The President"s house in Philadelphia: A brief History

by Edward Lawler, Jr.Updated may 2010

A mansion at 6th & market Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania served as the executive mansion because that the an initial two Presidents that the unified States, if the irreversible national capital was under construction in the ar of Columbia. Following a 16-month stay in brand-new York City, George Washington occupied the President"s residence in Philadelphia indigenous November 1790 to March 1797. Man Adams occupied it from March 1797 to June 1800, then came to be the first President to accounting The White House. For almost a decade, the Philadelphia mansion offered as the seat of the executive branch of the commonwealth government, housed the public and also private workplaces of the President, and was the website of the main entertaining that the nation. Washington"s presidential household contained nine enslaved africans from mountain Vernon. John Adams was never ever a slaveholder. The intertwined history of freedom and slavery is part of the story the the President"s House, and also of the joined States.

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Built in 1767

The Philadelphia mansion was built in the late 1760s by mar Lawrence Masters, the widow of william Masters, and also one the the richest civilization in the colony. Follow to taxes records, the residence was under building in December 1767, back she and her two daughters space not recorded as absolutely living there till 1769. The brand-new house was most likely the biggest in Philadelphia, and also larger than many of the suburban villas neighboring the city. In 1772, her older daughter, Polly, married Richard Penn, the governor of the colony, and also a nephew of Pennsylvania"s founder, william Penn. Mrs. Masters offered the bride the home as a wedding present.


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"Washington"s Residence, High Street." Lithograph by william L. Breton. From john Fanning Watson"s Annals that Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1830)


The Penns

The Penns resided in the house for only around three years. Relations between good Britain and her American colonies were strained, and also some type of conflict seemed inevitable. The an initial Continental conference met in ~ Carpenters" Hall, and Richard pen entertained numerous of the delegates at the house, including George Washington. Pen was request to present the grievances that the homesteaders to King George III, and also he travel to London in 1775 to supply the "Olive Branch Petition." The Penns and also Mrs. Masters invested the Revolutionary battle in England.

British Occupation

In September 1777, Philadelphia was under siege. General Sir william Howe, commander-in-chief that British forces in America, sailed up the Chesapeake Bay, and also marched his troops towards the city. Washington"s soldiers tried come head them turn off at Brandywine Creek, yet were repulsed. The British military took possession of Philadelphia, and also Washington"s surprise assault at Germantown, north of the city, was unsuccessful. Basic Howe do the comfortable Masters-Penn house his residence and headquarters for the winter, if Washington and also his troops endured thirty mile away, at sink Forge.Waging a long-distance war was expensive for great Britain, particularly one battled with mercenaries. Basic Howe to be recalled come London, and also his follower was ordered to give up Philadelphia and also consolidate pressures in new York City. The brothers evacuated ~ above June 18, 1778.

Benedict Arnold

Continental soldiers swept into Philadelphia under the command the the newly-named armed forces governor, Major-General Benedict Arnold. That made the Masters-Penn home his residence and headquarters within around a week of his arrival. The basic lived favor a rich male in Philadelphia, which to be curious since he had actually only a modest military salary, greatly decreased in value by rampant inflation. The is challenging to different what Arnold actually did from the countless things he was later on accused the doing, but it seems specific that his lavish lifestyle was supported by graft and profiteering, and also possibly outright theft.While living in the house, he met and married Peggy Shippen, and also bought one of the grandest suburban villas, mount Pleasant, although the Arnolds never lived there. His reckless spending increased questions about the source of his wealth and his boorish behavior alienated his supporters, and in in march 1779, the was compelled to resign his post. 2 months later, when still living in the house, Arnold started a treasonous correspondence v the Britsh.
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RG-17 soil Office Map Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives"Richd Penn"s burnt House lot of — Philadelphia." This groundplan appears to present the property as it was in 1781 once Robert Morris contract to to buy it. Unknown draftsman, ca. 1785.


Robert Morris

French Consul john Holker rented the house in so late 1779, and on January 2, 1780, it endured a major fire. Robert Morris contract to buy the fire-damaged building the complying with year, although the did not acquire title come the residential property until 1785. That seems likely that Morris had the residence rebuilt in 1781, since he is taxation at this place in respectable of that year, and also he is apparently living over there in spring 1782.Morris rebuilt the main home to essentially the same setup as before. His major changes to be to the backbuildings: one icehouse was added at the southwest edge of the home (the icehouse"s pit was discovered by excavators in November 2000), a second story was included to the kitchen ell, and a two-story bath house was developed off the east wall surface of the piazza (its 3rd floor was added in 1784). The expanded house had at least six bedrooms and four maid rooms, room for the Morrises" six children (another boy came later) and nine servants.

