Independence National Historical Park (INHP) is currently building a new home for the Liberty Bell, a major component of the ambitious plans to transform the three blocks of Independence Mall. Visitors will approach the new building from the north by way of an outdoor area interpreting and commemorating the site of the property that was once at 190 High Street, used by Presidents Washington and Adams when Philadelphia was the nation's capital. After entering the building from beneath a sheltered outdoor gathering area, they can view the building's exhibits, displayed on the following web pages. Finally, visitors will see the Bell itself in its own space, positioned against a large window offering an oblique view of Independence Hall silhouetted against the sky. Visitors will then exit the building to the south, and can proceed from it across Chestnut Street to Independence Hall.
The entrance to the new Liberty Bell Center falls in the immediate vicinity of what was the rear of the property at 190 High Street, which was used as both a residence and for official functions of the Executive branch of government by Presidents Washington and Adams when Philadelphia was the nation's capital from 1790-1800. After the beginning of the 19th century, by which time the nation's capital had been relocated to Washington D.C., the building became a hotel and then was also used for shops until its demolition in 1832.
Washington's household staff included servants paid wages for service, indentured servants and slaves. Washington did bring enslaved people from his home, Mount Vernon, but usually not more than seven at any one time. Based on historical records, we know that in 1794 the household slaves included: Oney, Molly, Austin, Hercules, Henry, Davy and Bain. Two escaped: in 1796 a young woman named Oney, who was Martha's maid, and, in 1797 Hercules the cook. Their escape confirmed Washington's often-expressed concerns about the powerful lure of freedom that would be presented to his slaves from the presence of Philadelphia's free black population, Pennsylvania's 1780 Gradual Emancipation Act and the Quaker Abolitionists. Thus most of those who worked for him in his Philadelphia household were white, sometimes indentured, hired straight off the Philadelphia docks.
For many, attention to the presence of this site and the richness of its stories was initially triggered by attention paid to the archeological excavations that were conducted prior to the commencement of construction. Because of our commitment to identify, document and preserve our nation's cultural resources, the National Park Service (NPS) conducted thorough documentary research and archeological investigations of the affected area before construction. If the investigation finds archeological features that will be damaged or destroyed during the construction process, the NPS fully excavates them. If, on the other hand, the features will not be harmed by the construction, standard archeological practice and NPS regulations require the features and their contents be preserved in place. This allows for preservation of the feature plus the opportunity for excavation by future archeologists with potentially better techniques and technology.
The archeological work on the site of the home of the new Liberty Bell Center on Independence Mall yielded some 30,000 items that are presently being processed and catalogued. While we know from historical research about the site history associated with the households of both Washington and Adams, aside from the remains of an 18th century icehouse, there were no other features directly tied to 190 High Street encountered during our archeological excavations.
In addition, no items related to distinctive African American cultural practices were found.
This absence of significant archeological remains associated with the 18th century history of the site was not surprising. It was already known prior to the excavation that 18th century buildings in that area were replaced by larger buildings with deep basements in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Moreover, in the 1960s, these 19th century buildings themselves were demolished to construct Independence Mall. Nothing now remains in the area associated with the 18th century history of the site except the lower portions of wells, privies and the icehouse for 190 High Street, which have either been excavated or will be unaffected by the construction and preserved in place.
Stories that "old slave quarters" have been uncovered, or deliberately not excavated, as part of this process, are incorrect.
Recent public interest in 190 High Street and the Liberty Bell Center has also focussed on concerns that the existence of slavery at the site would not be adequately recognized, and that its interpretation would not be adequately interwoven with that of the Liberty Bell. INHP will tell the story of each of these resources — the Liberty Bell and 190 High Street- primarily at the location of each, while interweaving the stories as and where appropriate.
Toward these ends, the National Park Service has consulted with numerous locally prominent and nationally recognized historians, as well as community representatives. The major initial meeting was on May 13, 2002, at which National Park Service officials met with an interested group of prominent local scholars led by Professor Randall Miller of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, to explore ways to interpret and interweave the stories of 190 High Street and the Liberty Bell.
