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American Revolution History by
American Revolution History by
Legend: Selected Site Area Merchant Site Historic Site Historic Marker Historic Shipwreck
Marker data courtesy of   Some map icons courtesy of Map Icons Collection

1776 Mayflower : A Story of Courage, Community, and War
The Federalist Papers Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West John Adams
Benjamin Franklin : An American Life The Bloody & Brave History of Native American Warriors & the Women Who Supported Them
Click here for additional books

We the Kids : The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States The New Americans : Colonial Times: 1620-1689 (The American Story)
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery A History of US: Vol 3, From Colonies to Country (A History of Us)
Let It Begin Here!: Lexington & Concord: First Battles of the American Revolution George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War
They Called Her Molly Pitcher Now &  Ben : The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin

Pirates and Traders: Gold! Hidden Treasures Hidden Object
Dedaloop (Kindle Fire Edition) Word Treasure
Treasure Island, The Experience Robinson Crusoe
The Patriots Hero Tales from American History - AudioBook

Selected Site

Independence Hall

S 3rd St & Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Independence National Historical Park

Click on heading to visit the website (excludes markers).

Nearby Historic Sites

American Philosophical Society

104 South Fifth Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Arch Street Meetinghouse

320 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Betsy Ross House

239 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Carpenter's Hall

320 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Christ Church

20 North American St.
Philadelphia,, PA, 19106

Dolley Todd House

4th & Walnut Streets
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Elfreth's Alley

126 Elfreth's Alley
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Free Quakers

500 Arch St
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Independence Visitor Center

Sixth and Market Sts
Philadelphia,, PA, 19106

National Constitution Center

525 Arch Street
Philadelphia,, PA, 19106

Old Christ Church (PA)

20 N. American Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Old First Reformed United Church of Christ

N 4th & Race St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church

412 Pine Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Old St. Joseph's Church

321 Willings Alley
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Powel House

244 South Third Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Second Bank of the United States

420 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

St. George's United Methodist Church

235 North Fourth Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

St. Peter's Church

313 Pine Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial

301 Pine St
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

The Library Company of Philadelphia

1314 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Click on any heading to visit the website.

Nearby Historical Markers

"Common Sense"

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

At his print shop here, Robert Bell published the first edition of Thomas Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet in January 1776. Arguing for a republican form of government under a written constitution, it played a key role in rallying American support for independence.

Benjamin Franklin

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Printer, author, inventor, diplomat, philanthropist statesman, and scientist. The eighteenth century's most illustrious Pennsylvanian built a house in Franklin Court starting in 1763, and here he lived the last five years of his life.

Carpenters' Hall

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

. . . for the purpose of obtaining instruction in the science of architecture and assisting such of their members as should by accident be in need of support, or the widows and minor children of members . . .
By-laws of the Carpenters' Company
Carpenters' Hall, completed in 1774, was the meeting place of a group of Philadelphia master builders known as the Carpenters' Company. The Carpenters banded together to establish architectural standards, to set prices for work, and to aid members' families in times of need.
A visitor to Philadelphia in the 1700s would have seen many buildings designed and constructed by members of the Carpenters' Company, including the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), Old City Hall, The Pennsylvania Hospital, Benjamin Franklin's mansion, and their own Carpenters' Hall.
The Carpenters aided the leaders of the American Revolution by offering them the use of Carpenters' Hall. It was here that the First Continental Congress gathered in 1774 to air their grievances against Great Britain.
Carpenters' Hall is a part of Independence National Historical Park, but is still owned and operated by the Carpenters' Company. Visitors are welcome during scheduled hours.

Christ Church

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Founded, 1695. Erection of present building begun in 1727. Bells were brought from England in 1754. Among the noted persons buried here are James Wilson and Robert Morris, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, and Bishop White.

