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The Middle Colonies

4c. City of Brotherly Love — Philadelphia

Back of State House, Philadelphia
The Print and Picture Collection, The Free Library of
William Russell Birch's idyllic engraving of the back of the Pennsylvania State House hints at the diversity of race and class that typified Philadelphia at the turn of the 19th century.

William Penn had a distaste for cities. His colony, Pennsylvania, would need a capital that would not bring the horrors of European urban life to the shores of his New World experiment. Penn determined to design and to administer the city himself to prevent such an occurrence. He looked with disdain on London's crowded conditions and sought to prevent this by designing a city plan with streets wider than any major thoroughfare in London. Five major squares dotted the cityscape, and Penn hoped that each dweller would have a family garden. He distributed land in large plots to encourage a low population density. This, he thought, would be the perfect combination of city and country. In 1681, he made it happen.

Penn's selection of a site was most careful. Philadelphia is situated at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. He hoped that the Delaware would supply the needed outlet to the Atlantic and that the Schuylkill would be the needed artery into the interior of Pennsylvania. This choice turned out to be controversial. The proprietors of Maryland claimed that Penn's new city lay within the boundaries of Maryland. Penn returned to England to defend his town many times. Eventually the issue would be decided on the eve of the Revolution by the drawing of the famed Mason-Dixon Line.

With Penn promoting religious toleration, people of many different faiths came to Philadelphia. The Quakers may have been tolerant of religious differences, but were fairly uncompromising with moral digressions. It was illegal to tell lies in conversation and even to perform stage plays. Cards and dice were forbidden. Upholding the city's moral code was taken very seriously. This code did not extend to chattel slavery. In the early days, slavery was commonplace in the streets of Philadelphia. William Penn himself was a slaveholder. Although the first antislavery society in the colonies would eventually be founded by Quakers, the early days were not free of the curse of human bondage.

Early Philadelphia had its ups and downs. William Penn spent only about four years of his life in Pennsylvania. In his absence, Philadelphians quibbled about many issues. At one point, Penn appointed a former soldier, John Blackwell, to bring discipline to town government. Still, before long Philadelphia prospered as a trading center. Within twenty years, it was the third largest city, behind Boston and New York. A century later it would emerge as the new nation's largest city, first capital, and cradle of the Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution.

On the Web
Betsy Ross
One of our favorite sites on the Internet. Not only will you learn about Betsy, her life and contributions to flag making, but there are also sections on "the history of the flag," and "flag quotes" too. Take a cool virtual tour of Betsy's house, read what hundreds of others have written about Betsy and the flag, and learn how to cut a 5-pointed star with one snip of the scissors. Plenty of pictures and things to do!
Most Historic Mile — Philadelphia
An amazing 65-stop tour in America's Most Historic Mile. Visit all the places involved in the making of the country. Tour stops include Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Carpenters' Hall, and the Graff House where Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Save lots of time for browsing at this great site. The only drawback — not enough pictures!
Seven Walking Tours of Historic Philadelphia
John Francis Marion knew more about Philadelphia than almost anybody. This tour was adapted from one his books. Visitors will be able to virtually tour hundreds of sites which were relevant to the founding of the country. Pay close attention to the Historic Mile, Market Street, and Society Hill tours. With lots of great images.
The Liberty Bell
Everything you could possibly want to know about the Liberty Bell: History, Quotes, Facts (The Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds!), timeline and a picture-filled tour following the Bell's 1915 trip from Philadelphia to California. Peal out and get over to this site.
Tun Tavern History
After the delegates held a session at the First Continental Congress, they would often adjourn and meet at a tavern to discuss the days' events. Tun Tavern was Philadelphia's first brew house and one such meeting place for delegates. At this website, the makers of Tun Tavern beer show how their brewery fits into the sweep of American history.
George Washington's original pencil sketch for the flag indicated 6-pointed stars, a form he apparently preferred. Betsy Ross, however, recommended a 5-pointed star, which she could make in a single snip. Learn how!
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Liberty Bell stats
  • 12' circumference around lip
  • 7'6" around crown
  • 3' lip to crown
  • 2'3" height over crown
  • 3" thick at lip
  • 1-1/4" thick at crown
  • 2080 lbs.
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  • Peggy Mullen served what may have been the first Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sandwich at her Tun Tavern. At the time it was known as the "Red Hot Beef Steak Club" and it brought in customers that included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and, on occasion, the entire First and Second Continental Congress.
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