That initial meeting with the historians explored themes that would extend throughout the exhibit. It affirmed the exhibit's overall three-part structure:
The meeting, and subsequent encounters with a range of historians, further affirmed the necessity to weave two broad themes throughout: the Bell as one of this nation's "sacred relics", and as a symbol of the ongoing and incomplete struggle to extend the benefits of liberty to all. With these themes, the historians recognized the ongoing relationship between freedom and "unfreedom," as well as the conflict between racism and the ideals of liberty.
These themes were incorporated into a revised exhibit for the Liberty Bell Center. It was reviewed by a group of nationally recognized historians, including Spencer Crew, Executive Director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center; Fath Ruffin of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution; James Horton of George Washington University, Eric Foner of Columbia University and Charles Blockson of Temple University. The comments and suggestions of these reviewers have been incorporated into the text and images of the final exhibit, which has been made available to the public on the web. The final exhibit retains the three-part structure summarized above, and presents the Bell as a symbol of an ongoing struggle for liberty rather than as a symbol of liberty attained.
At the same time, the initial planning to appropriately commemorate and interpret 190 High Street and its occupants is underway. At the site, the National Park Service will interpret several aspects of the house, including its use by two presidents and the people in the household, including slaves owned by George Washington. (A description of interpretive objectives and associated background information has been posted on the web for the public along with the Liberty Bell Center exhibit.) There are no plans to rebuild 190 High Street. While the National Park Service did reconstruct several buildings at INHP, such as the Declaration House and the City Tavern, during the early 1970s, current policies no longer permit it to do so.
In the summer of 2002, the House Appropriations Committee placed language into the 2003 Interior Appropriations Bill that urges the National Park Service to "appropriately commemorate" 190 High Street and the slaves who worked there. It is our intention to develop a schematic design for the interpretation of the site through a process that will engage the participation of non-NPS experts and interested parties, and to report back to Congress by the deadline of March 31, 2003. While funding is available to bring our design team into the project, we require funding to make the plan into a reality for our visitors.
The National Park Service has long recognized both the existence of 190 High Street and the slaves in Washington's household while he served as president. While this knowledge has ebbed and flowed in the public memory, historians and preservationists are well aware of a century's worth of scholarship on the topic. Indeed, the story of slavery in our nation is a story told throughout Independence National Historical Park. While the stories of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are part of our heritage and struggle for freedom, we know it is also our task to tell the stories of those who were not free. We will continue to tell that story as accurately as possible throughout the park and at the 190 High Street site.
Philadelphia served as the nation's capital for ten years during the construction of the District of Columbia. The capital moved here from New York City in December 1790 and then on to Washington, D.C. in May of 1800. Here in this city, on this block and the next, the legislative, judicial and executive branches of the United States government under the new constitution grappled with strengthening the nation during a time of international and political instability. The United States Congress and Supreme Court worked at the State House Square, today's Independence Square, sharing space with the state and local governments. The Executive Branch represented by the first two Presidents, George Washington and John Adams, and their respective cabinets, came together at this very site, in the president's house, to contemplate and direct the complex political issues of the day. George Washington set precedent by establishing his office at home and by receiving and entertaining a host of politicians, diplomats and civilians on this site. His two terms of office created a model that established the president as both formidable in person and accessible to the public.
The Office of President Formed in Troubled Times
Here in Philadelphia the office of the President took shape, providing the model for future generations of American presidents. George Washington set the standard by maintaining personal dignity, while appearing often in public. He kept up a regular social calendar with the elected members of Congress and appointed judges in the judicial system, but never became too familiar with them. He also created the first Cabinet as an executive advisory board. President John Adams and others to follow observed Washington's precedent.
