Monday, May 31, 2010

Philadelphia Story - Part 6: Christ Church

Many of our founding fathers were men of faith. This continent was first settled upon by people seeking religious freedom. It was the faith of our founders that led to those famous words, captured in the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It was also the basis of the Constitution, about which John Adams said "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

It should come as no surprise, then, that our founders were also active in the churches they attended. One such church is Christ Church. Among the members were Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, and George Washington. Seven signers of the Declaration are buried in the church grounds or the church cemetery annex a few blocks away. This church looks and feels very much like the Christ Church in Old Alexandria, VA, about which we blogged in the past.

Construction of the current church building began in 1727. The steeple was a prominent feature in the Philadelphia skyline of 1776.

It is a beautiful, wooded setting. The church grounds are the final resting place of two signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The interior is classic, beautiful historic church motif. Pew plaques mark where the Washingtons, Penns, and Betsy Ross had personal pews.

Christ Church Cemetery is the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin. Note on the right a plaque citing the epitaph he wrote for himself (click on picture to enlarge).

The burial site of Mr. Franklin. Note the long list of accomplishments on the plaque (r).

A classic, colonial-era cemetery. Are we a touch macabre by taking and post such pictures ??

There are five signers of the Declaration buried in Christ Church Cemetery. Each has his own plaque, like the one above. We don't know much about Francis Hopkinson, but he was an accomplished man in his own right.

Well, you all have been very persistent, diligent, and/or loyal to wade through these posts. To reward you, we promise that the final posting from our Philadelphia trip is coming up.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Philadelphia Story - Part 5: A Fledgling Government

Welcome back. After Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78, fast forward back to Philadelphia in 1790. At the risk of glossing over incredibly important events in our nation's early history, we will fill in a brief time line now. The Continental Army continued to battle the British. The Articles of Confederation were drafted in 1777 and ratified in 1781, for the first time naming this new country "The United States of America". The war for independence continued until the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. The Constitution was ratified in 1787, replacing the Articles of Confederation, the government was formed, the first president - George Washington - was elected, and New York served as the capitol city from 1785-1790.

It was then that the seat of the government moved back to Philadelphia, again using the Pennsylvania state house and Philadelphia city hall. Washington DC had just been picked as the permanent site but would not be ready for ten more years. So Philadelphia served as the capitol for ten years, during which time the earliest foundations, under-pinning, and traditions were established.

In the left picture, Independence Hall is far left, and the City Hall center. The Supreme Court shared quarters in City Hall. The plaque (r) commemorates this fact.

The main hall was not very big. With an active city hall, it is believed that the early days of the Supreme Court were challenging ones for the court to meet.

In the left picture, Independence Hall is now on the right, and the Congress first met in the two story building on the left. The plaque (r) commemorates this bit of history.

The House of Representatives met on the first floor hall. Most of the furniture was period authentic but not original, the desk and chair used by the first speaker of the house (r) were original.

The Senate occupied the second floor, which had a smaller hall. This is where the Senate got the moniker "the upper chamber". Some of the furniture was original, and the carpet was re-created from the original specs.

It is hard to describe the feelings we had as we walked through these buildings, trying to imagine what it was like there over 200 years ago. President Washington lived in a house very nearby, which no longer stands. The National Park Service is building a replica on the original site.

Walk through Washington, DC today, and it is filled with Federal office buildings - too many, in my opinion, but that is another blog at another time. Having now seen the modest beginnings of our government, it is amazing what profound events were accomplished there.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Philadelphia Story - Part 4: Valley Forge

Picking up where we left off, the British had invaded Philadelphia in late 1777 and had driven the fledgling American government out of the city. George Washington and his army had lost a series of battles (including the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown) and skirmishes through the fall and early winter, allowing the British to occupy Philadelphia entering the winter of 77-78.

Washington needed to find a location for a winter encampment. Settling on Valley Forge, about 18 miles outside of Philadelphia, he led 12,000 men to this location on December 19, 1777. It took about a month to build the 1,000 cabins that would house them through the bitter winter months. This was a critical period for the revolutionary army, and it was not certain that it would remain intact through the winter.

Two important developments through the winter proved critical: First, Baron Friedrich von Steuben of Prussia volunteered his services to the revolutionary cause. His skill and experience as a soldier proved critical in training the troops through the winter and turning them into a skilled, professional force. Second, on May 6, 1778, the army celebrates France's alliance with, and formal recognition of the United States. Anticipation of the arrival of French troops altered the British military plan, triggering their evacuation of Philadelphia in June. Washington pursued the British, meeting in battle in Monmouth, NJ, where they proved their new battle skills. This event convinced the army, and the colonies, that they could successfully take on the British. From the possibility of total collapse, the army was now a strong fighting force, bolstering the war effort throughout the colonies.

We visited Valley Forge National Park on Sunday, after we were done in Philadelphia. This report is out of sequence from the order of our weekend, but more in the sequence of historical events. Not much of the original encampment itself remains, but the visitors' center has many relics that have been unearthed in years since.

Washington's 12,000 troops had to build over 1,000 cabins, and did so in about a month. Using records from history, a few cabins were built to the specifications used back then. An officers cabin (r) housed one or two men, whereas enlisted men were bunked twelve to a cabin. Better than tents, though!

Washington himself rented a house that already existed there.

Rooms inside Washington's headquarters, where the General and his wife stayed the winter.

General Washington's elite security troops lived in cabins that were built just behind his headquarters.

A memorial arch built in memory of the encampment at Valley Forge.

Washington Memorial Chapel was built on private property within the park, and has an active congregation today.

The small but beautiful chapel area (l) boasts wood carved thingies (don't remember what they are called) with soldier figures. (Click the picture to enlarge.)

Etched granite commemorates the beginning of the encampment on December 9, 1777 (l), celebration of the French alliance on May 9, 1778 (c), and the evacuation of Valley Forge to pursue the British on June 19,1778 (r).

Carvings illustrate scenes from the encampment.

And, of course, General Washington is memorialized with a prominent statue.

And so our journey of discovery and history continues. In the next chapter we will pick up again in Philadelphia where a fledgling new government took up residence.