Carpenters' Hall
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Introduction to the Tour

interior
Carpenters' Hall

In 1724, a group of Master Builders, meeting informally, decided to form the Carpenters' Company of the City and County of Philadelphia. An impressive title for an equally significant organization. These were the men — combining the talents of architect, contractor and engineer — who built much of colonial Philadelphia. Many of their achievements, notably Independence Hall and this building, still stand.

By 1770, a half-dozen years before the Declaration of Independence, members decided to erect a meeting hall which also could be rented to help pay off their investment. To reduce construction cost, they contributed much of the labor and materials.

Carpenters' Hall proved to be the right building at the right time. The plaster was barely dry before Benjamin Franklin in 1773 installed his new Library Company — the nation's first lending library — on the second floor directly above the display explaining the First Continental Congress.

First Continental Congress
  • The first time that 56 representatives elected by Assemblies of 12 colonies met in person, in 1774.
  • The first time those delegates spoke with one united voice in their declarations and petitions.
  • The first time those delegates placed their signatures on a document (the Continental Association), pledging to abide by an embargo on the purchase and sale of goods to Great Britain.
  • The first document printed by an American congress was The Journal of the Proceedings

That same year the famed Boston Tea Party took place, the event which directly led to summoning the First Continental Congress. Taxation without representation in Parliament had been for many years a festering issue between Crown and colonies. Although many taxes had been repealed, the tax on tea — the colonists' favorite non-alcoholic drink — remained. Making matters worse, the East India Company's price even undercut that of American smugglers. On a cold December night, 150 Bostonians dressed crudely as Mohawk Indians, boarded three tea ships anchored in the harbor and dumped the contents of all the tea chests. Outraged, the King and Parliament responded by, among other things, blockading the port and sending General Gage with 4,000 troops to occupy the city.

1774

Because of these and other "Intolerable Acts," twelve colonial Assemblies (except for Georgia) voted to send delegates to a "congress" in Philadelphia. The 56 men represented the full spectrum of opinion, from those seeking compromise with England to fiery rebels such as Sam Adams of Massachusetts. Delegates chose Carpenters' Hall since it was a more politically neutral location than the State House, to which they had been invited by the colonial government.

Highlighting the exhibit on the First Continental Congress are the five windsor chairs lent by members of the Company and used by delegates during their seven weeks of deliberations, from September 5 to October 26. Peyton Randolph of Virginia and a friend of Washington was elected president of the Congress and occupied the officer's chair.

On the opening day, Patrick Henry, a 38-year-old lawyer from Virginia who had already tried more than 1,000 cases, declared in a speech, "...The distinctions between Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American." His speech lost some of its luster, however, when he argued that voting should be in proportion to population in each colony, which would have allowed Virginia and Massachusetts to dominate the meeting. Instead, it was agreed each colony would have one vote. This same difference of opinion arose in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention and led to a compromise: the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Reverend Jacob Duché, rector of Christ Church, the city's foremost Anglican congregation, opened the session on Wednesday, September 7, by delivering the first prayer in Congress.

Paul Revere, Boston silversmith and maker of false teeth, was also a trusted courier who made two trips to Philadelphia bringing the latest news to delegates of both the First and Second Continental Congresses.

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Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Open free to the public daily, except Mondays (and Tuesdays in Jan. and Feb.), from 10am-4pm

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a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942.
Publishing electronically as ushistory.org. On the Internet since July 4, 1995.