Christ Church

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Whereas the honorable Continental Congress have resolved to declare the American Colonies to be free and independent states ... it will be proper to omit those petitions from the liturgy wherein the King of Great Britain is prayed for ...
Christ Church vestry minutes, July 4, 1776
Built between 1727 and 1754, Christ Church stands not only as a masterpiece of Colonial architecture, but as a reminder of the role of religious faith in the struggle for American freedom.
The 200-foot high steeple of Christ Church dominated the Philadelphia skyline in 1776, serving as a landmark for residents and travelers. Equally prominent were the church's leaders who signaled their commitment to American independence by eliminating from their service all references to the King.
Congress worshipped here as a group. Among the congregation were Revolutionary leaders Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Robert Morris. Seven signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in the churchyard here or in the Christ Church burial ground three blocks west of here at 5th and Arch Street.
Although it is part of Independence National Historical Park, Christ Church remains independent of the Park. The church is an active congregation of the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the building continues to be used regularly for worship.

Commodore John Barry

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Father of the American Navy

David Salisbury Franks

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Distinguished Jewish officer and aide-de-camp to Gen. Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War. Thought to be complicit in Arnold's treason, Maj. Franks was later exonerated. A yellow fever victim, he was buried at Christ Church by a Christian neighbor.

Declaration Chamber

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Here the Continental Congress sat from the date it convened, May 10, 1775, until the close of the Revolution except when in 1776-7 it sat in Baltimore and in 1777-9 in Lancaster and York, due to the temporary occupation of Philadelphia by the British army.
Here on June 16, 1775, George Washington accepted his appointment by Congress as General of the Continental Army.
Here, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and on July 9, 1778, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States were adopted and signed.
Here, on November 3, 1781, twenty-four standards taken at the surrender of Yorktown were laid at the feet of Congress and His Excellency, the Ambassador of France.
Here, on September 17, 1787, the Constitution of the United States of America was adopted and signed.

Fawcitt House Site

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Delegates walking to Carpenters' Hall (to your left) for meetings of the First Continental Congress in 1774 passed an aging wood house at this site. The two-story house was built about 1706 for bodice-maker Nathan Fawcitt.
The Fawcitt House, like most wood houses of the period, has not survived. In fact, wood houses became such fire hazards in the congested city that by 1796 city codes prohibited their construction.

First Continental Congress

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian but an American.
Patrick Henry, Carpenters' Hall, 1774
In 1774 the American colonies felt threatened. Their grievances against Great Britain were being ignored. Was it finally time for resistance, or was reconciliation still possible?
The First Continental Congress met here in Carpenters' Hall in the autumn of 1774 to choose a course of action. Led by John and Sam Adams, and inspired by the fiery speeches of Patrick Henry, representatives of the Colonies united to defend American rights. They appealed to the King and the British people to repeal unjust laws and taxes. They condemned the closing of the port of Boston, and pledged not to trade with Britain.
Before adjourning, the Congress resolved that another congress be held the following May if their grievances were not redressed. By the time this Second Continental Congress convened, blood had already been shed at Lexington and Concord.

Fraunces Tavern

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Here stood Fraunces Tavern, established by Samuel Fraunces after moving from New York where he had operated a famous tavern. He served as George Washington’s chief cook, 1790 - 94, while the President lived in Philadelphia.

Friends Meeting

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This meetinghouse was erected in 1804. It is used for weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly meetings of Friends. The ground was first used for burial purposes under patent issued by William Penn in 1701.

Hannah Callowhill Penn

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Born in 1671, she married William Penn, 1696. They lived at Pennsbury, and in the Slate Roof House here, 1699 - 1701. During his final illness, 1712 - 18, and until her death, 1726, she was Pennsylvania’s acting proprietor. She was the only woman to control a British proprietary colony for so long.

Haym Salomon

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Financier of the Revolution. Came to America ca. 1772. Imprisoned by British, 1776 and 1778. Lived in Philadelphia, 1778-85; active in its Jewish community. A broker, he lent money heavily to support the war. never repaid, he himself died in debt.

In Memory of the Many American Soldiers

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

who, during the War for Independence, died prisoners of war in the jails of Philadelphia, and were buried in this ground during the years 1777 and 1778.

