Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Nineteenth Century to 1854

Photograph of baby's dress made with "free cotton."Baby’s dress, c. 1845, labeled “free cotton” to assure that the item was not produced by slave labor. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Friends Historical Association Collection, 1987, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

Industrialization, transportation, and migration transformed the Philadelphia region in the first half of the nineteenth century. While turnpikes, canals, and railroads extended the city’s reach, new communities also formed within Philadelphia County as boroughs such as Frankford and Spring Garden were incorporated and villages such as Manayunk developed around mills and factories. In South Jersey, parts of Gloucester County were divided to create Atlantic County (1837) and Camden County (1844).

Despite its industrial growth, Philadelphia lost its status as the nation’s leading port to New York, which benefited from the opening of the Erie Canal and from the dumping of stockpiled British textiles there following the War of 1812.  Also in this era, as in other American cities, social tensions often erupted in violence, including race riots in the 1830s and 1840s, the burning of Pennsylvania Hall in 1838, and the Nativist Riots of 1844. In part to quell the disorder, in 1854 consolidation brought all of Philadelphia County under the governance of the City of Philadelphia.

Topics: Nineteenth Century to 1854

Gallery: Nineteenth Century to 1854

Laurel Hill Landing
Laurel Hill Landing

Laurel Hill Cemetery Company (Explore in Laurel Hill Cemetery).

William Still
William Still

“The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom” (Explore in Abolitionism).

Girard Trust Corn Exchange Bank
Girard Trust Corn Exchange Bank

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Banking).

Tanner Map of Cholera Outbreaks
Tanner Map of Cholera Outbreaks

New York Academy of Medicine Archives (Explore in Cholera).

Morton McMichael
Morton McMichael

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Explore in Consolidation Act of 1854).

Girard College, 1850
Girard College, 1850

Library of Congress (Explore in Girard College).

Fox Hunting
Fox Hunting

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Fox Hunting).

Central High School
Central High School

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Public Education: High Schools).

Southwark Riot Lithograph
Southwark Riot Lithograph

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Nativist Riots of 1844).

Wetherill & Son’s White Lead Factory
Wetherill & Son’s White Lead Factory

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Paints and Varnishes).

Timeline: Nineteenth Century to 1854

1801: Philadelphia activates municipal water works (Center Square pump house shown here).

1801: Philadelphia Naval Shipyard becomes the United States’ first official naval yard.

1802: Charles Willson Peale moves his museum to the State House.

1802: Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, immigrant from France, establishes a gunpowder works on the Brandywine in Delaware.

1804: New Jersey is last northern state to pass gradual Emancipation Act; children born to enslaved mothers after July 4, 1804, held as apprentices to mothers’ masters until age 21 (females) or 25 (males), then freed.

1805: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts founded.

Image credit: Library of Congress

1805-38: Bridges built over Schuylkill, beginning with “Permanent Bridge” at Market Street, 1805.

1807: New Jersey legislature closes a loophole that allowed widowed and single women to vote.

July 4, 1808: Sparks Shot Tower is built, operates until 1903 (depicted here, early twentieth century).

1808: Diocese of Philadelphia is created.

1810: First steam ferry operates between Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey.

1811: Stephen Girard acquires First Bank of the United States building after its charter expires, establishes nation’s first private bank.

1812-15: War of 1812.

1812: Pennsylvania moves state capital from Lancaster to Harrisburg.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

1812: Moyamensing District incorporated.

1813: Spring Garden District incorporated.

1814: Philadelphia Athenaeum is founded to foster cultural and intellectual pursuits.

1816: City of Philadelphia agrees to purchase the State House (shown here) and square from Pennsylvania; prevents square from development.

1816: African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference held in Philadelphia.

August 1817: African Americans gather in Philadelphia to condemn colonization, the movement to resettle free blacks in Africa.

1818: Philadelphia establishes its first public schools; in 1837, Board of Education approves universal education for all school-age children.

Image credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

1820s: Approximately 12 percent of immigrants to U.S. enter through Philadelphia; proportion dwindles to 4.5 percent by the 1850s.

1820s: Formation of Free Produce Societies, which reject slave-produced goods.

