Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Stephanie Grauman Wolf

Pennsylvania (Founding)

In March of 1681, King Charles II of England (1630-85) granted William Penn (1644-1718), gentleman and Quaker, the charter for a proprietary colony on the North American continent. Although both English colonial policy and the organization of the Society of Friends, known as Quakers, were works in progress between the years 1682 and 1701, in many ways the pattern of scattered farms and religious tolerance that Pennsylvania developed in those early years became a model for an American way of life.

[caption id="attachment_20663" align="alignright" width="274"]Color portrait of William Penn painted by Francis Place. William Penn received a generous land grant from King Charles II of England to create a Quaker settlement in North America. The grant settled an old debt owed by the king to Penn’s father. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Penn’s grant settled an old debt owed by the king to Penn’s father, Admiral William Penn (1621-70). The king’s charter to Penn set the northern border of Pennsylvania at 42 degrees north latitude (the border of New York), and the eastern limit at the Delaware River (the boundary with New Jersey), while the western limit was undefined. Named for the admiral as well as for the woodland it encompassed (Penn’s woods), the new grant differed in form and substance from those offered to proprietors of other colonies. Under the proprietary system, the grantee obtained a charter from the king and established the colony at his own risk. The Crown looked on it as a feudal estate, a grant equivalent to independent sovereignty limited only by loyalty to the king. Proprietors could grant titles, had sole authority to initiate laws, levy taxes, coin money, regulate commerce, appoint provincial officials, administer justice, grant pardons, make war, erect manors, and control the land and waterways.

By the time Penn received his “true and absolute proprietary of Pennsylvania,” the powers given to proprietors had become much more limited. He still had complete control of granting land: in the common parlance of the time period under 100 acres constituted a farm, between 100 and 1,000 acres a plantation, and over 1,000 acres a manor. Those holding larger parcels could, in turn, sell or rent them as smaller holdings. The proprietor no longer had the right to grant titles of nobility, however, and he had to submit provincial laws to the king for approval, acknowledge the right of Parliament to tax the colony, maintain a provincial agent in London, and present all Pennsylvania laws to the “freemen” or to “their delegates” for approval. Most disappointing to Penn was an added clause that gave the established Church of England’s Bishop of London the right to appoint an Anglican minister in Pennsylvania. Penn had recruited settlers, largely Quakers, but also Mennonites, and other pietists, from widely dispersed parts of Britain and Europe and saw this clause as making them “dissenters in [their] own Countrey.” However, since his first law code guaranteed religious freedom from the legal penalties and punishments that inhibited the practice of Quakerism and other dissenting Christian groups in England, it was still possible to promote Pennsylvania as a religious refuge for the persecuted.

In July 1681, Penn issued his first conditions or “concessions” to “adventurers and purchasers” that laid out specifications for a great city on a river, provided for road surveys, related grants of city land to country manors, and set up townships. Penn’s blueprint for Pennsylvania was unique among colonial frames of government by containing several provisions requiring that “natives” be treated equally with settlers both economically and legally and that “no man shall. . . in word, or deed, affront, or wrong any Indian.”

The First Frame of Government

Penn followed up the concessions document in May 1682 with the first Frame of Government, which laid out the form and shape of governance in the new colony. The government itself was to consist of the governor, a Provincial Council, and a General Assembly chosen by the freemen who were defined as those who were resident in the province, were free of servitude, owned and cultivated part of their land, and paid a tax to the government.

[caption id="attachment_29862" align="alignright" width="300"]a painting depicting William Penn's treaty with the Lenni Lenape The traditional story of William Penn’s peaceful treaty with the Lenape is depicted in this painting, Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, by Benjamin West. Pennsylvania Academy o the Fine Arts[/caption]

Twenty-three ships bearing settlers arrived in the new colony between December 1681 and December 1682. The Welcome, William Penn aboard, landed on October 28, 1682. Within two years, fifty ships had arrived in Pennsylvania carrying 600 investors and 4,000 settlers. Penn and his colonists entered a land that was populated by Native Americans and European settlers who provided food and shelter to the newcomers, allowing the new colony to avoid the “starving time” that had been the fate of other earlier colonies to its north and south. Including the Europeans who settled West New Jersey in the 1670s, there were about 2,500 Lenape Indians and 3,000 Europeans on both sides of the Delaware River when Penn’s colonists arrived.         

