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May 21 2016

Scandal, Sex & The (Colonial) City In 18th-Century Philadelphia

Historic Philadelphia Sites Recount Founding Fathers' & Mothers’ Sinful Shenanigans

Philadelphia is the birthplace of the United States. It’s where the Declaration of Independence was written and where the U.S. Constitution was signed. Philadelphia's Historic District has many more tales to tell. The 18th-century metropolis was a hotbed of extramarital affairs, excommunications, elopements and blowout bashes—all resulting in rampant gossip. A visit to the Historic District reveals it was 18th century America’s original Sin City.

Here are some true stories of prominent Colonial Philadelphians’ gasp-worthy goings-on—and a list of sites to revisit their oft-salacious private lives.

  • Historians debate whether Betsy Ross stitched the first flag, but there is one thing on which they agree. Ross was feisty and ahead of her time when her young passions led her to elope with John Ross, a non-Quaker. The marriage horrified Ross’ Quaker family and friends—and her unsanctioned inter-faith marriage caused her to be excommunicated from her faith and disowned by her family. Visitors to the pint-sized Betsy Ross House learn about her life and her upholstery business from a Ross re-enactor. 239 Arch Street, (215) 686-1252,
  • Statesman, inventor, printer and ladies’ man. Ben Franklin enjoyed legendary dalliances in London and Paris. He also fathered a son, William, whose mother still remains a mystery. Deborah Franklin, his consort of many years, had her own scandalous past. She was previously married and—gasp!—never legally divorced or widowed before partnering up with Franklin. The two lived happily in sin their whole lives. At Franklin Court, Franklin’s print shop, Post Office and museum, visitors discover more about Philly’s favorite Founding Father. 322 Market Street, (215) 965-2305,
  • Future third Vice President Aaron Burr set up Dolley Payne Todd on on the 18th-century equivalent of a blind date with longtime bachelor and older man John Madison, then a U.S. Representative. A hot romance ensued, and the young widow and future fourth president wed. Dolley would go on to make history as the First Lady who not only popularized ice cream in the White House, but also saved a famous portrait of George Washington when the British set the president’s house on fire. In the summer, those with free timed tickets walk through the furnished Dolley Todd House (a.k.a. Todd House), where she lived with her first husband. The one-hour tour also includes the Bishop White House. 4th & Walnut Streets, (215) 965-2305,
  • Even after two decades of marriage, George Washington had goo-goo eyes for his wife Martha. The couple feted their 20th wedding anniversary at the Powel House, where guests danced the night away—most likely into the wee, small hours. A tour of the well-preserved Old City home reveals a letter from the president thanking the Powels for their hospitality. 244 S. 3rd Street, (215) 627-0364,
  • The Colonial gossip mill went wild when Elizabeth Emlen Physick left her husband, the esteemed Dr. Phillip Syng Physick, known as the father of American surgery. After the couple’s separation, Emlen Physick retained her fortune, thanks to one of the nation’s first pre-nuptial agreements, but lost custody of her children, who were permitted to visit her in her new Pine Street home on Sundays. Tours of the Physick House recount the unhappy melodrama, and tell of the doctor’s many medical accomplishments and celebrity patients, including Dolley Madison, Benjamin Rush and Chief Justice John Marshall. 321 S. 4th Street, (215) 925-7866,
  • George Washington’s stern portraits belie his underrated love of a good party. To celebrate the signing of the U.S. Constitution, he and 54 of his closest friends headed to City Tavern for an epic bender, downing 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 22 bottles of porter, 12 bottles of beer, eight bottles of hard cider, eight bottles of Old Stock Colonial whiskey and seven large bowls of spiked punch. Today, the restaurant’s costumed servers would certainly cut off such a rowdy display of consumption. 138 S. 2nd Street, (215) 413-1443,
  • Although it is not a name one hears in history class, Sarah Evans was quite familiar to Philadelphia’s 18th-century constables. An enterprising woman of easy virtue, Miss Evans and her fellow streetwalkers Biddy Cummings, Margaret Jeffreys and Elizabeth McSwain were in and out of the pokey numerous times for selling their “wares,” frequently conducting their business beneath the farmers’ country wagons set up along Market Street, then known as High Street.
  • The three people in Alexander Hamilton’s marriage were one too many. While his wife Eliza summered in Albany, the founder of the Federal Reserve Bank carried on a torrid affair with Maria Reynolds in his family home near 3rd and Walnut streets. Upon Eliza’s return, her husband and his paramour thoughtfully relocated their disreputable liaisons to her boudoir just a few blocks away on 4th Street.

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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Related Releases

Jan 19 2018

31 Top Philadelphia Region Attractions In 2017

Fact Sheet

Note: Most attractions were listed in the Philadelphia Business Journal Book of Lists 2017. Those that were not are marked with an asterisk*.

