Chapter III. Life In Philadelphia

The rapid increase of population and the growing prosperity in
Pennsylvania during the life of its founder present a striking
contrast to the slower and more troubled growth of the other
British colonies in America. The settlers in Pennsylvania engaged
at once in profitable agriculture. The loam, clay, and limestone
soils on the Pennsylvania tide of the Delaware produced heavy
crops of grain, as well as pasture for cattle and valuable lumber
from its forests. The Pennsylvania settlers were of a class
particularly skilled in dealing with the soil. They apparently
encountered none of the difficulties, due probably to incompetent
farming, which beset the settlers of Delaware, whose land was as
good as that of the Pennsylvania colonists.

In a few years the port of Philadelphia was loading abundant
cargoes for England and the great West India trade. After much
experimenting with different places on the river, such as New
Castle, Wilmington, Salem, Burlington, the Quakers had at last
found the right location for a great seat of commerce and trade
that could serve as a center for the export of everything from
the region behind it and around it. Philadelphia thus soon became
the basis of a prosperity which no other townsite on the Delaware
had been able to attain. The Quakers of Philadelphia were the
soundest of financiers and men of business, and in their skillful
hands the natural resources of their colony were developed
without setback or accident. At an early date banking
institutions were established in Philadelphia, and the strongest
colonial merchants and mercantile firms had their offices there.
It was out of such a sound business life that were produced in
Revolutionary times such characters as Robert Morris and after
the Revolution men like Stephen Girard.

Pennsylvania in colonial times was ruled from Philadelphia
somewhat as France has always been ruled from Paris. And yet
there was a difference: Pennsylvania had free government. The
Germans and the Scotch-Irish outnumbered the Quakers and could
have controlled the Legislature, for in 1750 out of a population
of 150,000 the Quakers were only about 50,000; and yet the
Legislature down to the Revolution was always confided to the
competent hands of the Quakers. No higher tribute, indeed, has
ever been paid to any group of people as governors of a
commonwealth and architects of its finance and trade.

It is a curious commentary on the times and on human nature that
these Quaker folk, treated as outcasts and enemies of good order
and religion in England and gradually losing all their property
in heavy fines and confiscations, should so suddenly in the
wilderness prove the capacity of their "Holy Experiment" for
achieving the best sort of good order and material success. They
immediately built a most charming little town by the waterside,
snug and pretty with its red brick houses in the best
architectural style. It was essentially a commercial town down to
the time of the Revolution and long afterwards. The principal
residences were on Water Street, the second street from the
wharves. The town in those days extended back only as far as
Fourth Street, and the State House, now Independence Hall, an
admirable instance of the local brick architecture, stood on the
edge of the town. The Pennsylvania Hospital, the first
of its kind to be built in America, was situated out in the

Through the town ran a stream following the line of the present
Dock Street. Its mouth had been a natural landing place for the
first explorers and for the Indians from time immemorial. Here
stood a neat tavern, the Blue Anchor, with its dovecotes in old
English style, looking out for many a year over the river with
its fleet of small boats. Along the wharves lay the very solid,
broad, somber, Quaker-like brick warehouses, some of which have
survived into modern times. Everywhere were to be found ships and
the good seafaring smell of tar and hemp. Ships were built and
fitted out alongside docks where other ships were lading. A
privateer would receive her equipment of guns, pistols, and
cutlasses on one side of a wharf, while on the other side a ship
was peacefully loading wheat or salted provisions for the West

Everybody's attention in those days was centered on the water
instead of inland on railroads as it is today. Commerce was the
source of wealth of the town as agriculture was the wealth of the
interior of the province. Every one lived close to the river and
had an interest in the rise and fall of the tide. The little town
extended for a mile along the water but scarcely half a mile back
from it. All communication with other places, all news from the
world of Europe came from the ships, whose captains brought the
letters and the few newspapers which reached the colonists. An
important ship on her arrival often fired a gun and dropped
anchor with some ceremony. Immediately the shore boats swarmed to
her side; the captain was besieged for news and usually brought
the letters ashore to be distributed at the coffeehouse. This
institution took the place of the modern stock exchange, clearing
house, newspaper, university, club, and theater all under one
roof, with plenty to eat and drink besides. Within its rooms
vessels and cargoes were sold; before its door negro slaves were
auctioned off; and around it as a common center were brought
together all sorts of business, valuable information, gossip, and
scandal. It must have been a brilliant scene in the evening, with
the candles lighting embroidered red and yellow waistcoats, blue
and scarlet Coats, green and black velvet, with the rich drab and
mouse color of the prosperous Quakers contrasting with the
uniforms of British officers come to fight the French and Indian
wars. Sound, as well as color, had its place in this busy and
happy colonial life. Christ Church, a brick building which still
stands the perfection of colonial architecture had been
established by the Church of England people defiantly in the
midst of heretical Quakerdom. It soon possessed a chime of bells
sent out from England. Captain Budden, who brought them in his
ship Myrtilla, would charge no freight for so charitable a deed,
and in consequence of his generosity every time he and his ship
appeared in the harbor the bells were rung in his honor. They
were rung on market days to please the farmers who came into town
with their wagons loaded with poultry and vegetables. They were
rung muffled in times of public disaster and were kept busy in
that way in the French and Indian wars. They were also rung
muffled for Franklin when it was learned that while in London he
had favored the Stamp Act--a means of expressing popular opinion
which the newspapers subsequently put out of date.

