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May 19 2016

Historic Philadelphia Timeline, 1681 To 1801


  • King Charles II grants William Penn the Charter of Pennsylvania, which includes an immense tract of land as settlement of a debt owed to Penn’s father, Admiral William Penn. The King names the colony Pennsylvania in honor of Admiral Penn. William Penn begins plans for his “holy experiment” and hopes it will be the “seed of a nation.” His Commonwealth will assure religious tolerance, fair trials, freedom of speech and enlightened laws.


  • William Penn leaves England, sets sail across the Atlantic and arrives in Philadelphia, his “City of Brotherly Love.” Find more information at the Philadelphia History Museum, 15 S. 7th Street, and Arch Street Meeting House, 320 Arch Street.
  • Some new residents of Philadelphia live in caves carved into the banks of the Delaware River.
  • The Delaware River and its port anchor the city’s development as a center for transatlantic and inter-colonial commerce. Trades connected with shipbuilding and seafaring support the port and its activities. Find more information at the Independence Seaport Museum,
    211 S. Columbus Boulevard.


  • William Penn publishes the plan for the City of Philadelphia, as designed by Thomas Holme. The map features a grid of streets, plus five squares or public green spaces. This grid survives today. Named streets run north or south. Numbered streets run east or west. Penn’s squares survive too: Rittenhouse, Logan (now Logan Circle), Center (now City Hall and Dilworth Park), Washington Square, between 6th and 7th Streets and Walnut and Spruce Streets, and Franklin Square, between 6th and 7th Streets and Race and Vine Streets.
  • Responding to Penn’s promise of religious tolerance, 13 German Mennonite and Quaker families settle in the German Township, northwest of Philadelphia.


  • The Arabella lands in Philadelphia, bringing the first enslaved Africans to Pennsylvania.


  • A group of Germantown Quakers issues the first-known protest against slavery in North America.


  • Total known population of Philadelphia is approximately 2,100. Note: Population figures include Philadelphia City, Southwark and the Northern Liberties in this and all subsequent references. These estimated numbers are based on available tax records.


  • Christ Church (Church of England) is founded.


  • Penn issues the Charter of Privileges, granting citizens important legal and property rights.


  • A narrow street for carts, “a cartway,” is cut between two properties and named for resident silversmith Jeremiah Elfreth. Thirty-two houses are erected in the 18th and 19th centuries on Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously occupied residential street, found between Front and 2nd Streets and Vine and Arch Streets. Find more information at the Elfreth’s Alley Museum, 126 Elfreth’s Alley.


  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 4,900.


  • Benjamin Franklin, printer, arrives from Boston. He begins inventing everything from bifocals, Franklin stoves and lightning rods to libraries, hospitals, fire companies—and new nations. Find more information at Franklin Court and the Benjamin Franklin Museum, 317 Chestnut Street.


  • Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia is founded.


  • Christ Church begins building a new church, replacing the smaller one built in 1710. Its bell tower—whose original set of bells remains in use—will be the tallest structure in the American colonies through the 18th century and the place of worship for many Founding Fathers and Mothers, still located at 20 N. American Street.
  • Benjamin Franklin founds the Library Company of Philadelphia, America’s first successful lending library (then subscription-based) and eldest cultural institution, now located at 1314 Locust Street.


  • Construction of Pennsylvania State House begins. It’s now known as Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut Street, and open for free tours with timed tickets.
  • State in Schuylkill Fishing Club is founded. Its members create Fish House Punch, a potent mix of rum, cognac and peach brandy that becomes a favorite of the Founding Fathers.


  • Jesuit priests found Old St. Joseph’s, the first Catholic church in Philadelphia, at 321 Willings Alley.


  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 7,500.


  • The Pennsylvania Assembly moves into the unfinished Pennsylvania State House.


  • Nathan Levy appeals to Thomas Penn, William Penn’s son, for land to create a burial ground on Spruce Street between 8th and 9th Streets. This act makes Mikveh Israel synagogue a formally recognized congregation, 44 N. 4th Street. Find more information at the National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall.


  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 10,400.


  • Benjamin Franklin founds the American Philosophical Society to “improve the common stock of knowledge.” Many Founders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, are among its early members. It remains a center for scholarly research at 104 S. 5th Street.


