Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Michael Karpyn

Ice Hockey (Professional)

In February 1966, the National Hockey League decided that the future was now. Responding to forces transforming other professional sports leagues, such as the growth of televised coverage and the expansion of franchises to the West Coast of the United States, the NHL decided to expand its static lineup of “Original Six” franchises in Eastern and Midwestern cities—Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago and New York. A new division of six expansion franchises, evenly distributed through all regions of the United States, reintroduced professional ice hockey in Philadelphia. Over the next fifty years, the Philadelphia Flyers transformed the region from a professional hockey wilderness to a hockey hotbed.

[caption id="attachment_25270" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a dilapidated ice rink with peeling paint. Marquee on the front reads Philadelphia's earliest ice hockey teams played at the Arena on Forty-Fifth and Market Streets. It hosted professional ice hockey from the 1920s until the Spectrum opened in 1967. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s first foray into the NHL had been a failure of historic proportions. In 1931, the Pittsburgh Pirates hockey franchise, in deep financial distress, relocated to Philadelphia, adopting an orange and black color scheme and a new nickname—the Quakers. The team’s poor performance from the previous season— it had only won five games in 1929-30— continued into the 1930-31 campaign. The hapless franchise needed three games to score its first goal and nearly a month to notch its first win. The Quakers finished the season with a record of four wins, four ties, and a staggering thirty-four losses. The team’s .136 winning percentage stood as an NHL record until it was broken by the .131 percentage of the expansion Washington Capitals in 1974-75.

Despite more than a few opportunities, Philadelphia did not seem to like hockey. The Philadelphia Arena, which stood at Forty-Fifth and Market Streets from 1920 until 1983, hosted an array of minor league teams in a variety of leagues from the 1920s until the 1960s, none of which survived for very long. The longest-running franchise of this era was the Philadelphia Ramblers of the now-defunct Eastern Hockey League, which played in Philadelphia from 1955 until its move to Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1964.

By the 1960s, Philadelphia was a city starved for a winner. A 1966 article in Sports Illustrated observed that “give them a chance, and people in Philadelphia would boo a funeral.” Brief glimmers of hope had been provided by the Eagles’ NFL Championship in 1960 and the 76ers National Basketball Association title in 1967, but the winning spirit did not last. The Phillies, in existence since 1883, had only made it to two World Series, losing both times and painfully throwing away a third opportunity in a tragic 1964 collapse.

Professional hockey returned to Philadelphia due in large part to the presence of Ed Snider (1933- 2016), a native of Washington, D.C., and vice president of the Philadelphia Eagles, who saw the NHL’s expansion plan as an opportunity. His limited exposure to the sport as a spectator had convinced him of the potential success of NHL franchise in Philadelphia. Snider, working with then Eagles owner Jerry Wolman (1927-2013) and New York investment banker Bill Putnam (1929-2002), began to assemble the resources to cover the NHL’s $2 million franchise fee (the equivalent of $44 million in 2016) and build a new 15,000 seat arena–later named the Spectrum— on an empty lot at Broad and Patterson Streets in South Philadelphia.

[caption id="attachment_25267" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the old Philadelphia Sports Complex taken from the East. Photo shows JFK Stadium, The Spectrum Arena, and Veterans Stadium in a row, surrounded by empty parking lots. The Flyers played at the Spectrum, shown here between JFK Stadium and Veterans Stadium, from 1967 until 1998. (PhillyHistory.com)[/caption]

Ignoring the city’s spotty history with the sport, the NHL governors added the Philadelphia Flyers to the league, beginning play in the 1967-68 season. The city received the new team with indifference, at best. Area investors dismissed or ignored Snider and Putnam’s efforts to raise additional capital for the team, with one telling the owners, “Soccer will never go in Philadelphia.”

Even with financial support secured, the future of the franchise appeared in doubt. Philadelphia Mayor James Tate (1910-83) sent only a deputy to welcome the team formally to the city, and a parade down Broad Street to the newly opened Spectrum arena attracted a “crowd” of twenty, one of whom vocally predicted that the team would move to Baltimore by December.