The decade when Washington and Adams lived here as president of the United States, the nation survived a series of political crises, while reaching to stabilize as the Western World's first republic. France and England went to war in 1793 and both countries pressed for United States involvement. Washington declared our neutrality and later in 1795 defended a proposed treaty with England that erupted into a shrill national debate. Washington's administration fought and won wars against Native Americans on the frontier, while trying to find a basis for peace with visiting tribal leaders here in Philadelphia. He suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, to affirm federal taxation and the authority of the Federal Congress. John Adams steered the nation from war with France in 1798 after years of contention with that former friend and ally.
190 High Street at Center of Government
You are standing on the site where Presidents Washington and Adams lived and worked from 1790 to 1800. The President's House at 190 High (Market) Street commanded a direct view of the State House (Independence) Square, home of federal, state and local governments. The president's office faced south from the second floor of 190 High Street, looking out over his extensive garden and stables, and, above the rooftops, at the tower of the State House. Both Presidents Washington and Adams held cabinet meetings in the house and invited city, state and federal elected officials to weekly receptions or formal dinners in the adjoining house parlors. First Ladies Martha and Abigail held informal social gatherings on a weekly schedule in season. Foreign diplomats and visiting Native American delegations to the capital often came to dine at the Executive Mansion.
A Home to Previous Generations of Wealth and Power
The stately brick mansion that was home to Presidents Washington and Adams had known previous residents of wealth and influence. Constructed in the 1760s by Mary Masters, sister of Philadelphia mayor and prominent politician, John Lawrence, the house became the resident of Richard Penn, William Penn's grandson, when he married daughter Polly Masters. Richard Penn lived in the house while serving as lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, 1772-1774. It is said that he won "the hearts of the people." In 1775 he sailed to England with his family bearing the "Olive Branch" petition to King George.
During the American Revolution the house served as home and headquarters for General William Howe when the British occupied Philadelphia and for General Benedict Arnold when the Continental Army reclaimed the city. Both generals lived grandly and entertained lavishly.
When the house suffered a fire in 1780, Robert Morris, wealthy Philadelphia merchant, arranged with the Penn family to buy the property and rebuild the house as his city residence. The location close to the seat of government was convenient for him as the first Superintendent of Finance (1781-1784) under the Continental Congress. From this property Morris conducted much of the critical business that pulled the nation from spiraling inflation and debt.
The City of Philadelphia selected 190 High Street as the official residence for the president in 1790 when Robert Morris stood at the peak of his fame and fortune. An old friend of President Washington's, Morris agreed to give up his home and move with his family next door, to a house he also owned on the corner. After his 1797 inaugeration John Adams also moved into 190 High Street, declining the City's invitation to take residence in the much larger house on Ninth Street built specifically as a presidential mansion in a vain attempt to keep the national capital in Philadelphia.
Legacy of the President's House House Site, 190 High Street
When the capital moved to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1800, the President's House lost its importance. Facing bankruptcy, Robert Morris had sold the property to a soap manufacturer, Andrew Kennedy. Morris languished in Debtors' Prison while the house briefly opened as a hotel. Abigail Adams stayed there on her way to Washington in 1800. The house shortly fell to commercial use and was torn down in 1832 to be replaced by three stores built within the 45-foot width of the original house.
The significant decade when the nation's first presidents lived here faded from historical memory, but has on occasion resurfaced. A recent public interest in marking the house contour on the pavement led to an extensive review of the documentary and archeological evidence. While many pieces of the puzzle fell into place, the record did not offer the necessary detail for the outline. Fascination with this historic site during the mid-nineteenth century produced several views of the house, one drawn from life just before demolition and the others as historical renderings based on collected memory. These images suggest the once stately, suburban appearance of the President's mansion only a block from where the national government conducted state business.
Archeology at the President's House Site
Federal law requires archeological investigation before new construction on government-owned property. Archeologists and historians have studied the president's house site for evidence of the 18th century structures that stood on the property. The documentary record confirms that Washington added a two-story bay window to the south side parlor of the house and indicates that he also built a large servants' hall onto the back wing.
