1776 description of Philadelphia, including the State House in "which the Congress now sits"
Philadelphia 1776: William Vernon Jr. Autograph Letter
Signed. Two and one-half pages, 6.5" x 8", Nassau Hall,
Princeton, October 14, 1776, written to Vernon Jr.'s father, the
well-known Newport, Rhode Island, patriot and slave trader, William
Vernon Sr. The letter is toned with folds and minor damage on the
address leaf from the original unsealing.
Following a short visit to Philadelphia during the eventful year of 1776, Vernon Jr., a student at Princeton, describes the city to his father, even as the Second Continental Congress met there. (While in Philadelphia, Vernon Jr. had breakfast one morning with the Continental Congress delegate William Ellery.) "The City is prettily[?] situated along the banks of the majestic Delaware, and may be something more than two miles in length from north to South, and about three quarters in breadth from East to West, the whole City is laid out with the utmost regularity and exactness in squares, the streets from North to South (except Water Street which is by far the most irregular). . . . The most elegant street is an hundred feet wide, and is called Market Street from two Markets . . . and between the two is a small and I think ill contrived Court House. . . . The State House is a large plan brick building built upon one of the City Squares, which is surrounded by a brick wall and entirely appropriated for the public use. . . . The House is two stories in height, the lower is divided into two apartments, in one of which sets the Supreme Court of judicature, the upper Story consists of a long gallery, besides two rooms, in one of which the Congress now sits, the other is set apart for the Governor and Council; in one of the wings of this building is a Library belonging to a company called the Library company of Philadelphia. . . . The places of public worship are plain but not elegant, Christs Church makes the best appearance of any. . . . The internal polity of this place is extremely well regulated, the poor are amply provided for. . . . A Hospital is also erected for the sick, Lunaticks, &c. . . . You will here as in other places find a person possessed of all the politeness necessary to accomplish the Gentleman, and another of all the rigid stiffness of a Quaker. . . . They have a ship for the defence of the river. . . . Gov. Mifflin is appointed Commodore; whether the above force is sufficient to prevent a British fleet approaching the City, I cannot say." A city of about 30,000 in 1776, Philadelphia was the largest in the colonies and by most accounts - except, perhaps, Vernon Jr.'s- one of the most beautiful. The red brick Philadelphia State House described in the letter, also known as Independence Hall, was the main meeting place of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783. (The Pennsylvania Assembly had graciously moved to the Supreme Court Room mentioned.) Vernon Jr. describes the grand State House about the time the Declaration of Independence, written by Jefferson in his upstairs parlor a few blocks away, was debated and signed there. From the Papers of William Vernon.
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