Lynching’ in the Shadow of the Liberty Bell (Oxford University Press, 2013) and Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania (NYU Press, 2011). She earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Houston and teaches at the University of Houston-Victoria.

Private (Independent) Schools

[caption id="attachment_15708" align="alignright" width="300"]A color postcard of the corner of a city block, with some buildings and trees in the background. Some steps and a light pole are in the foreground and some people are walking on the sidewalk. Germantown Academy, established in 1759 as a nonsectarian school for local boys, moved to Fort Washington in 1965 as middle class families relocated to the suburbs. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The private or independent schools in the Greater Philadelphia area came about mainly to satisfy a need felt by wealthy, white families to educate their children in a cultural and intellectual environment that would prepare them for the responsibilities befitting their gender, race, and class status. Most have existed for at least a century. Although never a large proportion of the region’s educational marketplace, they achieved respect based upon their associations with wealth and power, their academic excellence, and in many cases their religious affiliations. Nevertheless, they struggled with three important issues: access, location, and cost. Finding the right balance among them was a perpetual problem. Since the 1960s, they have addressed this problem by diversifying in many ways—in student body, curricula, and leadership. Ironically, this made them, as a group, more alike than different. But as a result, they lost an important part of their heritage—namely, the desire to preserve strict economic, social, and cultural distinctions.

Most of the region’s private and independent schools are concentrated in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. South Jersey lagged behind because it did not have a critical mass of middle- and high-income residents at the beginning of the twentieth century when circumstances for founding such schools were most propitious. Protestant denominations and Catholic religious orders, both male and female, started many of them. They wanted a “protected education” that would reinforce their teachings. Sequestering students from those of different faiths and from the opposite sex screened out “undesirable” influences and temptations.

[caption id="attachment_30815" align="alignright" width="300"]An aerial photograph of William Penn Charter School. William Penn Charter School, shown in an aerial photograph taken by the Aero Service Corporation c. 1925-26, gained its name from Pennsylvania’s founder. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

In 1689, members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) founded the first school in the region because they associated education with the common good as well as personal salvation. The William Penn Charter School was named for the document establishing it by Pennsylvania proprietor William Penn. In the beginning it taught rich and poor, Quaker and non-Quaker alike. By the twenty-first century, it could claim the honor of being the oldest Friends school in the world, the oldest elementary school in Pennsylvania, and the fifth-oldest elementary school in the United States. After occupying several sites in the old city, it moved in 1925 to the suburbanlike neighborhood of East Falls/Germantown. Its new address and high tuition made it inaccessible to many children. Friends Select School was originally “under the care” of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, a sponsorship later shared with the Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. The word “select” in its name indicated that only Quaker children were admitted (or selected); financial considerations brought this practice to an end in 1877.

Abington_Friends_School_LogoEstablished in 1697 in what became Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, the Abington Friends School was under the care of the Abington Monthly Meeting. When it opened, it was in a completely rural area. The same could be said for the Westtown School, which was established on a farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1799. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which planned the school and brought it to fruition, purposely located it a day’s ride by stagecoach from Philadelphia to protect its students from the city’s corrupting influence. Not surprisingly, it was a boarding school though it eventually accepted day students as its surroundings became more populated.

Most Quakers were clear about the different roles of men and women, but they vacillated for years on the subject of coeducation for children. Friends Select operated separate schools for boys and girls before consolidating them in the 1880s. Abington and Westtown Friends admitted both boys and girls in the beginning, but Abington excluded boys for three decades, a practice that ended only in the 1960s. Westtown kept the sexes apart until the late nineteenth century, when it gradually began to allow boys and girls to attend some classes together and play with one another under strict supervision. By contrast, it did not admit non-Quakers until the 1930s. The school incorporated for the first time in 2010, making it an independent Quaker prep school.

George SchoolThe George School, a Quaker school not affiliated with a Friends meeting, opened in 1893 and has been located in Newtown, Bucks County, ever since. It was named for John M. George, its principal donor, who along with other backers intended it to be a coeducational institution for Hicksite Quakers. Since the Westtown School was affiliated with the Orthodox movement, the George School saw itself as an alternative. Over the last fifty years, a large number of financially successful alumni have built one of the largest endowments of any private school in the greater Philadelphia region, facilitating the admission of low-income students. In 2006-2007 Westtown and George enrolled a much higher proportion of such students than all the other Quaker schools in the region (see chart in the image gallery at right). Nevertheless, both are schools for which family income remains a defining characteristic.

