Wednesday, August 24, 2016

History of the Hannah: Cyberstalking Daniel Williams, Part 1 of 3

Since pulling a bunch of artifacts out of an 18th-Century privy, I have unsurprisingly thrown myself into expanding the scope and detail of my initial historical investigation of 103 Callowhill Street. Back then, all I could find to cover the period between Benjamin Mifflin's 1745 deed and 1872 was a single notice for a sheriff's sale in 1770. WELL NO LONGER. An advertisement Matt found in a 19th century newspaper gave me another name which I was able to use as a key to unlock the missing deeds and information. Behold, the very-nearly-almost-complete provenance of 103 Callowhill Street!

  • 1681 William Penn, Proprietary (via the Penn Charter)
  • 1712 Hannah Callowhill Penn, Acting Proprietary
  • 1727 The Proprietaries (John, Richard, & Thomas Penn)*
  • 1745 Benjamin & Hannah Mifflin (house carpenter/merchant)
  • 1760 Abraham Carpenter (cooper)
  • 1770 Daniel & Jane Williams (merchant)
  • 1783 Adam & Barbara Stricker (blacksmith)
  • 1794 Thomas & Rebecca Hamilton (merchant)
  • 1804 Burns family (Joseph & Rebecca, then Eleanor)**
  • 1872 Patrick Murray (liquor merchant)
  • 1905 Nothaft Family
  • 1942 Frank & Mildred Yeagle
  • 1945 Solomon Warshaw
  • 1965 Victor & Gladys Morris
    Etc. (Not going any further on here because owners are still living)

    *N.B. Ground rent continued to be paid to heirs, in theory, until 1872.
    **Eleanor Burns advertised the property for sale in 1865. In 1869 Thomas Gordon Penn, last of the Penn line, died, at which point the Proprietary's ground was transferred to William Stuart, who began divesting the land free of ground rent. So there is some fuzziness from 1865 to 1872 that I will attempt to clarify at a later date.
Since the objects we rescued from betwixt nightsoil most likely date from the mid to late 1700s, I focused my most recent inquiries on that period. Particularly, for reasons that may become clear in the next few months (yes I am being mysterious), I paid a lot of attention to Daniel Williams, who bought the property in 1770 and owned it through the Revolutionary War.

Did you know that I am pretty good at cyberstalking? Fortunately, I am usually not an unstable fanatic or hyper-vindictive troll, or this would be a dangerous skill to possess. I am so good at it, I can cyberstalk people who have been dead for over 200 years and discover rather a lot about them. I have 38 55 typed pages of primary source notes and transcripts about Daniel Williams—and counting!—and my brain feels fit to bursting attempting to encompass the life of this man whose experiences are so very, very alien to me. [N.B. If you're the kind of person who likes to see bibliographical information, click that link, where I have information about each source that I reference in these posts.] Honest to god, I never bought into Founders' Chic before buying this property and unexpectedly acquiring a feeling of ownership of its past as well. But here I am, female, not exactly white, and Australian, and obsessing over a minor founding father.

1809 woodcut via Radnor Historical Society
 Daniel Williams, the son of Edward and Eleanor Williams, was born on December 2nd, 1717 [N.B. Julian calendar! December 13 in the Gregorian calendar, ditto any dates up to 1752], in the "Welsh Tract" outside of Philadelphia. His birth was recorded in the records of the Radnor Quakers, a year before they erected the Radnor Friends Meeting House which is in use to this day. He grew up in the country with at least three siblings (brothers William and James and sister Sarah) on his parents' land in a rural area called Blockley just west of Philadelphia near what is now Overbrook, which is probably where he learned his first trades as a miller and baker.

On September 9, 1744, when he was 26, Daniel applied to the Merion Monthly Meeting for a reference so he could move a few miles west and join the Society of Friends in the nascent city of Philadelphia. The Merion gathering certified "that after Enquiry made we do not find but that he is of an orderly Life and Conversation, in Unity with us, and Clear of Marriage Engagement as far as we know." This state of non-attachment was not to survive long following his move to the big smoke; after only 14 months, Daniel Williams and Jane Oldman (daughter of Thomas Oldman) applied to the Arch Street Monthly Meeting for permission to marry, and after a couple of months of vetting, their union was approved. They wed on January 27th, 1746 in a Quaker ceremony attended by 62 Friends, including their respective families. According to the following day's Monthly Meeting minutes, the wedding was "accomplish'd orderly" (early Quakers have such a romantic way with words).

