Return to Home PageThe President's House

In the News index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: July 5, 2007
Byline: Bob Warner

'Blessings of liberty for all'

Amid parades, festivities & ceremonies, reminders of those without freedom

INDEPENDENCE DAY was a holiday for Jed Levin, as it was for most of the American workforce.

Regardless, Levin put on his jeans and his yellow hardhat and headed for his work site — a dirt-covered excavation at 6th and Market streets where archeologists are digging out the remains of the house where the nation's first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, lived for 10 years.

Levin, 53, the National Park Service archaeologist in charge of the dig, knew the holiday would bring even more visitors than normal — literally hundreds of them, first queueing up to look over the site more than an hour before the city's traditional July Fourth ceremonies in front of Independence Hall.

Levin, who grew up in Brooklyn and studied archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, showed up on his own time to answer their questions. He told them about the financing of the American Revolution by Robert Morris, who owned the house when the first presidents lived there, and about the group of nine African slaves whom Washington brought to Philadelphia from his estate in Virginia.

"People here were shocked to learn of the slave quarters in the house," Levin said. "People knew Washington had slaves, but they didn't realize he'd brought them here to Philadelphia.

It takes some imagination to see the evidence of slavery in the ruins at 6th and Market.

What's now known as the Presidents' House was torn down in 1832, Levin said, when the owner of the building, Nathaniel Burt, decided to build three retail stores on the space. One of the stores later sold a line of clothing called Washington Hall.

What had been the slave quarters are buried under the Liberty Bell Pavilion. But the archeologists uncovered the foundations of a basement tunnel, running from the kitchen to the main living area, where visitors can imagine servants carrying dishes prepared by George Washington's renowned chef, an African slave named Hercules, to the guests of the nation's first president.

One of the earliest visitors yesterday was WPVI-TV anchorman Jim Gardner, who quietly stopped at the Presidents' House excavation before he climbed the stage at Independence Hall.

An hour later, Gardner addressed a crowd of 600 and quoted a letter from John Adams on the significance of the holiday.

"You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution," Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776. " . . . It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward ever more."

Philadelphia did its best to follow Adams' advice 231 years later.

The Independence Hall ceremonies included a fife and drum corps in Colonial uniforms; a color guard from the USS Farragut; remarks by Mayor Street, Independence National Historic Park superintendent Dennis Reidenbach and archaeologist Cheryl Janier LaRoche; patriotic songs by the J. Donald Dumpson Singers and a flyover by the 111th Fighter Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, stationed at Willow Grove.

Street cited the slaves at the Presidents' House and throughout the Colonies as evidence that not all Americans had the same incentives to celebrate in 1776.

The mayor noted Philadelphia's prominent role in the anti-slavery movement and said that recent debates over immigration, education, terrorism and other issues make clear that "securing the blessings of liberty for all Americans remains a constant, ongoing and complicated struggle."

"Some people worry that our country is turning into a surveillance society," Street said, describing various technological advances that could threaten personal privacy.

In the early afternoon, about 100 Tibetans convened in front of Independence Hall, seeking their country's independence from China and the release of an estimated 300 political prisoners held by the Chinese government.

In the late afternoon, hundreds made their way to the Ben Franklin Parkway, where Southwest Airlines sponsored a parade of marching bands, Mummers, the Philadelphia Boys Choir, patriotic floats and other musical acts.

That set the stage for the finale of the Sunoco Welcome America! festivities, a concert by singers Daryl Hall and John Oates, followed by fireworks.

 

Return to Start Page | In the News index

historic documents, declaration, constitution, more