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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, historicphiladelphia.org
- 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, nps.gov/inde
- 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, nps.gov/inde
- 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, philalandmarks.org
- 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, philalandmarks.org
- 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, citytavern.com
- 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 visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com.
VISIT PHILADELPHIA Debuts 360-Degree Photo, Video & Virtual Reality Experience
Philadelphia fans and potential visitors can now see the city in a new way before they arrive thanks to VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s 360-degree photography and video with virtual-reality capabilities. Visitors to visitphilly.com/virtual-tour will be able to explore 25 panoramic, 360-degree photos; watch a three-minute, 360-degree video; and view that video in virtual reality (VR)—as an immersive tour on a VR headset.
“Every day we give online visitors compelling reasons to plan a trip to Philadelphia, and we believe this new view of the city will give the 20 million people who use visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com each year even more reasons to...
The African-American Story From Its Beginnings In Philadelphia's Historic District
Philadelphia’s Historic District, the site of the original city and often called America’s most historic square mile, reveals early chapters in the nation’s history, including the challenges, injustices, accomplishments and contributions of Africans and African-Americans.
This year, the Historic District’s African American Museum in Philadelphia celebrates its 40th anniversary. The groundbreaking institution hosts two temporary exhibitions through April 2, 2017. Shawn Theodore’s Church of Broken Pieces explores the translocation of black America through photography. Dawoud Bey’s Harlem, USA resurrects the photographer’s iconic 1979 portraits of residents of one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods. The district is also home...
New Museum Of The American Revolution To Open In Philadelphia, The Headquarters Of The Revolution
Long before the first musket shot was fired in Lexington in 1775, the seeds of the American Revolution were taking root in Philadelphia as colonists declared their independence and began preparing for war. With the April 19, 2017 opening of the Museum of the American Revolution, visitors will discover the complex and sometimes painful path to independence—a story that’s told both within the museum’s walls and at sites and attractions scattered throughout Philadelphia, the headquarters of the Revolution, and its surrounding countryside.
For visitors eager to delve into this tumultuous time in history, the Museum of the American Revolution—located in
Alexander Hamilton's Legacy Remains Strong In Philadelphia's Historic District
Freedom fighter, statesman, financial genius, adulterer. Fans of the blockbuster hit Hamilton know some of the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, but there is plenty more to discover in Philadelphia’s Historic District. The new Museum of the American Revolution, opening on April 19, 2017, will offer a glimpse into the Hamilton-Washington bro-mance. A tale debuting this summer from the Once Upon A Nation storytellers will get to the root of the fatal Hamilton-Burr duel. And in Independence Hall, National Park Service rangers often regale visitors with accounts of heated debates Hamilton engaged in about the U.S. Constitution. Just beyond the...
An Essential Guide To Philadelphia For LGBT Visitors
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 hosted the country’s first major demonstration for LGBT rights, the Annual Reminders, in 1965. Today, visitors to Philly can easily explore sites where LGBT history was made and where queer life continues to thrive.
To see and do it all, visitors need to spend at least a couple of nights, and that’s made easy with the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package®, offering free parking...
16 Things To Know: African-American Philadelphia
Strength In Numbers:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
A First-Timer's Guide To Philadelphia
While Philadelphia offers a variety of authentic and top-notch attractions, exploring this vibrant city takes some planning—especially for first-time visitors. With so much to see, do and taste, it’s challenging for a novice to know where to begin in the country’s first World Heritage City. From the historic Liberty Bell to the deliciously indulgent cheesesteak, here’s a look at Philly 101:
- 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.
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:
- 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
Philadelphia Launches Campaign To Promote Its Original City
On Memorial Day weekend 2016, Philadelphia will kick off its busy summer tourism season by launching a new campaign that redefines and renames the city’s prized historic district, to be called Historic Philadelphia. The marketing effort touts the area’s powerful place in the country’s founding while also showcasing the restaurants, bars, shops, galleries and attractions that make it appealing to 21st-century residents and visitors, day into night. Historic Philadelphia encompasses the Delaware River waterfront, Old City, Society Hill and Independence National Historical Park, with the official boundaries running from the river to 7th Street and from Vine...