Germantown Friends SchoolSuburbanization affected some Quaker schools more than others. Friends Select School remained in downtown Philadelphia, eventually settling in 1937 on the grand boulevard that became known as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Founded in 1845 by the Germantown Monthly Meeting, Germantown Friends School never left its original location (Coulter Street near Germantown Avenue) even though this neighborhood, which was once almost entirely white and middle class, diversified demographically and deteriorated physically. The school has always been coeducational, but until the early twentieth century,Friends Central School it admitted only Quakers. Friends Central School, on the other hand, started life in 1845 at Fourth and Cherry Streets before moving to the fringe of the developed city (Fifteenth and Race Streets) just before the Civil War. It left Philadelphia altogether in 1925, relocating to Wynnewood, Montgomery County.

Suburbanization caught up with both the George School and Abington Friends. As Bucks County’s population grew in twentieth century, the George School accepted an increasing number of day students. Situated in eastern Montgomery County, Abington Friends expanded its campus, allowing it to stay in the same place under the same management longer than any other school in the nation. All of these Quaker schools have relied on academic rigor and a high college acceptance rate to attract both urban and suburban applicants since at least the middle of the twentieth century.

[caption id="attachment_16218" align="alignright" width="150"]Chart showing enrollment figures in private schools for two school years. Private schools enrollment comparisons for two school years. (Click to enlarge.)[/caption]

Not to be outdone, Quakers in New Jersey founded two schools, Moorestown Friends in 1785 and Haddonfield Friends one year later. The latter accepted both Quakers and non-Quakers from the beginning.  Like most Friends schools, it required students to attend meeting once per week. Founded by the Wilmington Monthly Meeting in 1748, Wilmington Friends, in Wilmington, Delaware, has been an independent day school for decades. Before public schools existed in Delaware, it served a wide array of students, but in recent decades it has concentrated on those aspiring to attend college. It moved to suburban Alapocas in 1937. 

The percentage of Quakers enrolled at Friends schools has diminished over the years in part because, like most private schools in the region, they have increasingly sought to enroll many different kinds of students. At the same time, these schools have always stressed such core Quaker values as equality, simplicity, justice, integrity, and service to others. None of these values is exclusive to Quakers, of course, but sometimes they conflicted with practices associated with a rigorous college preparatory education. Germantown Friends, for example, eliminated academic awards for its students in 2002. As a rule, the Quaker schools have not required try-outs for their athletic teams; anyone who comes forward can participate.

Roman Catholic Schools

Waldron Mercey AcademyThe Roman Catholic Church sponsored many private schools in the region. Even more than the Quakers, the Catholics were committed to religious schools for their children, and some—especially those for girls—practiced single-sex education. In time, they all admitted non-Catholics and some even opted for coeducation, both of which helped make ends meet. Waldron Mercy Academy, for example, brought together two single-sex private schools in Merion, Pennsylvania —Waldron Academy for Boys and Merion Mercy Academy for Girls—in a merger that took place in 1987. That there was some precedent for this combination may be inferred from the history of their mutual predecessor, Mater Misericordiae Academy (1885). It had a young boys department that joined Waldron Academy for Boys when it opened in 1923.

Malvern Preparatory SchoolThree Catholic private schools began as feeders for Roman Catholic colleges. Such an arrangement was not unusual at a time when most small colleges had to prepare students for admission by sponsoring high schools or academies. The oldest is Malvern Preparatory School in Malvern, Chester County. Operated by the Order of St. Augustine, it began in 1842 on the campus of what was then Villanova College. In 1922, partly in an effort to make an even clearer distinction between the college and the academy, its secondary department moved to Malvern where it served a largely suburban population. Other early feeder schools included St. Joseph’s Preparatory and La Salle College High School. “St. Joe’s Prep” traces its roots to the founding of St. Joseph’s College (chartered in 1851), both under the aLaSalle College High Schooluspices of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The school and college were located initially at (Old) StSt Joseph Preparatory School. Joseph’s Church on Willings Alley (between Third and Fourth Streets, and Walnut and Locust Streets). When the college moved to Seventeenth and Stiles Streets, the “Prep” went with it and remained there when the college relocated to City Avenue in 1927. After considering coeducation, the Prep decided to remain all male. La Salle College High School for boys came into being with the establishment of La Salle College in 1858. A century later it moved to a separate suburban campus in the affluent community of Wyndmoor, Montgomery County, while the college remained in the city.