The inhabitants were diverse, including the Lenapes from whom Penn purchased land on the west bank of the river. The European inhabitants included the Dutch, who had established a trading post in the area in 1624, and the Swedes and Finns who created the first permanent settlement of New Sweden in 1638. Most of these settlers lived in the area from what was later Philadelphia to New Castle, Delaware. The Dutch conquered New Sweden in 1655 and then, following England’s victory over the Dutch in 1664, King Charles’s brother, James, Duke of York (1633-1701) took ownership of the west bank of the Delaware River.

In 1682, Penn divided the land along the Delaware River into the counties of Chester, Philadelphia, and Bucks, appointing colonists to serve on each county court and administer local government. To allow Pennsylvania an outlet to the sea, in the same year Penn leased from the Duke of York the land south of Chester County on the western shore of the Delaware Bay, setting the border of the “three lower counties” (later the state of Delaware) twelve miles north of New Castle. The charter for Pennsylvania and the lease for the three lower counties remained separate entities, however, requiring agreement to laws by a single assembly that met alternately at Philadelphia and New Castle. By 1704, the inconvenience of this arrangement led to a mutual agreement to set up distinct assemblies and pass laws separately, although they continued to share a governor. The border between Pennsylvania and Delaware was not actually established until the mid-eighteenth century, with the drawing of the Mason-Dixon line, which also settled the boundary with Maryland.

“Holy Experiment” Did Not Materialize

Penn’s hope for a “Holy Experiment”—where Pennsylvanians did well economically while doing good morally and religiously—failed to materialize. Landed gentleman investors did not, in general, emigrate, and their investments went badly. The Society of Free Traders was bankrupt within a few years. Penn, himself, never achieved the profits he expected. Although he lived until 1718, he only passed four years in Pennsylvania (1682-84 and 1699-1701). He was bedeviled by personal and financial problems and had to remain in England to attempt to resolve them. He actually spent time in debtors prison.

Early arrivals who prospered were largely farmers from northwestern England, an area of scattered farms, along with urban artisans and workmen, many of them from Germany and Holland. Settlers also came from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and London and its environs. By 1690, the population of the colony numbered about 11,500, that of the principal city, Philadelphia, about 2,000. Ten years later, the colony had close to 18,000 inhabitants, and Philadelphia over 3,000. The Society of Friends was never established as the official religion of the colony and Quakers were always a minority, although their influence was predominant in both the government and the early society.

[caption id="attachment_20667" align="alignright" width="271"]A map of Pennsylvania in 1687 showing land purchases and town and county borders Thomas Holme's 1687 map of Pennsylvania shows the tracts of the First Purchasers. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

While religion continued to motivate many settlers, many more were drawn by the rich farmland and its availability. The desire for wealth prompted importation of bound European servants and enslaved Africans. Penn had envisioned a colony of townships, where farms would produce the crops and livestock needed to fuel local centers of government, religion, industry, and trade. Instead, the Thomas Holme 1687 map of Pennsylvania indicates that almost from the beginning scattered farmsteads became the pattern of settlement for the three counties. Lumbering, grist mills to produce flour, and iron-mining operations as well as small manufactories for textiles, paper, and printing dotted the countryside from the 1690s. By 1701, however, Philadelphia had become the focus of trade, manufacture and civic life, exhibiting most of the attributes of an urban complex and draining the vitality out of potential township centers.

Welsh and German settlers, receiving large grants just outside Philadelphia, made the most determined efforts to maintain their identity. The Welsh Quakers in the Welsh Tract (1684) stood out for their attempts to maintain their own communities with the rights to hold contiguous property, limit the activities of anyone within their boundaries, and govern themselves in their old ways. Within the year, however, assimilation with English Quaker and Anglican settlers overwhelmed the Welsh and the tract survived mainly in Welsh names such as Bala Cynwyd and Bryn Mawr.