Independence Square

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

...The said ground shall be enclosed and remain a public open green and walks forever.
Act of Pennsylvania Assembly 1735
The State House Yard, now known as Independence Square, was the scene of both turmoil and tranquility in the late 1700s.
On the eve of the American Revolution, Philadelphia citizens gathered here for mass meetings to protest British policies. As protests turned to war, soldiers drilled and drums echoed, disturbing the deliberations of the Continental Congress inside the State House. The most important result of those deliberations was the Declaration of Independence which was first read in public here in the State House Yard on July 8, 1776.
The scene was quite different when the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787. The sounds of war had faded and the courtyard had become a peaceful garden. Winding walkways, grassy mounds, and a rich variety of trees and bushes provided a tranquil setting for the founding of the new government.

National Funeral For President Washington

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

George Washington died on Dec. 14, 1799. Congress set Dec. 26 as a day of formal mourning in Philadelphia, the nation's capitol from 1790 to 1800. The national funeral was in Zion Lutheran Church--located at this site, 1766-1870-- and among those attending was President John Adams. In his funeral oration, congressman Henry Lee spoke the famous tribute: "First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.'

Original Cobblestone

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

In front of you lies a remnant of a cobblestone street (also called 'pebblestone')constructed about 1800.
Although William Penn, founder of Philadelphia carefully planned the placement of city streets as early as 1681, it was not until 1762 that the city assumed responsibility for paving.

Quaker School Site

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

In schools like the one that stood here in the 1700s, Quaker teachers educated all children and servants -- male and female, black and white.
Although Quaker influence over city and state politics declined steadily in the 18th century, their influence in education remained significant.

Robert Morris (1734 - 1806)

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Robert Morris risked his life, wealth, and reputation to help create the United States of America. A patriot, he signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and U.S. Constitution.
An immigrant orphaned at 16, Robert Morris became a partner in a leading Philadelphia mercantile firm, the Willing & Morris Company, by the age of 22. The company traded throughout Europe, America, and the West Indies. Like many merchants, their cargo included grain, animal hides, and enslaved Americans.
During the Revolutionary War, Morris used his genius for finance and his maritime trading connections to secure vital funds and supplies for the Continental Army.
As Superintendent of Finance (1781-1784), Morris rescued the new nation from financial ruin. He stabilized the economy by creating the first national bank, a model for our modern banking system. As one of the first U.S. senators from Pennsylvania (1789-1795), Morris was instrumental in making Philadelphia the temporary capital during the construction of Washington, D.C.
One of the wealthiest men in America, Morris speculated heavily in land. Overextended, he fell into bankruptcy and spent three years in debtors' prison. Robert Morris lived modestly until his death in 1806, while the new nation he did so much to create prospered and grew.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

After serving as a military engineer during the American Revolution, he later led an uprising in his native Poland. Exiled, the General resided in this house from November, 1797, to May, 1798.

The Home of John Penn

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

On this site was the home 1766-1771 of John Penn 1726 - 1795, last colonial governor of Pennsylvania, son of Richard Penn and grandson of William Penn, the founder. Also the home 1771 - 1810 of Benjamin Chew 1722 - 1810, last colonial Chief Justice of Pennsylvania.

The Home of Juan de Miralles

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

On this site stood the home, 1778 - 1780, of Juan de Miralles (1715 - 1780) the first Spanish diplomatic representative to the United States of America. He died April 28, 1780, while visiting General George Washington at his Morristown headquarters. The same home became the residence of his successor, Francisco Rondón, who lent it to General Washington for the winter of 1781 - 1782.

Through these officials Spanish military and financial assistance was channeled to the American Patriot.

The Philadelphia Contributionship

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Oldest fire insurance company in America. Founded in 1752 by Benjamin Franklin and his friends.

Thomas Bond House

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

In 1769, when Dr. Thomas Bond built this house and rented it to his son and namesake, the elder Bond was already a prominent Philadelphia physician and civic leader. Along with Benjamin Franklin, he helped to found the Pennsylvania Hospital and the American Philosophical Society.

Restored on the exterior to its 19th century appearance, this house now serves as a bed and breakfast inn.