Archmere AcademyLike the Catholic prep schools in Pennsylvania, Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware, started as an all-boys school in 1932 but became coeducational in the early 1970s. The Norbertine Brothers founded it as a boarding school but eventually abandoned this policy due to space considerations.

Academy of Notre Dame de NamurCatholic women’s religious orders established several girls’ schools in Philadelphia in the second half of the nineteenth century. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1856, what became the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur educated both sexes at first. Moving west with the city, it opened a convent boarding and day school on fashionable Rittenhouse Square (Nineteenth Street below Walnut) in 1866. It remained there for nearly eighty years (1866-1944) before establishing a second campus in Villanova (Sproul Road) to which it moved its entire operation in 1967. By then, it was a day school for girls only, a policy that the move did Mount Saint Joseph Academynot change. The Sisters of St. Joseph established Mount St. Joseph Academy in 1858 on what later became the campus of Chestnut Hill College. It sought to instill a fear of God in girls about to enter polite society and impress upon them such values as modesty and chastity. It also sought to “recruit” young women for the sisterhood, and for many years some followed this path. But its primary objective soon became college preparation.

[caption id="attachment_15706" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white aerial photograph of a series of school buildings surrounded by fields and sections of trees. Villa Maria Academy occupied several sites before establishing this campus in Frazer, Pennsylvania. The Academy only taught girls here for a few years before moving to another campus and transferring the land to Villa Maria College (now known as Immaculata University). (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The Sisters of Mercy established what became Gwynedd Mercy Academy in 1863, and it moved several Gwynedd Mercy Academy High Schooltimes before settling in suburban Gwynedd Valley in 1947, where it shared a site with Gwynedd Mercy College. Nuns belonging to an order known as the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary opened Villa Maria Academy in 1872. It occupied several sites before moving to the Chester County campus of Immaculata College in 1925. Along the same lines, the Ursuline Sisters established Ursuline Academy for girls in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1893. All these Catholic academies had mandatory religion classes, but they stopped requiring their students to attend Catholic religious services when many were no longer practicing Roman Catholics.

Similar to the Roman Catholic academies, the Academy of the New Church grew up in a religious tradition. Established in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, in 1876, it was formed to train clergy for the New Church founded by Emanuel Swedenborg. Separate schools for boys and girls began in 1881 and 1884, respectively. Their main purpose was to strengthen their students’ ties to the faith, and for many years all of them belonged to the New Church. The school separated boys and girls in classes that were deemed gender restrictive but mixed them in other subjects. Students not only took religion classes but also attended church services on a regular basis. Among private schools in the region, it enrolled by far the largest proportion of low-income students in 2007 (see chart in the image gallery at right).

Episcopal Schools

Episcopal Academy

[caption id="attachment_30898" align="alignright" width="300"]A 1946 image of the Episcopal Academy's Merion campus. The Episcopal Academy was founded in 1785 by Rt. Rev. William White at Old Christ Church. This 1946 picture shows one of the buildings on its Merion campus. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Men founded the academies associated with the Episcopal Church in greater Philadelphia.  They became more diverse over the years, enrolling girls in most cases as well as some minority and low-income students. William White, the first Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania and the moving force behind the creation of the Episcopal Church in the United States, founded Episcopal Academy in 1785. Located in the city at first, it followed its mostly affluent constituency to suburban Lower Merion in 1921. In 2008, the school pulled up stakes once again, relocating to a larger campus in Newtown Square, Delaware County. Its students were still required to attend chapel, but religious observance in its daily life paled by comparison to academic rigor and college acceptance.

St. Andrew’s School (also Episcopal) in Middletown, Delaware, is a boarding school for college preparatory students with an emphasis on the liberal arts. Founded in 1929 by A. Felix du Pont, a member of Delaware’s immensely wealthy Du Pont family, it was intended to give a superior education to boys of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The school’s large endowment has allowed it to be generous with financial aid for low-income students.

Akiba Hebrew Academy

Barrack Hebrew AcademyAs the anti-Semitism that once characterized Philadelphia culture subsided in the second half of the twentieth century, Jews gained access to many private schools that had previously been off limits to them. But before such barriers came down, Rabbi Joseph Levitsky, among others, established Akiba Hebrew Academy. Opened at the Young Men’s/Young Women’s Hebrew Association on South Broad Street in 1946, it moved to North Philadelphia (Strawberry Mansion) in 1948, Wynnewood six years later, and Merion Station in 1956. The wealth amassed by Philadelphia lawyer and philanthropist Leonard Barrack made possible another move, this time to Bryn Mawr in 2008, where it became known as the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. Like many of the Christian preparatory schools in southeastern Pennsylvania, it was mobile but perhaps because it was not founded until after World War II, it was also coeducational from the beginning. 

