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Christ Church Burial Ground

A Who's Who of Early America.

In 1719 the burial ground next to Christ Church was becoming full, and the neighboring lands proved too marshy to be useful for burials. (Ducks swam in a nearby pond!) An entry in the minutes of the Christ Church Vestry from May 15, 1719 reads "The Church wardens are desired to agree...for a plot of ground which they have already viewed for a burying place and to collect the money [for it] with all convenient speed." A June 23 record continues in the same vein: "The Vestry being Mett considered the unhappy circumstances of our Church Yard for a burying place & Mr. Trent & Mr. Assheton are desired to find out a convenient purchase of Ground to add to the Church Yard..."

Land was purchased along Fifth Street "in the suburbs" from a Mr. James Steel. In 1719, the city of Philadelphia was only 37 years old and Fifth Street, only about three blocks from Christ Church, was considered the "suburbs" or outskirts of the city.

Funerals in the Revolutionary Era

During the era of the American Revolution, many colonists felt that funerals had become overly pomp-filled ceremonies. Simple solemn ceremonies were more in keeping with the tenor of the times. And as the process of embalming was still not practiced, burials were conducted with all possible celerity. Plain pine coffins were covered with palls, black for adults and white for children. Religious services were held at graveside.

The Burial Ground Today

Many of the gravestones dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries were in an advanced state of deterioration that made them impossible to read. Acid rain and the high content of lime in the marble are the prime culprits for the damage. Thanks to efforts by Christ Church, many of the stones have been repaired, and the inscriptions restored.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Interred at Christ Church Burial Ground are hundreds of Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary notables. The most famous of whom is Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin, the human multitude, was among other things, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, printer, author, scientist, postmaster, inventor, and diplomat. At Franklin's death some 20,000 Philadelphians followed his cortege to his grave. His passing in 1790 symbolically severed the most important link to Colonial Philadelphia and the Revolutionary Era. The City of Brotherly Love would have to face a new century without its Renaissance man. William Smith, a long-time Franklin foe and Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, gave Franklin's eulogy in Christ Church, and the Comte de Mirabeau did the same before the French National Assembly in Paris.

Buried with Franklin is his wife Deborah. Much has been written about their relationship. To get some notion of how he perceived her, he once sent her an English beer jug with this message: "I fell in love with it at first sight for I thought it look'd like a fat jolly Dame, clean and tidy, with a neat blue and white calico gown on, good natur'd and lovely, and put me in mind of — Somebody." That Somebody was her!

Nearby is a tiny marker for Francis Franklin who died of small pox at age four. After "Frankie's" death, his grieving father urged Philadelphians to inoculate their children against this dread disease.

Next to Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, are their daughter and son-in-law, Sarah ("Sally") Franklin and Richard Bache. The Baches lived with Benjamin Franklin in a house that stood where Franklin Court is today. Bache published the virulently anti-Washington newspaper The Aurora. Franklin's other son, William, is not buried here. During the Revolution he was a Loyalist. Benjamin Franklin wrote that nothing in his life had ever hurt him so much as the defection of his son.