On the ice, the new franchise seemed destined to reverse the hard fortunes experienced by the other professional sports franchises in Philadelphia. Drafting wisely among league veterans and minor league players left unprotected by the Original Six franchises, the Flyers won the new Western Division in their inaugural 1967-68 season. For a city with an apparent dislike of hockey, fan attendance for Flyers games grew every season, beginning with an average of 9,625 fans for the first season and growing to an average of over 16,000 in an expanded Spectrum by the 1972-73 season.

[caption id="attachment_25271" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a small crowd holding signs demanding the Spectrum roof be fixed before playoffs. When the Spectrum roof was wind-damaged in 1968, it became a political battlefield. Ice hockey fans demanded the roof be fixed before the first Stanley Cup playoff game. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

In other ways, however, the franchise seemed bitten by the same bad luck. On March 1, 1968, the roof blew off of the Spectrum, forcing the Flyers to play the entire last month of their first season on the road. When the Flyers returned to the reinforced Spectrum for their first NHL playoffs that same year, they were brutally smashed out of the opening round by the rough-and-tumble St. Louis Blues.

Despite growing fan interest, team performance over next few seasons followed this same pattern. The first five Flyers teams all ended their campaigns with losing seasons, and their two subsequent trips to the NHL playoffs ended in opening round sweeps by the Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks.

By the early 1970s, owner Snider demanded a team that could win games and defend itself. General Manager Keith Allen (1920-2014), nicknamed “Keith the Thief” by Philadelphia sportswriter Bill Fleischman, deftly assembled a blend of skill and muscle that came to define the NHL of the 1970s. Taking advantage of the league’s first universal entry draft in 1969, the Flyers gambled on a heralded young center from the Western Hockey League, Bob Clarke (b. 1949). Despite his outstanding junior career, Clarke’s diabetes made him a substantial risk in the eyes of most NHL teams. One of the few Philadelphia athletes never booed by the city’s demanding fan base, Clarke blossomed into the skilled, relentless, and iron-willed heart and soul of Flyers teams that would soon leave an indelible mark on the region and its hockey fans.

Tying together this collection of players into a cohesive unit was head coach Fred Shero (1925-90) hired by Allen from the New York Rangers in 1971. Nicknamed “The Fog” due to his introverted personality and indirect methods of communication, Shero’s innovative methods turned a nondescript expansion franchise into a perennial contender. A longtime student of the Soviet style of hockey, he was the first coach to use video analysis and create a set system for his players to follow, among other innovations. A former boxer, Shero also encouraged the aggressive instincts of his teams, which fit into the increasing mayhem in NHL games and transformed the identity of the team.

Philadelphia Bulletin writer Jack Chevalier, covering a fight-filled road victory over the Atlanta Flames, used the phrase “Bullies of Broad Street” in his game report. Bulletin staffer Pete Cafone headlined the article, “Broad Street Bullies Muscle Atlanta,” and a legend was born. While the Flyers gained increasing attention and scorn for their rough style of play—enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz racked up 348 and an NHL record 472 penalty minutes in consecutive seasons—they also began to win. The team notched its first winning season in 1972-73, and Clarke was named the NHL’s MVP.

[caption id="attachment_25268" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of goalie Bernie Parent in a Philadelphia Blazers uniform, defending the goal during a game. The World Hockey Association briefly had a team in Philadelphia. The Blazers played only one season marred by injuries and logistics errors. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The rapid growth of Philadelphia as a hockey hotbed encouraged area businessmen Bernard Brown and James Cooper to bring another professional franchise to the city. The Philadelphia Blazers, a member of the NHL rival World Hockey Association, began play in the 1972-73 season. Featuring several former NHL players, including original Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent, who was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1971, the Blazers hoped to draw fan attention away from the Flyers. The competition was short-lived; the Blazers’ inadequate home arena at the Philadelphia Civic Center failed to draw many fans, and the team did not stack up to the Flyers’ steadily improving roster. The Blazers relocated to Vancouver after only one year in Philadelphia and folded in 1975.

In 1973-74, reacquiring Parent as goalie provided the missing piece the Flyers needed. They won fifty regular season games and upset the heavily favored Boston Bruins in six games to win the seven-year-old franchise’s first Stanley Cup on May 19, 1974. Parent received the first of his consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies (MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs) for his efforts in goal.