Nonsectarian Private Schools

Besides the schools with religious ties, nonsectarian private schools have been in the region for many years. Some always were, while others have become college preparatory. A few moved to suburbs during the twentieth century. Like several of their sectarian counterparts—Abington Friends (1966), St Andrews School (1973), Episcopal Academy (1974), and Penn Charter (1980) — they began shifting from single-sex to coeducation in the 1960s and 1970s. They did so not only because of changing attitudes about gender roles, but also because of their dependence on tuition income. In 1962 the average cost to attend one of them was about $1,000 per year, far more than what most families could pay. Although the decision to go coeducational was often divisive, it was no longer advisable or even feasible for them to deny access to half the school-age population. Over the next forty years many increased their enrollment, even as their tuition grew by as much as 2500 percent.

germantown-academyThe oldest nonsectarian private school to survive into the twenty-first century is Germantown Academy. Established in 1759 as the Germantown Union School, it was initially located in the place for which it was named. It moved to a new suburban campus (Fort Washington) in 1965 and became coeducational. The Hill School in Pottstown, Montgomery County, was founded as a boarding school in 1851. Its founder, the Reverend Matthew Meigs, was a Presbyterian minister, but the school was never affiliated with that denomination or any other. Originally known as “The Family Boarding School,” its board of directors renamed it the Hill School—a reference to its elevated site—when academic excellence and college preparation became its primary mission. Originally for boys only, the school was a latecomer to coeducation, admitting girls for the first time in 1998. The Haverford School, on the other hand, chose to remain for boys only. Founded in 1884 as the Haverford College Grammar School, it acted as a feeder for the college for many years. It was under the care of the college’s board of managers until 1916.


Chestnut Hill, an elite residential neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia, has been home to two selective private schools since the mid-nineteenth century.  Opened in 1861 as a school for boys, Chestnut Hill

[caption id="attachment_16250" align="alignright" width="300"]black and white photo of library with students and a teacher at Chestnut Hill Academy, c 1956 This library scene at Chestnut Hill Academy, circa 1956, conveys the ambiance at private schools of the era. (Chestnut Hill Academy)[/caption]

Academy was loosely tied to the Episcopal Church and even explored merging with Episcopal Academy. Boarders were expected to attend Sunday services at neighboring St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church until 1934 when the Depression forced the boarding department to close. Thinking that this fashionable neighborhood needed a girls’ “finishing school,” two southern women, Ann Bell Comegys and Jane Erwin Bell, founded Springside School in 1879. After occupying several sites in Chestnut Hill for nearly eighty years, it moved in 1957 to the front lawn of Druim Moir, the former home of multifaceted entrepreneur and real estate developer Henry Howard Houston. By then, its student body had become more diverse thanks to the gradual modification of its neighborhood orientation. Almost half its students now lived outside Chestnut Hill, but these girls often had trouble fitting in. Because the two schools were adjacent, they increasingly entered into joint ventures, beginning in the 1960s, and finally merged completely in 2011, becoming Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

Nonsectarian Schools for Girls

Nonsectarian private schools for girls appeared in the Main Line suburbs at the end of the nineteenth century. Educating them meant limiting their exposure to some of the subjects taught to boys, such as science and math. It also meant a curriculum that featured languages, art, music, and the social graces. Florence Baldwin founded the institution that bears her name in 1888 as an unofficial preparatory school for the academically rigorous Bryn Mawr College. One year later the Shipley sisters located their new school across the street from Bryn Mawr College to drive home the point that they, too, intended to prepare young women for college, not just marriage. Both schools accepted boarders as well as day The Agnes Irwin Schoolstudents for many years but eventually closed their boarding departments.  Shipley went one step further, becoming coeducational in 1984. The Agnes Irwin School, which opened its doors in 1869, has never admitted boys. Like so many of its counterparts, it moved out of Philadelphia, settling in Wynnewood in 1933 and then in Rosemont twenty-eight years later. Like Springside eventually did, these three schools downplayed high society, stressing higher education instead.