Also Buried Here, a Who's Who of Early America

  • Commodore William Bainbridge (1774-1833) Known for "his bravery, chivalry, and generosity." Fought the English, the French, and the Barbary pirates. His most famous ship was the Philadelphia which was captured by Barbary pirates of Tripoli. Bainbridge was held prisoner for 19 months until ransomed by President Jefferson. Commodore Thomas Truxtun, who you'll meet later trained Commodore Bainbridge who in turned trained Commodore James Biddle.
  • Charles Biddle Vice President of the Pennsylvania Senate and father of Nicholas Biddle, President of the Second Bank of the United States and first editor of the Lewis and Clark journals.
  • James Biddle (1783-1848) Another son of Charles, Commodore James Biddle is buried in the family plot. Like his commanding officer, Commodore William Bainbridge, Biddle was imprisoned for 19 months by the Barbary pirates. After his release, Biddle took possession of the Oregon territory for the U.S., negotiated the first U.S. treaty with China, in 1846.
  • Dr. Thomas Bond (1712-1784) Founded Pennsylvania Hospital along with Benjamin Franklin. Bond worked there free of charge for 3 years.
  • Colonel Edward Buncombe (1742-1777) In 1777, Buncombe was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine and wounded again and captured at the Battle of Germantown. He died of his wounds while being held a prisoner of war in Philadelphia. Some believe he perished while incarcerated in Independence Hall. Buncombe County, North Carolina, is named in his honor. The word Bunk! meaning "nonsense" was coined after a speech was given in the House of Representatives by a Representative from Buncombe County in 1820.
  • Matthew Clarkson (d. 1800) Mayor of Philadelphia. Clarkson worked feverishly to help the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 when 10 percent of the city's population died of the disease. Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, two prominent members of Philadelphia's African-American community were two volunteers who answered his call to aid the ailing.
  • Tench Coxe (1755-1824) The fickle Coxe changed his mind twice about independence, but it never seemed to hurt him politically. He resigned from the Pennsylvania militia in 1776 becoming a Loyalist and arrived in Philadelphia with Howe's troops in 1777. He was later arrested and he reaffirmed his allegiance to the Americans who forgave him. He is considered the "Father of the American Cotton Industry."
  • Edwin Jesse DeHaven (1816-1865) This naval explorer and Arctic adventurer once had his ship trapped in ice for 9 months, but he and his crew lived to tell about it.
  • John Dunlap (1742-1812) Printer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Dunlap was living in the Graff House (where Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence) at the time of the writing of the Constitution. Founder of the Pennsylvania Packet, the first daily newspaper in America.
  • Benjamin Flower (d. 1781) As Commissioner of Military Stores of the Flying Camp and a Colonel in the Artillery Artifices Regiment, Flower was responsible for repairing army military equipment.
  • David Hall (1714-1772) Printer and business partner of Benjamin Franklin from 1748-1766. He is buried beside Franklin.
  • Joseph Hewes (1730-1799) Signer of the Declaration of Independence from North Carolina. Appointed John Paul Jones to the navy and was responsible for having a ship assigned to him.
  • Michael Hillegas (1729-1804) Generous patriot whose money helped pay for the American Revolution. He was the first Treasurer of the United States.
  • Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) Signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey. He was the first graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. The multi-talented Hopkinson was a composer, playwright, poet, and lawyer. He was also organist for Christ Church. Some historians give him credit for designing the flag which Betsy Ross is traditionally credited with sewing. His poem, "The Battle of the Kegs," is a satiric masterpiece lampooning William Howe's ineptitude when confronted with floating kegs of dynamite bobbing in the Delaware River and headed toward British ships in 1777.
  • Major William Jackson (1759-1828) An orphan who prospered. Signed the Constitution as Secretary to the Constitutional Convention. During the Revolution, he served as aide-de-camp in South Carolina where he was taken prisoner.
  • Dr. John Kearsley (d. 1772) Supervised construction of Christ Church. He trained Dr. James Derharn, recognized as the first African-American physician.
  • Elizabeth Willing Powel (1743-1830) Good friend of the Washingtons — and a good dancer. Once danced with Washington all evening. Wrote a letter to Washington that helped him decide to serve a second term as President. Wife of Philadelphia Mayor Samuel Powel.
  • Dr. Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837) "Father of American Surgery." Operated on Chief Justice John Marshall in 1834 and removed almost 1000 bladder stones! Invented many medical instruments and had a VIP-clientele. Grandson of Philip Syng (see below).
  • George Ross (1730-1779) Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Friend of the Native Americans. Uncle of Betsy Ross's first husband. Member of the Congressional Committee that Betsy Ross said came to her to have the flag sewn.
  • John Ross (d. 1777) John Ross was the first husband of the celebrated Betsy. (She had three husbands and is buried with her third husband just down the street in the garden of the Betsy Ross House.) John Ross was 24 when they wed and by trade an upholsterer. He was the son of Reverend Aeneas Ross, and Episcopal cleric who was once assistant rector of Christ Church. He died in an explosion while guarding a warehouse containing gunpowder and military stores.
  • Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745?-1813) Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rush is known as both "The Father of American Medicine" and "The Father of American Psychiatry." The latter title was bestowed because Dr. Rush showed that mental illness could be treated with kindness. He was one of the few brave Philadelphians who stayed in the city during the dread summer of 1793 to battle Yellow Fever. It was Rush who inoculated Patrick Henry against smallpox as well. The distinguished doctor founded Dickinson College and the Philadelphia Dispensary. He was a supporter of the abolition of slavery prior to the Revolution.With Dr. Rush is his wife Julia Stockton Rush the Daughter of Richard Stockton, who was also a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the poet Annis Boudinot Stockton.
  • Philip Syng (1703-1789) Made the ink stand that was used in signing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Also carved the hand-in-hand firemark for the Philadelphia Contributionship, the nation's oldest fire insurance company. Worked on electricity with Benjamin Franklin. Grandfather of Philip Syng Physick.
  • Commodore Thomas Truxtun (d. 1822) Revolutionary privateer (a pirate with governmental authorization). George Washington said he was "worth a regiment." Captured the most valuable cargo brought to Philadelphia during the Revolution. Hero of the 1798 naval war with France. The Constellation was his most famous ship.
  • Thomas Willing (1731-1821) Mayor of Philadelphia, delegate to the Continental Congress and president of the First Bank of the United States.
bullet Five Signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried here.
bullet The earliest tombstone dates from 1720.
bullet Reopened to the public on April 26, 2003, after being closed for 25 years.
bullet Location: S.E. corner of 5th St. and Arch (Locale of Benjamin Franklin's grave.) (Map)
bullet Established: 1719
bullet Commissioned by: Christ Church
bullet Cost to build: 72 pounds
bullet Tourism information: Mo-Sa 10am-4pm, Su noon-4pm weather permitting; suggested donation $2-adult, $1-student. 35-minute tours at 10:15, 11:15, 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, $3-adult, $2-student.
bullet Official website: www.oldchristchurch.org/burial
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