The records I find for Daniel over the next decade or so suggest that three things occupied his time at this stage of his life. First, he established a milling and baking business at his residence at Second and Walnut Streets and a bake house on the dock. Second, he began to appear in the records of his fellow Quakers—both in Philadelphia and back in the Welsh Tract—as a witness, trustee, or executor in legal documents such as wills and real estate transactions. And third, Jane began giving birth to children in rapid succession, although sadly they more often than not died in early childhood. In 1749, two of his toddler children, Mary and Daniel, died in the space of three months. And the records for the next couple of decades continue to be littered with child deaths; Jane may have given birth to as many as fifteen children, although only five of them seem to have survived past childhood.

By 1754 (aged 37), Daniel's baking and milling business had grown to the point where he began cementing his reputation by purchasing advertisements in the newspapers of the time. This one, from May 16 of that year, is the first one I can find. NB: boulting clothes aka bolting cloths aka boulting cloaths etc. etc. are the screens used to sift flour during the milling process, and I assume Daniel was Philadelphia's go-to guy for them, because he continued to prominently advertise and sell them for the rest of his life. In fact, although this ad copy went through a couple of slight variations (principally in which he touted increasing levels of expertise and experience), this pitch, which appeared in several publications, remained essentially the same for the next 35 years.

Pennsylvania Gazette, May 16, 1754
Throughout this period, Daniel prospered both financially and socially. In 1759, when he was 41, he moved his family and business to a house in Chestnut Street, next door but one to the corner of Front Street. Around this time, he stopped referring to himself as a baker and started calling himself a merchant or gentleman, focusing on the more lucrative and less labor-intensive fields of commerce, credit, local politics, and social capital. By 1760, the year he was elected Philadelphia County Commissioner, he was already a long-standing member of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania, which sounds like an ordinary sport recreation club, but TRUST ME, IT IS NOT. Click on that link and go down that rabbit hole sometime; it the oldest continually-in-operation social club in the English-speaking world, and it takes the form of a kind of ridiculous fish-themed Skull and Bones where Founding Fathers, including George Washington, hung out at a clubhouse in the woods of Fairmount and got ritually drunk. (They also have their own drink, Fish House Punch, which I guess I will try to recreate and supply at the Hannah's eventual launch party if I can source peach brandy.)

In 1752, Daniel also was the 105th person to buy shares in Benjamin Franklin's Library Company. You know how people say that Benjamin Franklin invented the modern library? The Library Company of Philadelphia is what they mean. Williams was not just an early member; from 1766 through 1769, he served as the company's treasurer. This means Daniel Williams was 100% hobnobbing with Benjamin freaking Franklin on a regular freaking basis.

One amazing and mysterious anecdote from this time is that of the Pegg's Run sword. In 1764, the Second Street Bridge was being built over Pegg's Run, also known as the Cohoquinoque Creek (also known in 2016 as Willow Street). During the laying of the bridge's foundation, a sword was discovered 14 feet underground on the banks of the waterway; I found a reference to the find in the 1830 Annals of Philadelphia, indicating that Daniel Williams, as Philadelphia Commissioner, gave the sword to the "City Library." On a hunch, I wrote to the Library Company, and was delighted when they checked their director's minutes and confirmed the story!

Courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.
Many thanks to Cornelia King, James Green, and Linda August for answering my questions!
OHHHH YOU WILL BE SO HEARTBROKEN TO HEAR that the sword is no longer in the Library Company's possession. They purged much of their object collection over the next 200 years either because of the objects' poor condition, or because the presence of museums made a curio collection at the library unnecessary. I have my intern Megan (yes, I have a composition intern for the summer!) looking into other museums to see if anyone has a record of it being passed to them, but it's a slim chance.