  • First German (Reformed) Church, now called Old First Reformed Church United Church of Christ, is built. Its current building at 151 N. 4th Street dates to 1837; it is not open to the public.


  • Construction begins on the Pennsylvania State House’s bell tower.


  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 13,700.


  • Pennsylvania Assembly commissions a bell from what is now Whitechapel Bell Foundry in England to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Charter of Privileges. Inscribed “Proclaim LIBERTY Thro’ All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof,” it cracks shortly after its arrival in Philadelphia and is recast twice by Philadelphians John Pass and John Stow, who add “Philada” to the inscription. The faulty bell later cracks again, but the Liberty Bell becomes a major American symbol beginning in the 1830s, when abolitionists adopt its image for their literature. The Liberty Bell Center, 6th Street between Market and Chestnut Streets, is open to the public and free of charge.


  • Benjamin Franklin and his fellow firefighters found the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insuring of Houses from Loss by Fire, the first property insurance company in America. It’s at 212 S. 4th Street and open by appointment.
  • Franklin conducts his famous kite experiment, writes about it as part of his scientific research on electricity and receives attention throughout the scientific community in the colonies, England and Europe.


  • The French and Indian War breaks out. Great Britain and France battle over territory in the western frontier of European settlement in North America, including western Pennsylvania. The war forces the Quaker leadership in the Pennsylvania government to step down, because their pacifist beliefs preclude financing military operations. This marks the official end of Quaker domination in Pennsylvania politics. For the remainder of the 18th century, Quakers remain involved in emerging social issues, including the abolition movement, education for girls and African-Americans and prison reform.


  • The cornerstone is laid for Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in America, founded by Benjamin Franklin and others, at 800 Spruce Street.


  • Benjamin Franklin sails to England to represent Pennsylvania before Parliament.


  • Total population of Philadelphia is about 17,000.


  • First medical school in America, now the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, is founded. 4th Street near Arch Street. (The university now calls West Philadelphia home.)
  • Benjamin Franklin returns from England.


  • Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon begin their survey in Philadelphia for one of the most important boundaries in the U.S.: the Mason-Dixon Line, separating Pennsylvania from Delaware and Maryland, with a starting point at 30 South Street. The Mason-Dixon Line comes to separate the North from the South and the free states from slaveholding states in the 19th century.
  • In the French and Indian War, England wins French territory east of the Mississippi.
  • Philadelphia has a post-war building boom. New houses spring up in the city. Wealthy Philadelphians build country estates such as Mount Pleasant, located at 3800 Mount Pleasant Drive in Fairmount Park.


  • Benjamin Franklin sails back to England to represent Pennsylvania before Parliament.


  • Parliament passes the Stamp Act, levying a tax on various papers, documents and playing cards. This tax must be paid in British sterling, not colonial currencies. The American colonies protest. Later that year, Parliament repeals the act.
  • While representing Pennsylvania in Parliament, Benjamin Franklin supports the Stamp Act as a legitimate way for England to recoup expenses associated with the French and Indian War. This infuriates Philadelphians. A mob heads to Franklin Court, where Deborah Franklin waits for them, musket in hand. Friends support her, and the mob backs off. Later, Franklin thanks his wife for her courage. The incident makes the statesman more aware of America’s growing anger with British policies.


  • Parliament passes the Declaratory Act, also known as the American Colonies Act, decreeing that the King and Parliament have full legislative authority over the American colonies.


  • Parliament passes the Townshend Acts, placing a tax on glass, lead, oil, paint, paper and tea.
  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 22,800.


  • Boston merchants organize a Non-Importation Agreement, a boycott on those goods taxed by the Townshend Act. Some leading Philadelphians sign on, and women lead boycotts of certain goods, notably tea. Britain repeals the Townshend Act, but leaves the tax on tea intact.


  • St. George’s Methodist Church is built and remains oldest Methodist church building in the United States. It’s located at 235 N. 4th Street.
  • Samuel Powel, a Quaker turned Anglican, buys an elegant town house on 3rd Street, where he and his wife Elizabeth establish a center for dining, politics, musical entertainment and lively conversation. Now known as the Powel House, it’s located at 244 S. 3rd Street.
  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 23,400.


