The Five Great Documents of the American Revolution

There are five documents that are revered in American history in association with the American Revolution: The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Treaty of Versailles (with France 6 February 1778), the Preliminary Articles of Peace (with Great Britain (signed in London 30 November 1782)) and the Peace of Paris (3 September 1783).…

Somersett Book Cover

Cast of Characters—Somersett

Benjamin Franklin:  American polymath, and the orchestrator of the American Revolution.  He was one of the most gifted politicians and philosophers of the 18th century Franklin’s inner circle: Thomas Pownall:  British bureaucrat absolutely dedicated to the promotion of the American colonies.  Once Governor of Massachusetts, Governor of South Carolina, Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, he…

What Was Eating Benjamin Franklin?

Benjamin Franklin looks at us from the one-hundred-dollar bill with that perpetual odd smirk.  Whether the bill, a portrait, a medal, a coin, or even inside a chamber pot in the court of Louis XVI[1], Franklin wore that perpetual smirk or grimace or toothache with stoic restraint.  So, the idea of an animated, furious, passionate…

Motivation for Somersett v. Steuart

The “Interlude” in the middle of Somersett relates the story inside the story of how the Somersett decision came about. Over the past 250 years, there has arisen quite a bit of speculation as to how this case was introduced into the British legal system, who was driving it, and who had a stake in the…

Benjamin Franklin and the Society of Friends

Many casual observers of the American colonial period are of a mind that Benjamin Franklin was born in Philadelphia. In actuality, he was born in Boston in 1706, and fled a harsh apprenticeship in printing (at the hands of his older brother James!) in 1723, settling in Philadelphia with forged release papers from his ongoing…

Juneteenth

Juneteenth Celebration

I won’t pretend to have a lot to add to this excellent overview by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and I would commend my readers to his website and his many lists linked on that site. The original celebration came about from the traditional story of the reading of General Order #3 on June 19, 1865, over two months after the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox Court House, sealing the conclusion of the Civil War. The reading took place in Galveston, Texas, and for many Blacks in the audience, it was the first they had heard of their manumission. Naturally the now-former Texas slave-owners were less than thrilled about compliance with this order, and the actual manumission of Texas slaves was haphazard over the ensuing months. But by June 19, 1866, it was resolved that this day would be commemorated henceforth, and indeed this was signed into Texas state law in 1979.

Philadelphia in Colonial Times

Philadelphia in the 18th century was one of the three largest cities in the colonies (along with Boston and New York), and thanks to one individual, was by far the most cosmopolitan of the three. By 1776 it would feature a university (the University of Pennsylvania, still there, still Ivy, still private despite the name), a medical college (the first in the colonies), a fire department (first), a post office (first), a lending library (first) and a school for indigent poor and slaves (first!).