[caption id="attachment_25269" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent holding the Stanley Cup while a crowd cheers behind them. The Flyers won consecutive Stanley Cup victories in 1974 and 1975. Their aggressive style of play and record-breaking number of penalty minutes during this period earned them the nickname "the Broad Street Bullies." (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The team whose arrival in 1967 had been greeted with indifference unleashed a spectacle of celebration rarely seen in Philadelphia. Two million fans jammed Broad Street on May 20 for the team’s Stanley Cup parade, a throng only surpassed by the 2.5 million fans who celebrated the team’s second consecutive championship in 1975.

Although the Flyers’s consecutive Stanley Cup victories did not continue, they remained among the most successful franchises in the NHL. Valued at $660 million in 2015 by Forbes Magazine, their winning percentage of .578 through 2015 stood second among active teams all time, and they achieved sixteen division championships and six additional appearances in the Stanley Cup finals between 1975 and 2016.

Much changed after the heyday of the 1970s. The Spectrum was torn down in 2011 and replaced by the modern 20,000-seat Wells Fargo Center. The reach of the Philadelphia Flyers extended well beyond their home rink in South Philadelphia and beyond the team’s impact on expanding NHL rules against fighting. Prior to the 1967 expansion, almost all of the players on NHL rosters hailed from Canada. By 2016, slightly less than half of NHL players were from Canada, with nearly 25 percent being born in the United States.

[caption id="attachment_25280" align="alignright" width="300"]A huge throng crowded the streets to celebrate the Flyers' first Stanley Cup victory in 1974. PhillyHistory.com A huge throng crowded the streets to celebrate the Flyers' first Stanley Cup victory in 1974. (PhillyHistory.com)[/caption]

As the Flyers grew in popularity, so did the number of ice rinks and opportunities for young skaters in the region to follow their heroes into the NHL. The most notable, Flourtown, Pennsylvania, native Mike Ritcher (b. 1966), grew up idolizing Parent and backstopped the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship in 1994. From South Jersey, the National Hockey League also gained stars Bobby Ryan (b. 1987) of the Ottawa Senators and Johnny Guardreau (b. 1993) of the Calgary Flames.

Legendary Philadelphia sportswriter Frank Dolson (1933-2006) observed in 1981 that “professional hockey didn’t suddenly appear in Philadelphia after the Spectrum went up; it just seemed that way.” In 1967, many Philadelphians were unsure of the long-term viability of the Philadelphia Flyers. In 2016-17, the Flyers mark their fiftieth year of play in the National Hockey League in front of one of the most dedicated, knowledgeable, and passionate fan bases in the entire league. A gamble originally viewed as foolish evolved into a franchise that impacted all levels of sporting culture in the Philadelphia region.

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.


The rise, fall, and rebirth of the sport of cricket in the Philadelphia region reflected political, social, and economic change. Cricket once flourished in the city, which produced some legendary players known throughout the cricketing world. The rise of other leisure activities supplanted the game, however, until a moderate resurgence in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

[caption id="attachment_25468" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of eleven cricket players, most wearing striped uniforms, posing on a lawn. Several hold cricket bats or balls and one wears protective pads on his shins and knees. Haverford College boasts not only the first cricket team exclusively for American players, in 1833, but today the only varsity cricket team in the nation. This was team in 1885. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Cricket came to Philadelphia from Great Britain, where its roots in the English countryside extended as far back as the late 1500s. Cricket clubs grew and competition between “county” teams expanded with increased financial interest in the sport after the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. For much of its history, cricket both reached across and reflected the deep class divisions in British society. Despite its genteel image, cricket was never a sport played solely by the upper class. Many of the world’s greatest cricketers rose from working-class origins; it was once said that “when England needed a fast bowler, all it had to do was whistle down a Nottinghamshire coal mine.” Incredibly, it was not until the early 1960s that England stopped dividing its first-class cricketers into two classes: independently wealthy “gentlemen” amateurs and middle and working-class “players” who were paid for their services. For the “gentlemen,” participation in cricket embodied many of the qualities and characteristics desired by the upper crust of English society—friendliness, gentlemanly competition, integrity, and hospitality.