George Washington

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Many Philadelphians were persuaded that once the Federal federal government moved from new York to their city, the would never leave. Why build a new capital on the banks of the Potomac when the largest and most cosmopolitan city in America was here? An massive mansion for the chairman (about two-thirds the size of the White House) was started on 9th Street in Philadelphia, return Washington confirmed his preference for a Potomac funding by arranging come be far on the job of the groundbreaking. The president quietly operated behind the scenes to bring the permanent capital of the United claims to Virginia. He insisted on paying rent because that Morris"s house, and also the early stage lease was for a 2-year period. Other than for trips and also stays in Germantown to protect against yellow fever, Washington lived in the sector Street house from November 1790 come March 1797.Morris"s sector Street residence was not huge enough for Washington"s needs. The President saw Morris in September 1790, top top his method to mount Vernon, and also planned enhancements to the house: a large two-story bow to be added to southern side of the main home making the rooms at the behind thirty-four feet in length, a long one-story servants" room to be constructed on the eastern side that the kitchen ell, the bathtub to be removed from the bath house"s second floor and also the bathingroom turned into the President"s exclusive office, additional servant rooms to be constructed, and also an development of the stables.In November, as soon as the presidential family moved in, there were approximately thirty people living ~ above the premises: Washington, his wife, Martha, and her grandchildren, Nelly and G. W. Parke Custis; cook Secretary Tobias Lear, his wife, and the three male secretaries; eight enslaved africans from mount Vernon; and about fifteen white servants.

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Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, Spain"Presumed Portrait that George Washington"s Cook"Attributed come Gilbert Stuart


Slaves in the President"s House

Pennsylvania"s government was the first in the western Hemisphere to take measures to abolish slavery. In 1780, it enacted the gradual Abolition legislation — prohibiting further importation that slaves into the state. But the law also respected the property rights that Pennsylvania slaveholders by freeing only the future kids of enslaved mothers. Kids born or living in the state before March 1, 1780, continued to be enslaved because that life (or until 1847, once legal slavery finally finished in Pennsylvania). The 1780 regulation was lax regarding non-resident slave-holders life in Pennsylvania ~ above a short-term basis. It detailed a mechanism for these enslaved come legally achieve their freedom, noted they developed a 6-month residency in Pennsylvania. To prevent this, non-resident slaveholders just interrupted the residency by acquisition their slaves out of the state before the 6-month deadline. A 1788 amendment prohibited this rotation of slaves in and also out that Pennsylvania. But Washington knowingly and repeatedly violated this amendment come the progressive Abolition Law. He kept that his visibility in Philadelphia was a an effect of its being the nationwide capital, the he stayed a citizen of Virginia, and he was mindful that that himself never ever spent six consistent months in Pennsylvania, which can be interpreted as developing legal residency. Ripe enslaved Africans functioned in the President"s House: Oney Judge, Austin, Moll, Giles, Paris, Christopher Sheels, Hercules, Richmond, and also Joe (Richardson). Click here to read biographical sketches. Gradually, the enslaved africans in the presidential family members were changed by white German indentured servants.

Seat of the executive Branch


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HSP Collection, Atwater Kent MuseumMantelpiece native the President"s House. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, ca. 1965. Historic American buildings Survey, no. PA-1942.


The President"s residence was where the business of the executive, management Branch of the Federal federal government was conducted. The public office, the equivalent of the West Wing, was a single room on the 3rd floor. The residence was additionally where the main entertaining the the new country took place. Washington hosted public audiences or "levees" top top Tuesday afternoons, and regular State dinners top top Thursdays. Mrs. Washington had actually receptions or "drawingrooms" on Friday evenings, and also there to be open homes on brand-new Year"s Day and the fourth of July. In enhancement to this heavy schedule of continual entertaining, there were smaller dinners during the week, and also Washington frequently conducted business over breakfast.Two important areas within the residence were the bow home window added come the an initial floor rear room, where the chairman stood (Washington, and later Adams) ~ above ceremonial occasions — levees, an ambassador presenting his credentials, speeches, etc. (the partial foundations of this bow home window were uncovered by excavators in may 2007); and the second floor exclusive office (the previous bathingroom) which to be the indistinguishable of the Oval Office, and also served together the room Room.The yellow heat epidemic that devastated Philadelphia in 1793 and killed much more than 10 percent of the populace pretty much dashed the wishes for the city staying the national (or even the state) capital. It to be suspected the there was something around Philadelphia"s water or climate the was unhealthy, and also the an illness reappeared numerous times in the 1790s.