Did any of the President's House foundations survive the 19th and 20th century changes to the property? Archeologists judge that below ground evidence of the buildings have been obliterated by later construction. The foundations of 190 High Street were destroyed when the house was torn down in 1832 and subsequent larger buildings with deeper basements replaced the 18th century development.
Recent archeology prior to breaking ground on the Liberty Bell Center did uncover the partial remains of Robert Morris' large icehouse that stood along the alley or back property line during the residency of Presidents Washington and Adams. The discovery of the icehouse ruins deep under ground supported the assumption that the basement foundations for 190 High Street were destroyed by new construction. Only the bottom nine feet of the 18-foot deep icehouse pit survived the new structure on this property. In digging the basement for the building that filled this lot, the upper 8 feet of the ice house shaft was demolished, while the lower section was preserved when capped over to form the below ground floor for the new structure.
When Robert Morris took possession of this property after the house suffered a fire in 1780, he rebuilt the mansion as his family home and added a substantial stone icehouse along Minor Street. After a visit to Philadelphia as Morris' guest, George Washington wrote to request construction information on the icehouse so that he could build one like it at Mount Vernon. Morris obliged with a detailed letter describing its design.
In its day, Morris' icehouse was a novel improvement for food preservation. Now carefully preserved underground, this documented feature of the two 18th century presidential households serves as a reminder of the heavy labor once required for tasks made simple during the Industrial Age.
George Washington's Household
President Washington supported a large household. Between his immediate family, his staff and servants, he had to find room for more than 30 people living and working on the property. In preparation for the move to 190 High Street, he and his secretary Tobias Lear planned for the construction of a servants' hall and the remodeling of the house garret to accommodate them all.
The immediate family included Martha and two adolescent step-grandchildren, Eleanor and George Washington Parke Custis, but Washington also counted his secretaries and their families as part of his family circle. His secretaries were trusted men, often one or more of his numerous nephews.
Wage, Indentured and Slave Labor
Washington depended on as many as 25 servants to run his household. He employed a variety of help typically available in his day. He blended free, indentured and slave labor to accomplish the day-to-day household business. He hired mostly free white servants. These salaried workers ranged from the President's secretaries, the steward and housekeeper at the top, to the low ranking stable hands, scullions, waiters and maids at the bottom.
President Washington also purchased indentured servants. These European immigrants agreed to work a set time in exchange for their passage to America. Indentured servants were not free until they had completed the terms of their contract. Washington visited the docks of Philadelphia to pay for the indentures of two young Dutch servants who joined the large household at this site.
President Washington's household also included as many as eight African American slaves from Mount Vernon, his Virginia plantation, but as the opportunity arose, he replaced some of them with local hired hands. Washington depended on a few trusted and well-trained slaves to tend to his family and horses. Molly and Oney served as personal maids for Martha and her two grandchildren, while Christopher replaced Billy Lee (whose loyalty to Washington during the Revolution eventually won him his freedom) as the President's body servant. Hercules, the flamboyant cook and master of the kitchen, made sure that the family and numerous household guests ate well. Paris and Giles, the postillions for Washington's carriage, wore caps and colorful uniforms while riding with the President, and were expected to meet Washington's rigorous standards for the care of his carriages, harness and several horses.
Philadelphia as Center for Abolition Movement
President Washington was sensitive to the fact that Philadelphia harbored a growing free African population -– 2000 in 1790 and an influential body of abolitionists who helped pass the first Gradual Emancipation Act (1780) in the new nation. While it freed no slave immediately, the act raised expectations and promises for a brighter future. The law specified that slaves brought into Pennsylvania from outside the state were entitled to their freedom after six months. Initially President Washington observed this law by sending his slaves out of state before the six-month deadline. Pennsylvania's legislature subsequently exempted federal government employees and Congress from the 6-month law during their service in Philadelphia.