Washington Square

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Washington Square (6.4 acres) is one of the original five squares laid out by William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme in the plan for the city of Philadelphia in 1682. First designated as Southeast Square, it was renamed Washington Square in 1825 in honor of America's most illustrious Revolutionary War General and First President of the United States, General George Washington.
During the American Revolution, Washington Square served as a burial ground for over 2,000 Continental soldiers and British prisoners. It has remained an open space public parkland since 1816 as have three of the other original squares - Franklin, Logan and Rittenhouse. Center Square, at Broad and Market Streets, is now the site of Philadelphia's landmark City Hall.
Park Rules
No dogs, bicycles or alcoholic beverages are permitted in the Square. Your cooperation in helping protect and maintain this historic area is requested and appreciated

Community Histories



Before Philadelphia was founded, the area was inhabited by the Lenape (Delaware) Indians. The village of Nitapèkunk, "Place that is easy to get to," was located in today's Fairmount Park area. The villages of Pèmikpeka, "Where the water flows," and Shackamaxon were located on the Delaware River.

European colonization of the Delaware River Valley (called the Zuyd, meaning "South" River, or Lënapei Sipu at the time) began in 1609 when a Dutch expedition led by Henry Hudson first entered the river in search of the Northwest Passage. The Valley, including the future location of Philadelphia, became part of the New Netherland claim of the Dutch and Dutch explorer Cornelius Jacobsen Mey (after whom Cape May, New Jersey is named) charted the shoals Delaware Bay in the 1620s. The Dutch built a fort on the west side of the bay at Swanendael.

In 1637, Swedish, Dutch and German stockholders formed the New Sweden Company to trade for furs and tobacco in North America. Under the command of Peter Minuit, the company's first expedition sailed from Sweden late in 1637 in two ships, Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Gri. Minuit had been the governor of the New Netherland from 1626 to 1631. Resenting his dismissal by the Dutch West India Company he had brought to the new project the knowledge that the Dutch colony had temporarily abandoned its efforts in the Delaware Valley to focus on the Hudson River valley to the north. (The Hudson was known to the Dutch as the Noort, or "North" river relative to "South" of the Delaware.) Minuit and his partners further knew that the Dutch view of colonies held that actual occupation was necessary to secure legal claim. The ships reached Delaware Bay in March 1638, and the settlers began to build a fort at the site of present-day Wilmington, Delaware. They named it Fort Christina, in honor of the twelve-year-old Queen Christina of Sweden. It was the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley. Part of this colony eventually included land on the west side of the Delaware River from just below the Schuylkill River.

Johan Björnsson Printz, who had been ennobled, was appointed to be the first royal governor of New Sweden, arriving in the colony on 15 February 1643. Under his ten-year rule, the administrative center of New Sweden was moved north to Tinicum Island (to the immediate SW of today's Philadelphia), where he built Fort New Gothenburg and his own manor house which he called the Printzhof.

The first English settlement occurred about 1642, when 50 Puritan families from the New Haven Colony in Connecticut, led by George Lamberton, tried to establish a theocracy at the mouth of the Schuylkill River. The New Haven Colony had earlier struck a deal with the Lenape to buy much of New Jersey south of present-day Trenton. The Dutch and Swedes in the area burned the English colonists' buildings. A Swedish court under Swedish Governor Johan Björnsson Printz convicted Lamberton of "trespassing, conspiring with the Indians." The Noffshoot ew Haven colony received no support. The Puritan Governor John Winthrop said it was dissolved owing to summer "sickness and mortality." The disaster contributed to New Haven's losing control of its area to the larger Connecticut Colony.

In 1644, New Sweden supported the Susquehannock in their victory in a war against the English Province of Maryland (led by General Harrison II). The Dutch never recognized the legitimacy of the Swedish claim and, in the late summer of 1655, Director-General Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam mustered a military expedition to the Delaware Valley to subdue the rogue colony. Though the colonists had to recognize the authority of New Netherland, the Dutch terms were tolerant. The Swedish and Finnish settlers continued to enjoy a much local autonomy, having their own militia, religion, court, and lands. This official status lasted until the English conquest of New Netherland in October 1664, and continued unofficially until the area was included in William Penn's charter for Pennsylvania in 1682. By 1682 the area of modern Philadelphia was inhabited by about fifty Europeans, mostly subsistence farmers.