  • The Boston Massacre (March) and Boston Tea Party (December) inflame more passion against England and the lack of full representation of American interests in Parliament.


  • Elizabeth Griscom and John Ross paddle across the Delaware River to New Jersey, where they elope. Griscom’s family is furious: She gets read out of her Quaker meeting for marrying an Anglican. Nonetheless, the young couple returns to Philadelphia, where they open their upholstery business. Find more information at the Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street.


  • The First Continental Congress convenes in the newly constructed Carpenters’ Hall, 320 Chestnut Street. In one session, Patrick Henry declares, “I am not a Virginian, but an American.” The First Congress ends its meetings by agreeing to meet again the following spring.
  • George Washington attends the First Continental Congress. In September, he enjoys a dinner hosted by Benjamin Chew, a customer of John Ross, upholsterer. The next day, Washington visits the Ross upholstery shop and commissions bed furniture stitched from yards of calico and muslin. Wife Betsy Griscom Ross likely sews the bed curtains, mattresses and other fabric accouterments for her husband’s upholstery business.
  • Paul Revere rides into Philadelphia with the Suffolk Resolves. They denounce the Coercive Acts of Parliament, call for the formation of militia units and a complete cessation of trade with England. He delivers the news at City Tavern, 138 S. 2nd Street.
  • Thomas Paine arrives in Philadelphia and takes a room near the London Coffee House, also the site of Philadelphia’s slave market near Front and Market Streets.
  • Deborah Franklin dies after suffering a stroke. She has not seen her husband since 1764.


  • The first shots of the American Revolution are fired in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Paul Revere saddles up in Boston and heads south to City Tavern, to share the news.
  • Benjamin Franklin returns from England to help further the cause of independence.
  • The Second Continental Congress convenes in the Pennsylvania State House. Delegates arrive from the 13 colonies. They begin heated discussions about relations with Great Britain. Congress names George Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. Washington leaves Philadelphia for Boston to take charge of the American forces there. Led by Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson, Congress submits the Olive Branch Petition to Parliament in a last-ditch effort to establish peace.
  • Benjamin Franklin is named Postmaster General of the United Colonies. America’s first and still operating post office opens. The B. Free Franklin Post Office offers hand-cancelled stamps marked “B. Free Franklin.”
  • The Pennsylvania Abolition Society is founded, the first organization in the American colonies to work formally to end the practice of slavery.
  • Congress authorizes the creation of the Continental Navy. Irish-American John Barry of Philadelphia is commissioned a captain of the Navy in 1776.
  • Samuel Nicholas, born a Quaker, forms the U.S. Marine Corps by tradition in Tun Tavern, once on Water Street and Tun Alley. A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker on Front Street between Chestnut and Walnut Streets commemorates Tun Tavern and the Marines.
  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 31,400.