[caption id="attachment_15792" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a group of high school kids playing football on a field. They are dressed in uniforms and small helmets. There is a small crowd in the background. William Penn Charter School and Germantown Academy began their athletic rivalry with a football game in 1886. By the 1980s, their rivalry took the form an all-day, multisport event referred to as GA-PC Day, which culminates in a football game. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The adoption of coeducation by many of these private schools in the second half of the twentieth century leveraged their commitment to college preparation. It reinforced the idea that academic achievement was their prime consideration. But even those schools that remained single-sex had to have a demanding curriculum. They supplemented languages, science, and mathematics with opportunities for self-expression (e.g. the performing arts) in a robust extra curriculum. Some added community service (aka service learning) because many colleges looked for evidence of this in applicants. Informed by federal legislation (Title IX), others introduced a girls’ sports program, or expanded it, building on their long history of boys’ interscholastic competition. The athletic rivalry between Germantown Academy and Penn Charter dates to 1886. All of these improvements have required constant fund-raising.

Along with coeducation, minority recruitment, and the elimination of religious restrictions in admissions, the focus on college preparation helped to make selective private schools more alike than different. Even those for girls operated by Catholic religious orders were not able to resist this trend. All of these schools survived, despite their high cost, because they had some important advantages.  Their facilities were outstanding and their reputations excellent. Like all private schools, they were less subject to government regulation, freeing them, for example, from state teacher certification requirements and the standardized tests imposed by federal law. They set their own academic standards. Such private schools have been criticized because they do not participate in the grand democratic experiment that public education represents. But they offer to those who can afford them an attractive alternative to the public schools—especially those in Philadelphia, Chester, and Camden—that many regarded as failing.

David R. Contosta is the author of many books and articles on Philadelphia history, such as Philadelphia’s Progressive Orphanage: The Carson Valley School (1997). William W. Cutler III has authored many publications on the history of education in Greater Philadelphia. His most recent is “Outside In and Inside Out: Civic Activism, Helen Oakes and the Philadelphia Public Schools, 1960-1989,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography CXXXVII (July 2013), 301-324.

Jefferson M. Moak

Jefferson M. Moak is a professional archivist, historian and genealogist.   He has worked at the Map Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the Philadelphia City Archives, and most recently as senior archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.   He has undertaken extensive research into the architectural, cartographic, and neighborhood histories of Philadelphia, publishing several guides to Philadelphia research, including Atlases of Pennsylvania (1974), Philadelphia Mapmakers (1976), Philadelphia Street Name Changes (1995, 2000), and Architectural Research in Philadelphia (2001-2002).

West New Jersey

[caption id="attachment_16014" align="alignright" width="300"]A color image a map of New Jersey, showing an outline of the state and various intersecting lines showing different boundaries. The three vertical lines in the midsection of this map indicate efforts to determine the boundary between East and West New Jersey. The New Jersey proprietors loosely defined the boundaries of East and West New Jersey in a 1676 document, but land disputes into the 1700s required a fixed line to define private property and municipal boundaries. This map from 1780 shows three proposed boundaries dividing the state, but only the Lawrence Line (middle) was officially recognized by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1855. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Between 1674 and 1702, New Jersey was divided in half: The proprietary West New Jersey colony faced the Delaware River while East New Jersey looked toward the Hudson. Although this political division lasted less than three decades, it represented long-standing geographical orientations of the Lenape and Munsee native inhabitants and European colonists. Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) reputedly called New Jersey “a barrel tapped at both ends,” a productive countryside exploited by Philadelphia and New York. While West New Jersey quickly came within Philadelphia’s economic orbit, the region nonetheless retained a distinct political and social identity. 

Native Americans lived in the Delaware Valley at least 10,000 years before the Dutch, Swedes, Finns, and English arrived in the seventeenth century. The Lenapes, who controlled southern and western New Jersey, lived in autonomous towns along creeks leading to the Delaware River and along the Atlantic coast near Delaware Bay. Some Lenape peoples, such as the Armewamese and Cohanseys, possessed land on both sides of the river in what are now Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. Because Lenapes traveled frequently by canoe, they viewed rivers and streams as highways rather than obstacles.

Prior to the founding of West New Jersey in 1674, European population in the region remained sparse. A small Dutch settlement on Matinicum (now Burlington) Island lasted only from 1624 until 1626 when, on a site across the river from current Philadelphia, Dutch traders established Fort Nassau. A group of New Englanders in 1641 obtained the Lenapes’ permission to colonize several Delaware Valley locations, one at Varkens Kill (now Salem Creek). Dutch opposition and disease destroyed the colony; a small remnant of English settlers became part of the population of New Sweden, which existed from 1638 to 1655 primarily on the west bank of the Delaware. The Dutch conquered New Sweden in 1655 and held the Delaware colony until 1664, when English forces of James, Duke of York (1633-1701) took control. A few Dutch and French colonists moved to southwestern New Jersey in the late 1660s, purchasing land from the Lenapes. A few years later, Swedish and Finnish settlers followed suit, departing from the west bank of the Delaware River in rebellion against English land policies, including assessment of quitrents and expropriation of common lands.