American colonists seeking access to the upper echelon of British society closely followed the customs of the home country, including reports of British cricket matches published in colonial newspapers in the 1750s. When Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) traveled from Philadelphia to London in 1760 for the coronation of King George III (1738-1820), he returned with a copy of the 1755 Laws of Cricket published in London by the famous Marylebone Cricket Club, further spreading the game throughout the region. During the American Revolution, many journals of Continental soldiers—including those stationed at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78—noted that George Washington (1732-99) often played “wickets” with his troops. Cricket also became the first intercollegiate sport in the United States, played at Dartmouth College as early as 1793 and locally starting in 1833 by Haverford College, which soon competed with other local colleges and universities.

Rapid Growth in 1830s

[caption id="attachment_25477" align="alignright" width="224"]A black and white head and shoulder photograph of Walter S. Newhall in military uniform. Text reads Walter S. Newhall built an impressive reputation and played in international competitions before his career was cut short by his death in the Civil War. (Archive.org)[/caption]

Cricket expanded throughout the United States in the nineteenth century and grew rapidly in the Philadelphia region in the 1830s, aided by the arrival of British immigrants. Philadelphia developed into an epicenter of the sport. The Union Cricket Club, established in 1843, consisted of English-born working-class weavers from Germantown’s Wakefield Mills and mechanics from the suburb of Kensington. The Union Club’s upset defeat of New York’s St. George’s Cricket Club not only put Philadelphia on the cricket map, but also captured the imagination of many native Philadelphians. The first international athletic competition—predating the modern Olympic games by nearly fifty years—took place in New York in 1844 when teams from the United States and Canada faced off in a cricket match.

By 1860, New York and Philadelphia alone had more than six thousand cricket players. A book published in the memory of prominent Philadelphia cricketer Walter S. Newhall (1841-64), who died while serving with the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry in American Civil War, noted that within the city “cricket became the fashion, the great excitement and chief topic of a large class, for six months of the year. Everybody soon belonged to one club or another.” This growing obsession with the sport put into place an organization of teams that produced a pipeline of cricketing talent that lasted until the early 1900s.

[caption id="attachment_25472" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white photograph of a group of golfers on the lawn of the Germantown Cricket Club with the clubhouse in the background. The Germantown neighborhood was the birthplace of Philadelphia’s cricket scene and home to one of the earliest cricket clubs in America. The Germantown Cricket Club hosted matches from 1854 until the 1920s. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

While English-born factory workers made up some of the Philadelphia region’s first cricketers, young men of notable families–seeking athletic competition while also emulating the upper crust of British society—also became converts to the sport. One such Philadelphian was William Rotch Wister (1827-1911), born in Germantown in 1827. While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Wister founded the “Junior Cricket Club,” one of the first cricket clubs in the country for Americans. While the “Junior Club” was short-lived, its match against Haverford College on May 7, 1843, was the first intercollegiate sporting event in Penn’s history. Known as the “Father of American Cricket,” Wister went on to play a role in the 1854 founding of the Philadelphia Cricket Club and Germantown Cricket Club, which eventually produced some the country’s most notable athletes. The “big four” clubs—Philadelphia, Germantown, Merion (founded in 1865) and Belmont (founded in 1874) also attracted some of the most prominent families in the Philadelphia social register, including Whartons, Biddles, Cadwaladers, and Fishers, and others notable in the history of Philadelphia and its many civic institutions.  

Hosting Teams From Around the World

[caption id="attachment_25478" align="alignright" width="182"]A black and white photograph of John B. Thayer. John B. Thayer was born in Philadelphia to a family of prominent cricket players. He played his first match in 1876 at Merion Cricket Club, and within a decade he was playing international matches in England as part of the famed Philadelphia cricket team. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Cricket continued to flourish in Philadelphia in the decades after the Civil War, despite the growing popularity of baseball. Beginning in 1878, the big four clubs combined to field the “Gentlemen of Philadelphia” sides, amateurs who represented Philadelphia in the highest levels of international first-class cricket competition until the First World War. The Philadelphians not only hosted and competed against the best teams and players from around the world, they did so with the support of crowds of several thousand that regularly attended these matches. These spectators represented a cross section of Philadelphia society that, according to a contemporary account, ranged from “millionaires, coaching parties, and box holders to newsboys."