Germantown Was Unique

[caption id="attachment_20699" align="alignright" width="245"]Illustrated postcard depicting front facade of home in Germantown. The house depicted in this early twentieth-century postcard was built on the site of the home of Thones Kunders, where the Germantown Society of Friends held its first meeting and where the first formal protest against slavery in North America was written.(Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The situation of Germantown was unique in the founding years of Pennsylvania. Through some confusion, Penn granted the same territory to both a group of Dutch Quakers and the German-based Frankfort Land Company whose legal agent was Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651-1720). They arrived at the same time in 1683. As Pastorius was the only member of the company to immigrate, he became, de facto, the leader of the Dutch group, apportioning the land and heading the government. By 1684, the territory acquired its name as it was flooded with German immigrants of many religious sects. The craft occupations of the inhabitants and the distribution of Germantown’s land in small lots strung along a highway leading from Philadelphia to the hinterlands created a miniature urban center. It was chartered as a borough, but failure of the settlers to perform its governmental functions led to loss of that status in 1707. The Quaker meeting retained many of its German beliefs, leading to a protest against slavery in 1688 and a split within the meeting itself over the Keithian controversy in the 1690s.

Ever since the first “Frame of Government and Laws Agreed Upon in England” in 1682, factions of settlers were dissatisfied with its terms, and it was superseded or amended several times—in 1683,1684, and 1691. The colony was taken away from Penn in 1693 on suspicion of treasonable association with James II, but returned to him in 1695, initiating yet another charter in 1696.

[caption id="attachment_20662" align="alignright" width="270"]Color illustration of the red brick home William Penn rented from 1699 through 1701. William Penn rented this home on the 100 block of Second Street during his second stay in Pennsylvania from 1699 to 1701. It was here that he wrote the final Charter of Privileges. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The final Charter of Privileges was granted in 1701 since the older frames had all been found “not so suitable to the Present circumstances of the Inhabitants,” and remained in force until the American Revolution. Each frame had gradually increased the powers of the elected assembly and it now received more privileges than any other legislative body in the English colonies, undoubtedly more than Penn, himself, had originally intended. A unicameral legislature with its Assembly elected annually could initiate legislation and conduct its own affairs, but the proprietor or his governor retained the right to veto legislation.

Most significantly, the first clause of the Charter of Privileges reiterated Pennsylvania’s commitment to religious liberty—freedom of worship to all who “acknowledge one almighty God” without attending or belonging to a religious body, and the ability to serve in office by all who believed in Jesus Christ and were willing to affirm, if not swear, allegiance to the government. The affirmation was important to Quakers who refused to swear oaths. Along with Rhode Island and several other colonies, Pennsylvania was a pioneer of the separation of religion and government in the American colonies.

Stephanie Grauman Wolf is a senior fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of As Various As Their Land: The Everyday Lives of Eighteenth-Century Americans.

Centennial Exhibition (1876)

[caption id="attachment_4822" align="aligncenter" width="575"]The vividly-painted Main Building of the Centennial measured 1880 by 464 feet, covering twenty acres. (Library Company of Philadelphia) The vividly-painted Main Building of the Centennial measured 1880 by 464 feet, covering twenty acres. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine, more simply known as “the Centennial,” opened in Fairmount Park to great fanfare on May 10, 1876, and closed with equal flourish six months later. Modeled after the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition in London in 1851, and the first in a long line of major “world’s fairs” in the United States, the Centennial exhibited national pride and belief in the importance of education and progress through industrial innovation. An additional mission of the Centennial grew from a desire to forgive and forget the Civil War.

Philadelphia had precedent for such a fair.  The Great Central Fair of 1864, one of many held throughout the Union during the Civil War, anticipated the combination of public, private, and commercial efforts that were necessary for the Centennial. The Great Central Fair, held on Logan Square, had a similar gothic appearance, the waving flags, the huge central hall, the “curiosities” and relics, handmade and industrial exhibits, and even a visit from the President and his family.