  • In January, Thomas Paine publishes his pamphlet Common Sense. His argument spreads throughout the colonies, rallying support for American independence. Robert Bell prints Common Sense at his shop at 3rd and Chancellor Streets, near Walnut Street.
  • John Ross, husband of Betsy Griscom Ross, dies. Betsy Ross continues the upholstery business. It is likely that John’s uncle, George Ross, in addition to Robert Morris and George Washington, stop by her shop. Tradition holds that they ask the widow to make a flag symbolizing the new American country. Years later, as an elderly grandmother, Ross describes how she showed her distinguished guests how to cut a five-pointed star with one snip of the scissors.
  • In May, the Second Continental Congress reconvenes in the Pennsylvania State House.
  • Radical patriots build popular support for independence. Still, about one third of Philadelphians are for it, one third are against, and the other third are undecided.
  • Richard Henry Lee addresses Congress on June 7. He offers a resolution that “these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Congress agrees to vote on the Lee Resolution in several weeks and appoints a committee to draft a declaration to that effect. Four of the members, including Benjamin Franklin, appoint a fifth member, Thomas Jefferson, to sharpen his quill. Jefferson gets to work in his rented rooms in the Graff House, now known as the Declaration House, located at 7th and Market Streets.
  • On July 1, Congress debates Lee’s resolution. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania makes an impassioned but doomed plea to wait, arguing the colonies are ill prepared for a full-fledged war against England. John Adams makes an equally impassioned plea for independence. In an initial vote, the Pennsylvania delegation is divided: A slim majority sides with Dickinson.
  • On July 2, Congress votes on Lee’s resolution. John Dickinson and Robert Morris, who voted against independence on July 1, do not attend the session and therefore do not vote. With the two missing delegates, the reduced Pennsylvania delegation votes for independence, joining 11 colonies, now called states. New York abstains.
  • On July 3, Congress debates the wording of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Edits are made, including the removal of passages that refer to the practice of slavery in America.
  • On July 4, Congress approves the revised text of the Declaration.
  • On July 8, John Nixon reads the Declaration of Independence aloud for the first time outside the Pennsylvania State House. Young James Forten, a free black, never forgets hearing those words. He goes on to serve with heroism in the American Revolution. Later, Forten runs a successful sail-making business and becomes a leader in the abolition movement.
  • The Reverend Jacob Duche, rector of Christ Church (Church of England), strikes out prayers to King George III in the Book of Common Prayer, substituting them with prayers for the Continental Congress.
  • On August 2, most delegates sign the official copy of the Declaration, engrossed by Philadelphian Timothy Matlack.
  • Benjamin Franklin travels to France to persuade King Louis XVI to join the fight against the British.
  • Thomas Paine begins writing a series of pamphlets, The American Crisis, the first of which starts with the memorable phrase, “These are the times that try men’s souls...”
  • On Christmas night, George Washington and the Continental Army cross the Delaware River to win a surprise victory over Hessian soldiers slumbering in Trenton, New Jersey.


  • The Continental Army wins another quick victory in Princeton, New Jersey.
  • In May, Betsy Ross receives 14 pounds, 12 shillings and two pence for “making ships’ colours” for the Pennsylvania Navy. This substantial sum would cover the expense of multiple flags whose appearance is unknown.
  • On June 14, the Continental Congress passes a resolution: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, that the Union be thirteen white stars in a blue field representing a new constellation.” There is no picture of this flag. Francis Hopkinson later claims he designed it; descendants of Betsy Ross claim she stitched it. The debate continues, but many believe that Hopkinson played a role in the design, and that Betsy and others stitched flags whose “colours” may have included those five-pointed stars she had demonstrated to her illustrious visitors in 1776. By the early 19th century, Betsy and her daughters are producing many flags for the U.S. government.
  • The British leave New York City and head south with the goal of capturing Philadelphia.
  • The young Marquis de Lafayette arrives from France to aid the American cause. Lafayette establishes a lifelong and devoted friendship with George Washington.
  • By late summer, Philadelphians and government officials begin to vacate the city.
  • American officers seize 14 Philadelphia men, mostly Quakers—all considered Loyalists—and send them to Virginia. Philadelphia lawyer Benjamin Chew is exiled to New Jersey.
  • The Continental Army suffers a loss to the British in Brandywine, Chester County. British troops surprise slumbering American troops in what is quickly called “the Paoli Massacre.”
  • The British Army marches into Philadelphia in late September and occupies the city until June 1778. They seize food and supplies, take over the homes of citizens, use the Pennsylvania State House as a prison for American soldiers and stable their horses in churches where members support the Patriot cause. The memory of this experience and others like it in other American cities influences the U.S. Constitution, notably Amendment III, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of War but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
  • The Earl of Carlisle stays at the home of Mayor Samuel and Elizabeth Powel. He uses their bedchamber as his own during the British occupation of the city.
  • Major John André stays at Franklin Court, the home of Benjamin Franklin.
  • The Reverend Jacob Duché is captured by the British and charged with treason, as he is a minister of the Church of England who served as chaplain to the Continental Congress. While imprisoned, he writes a letter to George Washington, urging him to surrender to the British in order to spare lives. The letter is intercepted and sent to Congress. To avoid capture by the Americans in the future, Duché flees to England.
  • In October, the Continental Army springs a surprise attack on the British Army in Germantown. After a fierce day of fighting, the Americans are forced to retreat. Benjamin Chew’s country house Cliveden at 6401 Germantown Avenue is the center of much of the action.
  • The Continental Army wins a decisive victory at Saratoga, New York.
  • In a battle on the Delaware River, Americans succeed in blowing up the British warship the Augusta. The tremendous explosion terrifies the city, rattling windows for miles around.
    • After enduring nearly four weeks of direct assault, American soldiers abandon Fort Mifflin, located at 6400 Hog Island Road, in November. British ships can now sail up the Delaware to supply its occupying forces.
  • The Continental Army keeps watch over Philadelphia at their winter camp in Valley Forge, where they remain until the British leave the city in June 1778. Find more information at Valley Forge National Historical Park, 1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia.