The Colony of New Jersey, 1664

The English king Charles II (1630-85) initiated the proprietary colony of New Jersey in 1664 when he granted his brother James, Duke of York the rights of proprietorship, including the power to govern and ability to own and sell land. The duke in turn granted New Jersey to Sir John Berkeley (1602-78) and Sir George Carteret (c. 1610-80). In 1674, the proprietorship of New Jersey was divided in half, with Berkeley taking West New Jersey, which he promptly sold to John Fenwick (c. 1618-1683) in trust for Edward Byllynge (c. 1623-1687). When the English Quakers Fenwick and Byllynge quarreled, three Quaker trustees, including William Penn (1644-1718), mediated the dispute. Adding to these difficulties, the Duke of York refused to transfer the power to govern West New Jersey to the Quaker proprietors.  

Complicated financial deals and lawsuits arising from the dispute between Fenwick and Byllynge resulted in two initial Quaker settlements in West New Jersey: Salem, founded in 1675, and Burlington in 1677. Fenwick demanded one-tenth of the West New Jersey proprietorship to launch his own settlement, which conflicted with the intentions of Byllynge and the trustees for a unified colony. Byllynge wanted to give Fenwick his tenth in scattered places across West New Jersey, but instead, without Byllynge’s assent, Fenwick took his one-tenth in a single location, which he called Salem, and sold 148,000 acres to about 50 purchasers. The Quaker colonists arrived in southern New Jersey in 1675, entering a country dominated by Lenapes where some Europeans, mostly Swedes, Finns, and Dutch, had settled during the previous decade. Fenwick promptly purchased land from the Lenapes of the region—the Cohanseys—with whom he maintained good relations. Deeds of 1675 and 1676 specified that Fenwick would receive territory, “excepted always … the plantations in which [the natives] now inhabit,” in return for cloth, rum, guns, and other items.

Despite these deeds, Salem’s status remained insecure because Fenwick, as a result of financial difficulties and legal challenges, lacked English title, deeds, and the right to govern. Governor Edmund Andros (1637-1714) of New York, who for the Duke of York until 1680 claimed authority over both banks of the Delaware, jailed Fenwick in New York for two extended periods, leaving the land claims of the Salem colonists unclear.

The West New Jersey Concessions

[caption id="attachment_16013" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a building from the front. The image shows a side of the house, and buildings and landscaping around the building are visible. Quaker George Hutchinson, one of the initial founders and developers of the Burlington settlement, built this home for his family in 1685. As of 2015, this house was one of the oldest buildings still standing in the City of Burlington Historical District. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In 1676, the Quaker trustees and Edward Byllynge implemented plans for settling the other ninety percent of West New Jersey. Byllynge probably drafted the innovative West New Jersey Concessions (1676) that described the process for distributing land, granted religious freedom and trial by jury, and set out a plan for mediation of disputes between Lenapes and Europeans. Male property owners resident in West New Jersey would annually elect a general assembly by putting balls into ballot boxes rather than by “the confused way of cries and voices” that was common in other places. The Duke of York delayed implementation of the Concessions by not transferring until 1680 the right of government to Byllynge, who then renounced the Concessions by becoming governor, an office not included in the document. Nevertheless, though the Concessions failed to become the official West Jersey constitution, the document suggests the ideals of the colonists who signed it. Many provisions of the Concessions, including the elected assembly, religious freedom, and trial by jury, became West New Jersey law.

In 1677, Byllynge and the trustees sent the ship Kent with 230 Friends to establish the Burlington colony, appointing nine commissioners to govern until an assembly could be elected. When the Kent stopped first to inform Andros of their plans to settle, he denied liberty to the Quakers to establish their own government, but agreed to appoint the trustees’ commissioners as magistrates to report to him. Andros also charged the passengers duties on their cargo, creating considerable ill-will. In response to appeals from Byllynge and the trustees, in 1680 the Duke of York transferred the right of government to Edward Byllynge, ending the customs fees and meddling of the New York government.  An estimated 1,760 Friends settled in West New Jersey by 1682, but after that date most Quaker immigrants accepted William Penn’s invitation to settle his new Quaker colony of Pennsylvania.