Many of the homegrown players from this “golden age” of Philadelphia cricket ranked among the game’s best. John B. Thayer Jr. (1862-1912) attended the University of Pennsylvania and made his debut for the Merion Cricket Club at the age of fourteen. He traveled to England in 1884 and competed in seven first-class international cricket matches between 1879 and 1886. After his first-class cricketing career ended, Thayer married into a prominent Philadelphia family and rose to the position of vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Returning from a family trip to Europe in April 1912, Thayer booked his passage on the ill-fated maiden voyage of The Titanic. While his son John “Jack” Thayer III (1894-1945) survived, the elder Thayer perished in the disaster, his body never recovered. George Patterson (1868-1943), who played with Haverford College, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Germantown Cricket Club, made his debut in first-class cricket at the age of sixteen.  Patterson traveled to England with the Gentlemen of Philadelphia team in 1889 and as captain of the team in 1897. His single innings batting total of 271 runs still stands as the nineteenth-century North American record.

[caption id="attachment_25530" align="alignright" width="191"]A black and white photograph of Bart King. John "Bart" King is widely considered the greatest American cricketer of all time. His 1906 season's 344-run tally held the North American record into the twenty-first century. ( CC Morris Cricket Library and US Cricket Museum)[/caption]

The Philadelphians’ 1897 tour of England was most notable for the performance of another homegrown Philadelphian, considered by many as the greatest cricketer ever to emerge from the United States. John Barton “Bart” King (1873-1965) ranked so highly in the echelons of the sport that his death was noted on the front page of the London Times. King did not fit the mold of the young athletes attracted to the sport. His background was middle class—his family worked in the linen business—and his first sport was baseball. Picking up cricket at the age of fifteen, he had great success as a batsman. He became the first American batsman to score a triple century—315 runs—in 1905 and a staggering tally of 344 the following year, which remained the North American record in 2016. Due to his tall, lanky physique, King also became a bowler (the equivalent of a baseball pitcher) and a legendary career began to take shape. In a performance against one of the top county teams in England in 1897, King dominated in both batting and bowling, leading his team to a surprising victory. King had plentiful, financially lucrative opportunities to play county cricket in England after the tour, but he decided to return to Philadelphia and his beloved Belmont Cricket Club. Plum Warner (1872-1963), the “Grand Old Man” of English cricket, noted on King’s passing in 1965 that, “had he been an Englishman or an Australian, he would have been even more famous than he was.”

Baseball Ascends

By the early 1870s, even as cricket was beginning its golden age in Philadelphia, the forces that would lead to its demise as a popular spectator sport were well underway. Baseball, which had gained popularity among soldiers during the American Civil War, was rapidly spreading across the country. It was easier to set up, had simpler rules, and did not need a perfectly rolled and manicured pitch suitable for match play. As the United States progressed into the economic growth of the Gilded Age, professional baseball teams became one of the many avenues in which entrepreneurial business minds sought to make their fortunes. Unlike the still genteel world of cricket, which frowned upon “players” being paid, owners of baseball teams happily paid their players, who drew larger and larger crowds. This birth of modern professional sports in the United States, which started with baseball and soon added football, basketball, and hockey, eroded much of the interest and support in cricket.

[caption id="attachment_25471" align="alignright" width="300"]A bird's eye illustration of the clubhouse, cricket fields, and tennis court at Belmont. The clubhouse and tennis courts are highlighted in the top right and left corners, respectively. Text reads The last of Philadelphia’s “big four” cricket clubs to be established was also the only to collapse when interest in the sport waned. Belmont Cricket Club was home to legendary player "Bart" King from its establishment in 1874 until shortly before it folded in 1914. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The “cricket” clubs also changed. Their wealthy members, less interested in the rituals of British society, became more absorbed in golf and tennis, and many cricket grounds began to disappear underneath tennis courts and golf courses. Philadelphia and Germantown stopped hosting cricket completely by the 1920s. The Belmont Cricket Club folded in 1914, its grounds becoming the Kingsessing Recreation Center. The onset of World War I in 1914 also eliminated potential international competition for the few American cricket clubs that remained.

