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Tag: Philadelphia

Emancipation Proclamation: Flight to Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, many men and women in bondage ran away from their owners to freedom. These escape attempts were dangerous, and not all of them were successful. Abolitionists sometimes helped slaves in their flight to freedom, like these two men in the case of the escaping slave Jane Johnson and her children.

Jane Johnson and her two young sons were enslaved by John Hill Wheeler, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. While on his way to South America, Wheeler brought Jane and her sons to New York and Philadelphia. Once the three slaves were in Philadelphia, abolitionists William Still and Passmore Williamson helped Johnson and her two sons escape to Boston.

Wheeler petitioned the court to have Williamson return his slaves. In the Writ of Habeas Corpus commanding Williamson to return Jane and her sons, Williamson stated that he was unable to do so:

Passmore Williamson the defendant in the within writ mentioned for return thereto respectfully submits that the within named Jane, Daniel and Isaiah . . . are not now nor was, . . . in the custody, power or possession of, nor confined nor restrained their liberty by him the said Passmore Williamson. Therefore he cannot have the bodies of the said Jane, Daniel and Isaiah,

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Emancipation Proclamation: Petitioning for Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

January 1 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. While this document is remembered for freeing the slaves in the Southern states, petitioners had been attempting to end slavery since the nation’s founding. Petitions by anti-slavery groups were sent to the newly elected Congress soon after it first met.

On December 30, 1799, the Reverend Absalom Jones and other free blacks of Philadelphia sent a petition to Congress. Although they recognized the “blessing” of their freedom, they were concerned about their fellow men: “We cannot be insensible of the condition of our afflicted Brethren, suffering under various circumstances in different parts of these States; but deeply sympathizing with them, We are incited by a sense of Social duty and humbly conceive ourselves authorized to address and petition you in their behalf.”

Jones and the petitioners noted that the Constitution “is violated by a trade carried on in a clandestine manner to the Coast of Guinea.” They also mentioned that the Southerners’ practice of kidnapping free African Americans and transporting them to Southern states in order to sell them also violated the “solemn Compact” of the Constitution. The petition ends with this appeal:

In the Constitution, and the Fugitive bill, no mention is made of Black people or Slaves—therefore if the Bill of

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In their own words: Adams, Franklin, and Vergennes (part IIc)

In the last post, we brought the Adams-Vergennes story up to their abrupt break in late July 1780. Adams departed for the Netherlands, where he hoped to raise additional funds for the United States war effort and make the United States less dependent on France.

Meanwhile, Vergennes appealed to Franklin and through Franklin to Congress, requesting that Adams be relieved of his ambassadorial duties. Vergennes supplied Franklin with the Adams correspondence, and Franklin forwarded it to Congress. Vergennes also made France’s wishes known to Congress through Ambassador Anne-Cesar, Chevalier de la Luzerne, in Philadephia.

In this letter, Franklin makes clear to Vergennes that Adams was not speaking for him or Congress:

It was indeed with very great Pleasure that I received the Letter . . . communicating that of the President of Congress and the Resolutions of that Body relative to the Succours then expected: For the Sentiments therein express’d are so different from the Language held by Mr Adams, in his late Letters to your Excellency as to make it clear that it was from his particular Indiscretion alone, and not from any Instructions received by him, that he has given such just Cause of Displeasure, and that it is impossible his Conduct therein should be approved by his Constituents. I am glad he has not admitted me to any Participation in those

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In their own words: John Adams and Ben Franklin, Part I

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in National Archives Exhibits.

John Adams of Massachusetts and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania crossed paths during “critical moments” in the earliest days of the republic. They met for the first time at the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774, the first joint meeting of 12 American colonies (Georgia did not attend). Both were supporters of independence, Adams most publicly and Franklin more behind the scenes, though both were equally masterful wordsmiths.

During the Revolutionary War, Adams and Franklin worked together in Paris to obtain French support for the American cause, sometimes clashing on how best to do so. ­And they successfully negotiated peace with Great Britain. They saw each other for the last time in 1785, when Adams left Franklin in Paris for his assignment as the first Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain from the United States. During the years in between, their relationship had its ups and downs.

Their most intimate experience probably happened during an unsuccessful peace mission in September 1776. The British forces had recently raced across Long Island (New York) and almost destroyed the American Army. The British commander, Adm. Lord Richard Howe, then offered peace. Congress sent Adams, Franklin, and … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: No quorum, no Constitution!

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is the first in a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document.

Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence announced the birth of the United States, the survival of the young country seemed in doubt. The War for Independence had been won, but economic depression, social unrest, interstate rivalries, and foreign intrigue appeared to be unraveling the fragile confederation.

On February 21, 1787, the Continental Congress resolved that “it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several States be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”

The original states, with the exception of Rhode Island, collectively appointed 70 individuals to the Constitutional Convention, but a number did not accept or could not attend.

On May 14, 1787, the Federal Convention convened in the State House—now known as Independence Hall—in Philadelphia.

Almost no one showed up.

Only delegates from two states, Pennsylvania and Virginia, were present on that first day. This meant that the members met and adjourned each day until May 25, when the convention obtained a quorum of seven states.

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison blamed bad weather for … [ Read all ]