  • Congress ratifies the Treaty of Alliance with France. France officially joins America in the War for Independence. The Continental Army celebrates with a feu de joie—a ceremonial firing of muskets—in Valley Forge.
  • British officers, led by Major John André, say farewell to Philadelphia by throwing an outrageously expensive party, the Mischianza. Some Philadelphia women attend, and they dance with Redcoats in tents decorated with mirrors and candlesticks borrowed from Philadelphia homes. This scandal unfolds at Walnut Grove, an estate south of the city on the Delaware River, near what is now Washington Avenue. André asks Peggy Shippen to be his princess, but her father forbids her to go. So, he takes Peggy Chew, daughter of the exiled Benjamin Chew.
  • The Continental Army reclaims Philadelphia shortly after the British army leaves the city. George Washington names American General Benedict Arnold as military commander of the city.


  • General Arnold marries Peggy Shippen, once courted by British Major John André. Arnold begins secret correspondence with André, with help from Peggy. In December, Arnold is court-martialed for improper expenditures. He is rebuked, but not relieved of duty.


  • General Arnold resigns his post in Philadelphia and takes command of the American fort in West Point, New York. There, he continues his correspondence with André, sharing secrets of American troop size, positions and plans. In September, André is captured by Americans and hanged as a spy. Arnold escapes to the British but sends a letter to Washington requesting that Peggy is allowed safe passage to Philadelphia, which is granted. Peggy later joins her husband in England and Canada. Arnold’s name lives in infamy for his traitorous acts. Peggy suffers in her lifetime and is now acknowledged as a co-conspirator with Arnold and André.
  • Esther de Berdt Reed organizes Philadelphia women to raise money to support the Continental Army. At General Washington’s request, they use the funds to buy linen for shirts that they sew for American soldiers, carefully stitching their names onto each garment. Esther dies before the work is complete. Sally Franklin Bache, daughter of Benjamin Franklin and Deborah Read, takes charge of the project.
  • Pennsylvania passes An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, the first of its kind in the original 13 states. The act prohibits any further importation of enslaved Africans and requires slave owners to register their slaves each year. It states that all children born in Pennsylvania after 1780 are free, regardless of the status of their parents. However, these children will be considered indentured to their parents’ masters until the age of 28. It further specifies that with the exception of persons enslaved by members of Congress, any slave brought from another state into Pennsylvania will be considered free after six months. Provisions clamp down on owners who take enslaved people out of Pennsylvania just before the six-month time period and then bring them back a few days later to start a new six-month time period. Despite Pennsylvania’s landmark early leadership in abolition efforts, the state continues to abide slavery until 1847, when the last few dozen enslaved people are at last declared free.


  • The Religious Society of Free Quakers formally organizes. Its members include Quakers who actively support the Revolution, contrary to the religion’s core pacifist beliefs. Early members include Christopher Marshall (who keeps a detailed diary during the Revolution), Samuel Wetherill, Timothy Matlack (engrosser of the official Declaration of Independence), Lydia Darragh (a spy for the Patriot cause) and Betsy Claypoole, formerly known as Betsy Ross.
  • Lord Cornwallis surrenders to the Continental Army in Yorktown, Virginia, marking the effective end of the War for Independence. The Continental Army marches north and establishes winter quarters in Philadelphia and New Jersey.


  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 38,800.


  • The United States and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris, bringing a formal end to the War of Independence. Benjamin Franklin is among the diplomats who negotiate the agreement.
  • The Free Quakers begin building their meetinghouse, designed by member Timothy Matlack. The Free Quaker Meetinghouse is completed in 1784 and stands at 5th and Arch Streets.


  • The Pennsylvania Abolition Society reorganizes and becomes a vigorous voice in the cause to abolish slavery. By 1787, former slave owner Benjamin Franklin is president. Historical marker is at Front Street below Chestnut Street.