By the first decades of the twenty-first century, a new generation of immigrants from South Asian countries played a role in the sport’s revival. Their interest sustained a twenty-team league competing all over the Philadelphia region. Haverford College, whose library holds many of the treasures from American cricket’s golden age, remained the home of a varsity cricket team, and Philadelphia continued to host the largest international cricket festivals in the country every May. Cricket matches in Philadelphia did not draw thousands of spectators, and homegrown Philadelphia cricketers did not rank among the world’s best. Yet even in a city with considerable passion towards major professional and college sports, cricket did not totally disappear.

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.

Continental Congresses

At the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, independence from the British Crown was an outlandish thought in the minds of many American colonists. They enjoyed the protections of one of the world’s most powerful empires and rights and freedoms granted to its subjects. Little more than a decade later, delegates from these same colonies assembled in Philadelphia, risking their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” as they declared independence from Great Britain. The First and Second Continental Congresses, held in Philadelphia in 1774 and 1775-81, engaged in the complex politics surrounding independence and heightened the city’s role in a world-changing moment in history.

Tensions between the British Crown and the American colonies had simmered since the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765. The Coercive Acts, passed by the British Parliament in 1774 to punish the city of Boston for the Boston Tea Party, put the Massachusetts government under direct British control, closed the port of Boston, and increased British troops there. While the Acts were designed to bring only the Massachusetts colony under tight control, the highly punitive legislation drew concern from all thirteen colonies. Many outside of Massachusetts viewed the acts as a violation of their valued rights under the English constitution; the outrage demanded a unified response from the colonies.

But what response? Only the most radical among the colonists advocated for independence. Many others, including Pennsylvania political leaders John Dickinson (1732-1808) and Joseph Galloway (1731-1803), acknowledged the need for political unity but also encouraged caution, non-violent action, and a desire to reconcile their differences with the British government.

[caption id="attachment_4297" align="alignright" width="215"] Carpenters' Hall, meeting place of the First Continental Congress, in a twentieth-century photograph for the Historic American Buildings Survey. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Representatives of twelve colonies assembled in Philadelphia in September 1774 at Carpenters’ Hall, then and since the meeting hall for the Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia. (Georgia, in dire need of the services of British regulars to fend off incursions of Creek Indians on its borders, did not send a delegation.)  The choice of Carpenters’ Hall, rather than the Pennsylvania State House, reflected the complex politics surrounding the independence movement. The State House was the seat of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, which in the fall of 1774 was not only against independence but was viewed by many in Philadelphia as highly sympathetic to the British Crown. Galloway had served as Speaker of the Assembly since 1766, and he was clear in his belief that the colonies needed to reconcile their differences with Britain (later, in 1788, he moved to England). Carpenters’ Hall also housed the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia, established in 1731 by Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), of which the delegates were made subscribing members.

Largest Port City

Then the largest port city in the colonies, Philadelphia was well situated to play a critical role in the slow march to independence. Its strategic location, wealth, population, industrial and commercial capacity, and professional and business classes were unsurpassed in America. On a more practical level, the city’s public buildings—including the State House, the “British Barracks” in Northern Liberties, the Pennsylvania Hospital, and Walnut Street Prison—could accommodate any of the needs of both Congresses.

Philadelphia also contained more than enough diversions to entertain its distinguished visitors. Massachusetts’ John Adams (1735-1826) and Connecticut’s Silas Deane (1737-1789) both noted the nearly unparalleled luxury found in the Second Street home of John Cadwalader (1742-1786), with whom they both dined. Delegates also were entertained in the many exclusive clubs of Philadelphia’s elite, including the Schuylkill Fishing Company, which was founded in 1732 and still exists as State on Schuylkill, one of the oldest private clubs in the United States.