Historical Sites & Attractions:
1. African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP)* – Founded in 1976, AAMP is the first institution in a major U.S. city to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage and culture of African-Americans. The core exhibit Audacious Freedom takes a fresh, bold look at African-Americans’ role in the founding of the nation; other exhibits and programs explore the history, present and future of the African diaspora in the U.S. 701 Arch Street, (215)

Dec 14 2017

Philadelphia’s Historic District Brings Outlander To Life

Storied Philly Blocks Reveal Historic Locations Used In Diana Gabaldon’s Popular Novels

What’s Philadelphia’s Historic District got to do with Outlander, author Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling eight-book (and-counting) series—now also a hit TV series on Starz—about a World War II British army nurse who travels through time to meet an 18th-century Scottish Highlander? Plenty. Protagonists Claire and Jamie Fraser are at the heart of Outlander’s heady romance and historic fantasy. In the book series’ last two editions—which are not yet televised—the Frasers bring that romance and fantasy to the heart of Philadelphia’s Historic District.

Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia sets the scene for Gabaldon’s most recent novels, An Echo in the Bone and

Oct 30 2017

An Essential Guide To Philadelphia For LGBT Visitors

Must-Dos Include Historic Sites, Popular Neighborhoods, Top Restaurants & Buzzed-About Bars

Philadelphia, the United States’ birthplace, is proud of the roles it has played—and plays still—in the founding, furtherance and celebration of the LGBT civil rights movement. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has more nationally significant historic markers than any other city in the nation, with two recent additions: the AIDS Library, formed as a resource during the peak period of the U.S. HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and a marker just outside the Pennsylvania Historical Society, home of the collection of John Fryer, a Temple University psychology professor who submitted testimony that aided in declassifying homosexuality as

Sep 5 2017

Philadelphia's Underground Railroad Sites Featured In New Brochure

From Mother Bethel A.M.E. To The Johnson House, New Guide Includes Vital Sites

VISIT PHILADELPHIA® has published a guide for visitors and residents interested in exploring the Philadelphia region’s connections to the Underground Railroad. The six-panel brochure details historical attractions (the Liberty Bell Center, Mother Bethel A.M.E., Belmont Mansion, Johnson House, Fair Hill burial ground), historical markers (London Coffee House, Free African Society and homes of Cyrus Bustill, Frances E.W. Harper, Robert Purvis, William Still, William Whipper) and city and regional libraries, archives and tours. Visitor demand for this information inspired the piece’s creation.

“The Underground Railroad is an undeniably important

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
May 10 2017

What's In Old City And Along The Delaware River Waterfront?

Two Historic District Neighborhoods Offer Restaurants, Art Galleries, Nightlife, Shopping—And History

Located just next to Independence Mall, where the country’s Founding Fathers declared liberty and built a free nation, Old City, part of Philadelphia’s Historic District, boasts charming cobblestone streets and plenty of 18th-century charm—along with an independent streak that’s evident in everything from its owner-operated shops to its edgy art scene.

Its proximity to the Liberty Bell, Penn’s Landing and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge make Old City a favorite for out-of-towners as much as for the residents who call it home. People love the neighborhood for its fashionable boutiques, great restaurants, eclectic galleries, boundary-pushing theaters and vibrant nightlife.

May 3 2017

Philadelphia's Historic District Gears Up For A Revolutionary Summer

New Museum, New Hotel & New Concert Make The Original City A Must This Summer

The just-opened Museum of the American Revolution brings the United States’ war for independence into today’s consciousness, using rarely seen relics, the original George Washington Headquarters Tent, dozens of arms, uniforms, artifacts, documents and historical vignettes of ordinary Americans to tell the extraordinary story of the nation’s founding. But the new museum isn’t the only reason to visit Philadelphia’s Historic District this summer. The Historic District consists of the Old City, Society Hill and Delaware River Waterfront neighborhoods, extending from the Delaware River to 7th Street and Vine Street to Lombard Street.

The District’s summer lineup of must-do events

May 3 2017

VISIT PHILADELPHIA's Historic District Campaign Enters Year Two

Visitors Go Beyond The Bell & The Hall To Discover More History, More Fun

The recent opening of the Museum of the American Revolution, art-centric and community-minded programming and an integrated marketing campaign are the highlights of year two of VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s efforts to promote Philadelphia’s Historic District, a vibrant neighborhood that attracts approximately four million visitors annually.

Philadelphia’s Historic District—the original city in the 17th and 18th century—extends from the Delaware River to 7th Street and from Vine to Lombard Streets. Home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell new and long-established museums, historic houses and interactive storytelling benches, the District is also where America’s founding generation ate, drank,

May 3 2017

Revolutionary Art Exhibit Pops Up In Philadelphia's Historic District This Summer

Conrad Benner-Curated Exhibit Features 13 Works In Old City, Society Hill & Along Delaware River

Editor’s Note: The full list of artists, locations and artworks will be revealed at a press conference on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

The new Museum of the American Revolution is a great reason for people to visit and revisit Philadelphia’s Historic District this summer. But from May 25 through July 4, 2017, VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is giving locals and visitors 13 more reasons to explore the city’s most iconic neighborhoods, and that’s Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition. Curated by Conrad Benner, the founder and editor of street art photo blog, the free exhibit features 13 works of