The history of Philadelphia



Convenience, thoughts of commerce, the selection of a fitting spot for a great city, the choice of a harbor for the shipping of the world, no doubt mainly determined the site of Philadelphia. But utility and the picturesque often go together.. Whether the commissioners sent out by William Penn, who marked the foundation for the noble metropolis of their new State, had much care for landscape beauty, it is hard to say; but at all events, they managed to secure it, even if aiming at far other things. Nearly forty years before, red Indians were haunting the shore about a mile from Fort Nassau, and there some Dutchmen bought land from these wild children of the west, and mounted the flag of their country on a tall boundary-mark as a sign of possession.

Between thirty and forty years afterwards the region remained infested with wolves, and the heads of these animals were brought in to be paid for by the scanty settlers at the rate of fifty-five heads for forty guilders. Some acres between "the land of Wiccaco" and "the land of Jurian Hartsfielder" were granted on petition in 1677 to one Peter Rambo, but on the complaint of a neighboring family, who laid claim to it, the grant was cancelled. This became the site of the new city.

Penn did not land there. His voyage from England lasted two months, and on its way the Welcome was scourged by the small-pox, which swept off no less than one-third of the hundred passengers who had embarked at Deal. The first point on the American coast which the vessel reached was "the Capes," on the 24th of October, 1682, and on the 28th Penn landed at New-Castle. He was "hailed there with acclamation by the Swedes and Dutch," says one authority, who informs us that the Swedes were living in log cabins and clay huts, the men dressed "in leather breeches, jerkins, and match coats," the women "in skin jackets and linsey petticoats;" but the old records of New-Castle give a more stately description of the arrival. Penn produced two deeds of enfeoffment, and John Moll, Esq., and Ephraim Hannan, gentleman, performed livery of seisin by handing over to him turf and twig, water and soil, and with due formality the act was recorded in a document signed with nine names. The inhabitants of the little settlement afterwards gave a pledge of obedience..

After this Penn visited New York, and returned at the end of a month, when he went to a place called Upland, and, turning round to a Quaker friend who had come with him in the Welcome, he said, "Providence has brought us here safe; thou hast been the companion of my perils: what wilt thou that I should call this place?" Pearson said, "Chester," in remembrance of the city whence he came..

The Great Law, as it was called, or rather the body of laws, of the province of Pennsylvania, was passed at Chester the 7th of December, 1682; and here we have the scheme of legislation devised by the founder. It requires attention, as expressing his political views. It lays down the principle of liberty of conscience for the whole province, and it recognizes intolerance as intolerable. "If any person shall abuse or deride any other for his or her different persuasion or practice in matter of religion, such shall be looked upon as disturber of the peace, and be punished accordingly." The observance of the Lord's Day is prescribed, but is not enforced by penalties. All government officers and servants are to profess belief in the Divinity of Christ; profaneness and blasphemy are to be punished, and several criminal offences are carefully specified. Drinking healths, and selling rum to Indians, come under the same category; so do stage plays, and other amusements fashionable in the days of Charles II. Days and months are not to be called by heathen names. These are the only peculiar laws; the rest being provisions for trial by jury, for purity of election, and for strictly legal taxation.

The Assembly which passed the laws of Pennsylvania sat for three days, and after its adjournment Penn paid a visit to Maryland, and had an interview with Lord Baltimore respecting the boundaries of the two provinces.. Penn returned to Chester, and thence proceeded to the spot where, in after-time, the capital city of his province was to rise and spread in all its magnificence.

He proceeded along the river in an open boat till he reached "a low and sandy beach," at the mouth of what was called the Dock Creek; on the opposite side of it was a grassy and wet soil, yielding an abundance of whortleberries; beyond was the "Society Hill," rising up to what is now Pine Street, covered then with wild outgrowths,--the neighborhood containing woods in which rose lofty elms and masses of rich laurels. The margin of the creek here and there produced evergreen shrubs, and near them were wigwams of red Indians, who had settled down for a while as a starting-point for favorite hunting-grounds. When Penn and his companions arrived they found some men busy building a low wooden house, destined, under the name of the Blue Anchor, to be an object of interest and a subject of controversy. These men, and a few European colonists who were scattered about the locality, pressed towards the boat to give a cordial welcome as the Englishmen stepped on shore.

If not immediately, we may be sure that soon afterwards the Indians would come forward to gaze on the white men from the other side of the world; and then would begin those manifestations of kindness towards the children of the forest which made an indelible impression on them, and on others who witnessed the interviews. A lady, who lived to be a hundred, used to speak of the governor as being of "rather short stature, but the handsomest, best-looking, lively gentleman she had ever seen." "He endeared himself to the Indians by his marked condescension and acquiescence in their wishes. He walked with them, sat with them on the ground, and ate with them of their roasted acorns and hominy. At this they expressed their great delight, and soon began to show how they could hop and jump; at which exhibition, William Penn, to cap the climax, sprang up and beat them all." Probably a little imagination enlivened the old lady's recollections, and she condensed several meetings into one; but as Penn was at that time under forty, and he had been fond of active sports in earlier days, the story, on the whole, is quite credible; and it is curious to find an old journalist leaving on record that the founder of Pennsylvania was "too prone to cheerfulness for a grave public Friend," especially in the eye of those of them who held "religion harsh, intolerant, severe."

The city had been planned beforehand, the streets marked, and the names given; and these being Vine, Walnut, Pine, Sassafras, and Cedar, we may believe that such trees abounded in the woods into the midst of which the city ran. The name of Philadelphia was chosen by the founder, its scriptural and historical associations being probably present to his mind; but the chief object of the choice was a lesson to its inhabitants "touching brotherly love, upon which he had come to these parts, which he had shown to Dutch, Swedes, Indians, and others alike, and which he wished might forever characterize his new dominions."

The fact stated concerning the founding of Philadelphia is of interest, since it seems to be the only city that was planned and definitely laid out by the early settlers of America. The other ancient cities of the country grew as chance willed. The rectangularity of Penn's idea has its advantages, but its disadvantages as well, and some greater degree of chance growth would have been useful. Penn is said to have purchased the land for his city from its Swedish occupants, and to have made with the Indians a treaty, which has attained great celebrity, though very little is known about it.





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