At the First Continental Congress, little consensus existed as whether to declare independence. When Galloway proposed a “plan of union” with Great Britain, the delegates voted it down, but narrowly. After seven weeks of debate, the first Congress ended with the delegates agreeing only to form an “Association” to boycott British goods and to meet again in May 1775. By the time the Second Continental Congress assembled, this time in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), events had moved forward rapidly. The delegates were not dealing solely with philosophical and political questions related to their rights as Englishmen, but were responding to the hostilities that began between British regulars and Massachusetts militiamen at the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This Congress, now joined by Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and presided over by John Hancock (1737-1793), appointed George Washington (1732-1799) as commander of the Continental forces, managed the loosely organized colonial war effort, and debated whether to declare independence.

Initially, many of the delegates favored Dickinson’s long-held position—reconciliation with Great Britain. Jefferson, later the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, also wrote the first version of the Olive Branch Petition, which in July 1775 affirmed the colonists’ loyalty to the British king in an attempt to avoid further bloodshed. When the petition was rejected by King George III (1738-1820), who viewed the Second Congress as an illegal assembly and insincere in its intentions, members of the Congress who favored independence saw their opportunity and pushed for independence.

[caption id="attachment_4322" align="alignright" width="300"] Congress Voting Independence, a painting by Edward Savage, recreates the scene inside the Pennsylvania State House in 1776. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]


Congress Flees Philadelphia

After formally declaring independence on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress became the government of the United States, and Philadelphia became the nation’s capital city. This location did not last long as the British army took control of Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, forcing the Congress to flee and conduct its business from a variety of locations, including York, Pennsylvania; Princeton, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; and New York City. When the British army left Philadelphia after nine months of occupation, the national government returned its capital to Philadelphia, where it remained until 1781.

Regardless of its location, the weak powers of this first national government nearly caused its failure. To fight the American Revolution, the thirteen American colonies cautiously entered the “firm league of friendship” established by the Articles of Confederation. Indicating its weakness as a frame of a unified national government, the document was not fully ratified by all of the colonies until 1781—four years after its initial creation in 1777. Fighting the war with borrowed money and little power to collect revenue from the states through taxes, the Continental Congress was bankrupt at the conclusion of the War for Independence. When the states, addressing this and other problems facing the new nation, ratified a new United States Constitution in September 1788, the Continental Congress began its slow fade into history. The end came on March 2, 1789, in New York when the Congress was adjourned by its lone member, New York’s Philip Pell (1753-1811), for the last time.

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.

Declaration of Independence

[caption id="attachment_4332" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Edward Savage's painting, Congress Voting Independence, depicting the scene inside the Pennsylvania State House in 1776. Congress Voting Independence, a painting by Edward Savage, recreates the scene inside the Pennsylvania State House in 1776. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Convening in the East Room of the Pennsylvania State House from May 1775 to July 1776, sixty-five delegates of the Second Continental Congress worked through deep political divisions to create the Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to a new nation and cemented Philadelphia’s reputation as a Cradle of Liberty.

When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775, the shooting war between British and colonial forces was underway and the delegates faced the task of funding and arming a Continental army, appointing its leadership, and managing a war against its powerful foe. But what about the issue of independence? Even though the war had begun with the Battle of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts a month before, on April 19, 1775, a formal political separation from the British crown was not a foregone conclusion.

[caption id="attachment_4335" align="alignright" width="193"]A photograph of Thomas Paine's pamphlets Common Sense. Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, was published in Philadelphia and generated popular support for independence. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Even in January 1776, a scant six months before the independence was declared, many of the delegates thought that reconciliation with the Crown was the most prudent course of action.  On January 9, 1776, Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson (1742-1798) proposed that Congress reject any talk of independence. That same day, the printing shop of Robert Bell near Third and Walnut Streets issued a pamphlet that magnified the desire for independence. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, with its rejection of monarchy as a form of government and its impassioned pleas for independence from Great Britain, electrified not only Philadelphia but the thirteen colonies as a whole. While the Continental Congress continued to deliberate, the pamphlet caught fire outside of the elite ranks of colonial America, selling nearly 500,000 copies in its first year of publication.