In 1681, as part of a repayment of a debt, Charles II of England granted William Penn a charter for what would become the Pennsylvania colony. Shortly after receiving the charter, Penn said he would lay out "a large Towne or Citty in the most Convenient place upon the Delaware River for health & Navigation." Penn wanted the city to live peacefully in the area, without a fortress or walls, so he bought the land from the Lenape. The legend is that Penn made a treaty of friendship with Lenape chief Tammany under an elm tree at Shackamaxon, in what became the city's Kensington District.

Penn envisioned a city where all people regardless of religion could worship freely and live together. Being a Quaker, Penn had experienced religious persecution. He also planned that the city's streets would be set up in a grid, with the idea that the city would be more like the rural towns of England than its crowded cities. The homes would be spread far apart and surrounded by gardens and orchards. The city granted the first purchasers land along the Delaware River for their homes. It had access to the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean, and became an important port in the Thirteen Colonies. He named the city Philadelphia (philos, "love" or "friendship", and adelphos, "brother"); it was to have a commercial center for a market, state house, and other key buildings.

Penn sent three commissioners to supervise the settlement and to set aside 10,000 acres (40 km²) for the city. The commissioners bought land from Swedes at the settlement of Wicaco, and from there began to lay out the city toward the north. The area went about a mile along the Delaware River between modern South and Vine Streets. Penn arrived in Philadelphia in October 1682. He expanded the city west to the bank of the Schuylkill River, for a total of 1,200 acres (4.8 km²). Streets were laid out in a gridiron system. Except for the two widest streets, High (now Market) and Broad, the streets were named after prominent landowners who owned adjacent lots. The streets were renamed in 1684; the ones running east-west were named after local trees and the north-south streets were numbered. Within the area, four squares (now named Rittenhouse, Logan, Washington and Franklin) were set aside as parks open for everyone. Penn designed a central square at the intersection of Broad and what is now Market Street to be surrounded by public buildings.

Some of the first settlers lived in caves dug out of the river bank, but the city grew with construction of homes, churches, and wharves. The new landowners did not share Penn's vision of a non-congested city. Most people bought land along the Delaware River instead of spreading westward towards the Schuylkill. The lots they bought were subdivided and resold with smaller streets constructed between them. Before 1704, few people lived west of Fourth Street.

Philadelphia grew from a few hundred inhabitants in 1683 to over 2,500 in 1701. The population was mostly English, Welsh, Irish, Germans, Swedes, Finns, Dutch, and African slaves. Before William Penn left Philadelphia for the last time on October 25, 1701 he issued the Charter of 1701. The charter established Philadelphia as a city and gave the mayor, aldermen, and councilmen the authority to issue laws and ordinances and regulate markets and fairs. The first known Jewish resident of Philadelphia was Jonas Aaron, a German who moved to the city in 1703. He is mentioned in an article entitled "A Philadelphia Business Directory of 1703," by Charles H. Browning. It was published in The American Historical Register, in April, 1895.

Philadelphia became an important trading center and major port. Initially the city's main source of trade was with the West Indies, which had established sugar cane plantations. It was part of the Triangle Trade, associated with Africa and the British Isles. During Queen Anne's War (1702 and 1713) with the French, trade was cut off to the West Indies, hurting Philadelphia financially. The end of the war brought brief prosperity to all of the British territories, but a depression in the 1720s stunted Philadelphia's growth. The 1720s and '30s saw immigration from mostly Germany and northern Ireland to Philadelphia and the surrounding countryside. The region was developed for agriculture and Philadelphia exported grains, lumber products and flax seeds to Europe and elsewhere in the American colonies; this pulled the city out of the depression. Philadelphia's pledge of religious tolerance attracted many other religions beside Quakers. Mennonites, Pietists, Anglicans, Catholics, and Jews moved to the city and soon outnumbered the Quakers, but they continued to be powerful economically and politically. Political tensions existed between and within the religious groups, which also had national connections. Riots in 1741 and 1742 took place over high bread prices and drunken sailors. In October 1742 and the "Bloody Election" riots, sailors attacked Quakers and pacifist Germans, whose peace politics were strained by the War of Jenkins' Ear. The city was plagued by pickpockets and other petty criminals. Working in the city government had such a poor reputation that fines were imposed on citizens who refused to serve an office after being chosen. One man fled Philadelphia to avoid serving as mayor.

