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Intersections of History

February 4, 2012

In the University of Pennsylvania’s earliest days, the campus was located on the other side of the Schuylkill River, near what is now known as Center City in Philadelphia. The first site, from 1740-1801, was located at Fourth and Arch Streets. In 1801 Penn moved to Ninth and Market, into a building originally designed in 1790 to be the house for the United States’ President. Yes, the nation’s capital was not always in Washington, DC, but moved first from New York to Philadelphia while the federal district, in what we now know as Washington, was being built.

This “President’s House” on Ninth Street was to be the second such structure in Philadelphia, and part of a bigger plan to keep the capital in the city. The first Philadelphia President’s House was occupied by George Washington from 1790 to 1797. Then John Adams took residence there from 1797 until he moved into the White House in 1800.

During a planned Liberty Bell renovation project in 2002, questions began to arise about the possibility of George Washington having slaves in this first Presidential residence, located in what is now called Independence Mall. After much public debate, a full excavation of the site was done, revealing significant details about the original house, including the existence of slave quarters. It was later decided that the ironies now unearthed had to be preserved in some way. In 2010 “The President’s House in Philadelphia” opened to the public at Sixth and Market, complete with vivid multimedia features about the nine enslaved Africans Washington kept there. Hercules, pictured above, was the chief cook at Mt. Vernon and in Philadelphia until he escaped in 1797 on the day of Washington’s 65th birthday.

Brian Peterson
SEAS ’93, GSE ’97
Co-Instructor

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