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John Adams spent most of his one term as President in Philadelphia. He moved to the White house on Saturday, November 1, 1800. The complying with Tuesday he shed the Presidential choice to thomas Jefferson.


President man Adams

Adams flourished Washington as President, and, after declining to occupy the newly completed mansion on nine Street, he moved into the sector Street house in in march 1797.

Washington passed away on December 14, 1799, and also a substantial ceremonial funeral procession and also church company were organized in Philadelphia top top the job after Christmas. This was when "Light equine Harry" Lee eulogized Washington together "First in War, first in Peace, and first in the understanding of his Countrymen." The adhering to evening a couple of hundred mourners to visit Mrs. Adams"s "drawingroom" at the President"s House.

The Residence plot of 1790 dubbed for the district of Columbia to end up being the national resources on the very first Monday in December, 1800. Adams left Philadelphia in so late May, and also spent number of months on his farm in Massachusetts prior to moving into the White residence on November 1. The Philadelphia house was converted right into Francis"s Union Hotel, and also Mrs. Adams remained there ~ above her method south indigenous Massachusetts come the brand-new capital.

Following the removal of the Capital


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This photo shows the south side of the 500 block of market Street in 1949. The President"s House"s surviving eastern wall is in ~ center. The "ghost" the the mansion is outlined in red. From the night Bulletin Newspaper Collection, metropolitan Archives, holy place University.The hotel was not a success, and the former President"s house was stripped of lot of its architecture ornament and also converted right into stores and a boardinghouse. In 1832, the structure was gutted, leaving just its next walls and foundations, and also three small stores were built within the same industry Street frontage. The house"s original side wall surfaces were exposed once the stores themselves were demolished in 1935, but no one recognized them because that what they were. Most of the western wall was gotten rid of by 1941, and also what stayed of it in addition to the eastern wall were demolished in 1951 to develop Independence Mall.


Recent Events

The website of the President"s residence lies directly across Market Street indigenous the enntrance gate to the self-reliance Visitor Center. A publicly bathroom was built on the website in 1954, and stood squarely atop the footprint that the main house until its removal on may 27, 2003. In 2002-03 the Liberty Bell center was built, partially covering the footprint that the house"s backbuildings. Under the LBC"s porch, 5 feet native the key entrance, is the site of the soldier for the stable workers, 2 or three of whom to be enslaved.

When this was revealed in the push in in march 2002, it caused a public uproar. The Pennsylania State Legislature and the Philadelphia City Council referred to as on the nationwide Park company to commemorate the house and its residents, specifically the enslaved afri Americans. In July 2002, the U.S. Home of Representatives approved an amendment to the 2003 room of Interior spending plan requiring the NPS to execute the same. In January 2003, preliminary designs to be unveiled because that a $4.5 million commemoration of the house and its residents. Although that commemorated the enslaved Africans and went a long means in interpreting black color History, the design"s marking of the house"s footprint walk not include the servant quarters, and also was rejected by Philadelphia"s african American community.

At the Liberty Bell Center"s opened in October 2003, Philadelphia"s Mayor john F. Street pledged $1.5 million towards making the President"s home commemoration happen. In 2005, Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Robert Brady secured $3.6 million in commonwealth funds because that the project, and a architecture competition to be begun. Kelly-Maiello Inc. The Philadelphia won the competition in February 2007. The complying with month, an archaeological dig was started on a ar of the property. Structures of the key house, the kitchen ell, an underground passage connecting the two, and Washington"s bow window were uncovered. Kelly-Maiello unveiled revised designs, combine the archaeology, in December 2007, and also the city increased its contribution to $3.5 million. A new $10.5 million spending plan was announced — $8.5 million for construction, $2 million as an endowment — and Mayor Michael Nutter"s management held a September 2008 fund-raiser. In February 2009, Delaware River harbor Authority authorized a $3.5 million contribution. Building and construction of the commemoration began in respectable 2009.

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Interpretation because that the commemoration was begun by the American history Workshop. AHW"s research study uncovered a "Runaway Ad" documenting Oney Judge"s may 21, 1796 escape come freedom. Eisterhold Associates Inc. Take it over translate in December 2009.


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