The idea for presenting a World Exposition in Philadelphia honoring the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was first presented to Mayor Morton McMichael (1807-79) in 1866 by Professor John Campbell of Wabash College, Indiana. In 1871, with support from prominent businessmen such as John Wanamaker (1838-1922), the Republican political machine, and the Franklin Institute, the city and state successfully petitioned Congress to authorize the Centennial and set up a commission to oversee planning and implementation.  The legislation explicitly excluded federal funding for the fair.  The commissioners, led by Joseph R. Hawley from Connecticut as chairman and Alfred T. Goshorn from Ohio as director-general, were not political appointees but leaders in business.  They were confident that the undertaking could be handled by private enterprise. 

Although rich in historic associations, Philadelphia also presented problems as a site for the fair. Business sponsors and nonprofit organizations quarreled over whether to focus on commercial achievements or on American progress in the arts and sciences. Outside Pennsylvania, some suspected that the Centennial was merely an attempt to promote Philadelphia and its industries, and the nationally publicized kidnapping of 4-year-old Charley Ross from Germantown in 1874 painted the Philadelphia police force as corrupt and incompetent, raising fears for the safety of visitors.               

Years of Fundraising

The Panic of 1873 dried up private financing.  Fair organizers devoted the next several years to attracting attention and money from national, state, and foreign governments; from organizations like churches and universities; and from industrial and commercial associations. They enlisted newspapers all over the country in the cause. Members of the Women’s Centennial Committee had the most success raising funds, going from door-to-door in thirty-one states, selling stock and bringing in $100,000 in contributions. Still, with insufficient capital on hand as the opening neared, and the prestige of the United States at stake, the federal government was forced to step up. The government required repayment as first creditor, thus dooming the fair corporation to financial failure.

[caption id="attachment_4828" align="alignright" width="240"]The Centennial opening attracted huge crowds to the plaza in front of the main Exhibition Hall. (Library Company of Philadelphia) The Centennial opening attracted huge crowds to the plaza in front of the main Exhibition Hall. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

As a popular attraction, however, the Centennial was a great success. At a time when the population of the United States was 46 million, and that of Philadelphia less than one million, almost ten million paid admissions were recorded, with most people paying fifty cents to attend. While the majority of visitors were from Pennsylvania and its neighbors, 20,000 signed in from Illinois and more than 2,000 from California. On their special state days, Pennsylvania and New York each recorded over 250,000 attendees, while New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland listed over 10,000 each.

The Centennial overlooked the Schuylkill River, with 250 pavilions and seven miles of avenues and walkways occupying a 285-acre tract of Fairmount Park’s 3,160 acres. Many visitors arrived at the temporary “centennial station” of the Pennsylvania railroad and entered through the newly invented automatic turnstile.  They found numerous fountains and statuary placed strategically throughout the grounds, prominent among them the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty. Concessionaires, who paid up to 50 percent of their take for the privilege doing business within the fair, operated stands selling cigars, soda water, and popcorn, and theme-oriented restaurants, including French, Turkish, and Viennese.

[caption id="attachment_4827" align="alignright" width="300"]At the Centennial Exhibition, amid displays promoting education, industry, and science, exhibits also concentrated on selling merchandise. (Library Company of Philadelphia) Amid displays promoting education, industry, and science, exhibits also concentrated on selling merchandise. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]


42 Acres of Farm Exhibits

The Centennial Commission owned and managed thirty-four structures, including five central buildings that covered more than fifty acres. The largest, the Main Exhibition Hall, included exhibits on education and science but concentrated largely on the industrial arts and on selling merchandise. Machinery Hall housed the huge Corliss Engine, both the power source for the fair and perhaps its most popular attraction.  Exhibitors demonstrated their processes of manufacturing while also offering their products for sale, increasing the interest of visitors. Agricultural Hall where the latest in farm equipment was demonstrated, along with forty-two acres of farm and livestock exhibits, was of particular significance for the still largely-agricultural nation. Horticultural Hall with its Victorian gardens and Memorial Hall with its exhibit of international fine arts were smallest of the main grouping.  Other buildings run by the Commission included fire and police stations, a medical department, and seven “public comfort” stations.