  • St. George’s Methodist Church appoints Richard Allen and Absalom Jones as its first African-American lay preachers.


  • The Constitutional Convention convenes in the Pennsylvania State House in May. They debate all summer and conclude their business in September by producing a final draft of the U.S. Constitution, which is submitted to the states for ratification. The Constitution establishes the foundations for the new government of the United States, including its three separate branches of government—the Executive (an elected president with specified powers), Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) and the Supreme Court (judicial). To ensure this system works as intended, the delegates negotiate many compromises. Among these is the creation of the Senate, where each state, large and small, has the equal representation of two elected senators, giving enhanced power to small states; and the House of Representatives, based on each state’s population, favoring larger states. Another compromise involves the practice of slavery. While the Constitution does not address it directly, it grants slaveholding states the right to count “three-fifths” of their enslaved populations towards representation to the House of Representatives. It also prescribes the end of the American slave trade by 1808. Find more information at the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street.
  • On September 17, 1787, the final day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin says, “I have often and often in the course of the session… looked at that [sun] behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”
  • Upon the close of the Constitutional Convention, delegates celebrate at City Tavern.
  • Delaware is the first state to ratify the Constitution in December, followed by Pennsylvania.
  • Richard Allen and Absalom Jones leave St. George’s Methodist Church in protest of racial discrimination, 235 N. 4th Street, open to visitors Tuesday through Friday. They found the Free African Society, Philadelphia’s first mutual aid society of African-Americans. Find more information at The African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street.


  • A majority of the states ratify the U.S. Constitution, and Philadelphia holds a grand parade to celebrate.


  • Samuel Powel becomes the first mayor of Philadelphia elected under its new charter.


  • The U.S. Capital moves to Philadelphia from New York City, where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president. Presidents Washington and Adams, their Cabinets, Congress and the Supreme Court remain in Philadelphia from 1790 until 1800, when the capital moves to Washington, DC.
  • Benjamin Franklin, printer, postmaster, writer, scientist, diplomat and beloved Philadelphian, dies. He is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground, 5th and Arch Streets, alongside his wife Deborah and their son Francis Folger Franklin.
  • Total population of Philadelphia is approximately 42,500.


  • As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton helps establish a national financial system. This includes creating the First Bank of the United States to handle debts carried from the Revolutionary War. Samuel Blodgett designs the elegant neoclassical First Bank with its proud eagle in the pediment. Construction takes place from 1795 to 1797. The First Bank operates until 1811, when its charter runs out. Located at 116 S. 3rd Street, the bank is not open to the public.
  • The married Alexander Hamilton begins a two-year affair with Maria Reynolds in Philadelphia. The intrigue begins when Reynolds approaches Hamilton with a sad tale and asks for his help. He falls for it and goes to her house, where she seduces him. The affair blossoms, but Maria’s scheming husband arrives in Philadelphia. He blackmails Hamilton, with his wife as a willing conspirator. Concerned about his reputation and his marriage, Hamilton begins paying Reynolds small sums of money that eventually add up to approximately $1,000.
  • Richard Allen and Absalom Jones organize The African Church. Allen later leaves, and Jones becomes the spiritual leader of what becomes the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Avenue, welcomes visitors by appointment.


  • President Washington visits with Samuel and Elizabeth Powel. He and Elizabeth enjoy a close friendship. She persuades him to run for a second term as president. He does and is reelected.
  • The exiled Jacob Duché returns to Philadelphia and stays until his death in 1798.
  • Alexander Hamilton admits the Reynolds affair and extortion plot to James Monroe and Frederick Muhlenberg. Although they agree to keep Hamilton’s secret, Monroe later sends copies of Maria’s letters to Hamilton’s archenemy, Thomas Jefferson, and the affair goes public.