In the first half the 18th century, like other American cities, Philadelphia was dirty, with garbage and animals littering the streets. The roads were unpaved and in rainy seasons impassable. Early attempts to improve quality of life were ineffective as laws were poorly enforced. By the 1750s, Philadelphia was turning into a major city. Christ Church and the Pennsylvania State House, better known as Independence Hall, were built. Streets were paved and illuminated with gas lights. Philadelphia's first newspaper, Andrew Bradford's American Weekly Mercury, began publishing on December 22, 1719.

The city also developed culturally and scientifically. Schools, libraries and theaters were founded. James Logan arrived in Philadelphia in 1701 as a secretary for William Penn. He was the first to help establish Philadelphia as a place of culture and learning. Logan, who was the mayor of Philadelphia in the early 1720s, created one of the largest libraries in the colonies. He also helped guide other prominent Philadelphia residents, which included botanist John Bartram and Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia in October 1723 and would play a large part in the city's development. To help protect the city from fire, Franklin founded the Union Fire Company. In the 1750s Franklin was named one of the city's post master generals and he established postal routes between Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and elsewhere. He helped raise money to build the American colonies' first hospital, which opened in 1752. That same year the College of Philadelphia, another project of Franklin's, received its charter of incorporation. Threatened by French and Spanish privateers, Franklin and others set up a volunteer group for defense and built two batteries. When the French and Indian War began in 1754 as part of the Seven Years' War, Franklin recruited militias. During the war, the city attracted many refugees from the western frontier. When Pontiac's Rebellion occurred in 1763, refugees again fled into the city, including a group of Lenape hiding from other Native Americans, angry at their pacifism, and white frontiersmen. The Paxton Boys tried to follow them into Philadelphia for attacks, but was prevented by the city's militia and Franklin, who convinced them to leave.

In the 1760s the British Parliament's passage of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, combined with other frustrations, increased political tension and anger against England in the colonies. Philadelphia residents joined boycotts of British goods. After the Tea Act in 1773, there were threats against anyone who would store tea and any ships that brought tea up the Delaware. After the Boston Tea Party, a shipment of tea had arrived in December, on the ship the Polly. A committee told the captain to depart without unloading his cargo. A series of acts in 1774 further angered the colonies; activists called for a general congress and they agreed to meet in Philadelphia. The First Continental Congress was held in September in Carpenters' Hall. After the American Revolutionary War began in April 1775 following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress met in May at the Pennsylvania State House. There they also met a year later to write and sign the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. Philadelphia was important to the war effort; Robert Morris said, "You will consider Philadelphia, from its centrical situation, the extent of its commerce, the number of its artificers, manufactures and other circumstances, to be to the United States what the heart is to the human body in circulating the blood."

The port city was vulnerable to attack by the British by sea. Officials recruited soldiers and studied defenses for invasion from Delaware Bay, but built no forts or other installations. In March 1776 two British frigates began a blockade of the mouth of Delaware Bay; British soldiers were moving south through New Jersey from New York. In December fear of invasion caused half the population to flee the city, including the Continental Congress, which moved to Baltimore. General George Washington pushed back the British advance at the battles of Princeton and Trenton, and the refugees and Congress returned. In September 1777 the British invaded Philadelphia from the south. Washington intercepted them at the Battle of Brandywine but was driven back. Thousands fled north into Pennsylvania and east into New Jersey; Congress moved to Lancaster then to York. British troops marched into the half-empty Philadelphia on September 23 to cheering Loyalist crowds.