The remainder of the buildings, just over two hundred, represented several interests. The United States government contributed seven structures, including a main exhibit hall housing the Smithsonian collection, which later formed the nucleus of the Smithsonian Institution museum. Of the twenty-six states that erected buildings, most were either Pennsylvania’s neighbors or from the mid- or far West. Most of the South was still smarting from its loss of the Civil War and resented the request to spend money in the North which had caused so much loss and devastation to its own region.  Only Mississippi participated from the deep South, frustrating the attempt of the Centennial Commission and the Federal government to present a picture of a country reunited. While thirty-eight foreign countries had a presence, only fifteen provided their own buildings. Forty buildings, the largest number, were either commercial enterprises like the Singer Sewing Machine Company or community service groups like the Bible Society.

The Commission advertised the main value of the Fair as educational, urging visitors to compare the contemporary strides in technology and learning with the state of the country one hundred years earlier, but the growth of a consumer society made shopping one of the most popular activities. The fair also offered frequent entertainment by musical groups from symphony orchestras to minstrel bands, special days sponsored by states and nearby businesses, and events like hot-air balloon ascensions and fireworks displays.  Huge crowds turned out for the music, speeches, and celebrations that marked the opening and closing of the fair and the Fourth of July.  “Curiosities” such as a full-sized Liberty Bell made of soap, “Liberty accompanying Washington” done in human hair, and a Centennial medallion carved in butter attracted attention.   

Sideshows Arose Nearby

Outside the gates, a small, temporary city grew up along what later became Parkside Avenue. Flimsy, wooden structures housed dubious hotels, low-end restaurants, ice cream saloons, beer gardens, and “shows,” and were sandwiched two or three deep on narrow lots.  They stretched a mile in each direction from the main gate and provided entertainment the Commissioners deemed inappropriate on the grounds proper. Profits trumped morality, however, and when attendance flagged at the fair, the organizers allowed the sale of wine and beer.  However, they resisted opening on Sundays, and amusement-park rides and “hoochie koochie dancers” had to await the Chicago Fair of 1893.

Other values of the times were also on display, although not intentionally. Contempt and dislike of African Americans, laborers, and non-Anglo-Saxon foreigners often found expression in crude humor, such as exaggerated dialect, cartoons and stories found in books written about the Centennial. Victorian sensibilities demoted the graphic painting “The Gross Clinic” (1875) by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) to the Army medical hall and banned all works by women from the Memorial Hall Art Exhibit.

A patronizing attitude toward women also pervaded the Centennial. Women responded with their own pavilion, built with funds completely raised by women, with all exhibits created and operated by them. Many labor-saving devices for domestic use, invented by women, formed part of the exhibit. While traditional forms of women’s work in needlework and china painting and achievements in the fine arts were not ignored, women also acted as engineers, wood workers, and printers, turning out newspapers and furniture and operating fabric-producing machinery. The chair of the Women’s Centennial Committee, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie (1821- 1901), a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, was seated on the platform for the fair’s closing ceremonies, but when rain curtailed the number of invited guests, admission was “refused to ladies’ tickets.” 

Almost immediately after the Centennial closed, most physical remains were removed, either taken elsewhere or broken down and sold for parts. Much of the statuary and many of the fountains remained, as did the Ohio State building and two small, brick buildings used as “comfort stations.”

Two buildings were intended to be permanent, but Horticultural Hall was destroyed by a hurricane in 1954. Memorial Hall, ceased to be an art museum in 1928 and in subsequent years served as a gymnasium, swimming pool, and police station.  In 2008 it was renovated and reopened as the Please Touch Museum, a children’s museum that includes a “Centennial Exploration” exhibit featuring a tabletop diorama of the fair on a scale of 1:192 feet. Commissioned in 1889 by John Baird, a former member of the Centennial Finance Committee, the model fulfills its intended mission of educating future generations about the Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

Stephanie Grauman Wolf is a senior fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania.

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