Between April and July 1776, a groundswell towards independence also emerged in the form of more than ninety local declarations of independence adopted around the colonies. These included resolutions by militia companies in Philadelphia, Chester County, and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Not All of One Mind

The colonial governments of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania did not share in the growing enthusiasm for independence. On May 1, 1776, voters in Pennsylvania elected a new provincial assembly that favored reconciliation. Due to its political and economic influence, Pennsylvania held a great deal of sway over the other colonies. Delaware instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress to “concur” with other delegates but avoided the word “independence.” Virginia, however, moved in the opposite direction and on May 15, 1776, instructed its delegation to declare independence. A new Provincial Congress formed in New Jersey also changed positions, placing the Royal Governor William Franklin (1730-1813), the son of Benjamin, under arrest and sending a new delegation to Philadelphia with instructions to declare independence.

On June 7, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) formally presented a plan for the colonies to declare independence, create a national government, and enlist the aid of foreign nations in the war effort. The motion was seconded by John Adams (1735-1826), but political resistance to independence was still deep in the Congress. In Pennsylvania’s case, the provincial Assembly meeting upstairs in the State House remained committed to reconciliation. With passage uncertain, the Continental Congress voted only to resume debate on Lee’s resolution on July 1, 1776.

While those in favor of independence worked behind the scenes to win the votes needed for passage, a committee of five delegates—Adams, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Roger Sherman (1721-1793) of Connecticut, Robert R. Livingston (1746-1813) of New York, and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) of Virginia—set to work on the declaration itself.  To complete this most important of tasks, Jefferson moved away from the activity surrounding the State House to the quieter outskirts of the city, at Seventh and Market Streets. Working in rented space on the second floor of the home of bricklayer Jacob Graff, Jefferson completed his draft in roughly two weeks.

After some minor editing and suggestions from Franklin and Adams, the document was presented to the Congress on June 28, 1776, for further editing and debate. The Congress made more than ninety changes to Jefferson’s draft, from changes in vocabulary and sentence structure to the elimination of some Jefferson’s listed grievances against the King. These changes included removing the charge that King George III had delivered the “un-Christian” practice of slavery to American colonies.

One Vote Per Colony

On July 1, after a long day of debate, the Congress voted. Each colony had one vote, requiring the delegations to decide among themselves how to cast their single vote. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted no; New York—whose provincial government was then fleeing the invading British Army—abstained. Delaware’s two delegates were split. Although a majority of the delegations at this moment voted in favor of the resolution, proponents of independence sought unanimous support.

[caption id="attachment_30797" align="alignright" width="255"]Print of the William J. Stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence. William J. Stone created this facsimile engraving of the Declaration of Independence in 1823 because the original had rapidly started to fade away. (National Archives and Records Administration)[/caption]

On July 2, the remaining pieces fell into place. South Carolina reversed course and voted in favor of Lee’s resolution. Delaware’s Caesar Rodney (1728-1784), in an act memorialized in 1999 on Delaware’s commemorative state quarter, rode through the night to arrive at the State House to break his delegation’s tie in favor of independence. Within the Pennsylvania delegation, John Dickinson (1732-1808) and Robert Morris (1734-1806), both opponents of independence, abstained, leaving Pennsylvania’s delegation 3-to-2 in favor of independence.  Dickinson, recognizing the symbolic importance of a unanimous decision, did not cast his vote. Realizing he could no longer stay in Congress, Dickinson left and volunteered for the Pennsylvania militia.

The Congress voted unanimously in favor of independence. Some of the delegates—Adams most famously—considered July 2 as the day of American independence. It was July 4, however, when the final editing and wording of the document was approved and sent to Philadelphia printer John Dunlap (1747-1812) at his shop at Second and Market Streets for publication.

Philadelphians first heard the document on July 8, when John Nixon (1733-1808), a Lieutenant Colonel in the Philadelphia militia, read the Declaration of Independence in the State House Yard. The public reaction was passionate and widespread. According to historian William Hogeland, the crowd shouted “God bless the free states of North America!” three times. In the ultimate act of defiance, Pennsylvania militiamen removed the king’s coat of arms from the State House and threw it into a large bonfire.

Thousands of visitors each year visit the Pennsylvania State House, situated then as now on Chestnut Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. They may not be aware of its history as a State House or that the Georgian style of its architecture expresses deep ties between Pennsylvania and British culture. These visitors are drawn by the significance of this building in the early history of this nation, and know it better by the name it gained from the events of 1776—Independence Hall.

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. (Information current at date of publication.)

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