The occupation lasted ten months. After the French entered the war on the side of the Continentals, the last British troops pulled out of Philadelphia on June 18, 1778 to help defend New York City. Continentals arrived the same day and reoccupied the city supervised by Major General Benedict Arnold, who had been appointed the city's military commander. The city government returned a week later, and the Continental Congress returned in early July. Philadelphia suffered serious inflation, causing problems especially for the poor, who were unable to buy needed goods. This led to unrest in 1779, with people blaming the upper class and Loyalists. A riot in January by sailors striking for higher wages ended up with their attacking and dismantling ships. In the Fort Wilson Riot of October 4, men attacked James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was accused of being a Loyalist sympathizer. Soldiers broke up the riot, but five people died and seventeen were injured.

Following the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, the United States Congress moved out of Philadelphia and settled in New York City, designated as the temporary capital. Besides the Constitutional Convention in May 1787, United States politics was no longer centered in Philadelphia. Due to political compromise, Congress chose a permanent capital to be built along the Potomac River. Philadelphia was selected as the temporary United States capital for ten years starting in 1790. Congress occupied the Philadelphia County Courthouse, which became known as Congress Hall, and the Supreme Court worked at City Hall. Robert Morris donated his home at 6th and Market Street as the residence for President Washington, or the President's House (Philadelphia).

After 1787 the city's economy grew rapidly in the postwar years. Serious yellow fever outbreaks in the 1790s interrupted development. Benjamin Rush identified an outbreak in August 1793 as a yellow fever epidemic, the first in 30 years, which lasted four months. Two thousand refugees from Saint-Domingue had recently arrived in the city in flight from the slave revolution. They represented five percent of the city's total population. They likely carried the disease from the island where it was endemic, and it was rapidly transmitted by mosquito bites to other residents (this was not understood at the time). Fear of contracting the disease caused 20,000 residents to flee the city by mid-September, and some neighboring towns prohibited their entry. Trade virtually stopped; Baltimore and New York quarantined people and goods from Philadelphia. People feared entering the city or interacting with its residents. The fever finally abated at the end of October with the onset of colder weather and was declared at an end by mid-November. The death toll is believed to be 4,000 to 5,000, about a tenth of the population. Yellow fever outbreaks recurred in Philadelphia and other major ports through the nineteenth century, but none had as many fatalities as that of 1793. The 1798 epidemic in Philadelphia also prompted an exodus; an estimated 1,292 residents died.

Some French colonial refugees had brought slaves with them from Saint-Domingue, but Pennsylvania had abolished slavery in 1780; after six months' residency in the state, slaves were to be freed. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society resisted refugee efforts to change the state law and, through 1796, 500 slaves from Saint-Domingue gained freedom in the city. Because of the violence accompanying the revolution on the island, people in the city (many of whom had southern ties) and the Upper South worried about the influence of such free people of color, fearing they would encourage slave insurrections in the US.

During the city's 10 years as federal capital, members of Congress were exempt from the abolition law, but the many slaveholders in the executive and judicial branches were not. President Washington, later vice-president Thomas Jefferson and others brought slaves as domestic servants, and evaded the law by regularly shifting their slaves out of the city before the 6-month deadline. Two of Washington's slaves escaped from the President's House (Philadelphia), and he gradually replaced his slaves with German immigrants who were indentured servants. The remains of the President's House (Philadelphia) were found during excavation for a new Liberty Bell Center, leading to archeological work in 2007. In 2010, a memorial on the site opened to commemorate Washington's slaves and African Americans in Philadelphia and US history, as well as to mark the house site.

The Pennsylvania state government left Philadelphia in 1799 and the United States government left in 1800. By this time, the city had become one of the United States' busiest ports and the country's largest city, with 67,787 people living in Philadelphia and its contiguous suburbs. Philadelphia's maritime trade was interrupted by the Embargo Act of 1807 and then the War of 1812. After the war, Philadelphia's shipping industry never returned to its pre-embargo status, and New York City succeeded it as the busiest port and largest city.

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