Even with this change in the law, Washington recognized the danger of bringing his slaves to Philadelphia. He had already admitted his mixed feelings towards slavery and abolitionism by writing, "no man living wishes more sincerely than I do to see the abolition" of slavery, but "when slaves who are happy & content to remain with their present masters, are tampered with & seduced to leave them ... it introduces more evils than it can cure."
In Philadelphia abolitionists had made notable progress. The city's tradition of Quaker values and religious toleration spawned a diverse population of over 40,000 people, many who sympathized with the active abolitionists. The emerging free African American community also was uniting under strong leadership. Together they created a climate that made Philadelphia a risky place to keep slaves.
President Washington's concerns proved justified when two of his most trusted household servants gained their freedom by finding refuge in the city's network of sympathizers, the seeds for the Underground Railroad.
Two Escaped Slaves, Hercules and Oney Judge
Two of Washington's most valued slaves in Philadelphia took advantage of the local anti-slavery sympathy to escape to freedom from the president's household at 190 High Street.
Hercules, nicknamed "Uncle Harkless" by the children, was a master chef for Washington's table and a popular household personality. He escaped to freedom in 1797, at the eve of the Washingtons' departure for Mount Vernon. President Washington made several futile attempts to locate Hercules through Philadelphia agents, but the network, later dubbed the Underground Railroad, already had sheltered Hercules' risky flight to self-liberation. That year Prince Louis-Phillippe of France visited Washington at Mount Vernon and recorded in his journal that Hercules' six year-old daughter replied when asked if she was sad not to see her father anymore, "Oh! Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now."
Oney Judge, Martha Washington's personal maid and a talented seamstress, escaped the executive household in July 1796 as a teenager. She made her way with assistance, by water up the coast to New Hampshire, where she settled, married and had three children. The Washingtons responded strongly to the news of her flight. When learning of Oney's whereabouts, Washington asked his Secretary of the Treasury for help to recover her, explaining that "the ingratitude of the girl, who was brought up and treated more like a child than a Servant ... ought not to escape impunity." The plan to "seize her and put her on board a Vessel bound immediately" to Virginia, however, was thwarted by members of the Portsmouth community, who gave Oney warning and shielded her from capture.
Years later, when she guessed her age to be over 80, Oney Judge Staines agreed to be interviewed about her life. She had escaped because she did not want to be a slave always and she supposed at the time of her decision that if she returned to Virginia, she would never have a chance to escape. At Portsmouth, New Hampshire she learned to read and was converted to Christianity. She admitted that even though she had known a hard life in poverty, she held no regrets. She had her freedom.
Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. He had led the army that fought for the Revolution's ideal that all men are "created equal" and have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And yet, he owned over 300 plantation slaves. Washington grappled with this contradiction during his later life. In the year of his death he lamented that he had too many slaves. "To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in human species. To hire them out is almost as bad, because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse families I have an aversion. What then is to be done?" By his final will of July 9, 1799, he freed all those people he personally owned. (Martha's estate legally owned most of the Mount Vernon slaves). He also left instructions for his family to provide lifetime support for the old or disabled among them, as well as care for orphaned children to the age of twenty-five.
President John Adams' Household
When John Adams moved into 190 High Street his household needs were far simpler. His four children had grown and lived elsewhere. Abigail, his wife, adamantly opposed slavery, so that the servants who kept the presidential household in operation were salaried, mostly brought with the family from Massachusetts. Polly Tailor from Quincy was maid to Abigail. John and Esther Briesler, longtime residents with the family, continued as managing housekeepers. Abigail entrusted all the hiring and firing of male servants to Briesler, while most of the female servants came with her, except "a Negro woman who is wholy with the Cook in the kitchin [sic]." Louisa Smith, a niece, helped manage the household and on occasion substituted as hostess when Abigail's health kept her at home. Like Washington, Adams employed a nephew as his secretary and had at the minimum three or four male servants. While President Adams continued many official precedents set by Washington, he absented himself from the capital more. He often returned to Braintree in Massachusetts for months at a time, leaving the house in the care of his competent servants.