Philadelphians, by and large, celebrate the Fourth of July by escaping to the shore while history-loving tourists take our places on the streets. Here at PW, we thought we’d help both contingents get in the mood with a special historical issue celebrating the city’s Revolutionary days-complete with 18th-century typefaces, though we didn’t give up our desktop publishing software, thanks for asking.
You’ll note that this week’s PhillyNow calendar has been juiced up with daily excerpts from local newspapers of the colonial era (copied below), offering tantalizing glimpses into the lives of our forebears. Thanks to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, who dug up the items you’ll read on pages 6-14. A nationally renowned library and archive, the Society has lots more such goodness to offer-both at 1300 Locust St. and at hsp.org.
From the Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 3, 1777: “Tomorrow, being the anniversary of the declaration of INDEPENDENCE, will, it is hoped, be observed by all true Whigs as a day of rejoicing. Every mark of joy and festivity will be shewn by those who have a proper sense of its importance. We hear that the troops are to be paraded at four o’clock in the afternoon on the Commons of this city, and a feu de joie to be fired. The navy will also join in the celebration of this happy day, which all friends to America have so much reason to commemorate as the period on which they began to be free, having then escaped from the worse than Egyptian bondage of Great-Britain.”
From the Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 4, 1776: “Dr. L. Butte, Surgeon-Dentist, begs leave to inform the public, that he intends to follow the said art, and undertake to set artificial teeth in so neat a manner that it is impossible to distinguish them from those which are natural. He also cleans teeth, however bad, and has tooth drops which cureth the toothach in a few minutes. Also a planter which cures corns in the toes in twenty-four hours, price two shillings and sixpence. He keeps lip pomatum, and the American oil, which takes freckles out of the face in three days, price seven shillings and sixpence. He will wait on any lady or gentleman that shall honor him with their commands. He is removed from the New-market, and lives now in Chestnut-Street, opposite of the Sign of the Grand Turk, in Mr. Wallace’s house.”
From the Pennsylvania Packet, July 5, 1773: “The flying machine kept by CHARLES BESSONETT, at Bristol, sets out on Mondays and Thursdays, from the house of William Dibley, at the Cross Keys, corner of Chestnut and Third Street, Philadelphia, and proceeds to Princeton the same days, where it meets the New-York Stage, exchanges passengers, and returns on Tuesdays and Fridays. All gentlemen and ladies, that please to favour me with their custom, may depend on the best usage, from the public’s humble servant, CHARLES BESSONETT. N.B. Goods and passengers carried as usual.”
From the Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 6, 1775: “Whereas, agreeable to an Act of Assembly of this province, four pence per gallon duty is laid on spirituous liquors, for the support of the government of the same, the retailers whereof, and likewise those that are indebted for the duty on the liquors aforesaid for their private use, are hereby desired speedily to discharge the same.”
From the Pennsylvania Journal, July 7, 1773: “To be lett, The CITY TAVERN, Situate in one of the principal Streets, near the Center of the Town. It has been build, at a great expence, by a number of gentlemen, and it is the most convenient and elegant structure of its kind in America: The front is fifty-one feet and forty-six feet in depth; the rooms are spacious, and the ceilings lofty. As the Proprietors have built this tavern without any view of profit, but merely for the convenience and credit of the city, the terms will, of consequence, be made easy to the tenant: The extensiveness of the undertaking, in superintending so capital a tavern as this is proposed to be, requires some stock before-hand, as well as an active, obliging disposition: A person so qualified, it is imagined, will find it his interest to engage in it. The house is nearly finished, and may be entered into the Fifth of September. For further particulars apply to HUGH JAMES, Waiter, at the London Coffee-House. July 7.”
From the Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 8, 1783: “ANECDOTE of an advocate at Strasbourg, lately deceased. The advocate being taken suddenly ill, he sent for a brother lawyer to make his will, by which he bequeathed seventy two thousand florins to the hospital of idiots at Strasbourg. His brother advocate expressing surprise at his bequest, “Why not (said the dying man) bestow that sum upon them? You know I got my money by fools, and therefore to fools it ought to return.”
From the Pennsylvania Gazette, July 9, 1772: “Last night the dwelling house of John Hyder, at the Old Ferry, was broke open and Goods and Cash stolen as follows, viz. One blue surtout coat of good broadcloth faced with blue shaloon, and black horn buttons, a beaver hat, about half worn, 3 pair of stockings, one pair of garters, and one silk and check handkerchief. The money not exactly known, but supposed to be about Four Pounds, among which there was one counterfeit Dollar, besides other things not discovered, as goods are constantly left to be sent to different persons. Whoever apprehends the perpetrators of the above mentioned robbery, so that they are brought to justice and the goods restored, shall receive Forty Shillings reward, paid by me. JOHN HYDER.”
From the Pennsylvania Packet, July 10, 1775: “Philadelphia made RIFLES, For getting an edge to Scythes; A large quantity of which are not made ready for sale, and to be had, whole-sale and retail, at JOHN FOX’S, Cutler, in Fourth-Street, near Market-Street. It is beyond a doubt that they are proved to be superior to any thing used for that purpose, they being more durable than any kind of stones, and as cheap in proportion. Much might be said in favour of them, but the increasing demand for them within these three years sufficiently proves their value for the purpose of sharpening scythes, and they are warranted as good and cheap as any imported. Good allowance will be made to those who take them to fell again. If any of said rifles should be found to cut too fast, they may be brought to any degree of fineness by rubbing a little grease over them.”
As we celebrate both the Fourth of July and the end of DOMA, it's an appropriate moment to consider how gay Philadelphians lived amid the American Revolution.
Letters to the Editor