[caption id="attachment_16015" align="alignright" width="300"]A color image of a map, showing a southern section of the state of New Jersey. Small houses on the map show the locations of various Lenape tribes. This 1673 map of lower West New Jersey displays the locations of Lenape and other Native American settlements throughout the region. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Swedes, Finns, and Lenapes offered the Burlington colonists assistance despite worry about their increasing numbers. The Swedes and Finns provided shelter soon after the Kent arrived and helped the West Jersey commissioners purchase land from the Lenapes. The winter of 1677-78 came before the new settlers could begin constructing Burlington, so they built wigwams like the Lenapes’ and depended upon the natives for corn, vegetables, venison, fish, and fowl. Unfortunately the Burlington colonists brought smallpox that, like earlier epidemics, killed many Lenapes.

Autonomous Communities

During the proprietary period from 1674 to 1702, the West New Jersey colonists organized themselves much like their Lenape neighbors—in autonomous communities governed by local officials, loosely affiliated with neighboring colonial and native settlements.  Byllynge and the trustees founded Burlington as the seat of West New Jersey government, but county courts in Burlington, Salem, Gloucester, and Cape May provided stability during the proprietary years.  Centralized government from Burlington was impossible because of the distance between small dispersed settlements and because contested land claims, power struggles, and the English government’s efforts to repeal the proprietorship created a power vacuum at the top.

The county courts, as demonstrated by their minutes, provided effective government by punishing crime, hearing disputes, and collecting taxes for roads, bridges, and public buildings. A murder case in Salem in 1691-92 provides one example of how the local magistrates sustained government despite chaos at the provincial level. The Salem court tried and executed a carpenter Thomas Lutherland (c. 1652-92) though only the provincial government, not county courts, had legal authority in capital cases. Rather than wait until the provincial government reorganized, the Salem justices took the power to execute a murderer into their own hands because they believed Lutherland was dangerous and would escape jail.

Although Quakers, including William Penn, founded both West New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the colonies evolved differently in their initial years. In West New Jersey, the continuing power of the Lenapes, smaller European population, and lack of unified leadership in Burlington created more room for local autonomy and intercultural alliances between natives and colonists than in Pennsylvania, where larger numbers of immigrants and a more hierarchical government held sway. Even so, the two provinces developed close economic ties, as Philadelphia’s growth quickly attracted business with West Jersey merchants and farmers, thus continuing a partnership between both sides of the Delaware River.

Dissolution of West New Jersey Colony

The proprietary colony of West New Jersey dissolved in 1702 when the proprietors of both East and West New Jersey surrendered their right of government to the English Crown. The proprietors were under numerous pressures, including charges that the colonies were ungovernable, factionalized, and defiant against imperial rule.  Though English administrator Edward Randolph (1632-1703) suggested that “the country is too large, and the inhabitants too few to be contained a separate government, therefore East Jersey ought to be annexed to New York and West Jersey to Pennsylvania and the three lower counties,” the Crown decided on the unified province of New Jersey. The assembly of twenty-four members, equally divided by section, would rotate meetings between Perth Amboy and Burlington. The governor of New York, Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury (1661-1723) assumed office as the first New Jersey royal governor in 1703.

Jean R. Soderlund is a Professor of History Emeritus at Lehigh University. She is author of Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn (2015) and is currently researching a social history of colonial West Jersey.

Seth C. Bruggeman

Seth C. Bruggeman is an Associate Professor of History at Temple University.  His publications include an edited volume, Born in the USA: Birth and Commemoration in American Public Memory (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), and Here, George Washington Was Born: Memory, Material Culture, and the Public History of a National Monument (University of Georgia Press, 2008).

Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens

The Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens, Threatened with Disfranchisement, to the People of Philadelphia attempted to persuade Philadelphians to vote against the ratification of a new constitution for Pennsylvania in 1838 because the word “white” had been inserted prior to “freemen” as a qualification for voting. Written by African American leader Robert Purvis (1810-98), the pamphlet highlighted the achievements, sacrifices, and value of the black community to Philadelphia.