  • President Washington signs the Fugitive Slave Act, giving slave owners the right to recover any escaped slave. Those who aided fugitives could now be fined or imprisoned. The new law propels the abolition movement, led by Philadelphia’s Quakers and free black community, to help create what comes to be called the Underground Railroad.
  • Jean-Pierre Blanchard launches the first hot air balloon in America near Washington Square at 7th and Walnut Streets. He sails across the Delaware River to New Jersey, where he delivers a letter written by George Washington.
  • A devastating Yellow Fever epidemic sweeps the city. Most members of the U.S. government and many citizens flee to outlying areas. African-Americans led by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen serve as nurses, while Dr. Benjamin Rush and others do their best to save lives—in Rush’s case, by the drastic bleeding and purging of victims. An estimated 10% of Philadelphia’s populace perishes.
  • Samuel Powel, mayor and Speaker of the Pennsylvania Senate, dies of Yellow Fever.


  • Patriot, soldier and artist Charles Willson Peale moves his Philadelphia Museum from his home at 3rd and Lombard Streets to Philosophical Hall of the American Philosophical Society, where he exhibits his portraits of American patriots and natural history specimens. Especially notable is his menagerie of animals, including two grizzly bears. The American Philosophical Society now offers exhibits linked with its collections, and many of Peales’ portraits now hang in the Second Bank of the United States, located at 420 Chestnut Street.
  • Richard Allen and others move a blacksmith shop to the corner of 6th and Lombard Streets and retrofit it into “The Blacksmith Shop Meeting House,” also known as Bethel, the place of worship for the first Black Methodist Society. The property has been used continuously as the site of its church since 1794, now known as Mother Bethel AME Church, 419 S. 6th Street.


  • In defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law, Oney Judge, the enslaved personal servant of First Lady Martha Washington, escapes from the President’s House, 6th and Market Streets. Members of Philadelphia’s free black community likely aid the first part of her journey, which takes her to New Hampshire. President Washington sends envoys to try to get Judge to return to Philadelphia, but his efforts fail. Late in her life, Judge is asked if she ever regrets leaving the Washington house. She replies, “No, I am free.”
  • President Washington chooses not to run for reelection. Alexander Hamilton helps him draft his landmark Farewell Address, published in Philadelphia in September, thereby setting the precedent of presidents serving no more than two terms. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt interrupted this tradition by being elected four times. Amendment XXII later establishes a two-term limit for presidents.


  • John Adams is inaugurated as the second President of the United States, marking the first-ever peaceful transition of power from one country’s leader to the next. He was sworn in at Congress Hall, 6th and Chestnut Streets.
  • Hamilton, no longer Secretary of the Treasury, publishes a long pamphlet, Observations on Certain Documents. It describes, in embarrassing detail, his indiscretions connected with Maria and James Reynolds. Though personally humiliating, the pamphlet puts to rest rumors that Hamilton participated in illegal financial schemes or speculation. It also puts to rest any further opportunity for him to hold public office.


  • The U.S. capital relocates to Washington, DC. Congress allows Philadelphia to remain headquarters of the Bank of the United States—pursuant to Alexander Hamilton’s belief that northeastern bankers, financiers and merchants should wield the country’s economic power—and makes the District of Columbia, a southern city with agricultural ties, the country’s political center. President John Adams departs the former capital for the new one, and he finishes his term in the yet-unfinished White House.

1801 onwards:

  • In the 19th century, Philadelphia’s population continues to grow along with the city and region’s importance as a major financial, cultural and manufacturing hub for the new nation.

In spring 2016, Drexel University and VISIT PHILADELPHIA® launched a new campaign—Historic Philadelphia—to celebrate America’s most historic square mile in the country’s first World Heritage City, as designated by the Organization of World Heritage Cities. Focusing on the attractions and neighborhoods of Old City, Society Hill and the Delaware River Waterfront, the campaign celebrates Philadelphia’s incomparable place in early American history and the vibrant original city neighborhoods.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, visitors can engage with costumed history makers, hear stories of the real people of independence and take part in colonial reenactments. And every day of the year, they can tour, shop, dine and drink in the area just like the founding fathers and mothers once did. For more information about all there is to see and do in Historic Philadelphia, go to and

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From Colonial Through Modern Days In The City Of Brotherly Love & Sisterly Affection

Strength In Numbers:

  1. The 2010 U.S. Census reported 661,839—that’s 43.37%—of Philadelphians are African-American, the city’s second largest ethnic demographic. More recent estimates show this population has increased by approximately 1% in the past six years.
  2. The largest concentration—82%—of African-American Philadelphians live in North Philadelphia west of Germantown Avenue, Point Breeze in South Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and in parts of Southwest Philadelphia.
  3. Important African-American business corridors include 52nd Street between Walnut and
    Arch Streets and Baltimore Avenue between 40th and 52nd Streets, both in West Philadelphia; and Stenton Avenue between Broad Street and Walnut Lane and Ogontz
Jun 16 2016

Fact Sheet: 31 Top Philadelphia Region Attractions

* Note: Most attractions were listed in the Philadelphia Business Journal Book of Lists 2015. Those that were not are marked with an asterisk.