1820s: Philadelphia begins to rehabilitate the five public squares originally laid out by William Penn. Four of the squares are renamed: Franklin, Washington, Logan, and Rittenhouse.

1820: District of Kensington is incorporated.

1822: Construction of Fairmount Water Works completed (shown here).

1824: Historical Society of Pennsylvania founded.

February 5, 1824: Founding of the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

September 1824: Marquis de Lafayette visits Philadelphia on U.S. tour; during preparations, planners refer to reception room in State House as “Hall of Independence.”

1824-29: Construction of Chesapeake and Delaware Canal spurs new towns, Delaware City and Chesapeake City, in Delaware.

1825: Completion of Schuylkill Canal allows transportation of anthracite coal from northeast Pennsylvania to wharves on Schuylkill for export.

1827: As region industrializes, American labor movement originates with Mechanics Union of Trade Associations.

1829: Eastern State Penitentiary opens (shown here). Unlike prisons that carry out sentences with corporal punishment, Eastern State focuses on labor and isolation for penitent reflection.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia 

1829: A formal schism in Quakerism splits Society of Friends into Orthodox and Hicksite branches.

1830s-1850s: Fates of accused fugitives from slavery are decided in courts in Independence Hall. Anti-slavery newspapers Pennsylvania Freeman in Philadelphia (1838-54) and New Jersey Freeman Boonton, New Jersey (1844-50) promote abolition.

1830s: Boston abolitionists adopt the Old State House bell as a symbol, naming it “The Liberty Bell.”

1830: Philadelphia, with an African American population of 15,000, hosts the first National Negro Convention. (James Forten shown here.)

February 4, 1830: New Jersey incorporates the Delaware & Raritan Canal Company and the Camden & Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

1831: Horse-drawn omnibus routes are introduced in Philadelphia, allowing greater commuter range for business owners and clerks.

July 1831: The first of three cholera epidemics strikes the region.

1832: Philadelphia’s first commuter rail line, Germantown & Norristown (shown here), begins operation, adding to the region’s burgeoning public transportation systems.

December 1833: American Anti-Slavery Society founded in Philadelphia by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan; grows to nearly 250,000 members by 1838.

December 1833: Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society formed in response to American Anti-Slavery Society’s refusal to admit women members.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

1834: Service begins on Pennsylvania “Main Line,” sequence of canals, railroads, tunnels, and inclined planes linking Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

1834: Construction begins on Delaware Avenue.

August 12-15, 1834: In “flying horses” race riot, whites attack African Americans and property.

1835: General Trades’ Union strike seeks ten-hour work day.

1836: Charter of Second Bank of the United States expires; bank closes in 1841.

1836: John Jay Smith and others acquire thirty-two acres of land on the east bank of the Schuylkill River and establish Philadelphia’s first rural cemetery at Laurel Hill (shown here).

1838: Railroad connections to Philadelphia and Baltimore spur industrial growth in Wilmington.

Image credit: James Hill Jr.

May 17, 1838: Pennsylvania Hall (shown here) burned by rioters during abolitionists’ meeting, just three days after its dedication as space for free expression.

1838: Pennsylvania’s new constitution, created by convention at Philadelphia’s Musical Fund Hall, adds “white” to the qualification for voting. New Jersey does the same in 1844.

August 1, 1842: March by Young Men’s Vigilant Association attacked by a group of Irish Catholic men. Ensuing riot lasts three days.

1843: The Liberty Bell’s famous crack appears.

1844: With immigration increasing the population of Irish Catholics, nativist riots break out in Kensington and Southwark.

1844: Camden County formed from section of Gloucester County, New Jersey.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

1848: Girard College is established as a school for “poor, white, male orphans.”

1852: Philadelphia’s parochial school system is founded under Bishop John Nepomucene Neumann.

1852: New Jersey grants charter to the Camden and Atlantic Railroad; when completed in 1854, connects to a new resort area: Atlantic City.

October 18-24, 1854: Fifth annual National Woman’s Rights Convention held in Philadelphia.

1854: The Act of Consolidation incorporates the entirety of Philadelphia County, expanding Philadelphia’s area from two square miles to nearly 130 square miles.

Image credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania 

Map: Nineteenth Century to 1854

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