The setting of the First Continental Congress of 1774



The First Continental Congress of 1774 adopted various rules; and it was proposed that the sessions should be opened every morning with prayer. Objection was made by Jay and Rutledge, the younger members, because there was such a diversity of theological opinions in that body. "I am no bigot," said Samuel Adams. "I can hear a prayer from a man of piety and virtue, who, at the same time, is a friend to his country." Then he moved that the Rev. Jacob Duche, an eloquent Episcopal minister, be "desired to open the Congress with prayer to-morrow morning." This nomination by a straight Puritan of the Congregational school--a man past middle life--removed all objections. The motion was agreed to. The next morning Mr. Duche, after reading the Psalm for the day (the 35th), made an extemporaneous prayer, so "pertinent, affectionate, sublime, and devout," wrote John Adams, that it "filled every bosom present." That Psalm seemed peculiarly appropriate; for an express had just arrived from Israel Putnam of Connecticut with the dreadful rumor of a bombardment of Boston, and the murder of the inhabitants by the soldiery. The bells of Philadelphia were muffled and tolled in token of sorrow; but another messenger soon came with a contradiction of the report.

There were many friends of the crown in Philadelphia, and it was resolved to hold the sessions of the Congress with closed doors. The members gave their word of honor to keep the proceedings secret; but there was a royalist spy in the midst playing the hypocrite--Joseph Galloway, a Pennsylvania delegate--who gave the pledge and broke it that very night. He and Duche afterward became active loyalists--the only persons of all that assemblage on the morning of the seventh of September, who swerved from the cause. The people had sent the best men to the Great Council, and were not disappointed. "There is in the Congress," John Adams wrote to his wife, "a collection of the greatest men upon this continent in point of abilities, virtues, and fortunes;" and Charles Thomson gave it as his opinion that no subsequent Congress during the war could compare with the first in point of talent and purity. Mr. Adams, in his diary, has left interesting personal notices of a few of the members. He writes that William Livingston, of New Jersey, was "a plain man, tall, black, wears his hair; nothing elegant or genteel about him. They say he is no public speaker, but sensible, learned, and a ready writer." He wrote of John Rutledge: "His appearance is not very promising; no keenness in his eyes, no depth in his countenance." "Edward Rutledge" (the youngest man in the assemblage), he wrote, "is young, sprightly, but not deep. He has the most in distinct, inarticulate way of speaking; speaks through his nose; a wretched speaker in conversation. He seems good-natured though conceited." "Randolph," he wrote, "is a large, well-looking man. Lee is a tall, spare man; Bland is a learned, bookish man." "Caesar Rodney," he wrote, "is the oddest-looking man in the world; he is tall, thin, and slender as a reedpole; his face is not bigger than a big apple; yet there is sense and fire, sprit, wit, and humor in his countenance." He wrote of Johnson of Maryland, as one with "a clear, cool head, an extensive knowledge of trade as well as of law. not a shining orator. Galloway, Duane, and Johnson," he remarks, "are sensible and learned, but cold speakers. Lee, Henry, and Hooper are the orators. Paca is a deliberator too; Chase speaks warmly; Mifflin is a sprightly and spirited speaker. Dyer and Sherman speak often and long, but very heavily and clumsily." Jay (son-in-law of William Livingston) was young and slender, and enthusiastic in his nature. Stephen Hopkins, the oldest member, was sixty-seven years of age; his hair was white, his form was somewhat bent, and his limbs shook with palsy. Duane is described as " a sly-looking man, a little squint-eyed," and Hooper had a "broad face and open countenance." Washington, then forty-two years of age, modest and retiring, was the most conspicuous figure among them; tall, strongly-built, with a ruddy face, the picture of high health and manly strength.

Every possible facility was given to the members of the Congress for the prosecution of their labors. The Carpenters' Association, themselves warm patriots, gave the free use of their hall and their library above; and the directors of the Library Company of Philadelphia requested their librarian to furnish the members with any books which they might wish to use during their sitting. They were also the recipients of unbounded hospitality from the leading citizens of Philadelphia, among whom they were continually entertained at tables sumptuously provided. John Adams related in his diary, that he dined with Mr. Miers, a young Quaker lawyer, and remarks: "This plain Friend, and his plain though pretty wife, with her Thees and Thous, had provided us the most costly entertainment--ducks, hams, chickens, beef, pig, tarts, creams, custards, jellies, fools, trifles, floating islands, beer, porter, punch, wine, etc. Again, after dining at Mr. Powell's: "A most sinful feast again! Everything which could delight the eye, or allure the taste--curds and creams, jellies, sweatmeats of various sorts, twenty sorts of tarts, fools, trifles, floating islands, whipped syllabubs, etc., etc. Parmesan cheese, punch, wine, porter, beer, etc."





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