Historical Sites & Attractions:

  1. The African American Museum in Philadelphia*, founded in 1976, is the first institution built by a major U.S. city to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage and culture of African-Americans. The museum takes a fresh and bold look at the stories of African-Americans and their role in the founding of the nation through the core exhibit Audacious Freedom. Other exhibits and programs explore the history, stories and cultures of those of African
May 23 2016

Fact Sheet: Historic Philadelphia Trail

The birthplace of the nation is rich in history—and plenty of it. Philadelphia's Historic District Trail guides visitors to 24 essential sites in the area, which spans from the Delaware River to 7th Street and from Vine to Lombard Streets. This is the original city. It boasts serious historical cred, but it’s also home to buzzed-about restaurants and beer gardens, owner-operated boutiques and pushing-the boundaries art galleries.

Here is the 24-stop essential guide, available at

  1. Visitors can head to the Independence Visitor Center to pick up their timed tickets to Independence Hall and get expert Philly tips.
Mar 6 2017

Aspiring Citizens Get Study Help With New Americans Trail

Candidates For Citizenship Can Boost Their Knowledge In The Places Where It All Happened

Prepping for the U.S. citizenship test is no small task, but Philadelphia’s self-guided New Americans Tour makes learning easier—and a whole lot more fun. The city contains approximately half the answers to the 100-question citizenship test study. This means aspiring citizens and others students of U.S. history can glean the knowledge they seek simply by paying visits to Philly’s historic sites and attractions. Best place to start: the Historic District, the original city—and a very pedestrian-friendly one at that. The trail is available at

The Trail:
Here’s a look at the 16 tour spots:

  1. Betsy Ross House,
Jan 30 2018

Philadelphia Celebrates Black History Month

Exhibitions, Performances and Special Program Highlight Philly’s Month of

Black History Month celebrates its 42nd anniversary this year, and Philadelphia honors the occasion with special events, exhibitions, film screenings and family activities. Philadelphia’s Black History Month features the nation’s longest running African American Children’s Book Fair; Black Pulp!, a new exhibition at The African American Museum in Philadelphia, and Henry “Box” Brown: The Musical, starring Dice Raw. Here are highlights of Philly’s Black History Month:

Museum Happenings:

  • The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) hosts the regional debut of Black Pulp!, curated by William Villalongo and Mark Thomas Gibson. This visual overview offers up printed works by
Oct 26 2017

African-American Historic Attractions Thrive In Philadelphia

The Unique, Compelling Story Of Early African-Americans, As Told Throughout Philadelphia

Just as U.S. history is African-American history, Philadelphia history is African-American history. The nation’s birthplace and first World Heritage City is home to the founding church of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination (201-year-old Mother Bethel A.M.E.), the country’s first major museum devoted to black American history (African American Museum in Philadelphia) and the oldest daily newspaper serving the African-American community (The Philadelphia Tribune).

Landmarks from Philadelphia’s Historic District to Historic Germantown tell of the successes, struggles and contributions of African-Americans through the centuries. In September 2017, Philadelphia City Hall welcomed the city’s first statue representing

Jun 19 2017

A First-Timer's Guide To Philadelphia

Iconic Sites & Bites Give Visitors An Experience That’s Distinctly Philly

From its fascinating museums and vibrant parks to its national historic sites and famous (and delicious) food, Philadelphia offers plenty to see, do and taste. First-time visitors need to do some planning to fully experience what the City of Brotherly Love is all about. Here’s the ultimate guide for those who are new to the country’s first World Heritage City:

Historical Hotspots:

  • Independence Hall – While historical attractions abound in Philly, Independence Hall has particular significance to the development of the nation. In this building in 1776, the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence. Eleven