The severe Quaker code of conduct and peaceful contemplation
contains no prohibition against good eating and drinking. Quakers
have been known to have the gout. The opportunities in
Philadelphia to enjoy the pleasures of the table were soon
unlimited. Farm, garden, and dairy products, vegetables, poultry,
beef, and mutton were soon produced in immense quantity and
variety and of excellent quality. John Adams, coming from the
"plain living and high thinking" of Boston to attend the first
meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, was invited
to dine with Stephen Collins, a typical Quaker, and was amazed at
the feast set before him. From that time his diary records one
after another of these "sinful feasts," as he calls them. But the
sin at which he thus looks askance never seems to have withheld
him from a generous indulgence. "Drank Madeira at a great rate,"
he says on one occasion, "and took no harm from it." Madeira
obtained in the trade with Spain was the popular drink even at
the taverns. Various forms of punch and rum were common, but the
modern light wines and champagne were not then in vogue.

Food in great quantity and variety seems to have been placed on
the table at the same time, with little regard to formal courses.
Beef, poultry, and mutton would all be served at one dinner.
Fruit and nuts were placed on the table in profusion, as well as
puddings and desserts numerous and deadly. Dinners were served
usually in the afternoon. The splendid banquet which Adams
describes as given to some members of the Continental Congress by
Chief Justice Chew at his country seat was held at four in the
afternoon. The dinner hour was still in the afternoon long after
the Revolution and down to the times of the Civil War. Other
relics of this old love of good living lasted into modern times.
It was not so very long ago that an occasional householder of
wealth and distinction in Philadelphia could still be found who
insisted on doing his own marketing in the old way, going himself
the first thing in the morning on certain days to the excellent
markets and purchasing all the family supplies. Philadelphia
poultry is still famous the country over; and to be a good judge
of poultry was in the old days as much a point of merit as to be
a good judge of Madeira. A typical Philadelphian, envious New
Yorkers say, will still keep a line of depositors waiting at a
bank while he discourses to the receiving teller on what a
splendid purchase of poultry he had made that morning. Early in
the last century a wealthy leader of the bar is said to have
continued the old practice of going to market followed by a negro
with a wheelbarrow to bring back the supplies. Not content with
feasting in their own homes, the colonial Philadelphians were
continually banqueting at the numerous taverns, from the Coach
and Horses, opposite the State House, down to the Penny Pot Inn
close by the river. At the Coach and Horses, where the city
elections were usually held, the discarded oyster shells around
it had been trampled into a hard white and smooth floor over
which surged the excited election crowds. In those taverns the
old fashion prevailed of roasting great joints of meat on a
turnspit before an open fire; and to keep the spit turning before
the heat little dogs were trained to work in a sort of treadmill

In nothing is this colonial prosperity better revealed than in
the quality of the country seats. They were usually built of
stone and sometimes of brick and stone, substantial, beautifully
proportioned, admirable in taste, with a certain simplicity, yet
indicating a people of wealth, leisure, and refinement, who
believed in themselves and took pleasure in adorning their lives.
Not a few of these homes on the outskirts of the city have come
down to us unharmed, and Cliveden, Stenton, and Belmont are
precious relics of such solid structure that with ordinary care
they will still last for centuries. Many were destroyed during
the Revolution; others, such as Landsdowne, the seat of one of
the Penn family, built in the Italian style, have disappeared;
others were wiped out by the city's growth. All of them, even the
small ones, were most interesting and typical of the life of the
times. The colonists began to build them very early. A family
would have a solid, brick town house and, only a mile or so away,
a country house which was equally substantial. Sometimes they
built at a greater distance. Governor Keith, for example, had a
country seat, still standing though built in the middle of the
eighteenth century, some twenty-five miles north of the city in
what was then almost a wilderness.

Penn's ideal had always been to have Philadelphia what he called
"a green country town." Probably he had in mind the beautiful
English towns of abundant foliage and open spaces. And Penn was
successful, for many of the Philadelphia houses stood by
themselves, with gardens round them. The present Walnut was first
called Pool Street; Chestnut was called Winn Street; and Market
was called High Street. If he could have foreseen the enormous
modern growth of the city, he might not have made his streets so
narrow and level. But the fault lies perhaps rather with the
people for adhering so rigidly and for so long to Penn's scheme,
when traffic that he could not have imagined demanded wider
streets. If he could have lived into our times he would surely
have sent us very positive directions in his bluff British way to
break up the original rectangular, narrow plan which was becoming
dismally monotonous when applied to a widely spread-out modern
city. He was a theologian, but he had a very keen eye for
appearances and beauty of surroundings.