[caption id="attachment_15352" align="alignright" width="179"]A color photograph of the title page of a book, featuring plain black lettering, with some text italicized and bolded . On March 14, 1838, Robert Purvis read the text of the Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens to an audience at the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Within a month it had been published in pamphlet form, with this title page. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Under Pennsylvania’s first two constitutions, ratified in 1776 and 1790, Article III limited voting rights and elections to “freemen,” but definitions of “freeman” varied in individual counties depending on local politics and traditions. Some understood the term “freeman” to apply only to whites, while others did not. The commonwealth’s western counties, which had small populations of free blacks, tended to allow them to vote. Eastern counties with larger populations of free blacks–especially Philadelphia–discouraged them from voting though intimidation at the polls.

Philadelphia’s free black community, the largest and wealthiest in the state, grew in the early decades of the nineteenth century as a destination for free blacks from the South and runaway slaves. At the same time, tension over the issue of slavery increased, especially after Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Virginia in 1831 and the rise of racial abolitionism in the 1830s.

The explosive issue of race relations was one of many financial, governmental, and immigration problems facing Pennsylvania when the legislature called a convention to reform the state constitution in 1837. The convention began in May 1837 in Harrisburg but moved to Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia for its concluding sessions in November 1837 and February 1838. Initially, delegates made no recommendations to alter the language of Article III to prohibit free blacks from voting. But Democrat John Sterigere (1793-1852) of Montgomery County seized on public opinion against black voting rights and proposed to the convention that the language of Article III be changed to include the word “white” prior to “freemen” in order to exclude all blacks, even if they paid taxes or owned property.

Thomas Earle (1796-1849), a Democrat from Philadelphia County, objected to changing the language and attempted to persuade the convention to seek a compromise to temporarily suspend black voting rights throughout the commonwealth. He lost to a larger Democratic majority, which approved the change to Article III and proposed a new Constitution of 1838 for ratification. Similar actions occurred in other states during this period as politicians attempted to prevent blacks from gaining the same voting rights as white men, whose access to the polls was increasing with changes in voting qualifications such as reduced taxes or land-owning requirements.

[caption id="attachment_15410" align="alignright" width="197"]A black and white photograph of man from the chest up, wearing a jacket and a tie. Robert Purvis became a prominent representative of Philadelphia's black community after co-founding organizations such as the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Library Company of Colored People and drafting The Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens in 1838. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s black community responded to Pennsylvania’s proposed constitution with the Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens, Threatened with Disfranchisement, to the People of Philadelphia. In the tradition of African American leaders such as Absalom Jones (1746-1818), Richard Allen (1760-1831), and James Forten Sr. (1766-1842), Robert Purvis emphasized the worthiness of Philadelphia’s black community. Purvis systematically presented an argument based on history, statistical data, economics, and politics to combat public misconceptions about African Americans.

The Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens invoked the founding documents of Pennsylvania and the nation to argue that it would be consistent with previous generations to ensure suffrage to freemen without the mention of a specific race. The pamphlet pointed out that during the colonial period, white indentured servants as well as black slaves were not permitted to vote because they lacked the status of freemen. “White” was not included as a qualification for voting in either the 1776 or 1790 Pennsylvania constitutions. 

To support the claims of the Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens, the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery compiled a census as evidence that Philadelphia’s black community provided the city with revenue, laborers, and taxpayers who contributed to its economic success. The census demonstrated that compared with whites, African Americans made up a substantially lower proportion of the poor and people receiving aid. In fact, the black community paid more to provide relief for the poor than it received in return. Purvis used the statistics to rebuke a public image of idleness. Recognizing the connection between actions in Pennsylvania and increasing racial tensions in the nation, Purvis charged the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention with having, “laid our [black] rights a sacrifice on the altar of slavery.”

[caption id="attachment_15291" align="alignright" width="300"]Drawing of the destruction of Pennsylvania Hall The destruction of Pennsylvania Hall, 1838. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Voters ratified the Constitution of 1838 by a margin of a little more than one thousand votes—113,971 to 112,759—on October 9, 1838. African Americans continued to petition the legislature to reinstate suffrage for free blacks, but their petitions were left unanswered. Racial tensions turned to violent riots targeting African Americans and attacks on a newly erected abolitionist meeting place, Pennsylvania Hall. Although a new generation of leaders including Jacob C. White Jr. (1837-1902) continued the fight for suffrage, African Americans in Pennsylvania did not regain the vote until the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1870) extended voting rights to black men throughout the nation.

David Reader teaches history at Haddonfield Memorial High School and was the recipient of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship in 2007. 

Demian Larry

Demian Larry is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at Temple University.  His dissertation is about the politics and economics of airport development in Philadelphia.

Share This Page: