Chapter 7 – The Shipbuilding Community of Southwark, 1788-1810: An Embattled Enclave


Introduction and Overview

            At the end of the eighteenth century, along with the infant republic and Philadelphia, briefly the national capital, the District of Southwark experienced searing political, economic, social, and pandemic changes. Within five years, the heady celebration of the new federal government deteriorated into ferocious, and in the streets of Philadelphia, violent political hostility. While for Philadelphia a straight descent into political hostility marked the years from 1794 to 1800, economically it experienced an uneven cycle of boom and bust. Its renewed prosperity began with the inception of Alexander Hamilton’s innovative fiscal program only to plunge into financial crises in 1791-1792 and 1797-1798. Imperiled by the collapse of Robert Morris’ financial empire, the loss of both the state and national capitals, and Jefferson’s punitive embargo, the economy of Philadelphia drifted into a period of economic malaise.

Politics engendered violence and economic decline threatened livelihoods, but neither politics nor economics matched the terrible deadliness of microscopic pathogens and the recurrent waves of Yellow Fever which struck Philadelphia from 1793 to 1798. In August 1793, as the contagion struck, the wealthy fled the city. The poor remained trapped and perished. On the riverfront, in the crowded courts and alleys of Kensington, Northern Liberties, and Southwark people died in greater numbers. For want of seamen and workers, ships lay idle in the harbor and shipyards stood deserted. By the middle of October, when the weather broke, an estimated 6000 had succumbed to the disease. And the fever returned in 1794, 1796, 1797, 1803, and 1805.[1]

This chapter focuses on the shipbuilding community of Southwark during that twenty-two year turbulent period from 1788 to 1810. It begins with a geographic definition of Southwark and a brief history of the district. In doing so it describes eastern portion of Southwark as an enclave. On three sides, but particularly to the west, new and poorer immigrant opposed to the staid federalism of the shipping and shipbuilding community threatened the older settled part of the district. From this point, it continues as a socio-economic examination of the community of Southwark as its inhabitants experienced and reacted to these cataclysmic changes. In doing so, it unfolds on several contextual levels. First, it engages the arguments of several writers, both contemporary and recent: Matthew Cary, Gary Nash, Billy G. Smith and Ronald Schultz, who have examined the social and economic conditions of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Southwark and who have found economic degradation, social stratification, and “stability of status” or social and economic stagnation. Next, since the shipyards, wharves, ropewalks and sail lofts of the waterfront employed a large number of Black laborers, this chapter investigates the issue of race in this community of both skilled and unskilled workers. Finally, this work asks several broad questions. How do people perceive and react to such tumultuous and potentially destructive changes? What strategies do people adopt, successful or not, to cope with unforeseen political, social, economic changes? Do they see these changes as opportunity or disaster?[2]

From the Beginning


In October 1682, when William Penn finally arrived in his new colony, he encountered an already established population from several European nations, including earlier English arrivals. Of the Europeans, the Swedes and Finns settled earliest, beginning in 1641. Although never large in numbers (a 1693 census enumerated 942 persons), the roving Swedes spread northward from the mouth of the Delaware Bay to the falls of the Delaware River at what is today Trenton, New Jersey. Seemingly drawn by any trickle of running water, the wanderlust Swedes penetrated inland, ascending both the Delaware and Schuykill rivers and settling along the numerous streams and creeks that flowed into either watercourse.[3]

In 1671 four Swedes: Sven Gunderson and his three sons: Sven, Oele, and Andres Svenson received a patent from the English governor, Francis Lovelace for 800 acres (later expanded to 1125 acres) of land on the Delaware River at Moyamensing Kill. This patent, in what is now the southern portion of the city of Philadelphia, marked the origin of the Swedish settlement at Wicaco (also spelled Wiccaco or Wiccacoe). Four years later another English governor, the much maligned Edmund Andros, granted permission for the construction of a SwedishLutheranChurch at Wicaco. This church, still in existence as Gloria Dei, served families on both sides of the Delaware from Tinicum (later Upland and Chester) to the falls at Trenton. By the end of the seventeenth century 95 households, including 529 “Souls” belonged to this far-flung congregation. But, as the eighteenth century began, changes appeared. Some Swedes anglicized their names. Christopher Swanson was the son of Sven Svenson. Lassie Cocks became Lawrence Cox, and Andres Bengtsson, who later served in the Pennsylvania Assembly, became Andrew Bankson Sr. An Englishman, Robert Longshore married a daughter of one of the original settlers, Swan Boon, and joined the congregation of the Swedish church. In 1701 Edward Shippen, the progenitor of the Shippen mercantile family, purchased 200 acres from the Swanson family. Soon other English names, Wharton and Penrose, appeared in Wicaco and joint Swedish-English services were held in the church.[4]

As the rest of Philadelphia, Wicaco grew slowly, but almost steadily during the first four decades of the eighteenth century; by 1749 the population of Wicaco had reached 595. But over the next two decades, Wicaco, Philadelphia, and the rest of Pennsylvania experienced a surge in population and a burst of prosperity. In recognition of these, the Pennsylvania Assembly conceded to geopolitical alterations. Outside of Philadelphia, the assembly created several new counties. Within the County of Philadelphia, several self-governing districts joined the original corporately chartered City of Philadelphia.

Of this myriad alterations, Wicaco changed most profoundly. The semi-rural settlement of Wicaco became the District of Southwark. The new name, Southwark, recognized the similarity between this community on the Delaware River and the ancient shipbuilding community on the ThamesRiver in London. The March 26, 1762 Act of the Assembly imposed Englishness on the originally Swedish community. Nine annually elected officials: three surveyors, three supervisors, and three assessors governed the district. Paved streets that continued the city’s north-south streets intersected with the original east-west streets (Queen, Catherine, and Christian) at right angles to continue Thomas Holmes’ grid. “Nuisances” committed within the district fell within the aegis of county law. And finally, the inhabitants of the new district of Southwark felt the yoke of English taxation: 3 pence per pound of evaluation, collected quarterly, on property both real and personal.[5]

With Philadelphia, Southwark survived the Revolutionary War occupation by the British Army. With Philadelphia, Southwark proudly celebrated the new federal constitution, as Southwark shipbuilders led the escort for the ship Union through the streets of Philadelphia. With Philadelphia, the people of Southwark experienced the political tumult, social upheaval, and disease malignancy of the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first decade of the nineteenth century, but in Southwark these forces interacted with fierce intensity. The waves of Yellow Fever that ravaged Philadelphia were especially murderous on the wharves and in the shipyards, crowded warrens, alleys, and courts of waterfront Southwark. The “Broadside Bill of Mortality,” which enumerated Yellow Fever-caused fatalities, listed two churches: Gloria Dei, the “Swedes” church in the heart of Southwark and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic, just outside the northern boundary of Southwark. In both churches baptisms declined and burials increased. Only The Friends (383) and the German Lutherans (658), located in the other waterfront community, Northern Liberties, exceeded the 278 burials at St. Mary’s that began in August 1793.[6]

As with disease mortality, so also with political violence,  Partisan animosity enflamed the already tense city. In Southwark a special ingredient, “Wild Irishmen,” provided combustion to an already flammable mix. Between 1783 and 1819 an estimated 300,000 refugees emigrated to America from the British Isles. This rate of immigration had receded to a trickle during the Revolution, but it reached flood tide in the 1790s, when perhaps as many as 60,000 people arrived in the United States. Two factors, push and pull, generally explain American emigration: downtrodden and oppressed people, who fled political, religious, and social upheaval and economic distress, were pulled to America by the promise of freedom, toleration, acceptance, and opportunity. But in the 1790s another factor entered the equation. The failure and suppression of the ill-fated United Irish Uprising in 1797 drove exiles, either voluntarily or forcibly, to America in search of haven.[7]

Exiled, politically radicalized Irishmen poured into Philadelphia. Being poor they settled into poorer, laboring and artisanal districts along and behind the waterfront, Northern Liberties and Southwark. Being both  poor and victims of British repression, these émigrés flocked to the nascent Republican Party. Among these recent arrivals were several polemicists and publishers, William Duane, Matthew Carey, Dr. Joseph Priestly, and the vitriolic James Thomas Callender; these became the penmen of the Republican Party.[8]

This onslaught of radical, Republican Irishmen overwhelmed the staid Federalist community of Southwark. In the 1796 congressional election a moderate Federalist, John Swanwick, and the Republican, Southwark merchant, Blair McClenachan, trounced the Federalist incumbent, Robert Waln. In Southwark, McClenachan received 340 votes to Waln’s 81. But the Federalist-controlled Pennsylvania judiciary invalidated the victory of Southwark publican, Israel Israel in the 1797 Pennsylvania Assembly election. The court ruled, probably correctly, that non-citizen Irishmen had illegally voted for Israel.[9]

Violence ensued and violence begat violence. On April 6, 1797 the caustic Benjamin Franklin Bache, the editor of the anti-Federalist Aurora, visited the Southwark shipyard of the Federalist naval constructor Joshua Humphreys. In print Bache had accused Humphreys of accepting Federalist bribes and perhaps came hoping to incite trouble. If so, he got more than he bargained for. Bache received a thrashing at the hands of Humphreys’ younger son Clement. Injured but provided with ammunition, Bache described the incident as “the cowardly assassination.” William Duane, Bache’s successor as editor of the Aurora, attracted conflict as magnets draw iron filings. In 1798 a mob of irate worshippers attacked William Duane and Dr. James Reynolds, another United Irish exile, outside St. Mary’s church. Duane, Reynolds, and two other unidentified Irishmen were collecting signatures on a petition to repeal the despised Alien Act. The following year, Federalist officers of the Pennsylvania militia dragged Duane from his office and beat him severely. Duane had criticized their conduct during the suppression of  John Fries’ so-called rebellion.[10]

Within Southwark, the combination of anti-British immigrant Irish and laboring poor Republicans overwhelmed the heretofore dominant Federalists. The office of the commissioners of the district changed hands; Federalists disappeared and Republicans took their place. Richard Tittermary, ropewalk owner, was elected president of the commission. He was joined as majority of two by William Penrose, a sea captain recently released from captivity in Algiers and a Republican member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Expenditures for paving streets and installing public pumps (a critical issue during the outbreaks of Yellow Fever) shifted westward into streets inhabited by newly arrived Republicans. And the oftbeaten William Duane received remuneration for his bruises, a lucrative contract for printing the Southwark public papers.[11]


An Embattled Enclave


            Some historians use the term “marginal” as a label for the less powerful and the less economically successful members of society, especially artisans and laborers. Donna Merwick uses the term “marginal” in another sense. She describes the earliest settlers of New Amsterdam as dwelling on the marge. In the aptly-named Netherlands, the marge was the almost imperceptible transition zone where inhabitants of an artificially created, perpetually wet land mass faced towards the sea, the source of their wealth and livelihood.[12]

In this meaning of the word, the people of the shipbuilding community of Southwark were marginal. Unlike other citizens of the early American republic who looked inward and westward, the inhabitants of Southwark looked eastward towards the Delaware River and outwards towards the Atlantic Ocean. These life-giving bodies of water bore the livelihood of these shipbuilders. Thomas Doerflinger calculates that during the late eighteenth century 700 major ships ascended the Delaware River each year. If we factor in the lesser vessels that carried riverine and intercoastal trade, the number certainly triples. With a calculating eye, the shipyard laborers viewed these craft on their way to the great mercantile docks as potential work. A nautical man could easily see a ship whose masts, riggings and hulls that had been battered by the relentless forces of wind and water and then transform that damage into days of work and money in pocket.[13]

The enclave of Southwark began then along the banks of the Delaware River in a marginal tidal flat where water covered a portion of an owner’s property at high tide. Along this geographically limited, one mile, seven city block stretch from Cedar St. (now South St.) to Prime St. (now Washington Ave.) sat most of the shipbuilding and ship outfitting establishments that were the economic heart of the community: the yards of lumber merchants Joseph Huddle and Rickloff Albertson, a former mastmaker turned merchant; the mast yards of William Cassedy, George Cooper, William Donaldson, Arthur Fullerton, Phillip McCracken, and John Turner; the boat building yards of John Duche´, Thomas Bickham, and Peter Merrit; the lesser shipyards of John Delavau and “Col.” Joseph Marsh; the wharf of wharfbuilder John Davis; the great shipbuilding yards of Thomas Penrose, Joshua Humphreys and Richard Dennis and Warwick Coats, and the new United States Naval Yard. Interspersed among these were private wharves of merchants great and small, public landings, and even some unimproved waterfront lots. (See: Figure 11.)

From the waterfront, the east-west streets: Almond, Shippen, Catherine, Queen and Prime intersected with the Delaware River Front Street. (now simply Front Street.). Beyond, in Philadelphia’s almost perfect grid-block layout, ran the Second Street from the Delaware River (now Second St. or in local parlance “Two Street”). Here and there alleys: Church Alley, Parham’s Alley, and Beck’s Alley, ran inward from the larger streets. Along these streets and alleys stood the homes, shops, and businesses of the people of Southwark, simple one story frame houses, more elaborate three story double brick homes, sheds, artisanal shops, taverns, boarding houses, and retail stores. (See: Figures: 12, 13, 14, and 15.) This limited geographical enclave encompassed the residential and commercial segment of the shipbuilding community of Southwark. Westward beyond Second St. was foreign alien land inhabited by troublesome newcomers.[14]

At its southern end, the geographical boundary of the District of Southwark included two diametrically opposed cultural artifacts: the church and the rope walks. The four great ropewalks, owned in the 1790s by Snowden & North, Joseph and Richard Tittermary, William Garwood, and John MacLeod (or McCloud), extended beyond the boundaries of the district, running diagonally as grid-defying thorofares: Moyamensing Road and Passyunk Road. Ropemaking, so vital to rigged sailing ships, required great elongated sheds, as large as 50 feet by 500 feet, covering four or five acres of land. In ropemaking, workers first twist and stretch five individual strands counter-clockwise into yarns. Then five or more yarns are twisted into rope or cable, some, especially anchor cable, as thick as a man’s arm. To twist the great lengths of rope required for a great sailing ship (one ship might require ten miles of rope and cable) workers had to drag and twist over great distances.[15]

Gloria Dei, Old Swede’s Church, or just the SwedishChurch, stood as a quiet spiritual anomaly by contrast to the busy commercial hustle and bustle of the adjacent shipyards and wharves. In 1675 Sven Svenson and other Swedish settlers had acquired a patent and seven acres from Governor Edmund Andros to found a Swedish Lutheran congregation. As late as 1763 the descendants of the original founders resolutely deeded property to the church. They expressed determination to assure the continuance of a Swedish Lutheran church. But a century had wrought great changes. By the end of the eighteenth century, church records contain the birth, marriage, and death of Swedes and non-Swedes alike.[16]


The Historians: Degradation, Social Stratification, Social Stability or Opportunity?

The Irish immigrant, essayist, and publisher, Matthew Carey, wandered the off-street courts and alleys of Southwark. He discovered poverty, degradation, misery, and despair. Visiting a room in a tenement in an alley off Shippen St., the street of the homes of some of the most prosperous ship’s captains and officers, Carey found “Abodes of wretchedness … no furniture … a miserable bed … a pair of ragged blankets,” and six families lodged in one house, “a hovel in a blind alley” Carey emphasized the poverty of women working as laundresses and seamstresses who earned seventy-five cents to a dollar per week and then had to pay fifty cents for the room in which their family, the wife, four children and a sickened husband dwelled. Carey tried to use his essay to promote the need for public charity. None was forthcoming.[17]

On the first glance, eighteenth century records support this picture of diminution, stagnation, stratification, impermanence, and even poverty that Carey and twentieth century historians have found. Joshua Humphreys’ Daybook (1791-1823), the initial data base for this study, listed, by name, 240 workers who labored in his yard between 1791 and 1794. Of the 240 listed workers, most, 138, appear in no other records, either public or private. They do not appear in the records of Gloria Dei Church, or the numerous city directories. They do not emerge from deed books, tax assessor’s ledgers, court records, records of wills and estates, or census returns. This singularity gives evidence to the instability traditionally associated with shipyard work. On this level, the available records seem to support Nash’s one-in-three assessment.[18]

Gary Nash, principally using the Philadelphia County Tax List for 1772, argues for wealth stratification. He calculated that only one-in-three shipcarpenters could purchase property. Although it is difficult to accurately enumerate the number of shipcarpenters living in Philadelphia, an analysis of the Philadelphia Deed Books from 1684 to 1763 identifies 83 shipwrights who had deeds recorded. A few of these recorded the purchase of a shipyard. A larger number reflected multiple property purchases, entrepreneurial investment in real estate. But most listed the purchase of a house or a house lot.[19]

By contrast with the relatively, buoyant, prosperous pre-revolutionary 1750s and 1760s, the Deed Books for the period from 1786 to 1805 present a gloomier picture of property acquisition for the shipbuilders of Southwark. Of the more than one thousand estimated deeds recorded for property transfers in Southwark between 1786 and 1805, only 108 involved shipcarpenters or shipbuilding related occupations (mastmakers, ropemakers, caulkers, shipjoiners, or boatbuilders). And most of these indentures involved either shipcarpenters divesting themselves of property or already wealthy landowners, Thomas Penrose or John Duche´ buying more or selling property which had been bought for speculation. For example, on August 24, 1793, the Deed Book registered James Owner’s, (shipwright) purchase of a house and lot from Uriah Woolman (brewer). For the 18 feet by 112 feet lot on the north side of Prime St., at the very southern edge of Southwark, and “a brick tenement,” Owner paid £ 250. But clearly, this purchase of property was an exception for the shipbuilders of Southwark.[20]

In examining the “Careers of Laboring Men” in Philadelphia between 1750 and 1800, Billy G. Smith has discovered stagnation, “stability of status,” and “limited opportunity.” He finds that: “slightly more than half the men remainded in the same assessment category during any period, only one in five acquired “moderate property,” and “two thirds of adult males in their most productive years remainded without status.” In addition to broad evidence from Deed Books and lists of workers, a survey of the tax assessor’s ledgers for Southwark from 1791 to 1808 presents ample evidence of “stability.”[21]

Robert Murphy, William Bills, Isaac Martin, and Richard Berriman all appear in the Tax Assessor’s Ledger for Southwark for 1800. Murphy and Martin fell into the lowest category. Neither shipcarpenter possessed any property, either as owner or renter. As a result, they paid the nearly lowest occupational-based tax assessment, thirty cents. No other records include either Murphy or Martin. They are not listed in city directories, and they are not enumerated in the Censuses of 1790, 1800, or 1810 as a head of household or with any readily identifiable household. Assumedly, they lived in one of the numerous boarding houses that dotted this maritime community.[22]

William Bills and Richard Berriman are slightly different examples of status stagnation. Richard Berriman (sometimes Berryman) was first recorded in the city trade directory in 1796. He lived in a rented home at 7 Mary St. (See: Figure 15.) The house was a modest one story, 16 feet by 18 feet frame dwelling. Records that show occupations variously label Berriman as either a shipcarpenter or a boatbuilder. Berriman appears in Joshua Humphreys’ Daybook only once. For the month of November in 1803, he worked a mere eight and a quarter days, at $2.12 per day, standard pay for skilled shipwrights. Surely, Berriman was one of a large number of shipcarpenters drifting from shipyard to shipyard or from shipowner’s wharf to boatbuilder’s yard as opportunity presented itself. As an itinerant, Berriman avoided appearances in records of permanence, such as the various censuses. Yet, he is listed in the Trade Directory of 1825, still dwelling on Mary St. Plainly, both a measure of stability and lack of advancement marked the career of Richard Berriman. His name does not appear in the Philadelphia Register Wills, so we have no idea of any estate which he may have left.[23]

We know even more of the career of William Bills. In 1788 William Bills worked in Joshua Humphreys’ shipyard at seven shillings a day, the standard rate of pay for shipcarpenters prior to the conversion to the new United States currency. By contrast with the itinerate Berriman, Bills labored continuously for Humphreys through 1803 when Humphreys’ Daybook ends. In 1790 a Southwark list, “the list of allowance”, included Bills’name. The list identified Bills as “poor” and charged him the lowest tax of one shilling. Through the 1790s Bills toiled for Humphreys, probably on ships for the new United States government, not on Humphreys’ commercial work. And throughout the 1790s the tax ledgers listed Bills, with Robert Murphy, Isaac Martin, and Richard Berriman, in the lowest tax category, paying only thirty cents tax. At some point, probably in the 1780s, young William Bills, the shipcarpenter, had married and started a family. The Census of 1800 found William Bills as the head of a household that included: one white male between sixteen and twenty-six, one white male forty-five or older, one white female between ten and sixteen, two white females between sixteen and twenty-six, and one white female forty or older. Through most of the 1790s the Bills family dwelled in the same house, a 16 feet by 16 feet frame house owned by the wharfbuilder John Davis. Yet, even though William Bills was relatively well paid, he acquired no real property, and apparently little personal property. William Bills lived a long life, but, for all that we know of him, we know nothing of the quality of his life. William Bills died intestate in 1819.[24]

We have sufficient evidence of “stability of status” or social stagnation within the shipbuilding community of Southwark, but how can we account for that social immobility? Were William Bills, Richard Berriman, Robert Murphy, and Isaac Martin practitioners of a geographically mobile occupation who were caught in the cyclic economy of Philadelphia at the end of the eighteenth century and the opening of the nineteenth century? Today, we value permanence and property and wealth acquisition and accumulation. Instead, had these men chosen an occupation that conferred artisanal status and respectable wages, but forced a choice between geographical mobility and a stable family life?

The historians, who have investigated the “laboring classes” of Philadelphia in this turbulent period and who have found stratification, stagnation and occupational insecurity that led to nascent class consciousness, have overlooked something important. Between 1790 and 1850, Philadelphians constructed 52,000 new homes. Unquestionably, Matthew Carey and contemporary historians are both correct. Some (most?) early nineteenth century laboring Philadelphians experienced grinding poverty and lived in wretched hovels, but, at the same time, many skilled artisans: shipcarpenters, tailors, cordwainer, and even non-skilled common laborers bought property and built homes. Ground Rents, a wonderous medieval vestige, transported to seventeenth century Philadelphia, made widespread home ownership possible.[25]

Think of ground rents as a small (the legal maximum was 6% of the value of the property at the time the deed of purchase was executed) but perpetual mortgage. When an original buyer bought a lot in Philadelphia, the purchase included a perpetual (or until ground rents were abolished in the 1830s) ground rent entitlement. The buyer owned the property absolutely, “fee simple,” as long as her or she paid the ground rent. Lacking commercial banks or other capitalistic havens, ground lords found ground rents a conservative but safe investment. Since they could be both sold or used as collateral to secure a loan, ground rents served as a handy tool of capitalistic entrepreneurialism.[26]

The advantages of ground rents to the ground lords are obvious; the advantages to the grantee, the purchaser, are less so. Since the agreement also required the purchaser to improve the property (usually within five years), it prompted construction. Even though the ground rent contract bound the purchaser perpetually, it allowed a buyer to invest any accumulated capital into immediate construction, rather than committing such capital to secure a mortgage. If the purchaser possessed the building skills of a shipcarpenter, he had a decided advantage.

Out of 999 assessed properties in Southwark in 1800, shipcarpenters or shipbuilding-related artisans owned 43 properties. Of course, among the greatest property owners, merchants, the owners of the shipyards, lumberyards, wharfs, ropewalks, and other businesses held eminence. William Clifton, the former blacksmith and current real estate speculator, now retained only one vacant lot, but he held $3,823.00 in annual ground rents and possessed one of the eighteenth century’s measure of personal wealth, six ounces of silver plate. Rickloff Albertson, the former mastmaker, now a lumber merchant and wharf-owner, owned $3,170.00 in assessed property. Joseph Huddle, another Southwark lumber merchant owned even more, $5,530.00. John Davis, the Southwark wharfbuilder who later constructed the wharves and docks for the United States Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., owned his own wharf and other properties totaling $900.00 in assessed value. Three shipyard proprietors held greater wealth, prime real estate along the river bank: “Col.” Joseph Marsh Sr., “one double two story frame shop and wharf – $2,140.00;” Thomas Penrose, son of Bartholomew Penrose, one of William Penn’s business partners, now a merchant and real estate trader – $23,910, and Joshua Humphreys, “one double two story brick house, kitchen, wash house, stable, saw shed and lott [sic] … wharf, mast yard and lott [sic]… two three story brick houses, old stone store, frame house, wharf lott[sic]… one vacant lot, 140 feet on Front St., 1 horse and one cow” – $7,140.00. Even the bankrupt, former shipyard owner, Benjamin Hutton, had managed to retain his home and some property valued at $2,020.00. Two ropewalk owners, one current and one retired, round out the list of most prosperous Southwark land owners. Richard Tittermary, now listed without occupation, held property assessed at $860.00 and John McLeod (McCloud), now the owner of Tittermary’s ropewalk – $2,200, as well as his own.[27]

In the middle, between the wealthiest members of the Southwark shipbuilding community and those who had remained stable but without noticeable advancement, existed a group of skilled shipbuilders who had avoided the financial and personal pitfalls of the 1790s and had prospered. Already-cited James Owner first appears in the Census of 1790 where he was enumerated as “white male over 16” in a household headed by a Thomas Webb. From April 1791 to September 1795, James Owner labored continually, if not continuously, in Joshua Humphreys’ shipyard. By 1798, James Owner, shipwright, had purchased a home at 33 Prime St., between Front St. and Water St., directly behind the land of Old Swede’s Church. Assessors valued the three story brick house with a separate frame kitchen and lot (18 feet by 112 feet) at $1,181.25. Owner had paid Uriah Woolman, brewer, £250 for the property. The Census of 1800 further identifies James Owner’s family. It included four children, two boys and two girls under ten years of age. In addition to James Owner and his wife, the household also included two older persons, a male and female, perhaps aged parents, both over forty-five (a James Owner had married a Lydia Potts in the Swedish Church in February 1759). Here the story ends. The 1808 Southwark tax ledger lists “James Owner’s Est. (estate)” and valued it at $450.00. No Owner household appears in Southwark in the 1810 Census. These bits and pieces gathered from public and private sources demonstrate that James Owner’s skills as a shipwright enabled him, however briefly, to acquire a substantial home and support a family. Property ownership seems age, life cycle related. Of the shipcarpenters who were also property owners, four had labored for Humphreys from 1792. [28]

Thomas Eastburn originally appeared in Humpheys’ Daybook merely listed as a name without occupation or wages, but, as James Owner, Eastburn acquired property. In July 1785, Thomas Eastburn, shipwright, and his wife, Rachel, purchased a lot from John Morrison, waterman. For the 30 feet by 100 feet lot that was originally part of the Swedish Church land, Eastburn paid £55. By 1791 Eastburn, a shipwright, a skilled builder, had constructed a small frame house on part of his property. The tax assessors valued the now improved house and lot at a mere £70. By 1800 Eastburn’s condition had improved. He now owned a two story brick house with a separate frame kitchen and another lot around the corner on Christian St. Assessors now valued the two properties at $380.00. For unknown reasons Thomas Eastburn’s household was not enumerated in the Census of 1800, so we know nothing of him and his family. But the records that we do possess support evidence of upward economic mobility. In his will, drawn in 1802, Eastburn left his wife, Rachel, a considerable estate valued at ₤450.2s.6d. Besides the dwelling, the estate included: furniture, a walnut dining table and twelve Windsor chairs, books, chests, crockery, bedding, pots, sets of silver spoons, other cookware, and ₤260 in cash.[29]

The stories of three other shipwrights: John Jones, Stephen Beasley, and Richard Thomas, replicate this pattern and add evidence to support the possibility of moderate prosperity for Southwark shipbuilders. Of the three, two, Richard Thomas and John Jones, appear in Joshua Humphreys’ Daybook during the chaotic 1790s, but all three shipwrights acquired property and started families.

By 1800 John Jones owned a single, two story brick house (value – $240.00) with an unusual appurtenance, a two story brick kitchen (value – $150.00). His family included: himself, a white male twenty-six to forty-five, one white female twenty-six to forty-five, assumedly his wife, and three children, all under the age of ten. For this young family John Jones had provided a home and perhaps a measure of ease and protection from a troubling world.[30]

Throughout the 1790s Stephen Beasley appeared in the Philadelphia directories. Between 1791 and 1796 he lived in different homes, all located on Swanson Street directly opposite the shipyards where he labored. By 1797 Beasley, perhaps the co-owner of the Beasley-Marsh shipyard, joined the ranks of property owning shipwrights. In 1800 he owned a “double two story brick home with kitchen and lott [sic].” Other buildings, a stable, saw shed, tool house, along with a horse and a cow attest to his wealth. One might hope that the family of the now-aged Stephen Beasley, a family that included four children ten to sixteen years of age, might have lived in a measure of ease, but, as with other families, then and now, tragedy struck. In 1807 Mary Beasley, Stephen’s wife, was institutionalized for mental illness.[31]

Humphrey’s Daybook first lists Richard Thomas in 1788. As other skilled shipwrights, he received 7 shillings a day. On May 27, 1792 Richard Thomas and Hannah Joice joined in holy wedlock in the SwedishChurch. The following year, 1793, one of the prosperous years in Philadelphia’s good-times-bad-times cycle, Thomas labored in Humphreys’ yard from January to October, nearly the normal seasonally-dependent shipyard year, and earned £77.7s.21d. By 1796, Richard and Hannah Thomas had joined the ranks of home-owning shipwright families. They owned a modest 14 feet by 13 feet, single, two story frame house, with kitchen and lot. Assessment valued the property at 378 So. Front St. at $260.00. By 1800, the Thomas family had grown: there were eight young Thomases between the ages of ten and twenty-six.[32]

Conclusively, we have sufficient evidence to prove that, even in the unsettled 1790s, the most skilled—7shilling/$2.12 per day —shipwrights earned enough to possess moderate wealth, to purchase homes, and to support families but what of the lesser skilled shipbuilding artisans, the sawyers and caulkers? Sawing and caulking are two of the integral processes involved in the construction of a wooden sailing ship. Sawing comes first; caulking comes after shipcarpenters attached the exterior planks to the rib-like frames. Both sawing and caulking are arduous, repetitive, labor-intensive tasks.[33]

Peter Gordon, caulker, appears throughout Humphreys’ daybooks from 1788 to 1803. His steadiest recorded period of employment was the month of November, 1803. In that month Gordon worked 24 1/2 days at $2.12, a rate equal to the most skilled shipwright. Gordon’s wages for the month totaled $65.06. If Peter Gordon was able to earn a similar income over his lengthy career, he had prospered. The 1791 tax assessment had listed Gordon as propertyless; he paid only a personal occupational tax of twenty-five cents, but by 1796 Peter Gordon had become a homeowner, a one story frame house, assessed at a modest $140.00. Peter Gordon had married Catherine Hodsey on Dec. 16, 1776. It had taken them twenty years to become homeowners. By 1800 the Gordon family included: a male and a female forty-five years of age or more (Presumably Peter and Catherine), one male child under ten, and two females (daughters?) twenty-six to forty- five. In a laboring career that lasted at least fifteen productive years, Peter Gordon had not amassed great wealth, but, hopefully, his skill and his labor had provided him and his family with a roof over their head, warmth against winter’s cold and bodily nourishment.[34]

Most of the amounts of payment rendered in Humphreys’ records reflect fairly modest monthly amounts. In November 1803, Peter Gordon had earned an unexceptional $65.06. One of the most prosperous Southwark shipwrights, John Delavau, earned similar amounts. Besides working in his own shipyard, on his own contracts, Delavau worked for Humphreys. From January to September 1803, Humphreys paid Delavau $216.00. By contrast to the amounts collected by Peter Gordon and John Delavau, the wages earned by George Black are startling. As a sawyer, “for timbering and treenails,” from April to June 1803 Black earned $522.73, from July to August of the same year – $608.53, and from September to November – $1,254.77. For the year, George Black grossed a whopping $3,389.00. Clearly, those wages represent the work of more than one person. We know that caulkers and sawyers frequently worked in gangs that moved from shipyard to shipyard as demand beckoned. A notation in “Prime’s Directory,” “Black, George, Co.” verifies this. Sawyers had to work in pairs, but they could work in gangs of three to five men, with the odd worker hauling the sawed timber. There is no direct evidence of the number in George Black’s gang of sawyers, but “Prime’s Directory” also identifies a Joseph Black, shipwright, as George Black’s neighbor. Yet, with all of his income, George Black never became a homeowner. He and his family of five lived in the same home on Front St., and he paid only a nominal personal tax – thirty-five cents.[35]

After shipwrights, sawyers, and caulkers had finished their tasks and shipcarpenters launched the completed hull, much work still remained before the vessel was sea-ready. While the ship was tied to a wharf, mast makers stepped the masts and spars, and riggers draped miles of rope and cable and acres of sails that gave the lifeless hulk life and motion.

Some mastmakers, such as John Turner and John Thompson, had their own company, Turner & Thompson, and their own mast yard and worked on contract with their neighboring shipyards or directly for merchant/shipowners with damaged ships in need of repair, but the 1791 Southwark tax assessment labels Philip McCracken simple as “laborer.”  Then, in 1796 it lists him with no occupation at all. However, “Prime’s Directory” identifies McCracken as a “mastmaker.” Whether “laborer” or“mastmaker” Joshua Humpreys’ records relegates McCracken among the lowest paid dollar-a-day workers. Despite this lower pay, even Philip McCracken, mastmaker, was able to afford a home. In Jan. 9, 1797 the Philadelphia Deed Book notes that Philip McCracken purchased, for £75, a home and lot from William Clifton, blacksmith and real estate entrepreneur. The 1796 tax assessment described the property, on the north side of Queen St. near Front St., as a double, two story frame house and lot, and assessors valued the property at $335.00. McCracken needed a double two story house. The Census of 1800 enumerates his family as: six children, three males and three females under ten, one male ten to sixteen, two males twenty-six, three females twenty-six to forty-five, and one male (McCracken?) forty-five plus.[36]

This study then presents substantial evidence that, in Philadelphia in the last decade of the eighteenth century, at least measured by homeownership, a whole range of ship construction workers, not just elite shipwrights attained some wealth. But the question remains what made this success possible for some but not for others? There are several answers.

In an elaborate analysis of wage rates in early national Philadelphia which focuses on shipbuilding workers, Donald Adams started with the obvious. He found that, even though the whole period was one of instability marked by rapid price inflation, the wages of the best paid workers, the wages of the elite $2.12 per day shipwrights, exceeded inflation and made prosperity achievable for them. But Adams’ analysis went beyond the elite shipwrights. Adams concludes that even lesser skilled and unskilled laborers could prosper, and that in cycles of prosperity (1793, 1801-1802, 1804-1806, and 1809-1811) they could actually gain on skilled labor. In explaining this apparent anomaly, Adams points to “transferability.”[37]

The sources that serve as the foundation for this study give numerous examples of the “transferability,” dual or bi-occupationalism that Adams posits. Sawing is sawing. Whether George Black, sawyer, sawed timber for Joshua Humphreys’ ships or sawed for Rickloff Albertson, lumber merchant, matters little. Laboring, carting slabs of timber or other materials, in a shipyard isn’t much different than laboring on house building or other manual tasks. Fine carpentry, joining done in the cabin for a ship’s captain used the same tools and techniques as used in the finish work of a merchant prince’s parlor or dining room. During colder months, when outside shipyard work slowed, skilled shipcarpenters could easily shift to interior carpentry. Of the numerous examples of bi-occupationalism, most represent simple transferal of wood working skills. George Bakewood, John Fox, John Weaver, William Preston, Joseph Ogleby (or Ogilby), Samuel Piles and the earlier-cited Richard Thomas, all carried their skills from sea to land, from ships to houses. Samuel Piles may have gone even further; some records also identify him as a “mariner.” But some shipcarpenters carried their bi-occupationalism in different directions. Samuel Brown, shipwright was also a schoolmaster. Richard Dennis, descendent of original Swedish settlers and shipyard co-owner with Warwick Coats, had seen the hand writing on the wall. Dennis, seeing the rapid expansion of Southwark westward from the river, had evolved from a shipwright to a lumber merchant. Several shipwrights, Thomas Larkum, William Art, and Joseph Rush, established themselves as shopkeepers or tavernkeepers.[38]

In 1788 William Art was a seven-shilling-a-day shipwright. By 1800 William Art had married Martha Condon, the widow of another shipwright, Samuel Condon. And the Art family, William, Martha, and four children, had leased a large three story dwelling on Second St. as their home and store. Art, now a businessman with an eye on location, along with fifteen neighbors, signed a petition asking the commissioners of the District of Southwark to dig Second Street to its regulation depth to provide adequate drainage to protect both property and potential customers.[39]

Thomas Larkum tried a different approach. By 1795 Thomas Larkum, “caulker” (and perhaps “mariner”) had become Thomas Larkum, “tavernowner.” For the rather large sum of £450, Larkum had purchased a two story brick house, kitchen, and tenement at a prime location on Front St., in the heart of the commercial and residential part of Southwark. He was the proprietor of a place to slake the thirst of parched shipyard workers, and then take home a pitcher of ale for the family dinner, or a place to get local news and gossip, or a room or a bed. The census of 1800 lists the resident’s of Larkum’s inn and tenement as including thirty white males, ages twenty-six to forty-five.[40]

With other shipcarpenters, John Petherbridge (also identified as “John Featherbridge”) pursued a dual career. He worked both as a ship carpenter and as a joiner in house construction. But Petherbridge went several steps beyond simple bi-occupationalism. Beginning in 1791, Petherbridge began buying lots. He bought his first lot, seventeen feet and seven inches by sixty-three feet and nine inches, on the east side of Second St. and the north side of Queen St., from Thomas Penrose, the shipyard owner and his probable employer. Three months later, Dec. 30, 1791, Petherbridge added another lot in the same location. Early the following year, Petherbridge, now identified as a “joiner,” bought two messuages or tenements, also on Second St. between Catherine and Queen Streets, from William Clifton. Clearly, Petherbridge intended to secure his financial future by building homes and either selling them or leasing them and collecting the ubiqutous ground rents. In 1794 he continued his acquisitions; he added another property (a lot or a building and a lot?) for £237.10s on the west side of Second St., “continuing beyond the city bounds.” Finally, in 1794, the Deed Book records one of the more unusual deeds. John Petherbrige and Jennifer, his wife, entered into a contract with a group of men. John Petherbridge, shipwright and joiner had become a church architect and builder. The trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church agreed to compensate Petherbridge for building the Ebenezer Episcopal Church on one of the lots that he had previously purchased from William Clifton.[41]

Is it possible to gauge the effectiveness of the bi-occupational strategy pursued by the shipbuilders of Southwark? Surely, for some the strategy proved successful. John Petherbridge, Richard Thomas, Joseph Ogleby and others became property owners and established families. If property ownership and familial stability are evidence of success and prosperity, especially in the troubled 1790s and early 1800s, then some inhabitants had attained those elusive dreams. But what of William Art, the petitioning shopkeeper? Here the outcome is more ominous.  The same 1800s records that announced Art’s mercantile venture end with the phrase, “William Art’ Est.… vacant lot,” and they identify his son, James Art as “mariner.” Had James Art turned his back on the ashes of his father’s dream and gone to sea? Perhaps, of them all, Thomas Larkum, former caulker, now tavern owner, had stumbled on the key to success. Among his taxable possessions listed in the assessor’s ledger for 1800 was a shuffle board valued at $50.00.[42]

With its successes or failures, multi-occupationalism had another dimension for the shipbuilding community of Southwark: families.  On July 4, 1788, when the shipcarpenters of the Port of Philadelphia marched in the Grand Federal Procession, they carried the tools of their trade and bore a banner which clearly stated their values. The banner announced neither freedom, liberty, nor a republic of law and order, nor any other lofty ideal.  It simply said, “By These We Support Our Families.” Sometimes families are a blessing or a burden or both. With family members we celebrate life’s victories and share our sorrows. In Southwark in the 1790s, families collectively shouldered burdens and made survival in difficult times possible.[43]

In some cases the familial bi-occupationalism appears straight forward. Moses Rowan was a shipjoiner, a shipwright, and a house carpenter. His son (brother?) and Queen St. neighbor, was James Rowan, a house carpenter. Together the Rowans could easily and seasonally slip from ship carpentry to house carpentry. But other cases are more complex.[44]

In Southwark, as in any early American community, certain families: Gamble, Coats, Davis, Garwood, Gilfrey-Goff, Shillingforth, Shingleton, and Turner, appear so numerously that they are impossible to untangle. The marriage records of Gloria Dei alone list more than twenty Gambles. The Deed Books records deed transactions, executed between 1785 and 1805, for four Gambles, including a Rev. John Gamble. William Gamble is the earliest member of one branch of the Gamble family to appear in public records. In 1795, the Philadelphia Deed Book lists his occupation as a mariner who had died intestate. The same deed also identifies William’s son, James, as a shipjoiner. Joshua Humphreys’ Daybook shows two other Gambles, another William and a John (Could the Rev. John be a shipjoiner?) on Humphrey’s payroll. Other records reveal William and John as sawyers who owned adjoining homes, in the center of shipbuilding Southwark, on the south side of Queen St. between Front St. and Swanson St. Since we know that sawyers worked in teams or pairs, we can easily imagine the Gamble brothers (or was it father and son?) teamed as the top sawyer and the less desirable bottom sawyer in a pit sawing tandem.[45]

Benjamin Hutton had been one of the great Southwark shipbuilders, but, as other Philadelphia businessmen in the 1790s, Hutton had fallen into debts that he could not meet. In a deed probably written in October 1792 (The date is obscure.), Hutton humbly admitted, “his circumstance has become embarrassed.” Yet, Hutton’s friends and Southwark neighbors rescued him from economic oblivion and possible debtor’s prison. John Nixon, merchant and former mastmaker, honored Hutton’s debts that allowed him to keep his home. Joshua Humphreys, a new comer who had apprenticed in the shipyard of James Penrose, Thomas Penrose’s brother, leased the shipyard of the fallen Hutton. It would be logical to assume a measure of resentment between the family of the degraded Hutton and the arriviste´ Humphreys, but records say differently. Two generation of shipwright Huttons: Benjamin Hutton Jr., Nathan Hutton, John Hutton and John Hutton Jr., all labored for Joshua Humphreys in the yard formerly owned by their father and grandfather.[46]

As Benjamin Hutton, William Garwood had once been a prosperous businessman. Garwood owned one of the four ropewalks clustered at the southern boundary of the District of Southwark and the adjoining District of Moyamensing. We have no knowledge of the dissolution of the Garwood enterprise. As late as 1792, the Deed Book notes William Garwood as a ropemaker who continued to purchase property. But, by 1795 both William Garwood and his wife, Margaret, had died, ending a marriage begun in 1743. Margaret’s will divided their property among their six children. Yet, even with the deaths of William and Margaret, the Garwood family remained a presence in Southwark’s shipbuilding community.[47]

For some reason of which we are not apprised, two sons of William Garwood, William Garwood Jr. and Joseph Garwood, turned their backs on their father’s ropeworks and turned towards the shipyards. If property ownership measures success, both Garwood brothers succeeded. With many others, William Garwood Jr. labored in Joshua Humphreys’ Yard over a long career from 1791 to 1803. By 1800, the now middle-aged William Garwood lived on Front St., almost adjacent to his deceased father’s ropewalk. The tax assessor valued the two story home at a middling $350.00. We know less of the younger brother. Joseph Garwood does not appear in Humphreys’ Day Book. “Prime’s Directory” merely identifies him as a shipcarpenter. By 1800 Joseph Garwood had slipped from the records, leaving behind his son, James, now a head of a household but simply labeled as a “laborer” and not as either a shipcarpenter or a ropewalker.[48]

John Turner and Thomas Thompson also operated a business collaterally related to shipbuilding. Together they owned the firm of Turner & Thompson, Mastmakers. John Turner, at least, had prospered. The 1796 tax ledger assessed his property at $2,575.00 and his personal occupation at $1.00, nearly the highest occupational assessment in the ledger. But John Turner and Thomas Thompson add an additional dimension. Both were devout members of the congregation of Gloria Dei Church. The burial plots of both families occupy a considerable portion of the church’s graveyard. Does it mean something if the two family’s plots are side by side, yet separated by a brick walkway?[49]

But even John Turner’s son, Jesse Turner, chose differently. Rather than following his father’s footsteps as a mastmaker, Jesse Turner became a shipwright in Joshua Humphreys’yard. In 1793 Jesse Turner married Margret Bush in Gloria Dei Church. By 1800 Jesse and Margret Turner lived in their own home and started a family that included three children under ten years of age. The 1800 tax assessment valued their two story frame dwelling at a meager $150.00.[50]

Sifted through so much accumulated data, a pattern emerges. The two neighbors and shipwrights, the older William Garwood Jr. and the younger Jesse Turner chose manual labor in Joshua Humphreys’ shipyard over positions in lucrative firms owned by their fathers. Why? Why did they make such a choice?

Among the records of Humphreys’ shipyard, Moses Cox’s employment begs explanation. From September to December 1803, Moses Cox worked nineteen days at eighty-seven cents per day, the lowest wages entered in Humphreys’ records, thirteen cents less than that of a common laborer.[51]

In what way does Moses Cox’s employment connect with the career choices of Jesse Turner, William Garwood Jr., and Benjamin Hutton’s sons and grandson? The census of 1800 enumerates the Widow Cox, the widow of a Southwark shopkeeper, Moses Cox, as the head of a household that includes herself, one older female, and four children. Unless her husband left her with a thriving business, and tax records indicate no such enterprise, the widow Cox and her family lived in striated circumstances. Moses Cox’s wage suggests that he was a child, her ten to sixteen year old son. Perhaps, his paltry wages provided fuel to fend off the cold of the coming winter, while the Widow Cox struggled to make ends meet.

The families of Southwark shared a perception. They perceived, whether valid or not, that employment in one of the shipyards, especially the great shipyards of Joshua Humphreys or Thomas Penrose, provided important things. It provided a young boy the chance to learn a profitable skill for his future and a meager income to help his family in hard times. On Jesse Turner, William Garwood Jr. and the several Huttons, the title “shipwright” conferred status. In the shipbuilding community of Southwark shipwrights, even more than mastmaker or ropemaker, held places of esteem.

Race in Southwark


Recent historical work has closely examined the issue of race in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Philadelphia. Gary Nash and Emma Lapsansky-Werner have found a considerable Black presence laboring and living in Philadelphia. Nash described a growing population of Free Black people, increasing from 1,805 in 1790 to 6,381 in 1800. Nash also discovered a brief period of interracial harmony that disappeared in the growing racial animosity of the 1830s. Lapansky-Werner focused her work on the Black community in the Cedar street (now South street) corridor that ran east and east on either side of the city of Philadelphia’s southern boundary with the adjoining district of Southwark. She also found a large measure of racial harmony in a community where both Black and White people, mostly lower paid workers, lived side by side. The shipbuilding community included a significant Black population, where Black and White craftsmen worked side by side.[52]

Joshua Humphreys’ shipyard records are race, gender, age, and, most often, task neutral. At best they provide names and wages earned for specific dates. The Day Book simply lists Frank Mitchel as an employee beginning in 1793. But, with information gathered from other records, the racial composition of the shipyards and the community of Southwark begin to unfold. The marriage records of Gloria Dei note that on Nov.12, 1793 Frank Mitchel “Free Black” married Ruth Vendine “Free Mulatto.” In “Prime’s Directory” Mitchel appears, under two different entries, as a shipcarpenter. In 1793 he lived at 12 Plumb St. and in 1799 at 384 So. Front St. No other records enumerate either Frank or Ruth Mitchel. They appear in neither deed books, nor census lists, nor tax ledgers.  Yet for his relative anonymity, Frank Mitchel labored for Joshua Humphreys longer than any other worker. He first appeared in August 1793 and continued until 1804. Most frequently, Frank Mitchel labored on the same ship with three White men: John Delavau, William Falkner, and Richard Thomas. With the exception of John Delavau who was always paid more, Mitchel, Falkner and Thomas were paid equally for their skill. They were among the cadre of highest paid, most skilled shipscarpenters, The structure of a great sailing ship is a commodious place. Workers do not necessarily work side by side, shoulder to shoulder. They may perform discrete task. But the installation of the great members of the ship’s structure, the knees and beams is a dangerous job that requires skill, cooperation and trust. What was the relationship between the Black man, Frank Mitchel and his White co-workers? Was there  an atmosphere of artisanal respect or did physical proximity enforce racial barriers?

Some records reveal other “Mitchels,” an unusually spelled surname. George Mitchel worked briefly in Joshua Humphreys’ shipyard. He earned $1.13 per day, the wages of a common, unskilled laborer. The 1796 tax ledger contains an assessment for an Archibald Mitchel. The records identify him as a shipwright. Although he owned no property, he was assessed at the personal rate of eighty cents, a relatively high rate. Archibald Mitchel also fails to appear in any other records. We have no racial identification for either George or Archibald Mitchel. Only their unusually-spelled last name and geographic location hint at a relationship with Frank Mitchel, “Free Black,” and a possible racial identity. But, for other shipyard workers of Southwark, we know more.[53]

Recently, other historians have more closely examined the role of Black men in maritime occupations. This work unmistakably reveals that Africans, African- Americans, and other Black men looked to the sea and saw choices: between relatively good wages at sea and the lesser wages and lesser occupations on land, between the authoritarian discipline and the chance of capture and re-enslavement on shipboard and, perhaps, the even harsher discipline of the plantation or workshop, between the dreadful living conditions and chance of violent death at sea and the chance of either dreadful living conditions and chance of either violent death or death from neglect or exploitation on land, or between the relative acceptance as an integral member of a ship’s crew and the constant degradation of the land.[54]

So far this study presents one instance, an inkling of racial acceptance, in that in some eighteenth and early nineteenth century documents racial identities are noted without comment. In studying cases other than Frank Mitchel, this study broadens the suggestion that some measure of occupational racial acceptance existed in the shipyards of Southwark in the 1790s.

At first view, the case of Benjamin Philips merely reiterates the pattern of other shipwrights employed in Humphreys’ yard. Originally, Philips appears in Humphreys’ Day Book as a seven-shillings-a-day shipwright. But, again, the marriage records add more. After noting the Feb. 28, 1782 wedding of Benjamin Philips and Cely Buchs, the records parenthetically added “negroes.” For at least the next eighteen years, Benjamin and Cely lived in Southwark, first amidst the shipbuilders on Swanson St. behind Swedes Church where they had been wed, and then, after 1798, in a home of their own on the South side of Almond St. between Front St. and Second St., somewhat removed from the busyness and contagion of the waterfront. This property, for which Philips paid and astounding $700.00, included a single, three story brick house with a two story kitchen and a two story frame shed. The Census of 1800 describes the large Philips’ family: two boys and two girls under ten, one girl ten to sixteen, three young men ten to twenty-six, two more men twenty-six to forty-five, one female twenty-six to forty-five (Cely?), one male forty-five or more, plus a servant.[55]

If this were the extent of our knowledge of Benjamin Philips, shipcarpenter, we might stereotype him as a member of the cohort of successful Southwark shipwrights. And, we might add some tentative conclusions about the lack of discriminatory racism in the extended maritime world of Philadelphia at the opening of the nineteenth century, but, fortunately, our picture of the Philips’ family is even more complete. Benjamin Philips left a will which resonates with fatherly pride and paternal love. Surely, since the will drawn in 1814 does not mention her, Cely Philips had died before her husband, but the document bestows a range of gifts upon surviving Philips’ children, married and unmarried. To daughter, Hannah, for “faithful and affectionate service” Philips granted “$500.00 and the service of my Black servant girl Patty, which I value at $60.00;” he also designated Hannah as the guardian of three minor children: Benjamin Jr., Thomas, and Angelina. However, Benjamin Philips reserved his most valued possessions for his minor son and namesake. Benjamin Jr. received “twenty volumes of the British encyclopedia, all my drafts, draft books, sweeps, and sweep books.” Being well aware of the tenuous legal status of African-Americans in early nineteenth century Philadelphia, the will named two White merchants, Samuel and Joseph Lewis, as executors of the estate. They were given the power to sell the unspecified real estate holdings and distribute the proceeds equally among the six children, including the two married daughters, Jane Gibson and Sarah Pierce.[56]

Benjamin Philips’ will reflects a multiple, pragmatic realism for African-Americans in Philadelphia in 1814. Discriminatory legal status required powerful White executors to protect the rights of Black women and Black male minors. For a young Black male, not yet of age, knowledge, both in encyclopedias and craft specific draft books, equaled opportunity. For all six children, wealth granted purchase and leverage in a hostile world where discrimination and oppression were the only certainties.

Of the thousands of deeds recorded in the Philadelphia Deed Books from the beginning in 1684 to 1805, few mention the transfer of property to servants, but a set of these drawn between 1774 and 1794 permits a deeper understanding of race relations in shipbuilding Southwark. In 1774 Charles Wharton, almost certainly the greatest landowner of Southwark and environs, granted a large parcel of land “unto each of his Negro women Jane & Hagar.” The indenture also states, “Whereas Jane intermarried with a certain John Johnson.” Several subsequent and complex deed book entries, one of which partitions the parcel and another which, apparently, resells some of the lot to other members of the Wharton family, add further details that attach these transactions to the shipbuilding enclave of Southwark. A 1794 indenture identifies Hagar (now spelled “Hagard”) as the wife of Nathaniel Jackson, shipcarpenter. City directories describe Nathaniel Jackson as a shipcarpenter living in Southwark on Catherine St., between Second and Third St. from 1794 to 1797, but none delineate his race. Whether Jackson, as his wife, Hagar, was Black, is unknown, and neither appears in tax or census records. However, Humphreys’ Day Book does list a “Jack Johnston” as a laborer, and other entries in Deed Books specifically label him as Black. But, again whether this “Jack Johnston” was the husband of Wharton’s Black servant, Jane, is not possible to state with certitude.[57]

Collectively, the cases of Frank Mitchel, Benjamin Philips, Nathaniel Jackson, and John Johnson (Jack Johnston?) grant a glimpse into race in the shipbuilding community of Southwark. Surely other African-Americans, of whom we have no record, labored in the shipyards, ropewalks, sail lofts, lumberyards, and shops of Southwark. Black, White and Mulatto men worked side by side. They and their families also lived as neighbors. For most of his shipbuilding career, Benjamin Philips lived as next door neighbor to Joshua Humphreys, John Delavau, Frank Mitchel, Richard Thomas, William Falkner, and John Turner in this tight-knit enclave facing the Delaware River. But can we know how they saw each other? Did working side by side engender a sense of shared tasks that transcended skin color, or did close physical proximity, in subtle ways, reinforce racial barriers? Did neighbors ravaged by recurring waves of Yellow Fever assuage grief and bury their dead as a commonality, or did sorrow foster anger as the living sought scapegoats to punish someone for tragic and unexplained losses? As much as we might wish, we have no way of answering these questions.


The Embargo of 1807


This is the Embargo that Tom Built

This is the Ruin that lay in the Embargo that Tom built

This is the people that eat the ruin that lay in the Embargo that Tom built

This is the Theory with a crumpled horn that tossed the philosopher that oppressed the people, that eat the ruin, that lay in the Embargo that Tom built

This is the Democrat all forlorn, that approves the theory with the crumpled horn that     tossed the philosopher that oppressed the people, that eat the ruin, that lay in the          Embargo that Tom built

This is the nation all tattered and torn, that married the Democrat all forlorn, that     approved the Theory with the crumpled horn, that tossed the philosopher that    oppressed the people, that eat the ruin that lay in the Embargo that Tom built.[58]

            There is no doubt of the effect of Thomas Jefferson’s ludicrous embargo policy and its enabling legislation on American export shipping and American seamen, but its consequences for the economy of Philadelphia and the community of Southwark are more conjectural. Numbers bluntly reveal the impact of the Embargo on American shipping. In 1807 American foreign-bound ships carried 1,116,241 tons of cargo. In the following year, 1808, after the passage of the Embargo Act and its enabling legislation by the Republican-controlled Congress, the total export tonnage halved to 539,749 tons. There is no comparable statistic to calculate the number of unemployed seamen, but contemporary sources resound with their destitution. A committee of concerned citizens, led by Manual Eyre, a former shipyard owner, now identified as a “gentleman,” asked for a special meeting of the city’s Chamber of Commerce to petition the city and state governments for succor. From neither the city nor the state, both now in Republican hands, came any relief for Philadelphia seamen.[59]

Yet, for the evident depredation and destitution of seamen, there is sufficient evidence that the effect of the Embargo on the economy of Philadelphia was less severe. Thomas Jefferson, as other politicians before and since, seriously underestimated the ingenious ability of American people to ignore and evade unpopular laws. In particular, Louis Sears argues that some Philadelphians prospered directly and indirectly from the Embargo. Philadelphia lawyers reaped a bonanza in fees for defending merchants against embargo seizures. Sears also contends that wealthy Philadelphians had already begun to withdraw from potentially profitable but risky overseas commerce and had started to invest in other less spectacular but more secure capitalistic enterprises. The Philadelphia Deed Books support Sears’ contention. New names of institutions associated with capitalistic finance: the Bank of North America, the Insurance Company of North America, the Phoenix Insurance Company, and even Nathaniel Sellers’ wire manufactory, appear in the deed books.[60]

The impact of the Embargo on Philadelphia shipbuilding is even more difficult to evaluate. Undoubtedly, Jefferson’s decision to drydock the infant United States Navy and to mothball the newly purchased, but never operational, U.S. Naval Yard in Southwark effected shipbuilding. But ships are still ships whether naval or commercial or foreign or American. They still need repair. Even as the Embargo settled on the port of Philadelphia, the Feb. 13, 1808 edition of the virulently anti-Republican United States Gazette reported the launch of a new 400 ton ship, “intended for the London trade.” One incident highlights the ambiguity of the effect of the Embargo on Southwark shipcarpenters. In June 1808, the Gazette reported that a French privateer, Le Confidence, “has been nearly rebuilt in one of our shipyards.” However, feelings ran high. Le Confidence had been an American privateer, The Snake in the Grass, which the French had captured and rechristened, and it now preyed on what little American shipping which had escaped the Embargo. Southwark shipcarpenters had completed repairs on the ship but “being a little too stimulated,” they had unhinged the ship’s rudder and unmasted the ship to keep her from taking “French leave” (slipping out of the harbor). Imagination invites us to see these “stimulated” but patriotic shipcarpenters undoing their own handiwork.[61]

It is difficulty to precisely account for the dissolution of the shipbuilding community of Southwark, Without doubt, Jefferson’s ill-conceived naval policy and the stillbirth of the U.S. Navy Yard had disastrous consequences for Southwark, but, perhaps, time, and not human manipulation or pathogenic disease, wrought the greatest change. By 1810 the great shipbuilder/shipyard owners who had dominated Southwark shipbuilding since its recovery following the end of the Revolutionary War were gone. Richard Dennis had died in 1799, and his partner Warwick Coats had been briefly admitted to PennsylvaniaHospital before his death in 1818. Both Thomas Penrose Sr., the son of William Penn’s partner in shipbuilding, Bartholomew Penrose, and Thomas Penrose Jr. were dead by 1794, and a long line of Philadelphia shipbuilders terminated. The surviving Penrose heir, Clement Biddle Penrose, styled himself a gentleman and resided in rural Frankford, distant from the family shipyards in Southwark. Joshua Humphreys lived until 1838, but he never recovered from the deaths of his younger son, Clement (lost at sea off of Batavia) and his wife, Mary, as well as his dismissal as U.S. Naval Contractor. Humphreys retired to his family land in Haverford. His last surviving letter morosely reflects on winter cold and drifting snows.[62]

As with the great, so also with the lesser, Moses Rowan, the bi-occupational house carpenter/shipcarpenter had died on Aug. 24, 1799. He bequeathed a twenty dollar gold piece to his “infant not yet named granddaughter.” Although his will was drawn in 1814, we have no date for Benjamin Philips’ death. Some other family names, Shillingforth, Shingleton, and Garwood, long associated with Southwark shipbuilding entirely vanish from the records. By 1810, others: James Owner, Joseph Marsh, Widow Eastburn, Stephen Beasley, Peter Gordon, and Thomas Larkum, all now existed simply noted as “estates.”[63]

Other shipwrights, recorded in the 1800 Census, do not appear in the 1810 Census. In a trade long marked by geographic mobility, many Atlantic coast shipwrights joined other Americans and went west, heading for the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley, and as far away as bustling New Orleans.[64]

But from the debris of the demise of the eighteenth century shipbuilding community, a new one arose. This one pointed towards the future, the nineteenth century. Time brings both change and continuity. The Tax Assessor’s Ledger for Southwark for 1808 contains the names of twenty-five shipwrights that had never before appeared in Southwark records. And old names reappeared as fathers were followed by their sons: Jeremiah Much – James Much, John Delavau – Isaac Delavau, Richard Dennis – Barney Dennis, Benjamin Hutton – Nathaniel Hutton, William Bills – William Bills Jr., and Warwick Coats – John Coats.[65]

By the middle of the nineteenth century American shipbuilding had undergone two revolutionary changes. First, steam power replaced sail, and then, metal replaced wood in hull construction. Three names, John Roach, William Vaughn, and George Cramp, the names of shipbuilders who pioneered these changes and whose shipyards dominated DelawareValley shipbuilding throughout the nineteenth century, first appear in the same records that delineate the passing of the old order. The future of Philadelphia shipbuilding, at least for the next century was secure.



This chapter has surveyed the shipbuilding community of Southwark over a twenty-two year period from 1788 to 1810.  The results reveal neither simple stability, stagnation, nor rampant prosperity. Instead this study finds a more complex picture of laboring men, the shipbuilders of Southwark, struggling under adverse conditions in which their political beliefs, their livelihood, and even their lives were constantly threatened. This study also unfolds some of the values that shaped their world and contoured the strategies, family networks and bi-occupationalism, which they employed, in order to survive. It also uncovers a community in which , however briefly, race mattered less than skill; a community in which people of Black, White and mixed race could live and work together. It ends starkly with the disappearance of this cadre of Southwark shipbuilders in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Whether political policy or simple passage of age wrought this dissolution is hard to discern. But, in the end, it points towards a brighter future. What Benjamin Philips, John Delavau, and Joshua Humphreys would think of urbanized, gentrified Southwark today, with its interstate highway, strip shopping malls, mega stores, and imminent casinos, we can only imagine.


In 1847, John W.S. Delavau founded a company in Philadelphia. That company still exists. Today it manufactures pharmaceuticals and food products. The current owners have no records or knowledge of the company’s origin. The surname, Delavau, is unusual. No other Delavau other than John Delavau, the master shipcarpenter, or his sons appear in late eighteenth or early nineteenth century Philadelphia records. The naming pattern in the Delavau family was not too unusual. John Delavau was the son of Isaac Delavau. John, in turn named his son, Isaac. Isaac, as his father, was a shipcarpenter who appeared in the records of Joshua Humphreys’ shipyard in August 1804, near the end of Humphreys’ career. If Isaac followed the family naming pattern, his son would be named John. Was John W.S. Delavau, entrepreneur, the grandson of the skilled shipwright?

Samuel Humphreys followed in his father’s footsteps. In 1834 the younger Humphreys held the position of chief naval constructor for the U.S. Navy. Samuel Humphreys now lived in Georgetown and had offices at the Washington Navy Yard. A letter dated July 18, 1834 and addressed to Mahlon Dickerson, the Secretary of the Navy referred to an experimental steam engine invented by Benjamin Philips of Philadelphia. Benjamin Philips Jr. had used his inheritance wisely. Two years later Humphreys received a letter from Philips. The letter reflected cordiality and friendship. Philips invited Humphreys to come to Mobile Alabama to enter into a partnership. (One wonders about the position of a Free Black craftsman and business owner in ante-bellum Alabama.) Humphreys politely declined, “I am too old….” Had a friendship formed in the streets and shipyards of Southwark endured for 40 years?

The very end of Joshua Humphreys Day Book contains a most curious set of entries. Frank Mitchel worked six of the last seven months of the year, a total of 125 days. He earned $283.96, more than twice as much as any Humphreys’ worker, even the great John Delavau, had ever earned. Why? Had Mitchel, whose name had not appeared in Humphreys’ records from more than two years, returned to help and old friend nearing the end of his career? Or was it the other way around? Had Frank Mitchel fallen on hard times and his grateful former employer responded to his need?

After this last entry, Frank Mitchel disappeared from all records, but not his progeny. Frank Mitchel’s son, George Mitchel also appeared in the 1804 records of Humphreys’ yard. During 1804 he labored a mere 34 and 3/4 days and earned $51.03. His daily wage was $1.62, a less-skilled novice just beginning his career. In 1844 George Mitchel still plied his trade. He was followed by his son, George Mitchell Jr. In (Now spelled with two “ls.”) In 1860 he was now described as the “late George Mitchel.” George Mitchell Jr. or George Mitchel Jr. was, in turn followed, by his son, George W. Mitchel. This fourth generation Mitchel continued to live in the same home as his father and grandfather at 6 Wharton St., within a mile of the site of Joshua Humphreys’ now defunct and forgotten shipyard, but he had changed occupations and was now listed simply as a carpenter. In 1900, George W. Mitchel was still listed in McElroy’s Philadelphia Directory. No Mitchel appeared in the 1905 or subsequent directory. But the Mitchel family represents a remarkable story of perservance over more than a century.


Notes of Chapter 7

            1In 1790 the District of Southwark along with several other semi-autonomous districts and the corporately chartered City of Philadelphia comprised the county of Philadelphia. After 1854 the city and districts were amalgamated and the city of Philadelphia and the county of Philadelphia became coterminous.

Russell F. Weigley, ed., Philadelphia: A 300—Year History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982), Chapter 5, The Federalist City, 1783-1800, 155-208; John C. Miller, The Federalist Era, 1789-1801 ( New York: Harper Bros., 1960), 99-120, 104-111. and 161-181; Steven Rosswurm, Arms, Country, and Class: The Philadelphia Militia and “Lower Sort” During the American Revolution, 1775-1783 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 205-222; Miller, Philadelphia, The Federalist,  20-37 and 52-55; Robert Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776-1790 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1942), 209; Manning J. Dauer, The Adams Federalists (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1953), 137-145 and 147-197; Michael Durey, Transatlantic Radicals and the Early American Republic (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1997), 227-250; David A. Wilson, United Irishmen, United States: Immigrant Radicals in the Early Republic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), 39-43 and 53-57. Wilson, especially, describes violent attacks on the radical publisher, William Duane, and his flogging by Federalist militia officers. Roland M. Baumann, “The Democratic Republicans of Philadelphia: The Origins, 1776-1790” Ph.D. Diss., Pennsylvania State Univ., 1970; Kenneth W, Keller, “Cultural Conflict in Early Politics”, PMHB, Vol.110  No. 4, 509-530; Kim T. Phillips, “William Duane, Revolutionary Editor,” Ph.D. Diss., University of California, Berkley, 1968, 44; Robert M. Johnstone Jr. Jefferson and the Presidency: Leadership in the Young Republic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 257-289; Burton Spivak, Jefferson’s English Crisis: Commerce, Embargo and the Republican Revolution (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979), 102-170, and Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 237-238; Ronald P. Schultz, The Republic of Labor: Philadelphia Artisans and the Politics of Class, 1730-1820 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), Chapt. 4, 103-138; Powell, Bring Out, 9-18, 47-63, 250, and 282. For a copy of the “Broadside Bill of Mortality” see: Weigley, ed., Philadelphia, 183. The original is in the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.


            [2]Gary B. Nash, Class and Society in Early America (Englewood Cliff: Prentice-Hall, 1970) 1-5; Gary B. Nash, “Social Developments,” in Colonial British America: Essays in the New History of the Early Modern Era, edited by Jack P. Greene and J.R. Pole (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1984), and 248; Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 321-324.

Gary Nash explores the correlation between social and economic change. Nash pioneered the use of previously unmined demographic primary sources: estate inventories and tax returns. In using these sources he found something less than a Golden Age; he found growing social stratification with a widening gap between rich and poor. Nash labeled this gap as an “asymmetrical wealth profile” where the top 10 percent of the population controlled 50 percent of the wealth and where 60 percent of the population was “proletariat”, who might labor for a daily wage, working 200 to 250 days per year. In shipbuilding he calculated that only one in three owned homes.

Nash’s work has set the benchmark for the social history of pre-revolutionary, urban America. He successfully challenged and overturned the older view that colonial America was a haven where the acquisition of wealth and Franklin-like social mobility were the norm. Instead, Nash found growing social stratification. However, his work on early Philadelphia shipbuilders seems flawed. His main source to determine homeownership by Philadelphia shipcarpenters is the 1772 tax assessment list, an unreliable source. A survey of the Philadelphia Deed Books reveals the names of shipcarpenters in Philadelphia in the 1770s who do not appear in tax records. Also, Nash identifies no shipwright by name and lumps an array of differences under the term “shipbuilder.” A few shipwrights, who also owned shipyards, acquired considerable wealth and property. One shipwright, James Parrock, executed thirty-three property transactions between 1720 and 1770. Others did own homes and other properties as well, and these can be counted. But, given the geographic mobility of eighteenth century shipbuilders, concluding that only one in three owned homes seems unsupportable.

Billy G. Smith, “Inequality in late Colonial Philadelphia: A Note on Its Nature and Growth,” William and Mary Quarterly. Third Series. Oct. 1984, 629-645, and Billy G. Smith, “The Family Lives of Laboring Philadelphians During the Late Eighteenth Century”, APSP, Vol. 133  No. 2, 328-332.

Smith has continued the investigation of the lives of laboring Philadelphians. As Gary Nash had already done, Smith also notices “inequality of wealth” and social stratification, but he argues that that inequality was “possibly not as great as has been recently pictured.” Instead Smith sees wealth inequality as aged biased: young men were just acquiring property while old men were dispersing it. Going further and using the records of Gloria Dei Church and records of late eighteenth century wills, Smith focuses on “Family lives of laboring Philadelphians” and concludes that these families reflected traits both “traditional” and “modern.” He finds a family economy in which all members contributed, in which unmarried adults still lived at home, and in which unmarried, non-related males might board.

Billy G. Smith, “The Vicissitudes of Fortune: The Careers of Laboring Men in Philadelphia, 1750 -1800”, in Stephen Innis ed., Work and Labor Early America (Chapel Hill: For The Institute for Early American History and Culture by University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 221-252.

For his study, “Vicissitudes”, Smith followed four groups: tailors, cordwainers, seamen, and common laborers. Using the tax ledgers as his principal source, he followed these groups over a fifty year period. In his results, Smith found “stability of status,” those in four groups advanced little over the fifty years. Two factors seem to bias his conclusions. First, the fifty year period which the study encompasses the American Revolution, given the degree of devastation and economic dislocation caused by that event, any result other than stability seems unlikely. Secondly, Smith justifies his selection of the four groups by identifying them as the four largest occupational categories in Philadelphia from 1750 to 1800. But two of the groups, tailors and cordwainers were already under stress because of their size and broader economic changes. Perhaps, if Smith had chosen another easily identifiable group, house carpenters, his conclusions may have differed.

Schultz, The Republic, especially Chapt. 4, 103-117, and 124. Even though his work continues into the nineteenth century beyond Nash and Smith, Ronald Schultz examines the lives of the working men of Philadelphia. In doing so he sees conflict and contest between workers and their elite Federalists employers. Schultz argues that a twenty to forty percent decline in earning in the period after the end of the Revolutionary War intensified this conflict. Schultz concludes by arguing that early nineteenth century workers, especially in Northern Liberties and Southwark, had become a class and acted out their class consciousness through participation in Jefferson’s Republican Party.


            3 Weigley, ed., Philadelphia, 3 and 4; Israel Acrelius, A History of New Sweden or the Settlement on the River Delaware, translated and edited by William M. Reynolds, (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1874), 191-193, and 203-204, and Amandus Johnson, The Swedish Settlement on the Delaware, 1634-1664, Vol. 4, (Philadelphia: Swedish Colonial Society, 1911), 211, 332, and 412.


            [4]Peter Stebbins Craig, ed., Colonial Records of the Swedish Churches in Pennsylvania, Vol. 1, The Log Churches at Tinicum Island and Wicaco, 1646-1696 (Philadelphia: Swedish Colonial Society, 2006), 95 and 135; Peter Stebbins Craig, ed., The 1693 Census of the Swedes on the Delaware: Family Histories of the Swedish Lutheran Church Members Residing in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Cecil County, Maryland, 1638-1693 (Winter Park: SAG Publications, 1993), 10-22 and 25-34; Antonia M. Lynch, The Old District of Southwark in the County of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: The City History Society of Philadelphia, 1909), 92; Acrelius, History, 219; “The First Tax List for Philadelphia,” PMHB, Vol.8, 102, and “Notes and Queries—Early Swedish Records—Extracts from the Parish records of Gloria Dei Church, Philadelphia,” PMHB, Vol. 2, 224-228.

            [5]Lynch, Old District, 89-99; Letter, Thomas Wharton to William Fisher, “On the Creation of the Borough of Southwark,” March 31, 1762, MSS, HSP; Edward P. Allison and Boise Penrose, A History of Municipal Development: Philadelphia, 1681-1887 (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1887), 143-145; Margaret B. Tinkcom, “Southwark, A River Community: Its Shape and Substance,” APSP, 1970, Vol. 114, No. 4, 327-342; Francis V. Finletter, “Southwark and the Delaware,” typed manuscript, HSP, and Nicholas Scull and George Heap, “A Plan of the City and Environs,” map, HSP. This is a map of Philadelphia and the surrounding area; at the bottom it lists the number of houses and inhabitants until 1777.

            [6] “Broadside Bill of Mortality,” Library Company of Philadelphia, as cited in Weigley, ed., Philadelphia, 183.

            [7]Durey, Transatlantic, 1-2; Wilson, United, 2, and Edward C. Carter III “A ‘Wild Irishman’ Under Every Federalists Bed: Naturalization in Philadelphia, 1789-1809” APSP, Vol. 133, No.2, 178-189.

            [8]Phillips, “William Duane,” 48-75; Wilson, United, 55-73. and Keller, “Cultural,” 509-530.

            9Baumann, “Democratic,” 512; Wilson, United, 43, and Tinkcom, The Republicans, 177-178.


                  10The Aurora, April 6, 1797; James Tagg, Benjamin Bache and the Philadelphia Aurora (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 328-329; Phillips, “William Duane,” 56 and 67-69; Wilson, United, 55, Durey, Transatlantic, 253-255. In 1810 the pugilistic Duane was involved in another fight at a ward meeting in Southwark. This time he attacked another Irish Republican, John Binns, Wilson, United, 74.

            [11]Southwark Papers, MSS, HSP. These papers are in folders by year from 1790 to 1820.

                  12Merwick, The Shame 48-53.


[13]Thomas M. Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 198.

                  14This social reconstruction of the community of Southwark is based largely on information collected from primary sources including: The records of Joshua Humphreys, his “Daybook, 1784-1813” and “Daybook, 1791-1823” (Both are in HSP); the Census of 1790, the Census of 1800, and the Census of 1810, (microfilm), HSP; The Philadelphia Deed Books, (microfilm), HSP; The Direct Tax of 1798, (microfilm), PBNA; the Tax Assessor’s Ledgers for Southwark, 1791, 1796, 1800, and 1808, MSS, Philadelphia City Archives,  PCA, The Register of Wills and Administrations of the City Philadelphia, in the Office of Registar of Wills, Philadelphia City Hall, Books of Patient’ Admission & Discharges and the Books of Accounts of Admitting Managers, PHA, Appearance Docket, Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Oyer and Terminer, PCA as well two other sources: “The Alfred Coxe Prime Directory of Craftsmen,” compiled by Phoebe Phillips Prime, microfilmed and photocopied, February, 1960 (Hereafter cited as “Prime’s Directory.”),and Pennsylvania Marriages.

Of these sources, three in particular inform this work: “Prime’s Directory,” the Philadelphia Deed Books, and the county tax assessment ledgers. “Prime’s Directory” is a four volume, typewritten compilation of the Philadelphia street directories of the 1790s. The four volumes are arranged by both occupation and alphabetically. For example, one volume has all shipbuilding related occupations grouped together. Names are then arranged alphabetically within that grouping. The entries also contain specific addresses for that individual for specified years. “Prime’s Directory” is housed in the Reference Room at HSP. The Philadelphia Deed Books contain not all deeds executed but only those recorded in the County of Philadelphia. When a deed, an indenture, was recorded, it included the name or names of the parties involved as well as their occupation. The deed book sometimes, but not always, recorded the price paid. It also describes dimensions of the property and owners of adjoining properties. Even though house numbers were used in Philadelphia in the 1790s, they are not included in deed book entries. For this chapter the Deed Books used are: Books: C-1 and C-2 (1682 to 1702), E-1 to E-7 (1684 to 1718), F-1 to F-19 (1718 to 1739), G-1 to G-12 (1739 to 1751), H-1 to H-21 (1751 to 1765), I-1 to I-5 (1765 to 1768), and D-17 to D-78 (1786 to1799). After 1799 the books were re-titled “E.F”. Books E.F.-1 (1800) to E.F.-16 (1805); these were also used for this study. The books were microfilmed in 1949 and are also part of HSP’s collection.  The tax ledgers contain a description of the assessed property, such as “one story frame house” and then it valuation, “150.00”. The county tax ledgers are part of the Philadelphia City Archives.

Combining these three sources with several maps made possible a fairly accurate geographic reconstruction of the shipbuilding community of Southwark.

                  15Robert Chapman, A Treatise on Ropemaking as Practiced in Private and Public Ropeyards with a Description of the Manufacture, Rules, Tables of Weight (London: E. & F. N. Spon., 1868, 9-11.

                  16Stebbins, ed., Colonial, 90 and 135. For the deed to assure Gloria Dei see: Deed Book, I-2, 429-434.


                  17Matthew Cary, Essays on the Public Charities of Philadelphia, 5th Edition, (Philadelphia: 1830), 5-7 and 20-28.

            [18]Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP. Although the dates on the binding of the daybook are 1791-1823, the entries end in 1794. Presumably, when Humphreys became the U.S. Naval Constructor, he kept separate (now lost) records. This day book only enters workers by name and ships built or repaired by name. A second day book, Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP also contains employment records. This second day book records specific amounts earned, for specific hours and months worked for individual workers.

            [19]Nash, Urban Crucible, 321.

            [20]Philadelphia Deed Books: D-17 (1786) to E.F.-16 (1804). James Owner’s purchase is Deed Book, D-40, 270.

            [21] Smith, “Vicissitude,” 226-227.

            22Tax Assessor’s Ledgers, Southwark, East, 1791, 1796, 1800, and 1808, PCA.


            [23]Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Prime’s Directory, Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; Philadelphia Directory, 1825; HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP, and the Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA (microfilm).

            24Southwark papers (manuscript), Box 4,  Folder-1790, HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm); Philadelphia Trade Directory, 1800, HSP; Philadelphia Directory, 1825, HSP; Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1791, 1796, 1800, and 1808.


            25Robert E. Wright, The First Wall Street: Chestnut Street, Philadelphia and the Birth of American Finance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 104.


            26For an extensive and lucid discussion of ground rents see: Donna J. Rilling, Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism: Builders in Philadelphia, 1790-1850 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 40-51 and ff.

            [27]Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA.

            [28]Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Deed Book, D-40, 270 (microfilm), HSP; Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1808, PCA, and Census 1810 (microfilm), HSP.

Thomas W. Smith, “The Dawn of the Urban – Industrial Age: The Social Structure of Philadelphia, 1790-1830,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Chicago, 1980 noticed the number of families with older parents and children ten years old and younger. He argues that couples delayed marriage until certain occupational and properties were achieved. Susan Klepp, McNeil Center for Early American Studies Seminar, Oct. 26, 2007, suggests that delayed marriages allowed female partners time to bring wealth to the marriage which made property ownership possible for some families. See also: Susan E. Klepp, “Demography in Early Philadelphia, 1690-1860,” in Klepp, Susan E., ed. Symposium on the Demographic History of the Phialdelphia Region, 1600-1860, APSP CXXXIII, No. 2 (June 1989), 85-111. For an extensive discussion of changes in mortality and fertility in different classes and different occupational groups in eighteen late eighteenth century Philadelphia see: Susan E. Klepp, A Demographic History of the City and Its Occupational Groups, 1720-1830 (New York: Garland Press, 1989), 138-212.

            29Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Deed Book, (microfilm)

D-56, 4, HSP; Tax Assessor’s Ledgers, Southwark, East, 1791, PCA,  and Registar of Wills and Administration, #194 – 1802 – Book K – Page 113, Office of the Registar of Wills.

            30Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA, and Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823.

            31“Prime’s Directory,” PHS; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1791, PCA; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796, PCA, and Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP.


            32Joshua Hunphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796, PCA, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA.

For the marriage of Richard Thomas and Hannah Joice see: Pennsylvania Marriages, 533. Clare A. Lyons, Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender & Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, for the Omohundro Institute, 2006), 15-16 identifies a Hannah Joice who “eloped” from her husband in 1772. It seems unlikely that the Hannah Joice who married Richard Thomas in 1792 could be the same Hannah Joice.


            33For an extensive description of sawing and caulking see: Farley, “‘To Commit Ourselves,’”288-327.


            [34]Pennsylvania Marriages, 382; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Joshua Humphrey’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; Census of 1790 (microfilm), HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP; Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796, PCA, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA.

            [35]“Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP; Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1791, PCA; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796, PCA, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800.

            [36]Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1791, PCA; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796, PCA; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book; 1791- 1823. For some unknown reason Philip McCracken does not appear in the 1800 Southwark tax assessment.

            37Donald R. Adams Jr., “Wage Rates in the Early National Period: Philadelphia, 1785-1830,” The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 28, No.3 (Sept. 1968), 404-426.


            [38]“Prime’s Directory,” HSP.

                  39Deed Book, D-77 (microfilm), HSP; Southwark Papers, Box 4, Folder 1800, HSP; Prime’s Directory, HSP; Census of 1790 (microfilm), HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP; Direct Tax of 1798 (microfilm), PBNA, and Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP.

            40Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP, and Deed Book, D-45, 409 (microfilm), HSP.


            [41]Deed Book, D-29, 397, 290, and 379 (microfilm), HSP; Deed Book, D-44, 265 (microfilm), HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, and Census of 1800 (microfilm), PCA.

            [42]Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1808, PCA.

            43Davis, Parades 121.

            [44]“Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Deed Book, D-21, 331 (microfilm), HSP, and Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP.

            [45]Deed Book, D-34, 329 (microfilm), HSP; Deed Book, D-75, 351 (microfilm), HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1900, PCA.

            [46]Deed Book, D-34, 279 (microfilm), HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP, and Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP. The Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA shows Hutton still in possession of a home, a wharf, and other properties valued at $2020.00, still one of the highest assessments in Southwark. By 1808, the ledger describes the property as Benjamin Hutton’s estate.

In 1796 Benjamin Hutton had been admitted to Pennsylvania Hospital, from which he was subsequently discharged for “disorderly behavior;” see: Book of Patients, #159-160, 1791-1796, PHA.

            [47]Deed Book, D-32, 411 (microfilm), HSP, and Deed Book, D-52, 197 (microfilm), HSP.

            [48]“Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA.

            [49]“Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796, PCA, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA.  By 1808 the tax records identify “John Turner’s Estate.” Thomas Thompson appears only in the Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA and in no other records.

            [50]Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796, PCA, Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1800, PCA, Pennsylvania Marriages, 538, and Deed Book, D-72, 448 (microfilm), HSP.

            [51]Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP.

              [52]Gary B. Nash, Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 1-7 and137-140, and Emma Jones Lapsansky- Werner, “South StreetPhiladelphia, 1762-1854: ‘A Haven for those Low in the World,’” University of Pennsylvania Ph. D. Dissertation, 1975.

            53Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP;  Pennsylvania Marriages, 462, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1796. PCA.

“Mitchel, a Negro,” (No first name is recorded.) died in Pennsylvania Hospital on April 13, 1792; see: “Attending Managers Accounts, 1789-1798,” PHA.


            54Charles Foy has been systematically creating a data base (Colored Mariner Database) of Black sailors. Thus far the data base includes more than 7,800 entries and is expected to reach 10,000. See Foy’s forthcoming article, “Possibilities & Limits for Freedom: Maritime Fugitives in British North America, ca. 1713-1783,” to be published in 2008 in Mystic Seaport’ anthology “Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Power in Maritime America.”


            55Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1784-1813, HSP; “Prime’s Directory,” HSP; Pennsylvania Marriages, 483; Deed Book, E.F.-9, 505 (microfilm), HSP, and Census of 1800 (microfilm), HSP.


                  56Philadelphia Will Book, Book 5, 355 (microfilm), HSP.

            57Deed Book, D-36, 497 (microfilm), HSP; Deed Book, D-40, 360 (microfilm), HSP; Deed Book, D-42, 360 (microfilm) HSP; Joshua Humphreys Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP, and Prime’s Directory, HSP.

The creative spelling of the eighteenth century makes identification of John (“Jack”) Johnson (Johnston) less than certain. Several individuals with similar spelling variations appear simultaneously in Southwark records.


            58United States Gazette, June 22, 1808, HSP

            [59]Carey, Essays, 1, and Paulson’s American Daily Advertiser, Jan. 18, 1808.

            [60]Louis M. Sears, Jefferson and the Embargo (New York: Octagon Books, reprint, 1978), 209-214, and Deed Books E.F.-1 to E.F.-14.

            [61]United States Gazette, Feb. 13, 1808 and June 22, 1808, HSP. During 1808, the bitterly anti-Republican United States Gazette continuously printed anti-Jefferson and anti-Embargo articles, especially relative to the conflict between Timothy Pickering (Federalist U.S. senator from Mass.) and James Sullivan (Republican governor of Mass.).

            [62]Joshua Humphreys Correspondence, Vol. 1. 133 (manuscript), HSP; Deed Book, E.F.-7, 380 (microfilm), HSP; Patient’s Admission and & Discharge, #169, 1816-1821, PHA, and Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1808, PCA.

            63Philadelphia Will Book, Y, 214 (microfilm), HSP; Philadelphia Will Book, 6, 122 (microfilm), HSP; Philadelphia Will Book, 5, 355 (microfilm), HSP; Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1808, PCA, and William H. Thiesen, Industrializing American Shipbuilding: The Transformation of Ship Design and Construction, 1820-1920 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2006), 59-69.


            [64]Tax Assessor’s Ledger, Southwark, East, 1808, PCA.

            65Joshua Humphreys’ Day Book, 1791-1823, HSP; Deed Book, D-58, 160 (microfilm), HSP, and Deed Book, E.F.-14, 134 (microfilm), HSP.


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