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REMINISCENCES OF PHILADELPHIA.
BY MRS. SARAH HALL.
I pray you, let us satisfy our eyes
As human nature is said to be the same in every age and country, it is reasonable to expect that our infant stage should successively exhibit every character that has flourished in maturer regions. The antiquary, one might imagine, could find no food in our new world to regale his appetite. Yet even antiquaries are starting up amongst us; and our ancients are called upon to ransack their memories, and recite the tales of days long past. It is said to be the spirit of the times to neglect the aged, and give all honour to the young. Old men, and old women, will then be gratified by this unexpected summons, and will, very probably, bring out all their stores. America has no Druidical altars; no incomprehensible Stonehedge; no circle of Dendara, to elicit her lore. Every thing with us is young; all is within the memory or the attainment of her citizens. Some ancient monuments have indeed been discovered in our western states, and their origin and design have hitherto baffled the investigations of our philosophers. We have, then, no subjects of inquiry but the gradual progress of our settlements, and the everchanging manners of their inhabitants; and if man be the proper study of man, these topics may not be without interest to the curious,
There are yet living in Philadelphia, many who can tell of incredible revolutions since they played in her streets. They well remember when this wide-spread metropolis was comparatively a village, and had the simple manners of a village. The impressions of childhood are too deep to be effaced. The language of that day, when they said of a person who was about to make a voyage to England, that he was going home, seems to them but of yesterday; and the peal of Christ church bells, for the king's birth-day, or the discovery of the gunpowder plot, still rings in their ears. The revolution made a change in all these matters of homage to the mother country, not more remarkable than that which it quickly produced upon the appearance of the city and the manners of the people.
Previous to the occupation of Philadelphia, by the British troops, in 1777, Water, Front, and Third, were the only streets parallel with the Delaware river, that were closely built. Many houses in these days, which are not now thought sufficiently genteel or convenient for a second-rate tradesman, were then inhabited by the rich and honourable of the land. The cross streets, from Pine to Vine, extended from the river to Fourth street. A large double house in Market street,* between Fifth and Sixth, stood alone, and was considered out of town. It was afterwards successively occupied by the two Presidents, Washington and Adams. The house now tenanted by the Schuylkill Bank, is the only one besides, recollected in this quarter. This belonged to Joseph Galloway, Esq., and was confiscated, in consequence of his adherence to the king in the revolutionary war. The state house, a
* Built by William Masters, Esq., whose eldest daughter was the lady of the governor, Richard Penn.
jail, a court house, an hospital, and almshouse,* and a city library, and about a dozen churches, constituted the amount of our public buildings. The jail, and library, have been long since removed. The former, together with its yard, (enclosed by a stone wall,) and the jailer's house, occupied about one-third of the west side of Third, from the corner of Market street: and the latter, a mean one story tenement of stone, stood in a muddy lanewhich is now Fifth street-and near to the corner of Chestnut--a spot now ornamented by our state-house square. The market-house extended from Front to Third streets, and at this last extremity-convenient to its parent, the jail, stood a pillory and whipping post, where felons were usually exhibited on market days. Still, Philadelphia, at this early day, was not without many spacious mansions; but they were distributed in all parts of the city. We could boast of none of those splendid rows which now challenge a comparison with the edifices of any other metropolis. Carriages, or coaches, and chariots, as they were then respectively called, were yet more scarce, than large dwellings. Our progenitors did did not deem a carriage a necessary appendage of wealth and respectability. Many merchants and professional gentleman kept a one-horse chair, but every man's coach was known by every body. There were not more, perhaps, than ten or twelve in the city. A hack had not been heard of. There was one public stage to New York, and there may have been stages to Baltimore and Lancaster, but they are not recollected;—indeed, there was so
* Then called the bettering house.
+ A few years more, and it will be forgotten that we owe this embellishment and convenience, to the taste and exertions of the father of our worthy fellow citizen, John Vaughan, Esq.
little intercourse between our city and these towns, that their names were scarcely known until the war brought them into notice.
Let it not however be supposed that we were without refinement: we were polite, though frugal. We had a theatre and a dancing assembly. The latter was held once a fortnight, and managed by six married gentlemen, of the most respectable rank and character. This association, it must be confessed, partook of the aristocratic feeling infused into our community by a monarchical government. The families of mechanics, however wealthy, were not admitted. The subscription was 31. 15s. and admitted the master and the females of his family. Young men never appeared there under the age of twenty-one, and then they paid for their own tickets. Young ladies could not be introduced under eighteen.
Supper at the assembly consisted of tea, chocolate, and rusk -a simple cake, now never seen amidst the profu sion of confectionary that inundates our entertainments. We had at that time no spice of French in our institutions; consequently, we did not know how to romp in cotillions, but moved with grave dignity in minuets, and sober gaiety in country dances. Every thing was conducted by rule and order: places were distributed by lot, and partners were engaged for the evening; and neither could be changed, by either forwardness or favouritism. Gentlemen always drank tea with their partners the day after the assembly. Private balls were sometimes given: tea parties were not known by that term, yet by the established modes of visiting, ten or a dozen ladies were often collected, to partake of that pleasant beverage. Christmas was peculiarly the time for dinner parties. Families, and the circle of their intimate friends, invariably took the round of dinners during the holidays; and the
meeting was always protracted to a supper. Morning visits were very rare. Hours were, comparatively, very early: the most formal dinner was on the table at two or three, and supper between nine and ten. Of the few practices not to be commended in these primeval days, perhaps it is one, that supper, after tea, was a customary meal in every family. Sociable visits were then paid, not at night, but in the afternoon. A matron would drink tea with her friend, return home by candle-lighting, tie on her check apron,
put her children to bed. As we are not instituting a comparison between the rusticity of our state, whilst we were dependent colonies, and our improvements and conveniences since we become a sovereign nation, we shall simply state the amount of our attainments in the infancy of the city. Marble mantels, and folding doors, were not then indispensably necessary to make a house tenantable-nor sofas, nor carpets, nor girandoles. A white floor, sprinkled with clean sand, large tables, and heavy high-backed chairs of walnut or mahogany, decorated a parlour genteelly enough for any body. Sometimes, a carpet, not, however, covering the whole floor, was seen upon the dining-room. This was a show-parlour up stairs-not used but upon state occasions--and then to dine in. Although many articles which now minister to our comfort were then unknown, yet our houses were abundantly provided with necessary and substantial furniture. Pewter plates and dishes were in general use: having no trade to China, the porcelain of that country, if seen at all on a dinner-table, was only displayed on great occasions. Plate, more or less, was seen in every family of easy circumstances; not indeed in all the various shapes that have since been invented, but in massive waiters, bowls, tankards, cans, &c. &c. Glass tumblers were but little used; punch, the most