I want to point out that (a) see, this is definitive proof that Daniel was 100% hobnobbing with Ben freaking Franklin, and (b) of course I enjoy that I found Daniel Williams by pulling old objects out of the ground, and then discovered that 250 years ago he was also geeking out over pulling old objects out of the ground, only a block away from me.

Meanwhile, with his wealth and status increasing, Daniel went on a Philadelphia property-buying spree. In 1762, Daniel bought a residential house on Chestnut Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets (where Benjamin Franklin Hall now stands at 427). He continued to use his old house on Chestnut near Front as his shop until 1764, when he purchased a building around the corner at what is now 40 Front Street and moved his business there. In 1766 he additionally acquired 15 acres of farmland in the Northern Liberties, just north of where the Temple Performing Arts buildings are now.

In his Front Street shop, he first expanded his bolting cloth business to include things like millstones and Madeira wine casks, then went into business with Samuel Eldridge in 1768 and vastly expanded the range of his inventory. From an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on October 17, 1768:
Williams and Eldridge,
At their store in Front-street, between Chestnut-street and the Coffee-house, have lately imported,
A NEAT assortment of European merchandize, which they will sell on the lowest terms, for cash or short credit.———They have Yorkshire cloths, coatings, duffils, kerseys, halfthicks, naps, serves, white, red and scarlet flannels, linseys, long ells, tammies, durants, common and fine shalloons, calimancoes, starrets, dorsetteens, single and double damasks, plain and striped camblets, black ruffel, green and blue harrateen with trimmings, rugs and blankets, hosiery, worsted caps of several sorts, buckram, British and German oznabrigs, brown and white Irish and Russia sheeting, English and Flanders ticking, bed-bunts, huckaback, Russia diaper, clouting diaper, coarse and fine table-cloths, Irish and German Dowlas, 10 nail, 7 8thsm, yard-wide and yard 308ths cotton and linen checks, blue and red furniture checks, 3 qr 7 8ths and yard-wide Irish linens, 7-8ths and yard-wide cambricks and lawns, long lawns, muslins, an assortment of handkerchiefs, vis. check linen, printed secterfoy, rosets, figured and spotted bandanoes, cotton and silk romals and cravats, ell-wide persians, taffeties, mantua, shale, fringe, men and womens white lamb gloves and mitts, calicoes, cottons and chints, silk knee garters, sewing, silk, coloured, stitching and Scotch thread, ribbons, feriets, gaitering, pins, Whitechapel and common needles, an assortment of cutlery and hardware, paper, nutmegs, pepper, &c. and a few burr mill-stones; also a general assortment of the best
To be sold by DANIEL WILLIAMS, at the said store, and at his house in Chestnut-street, a little below the State-House, as usual.
All the things that you have never heard of on this list are textiles or textile-adjacent, trust me. I think it's safe to assume that Williams and Eldridge were mostly in the imported textiles business, with a smattering of general store wares at the end.

In April 1769, Daniel Williams was listed as the first member of a Grand Inquest in the Mayor's Court dockets, which is probably somewhat equivalent to a modern Grand Jury. The interesting connection here is that he was sworn in by High Sheriff Joseph Redman, whom he might also have known as a fellow member of the Library Company, and a fellow important gentleman about town. This is significant because in December of that year, Sheriff Redman was the official who seized the property at 103 Callowhill Street to pay the debts of the previous owner, Abraham Carpenter (deceased), advertised its public sale in the advertisement I found in my previous investigation, and on March 6, 1770, sold it to the highest bidder: Daniel Williams. I can't say for certain that Daniel Williams bought this property in part because he was buds with Joe Redman, but I think it's very likely that they did at least recognize each other at the auction.

I sent Megan on an excursion to the Philadelphia City Archives to find this deed. Having an intern is the best!
Sadly, I haven't been able to unearth any information on exactly how Daniel utilized the property after he bought it. There are no advertisements for leasing it or services available. Perhaps, since at the time he was importing textiles, he used it as a convenient dockside storage warehouse, or rented it casually to dockside workers or tradesmen. All I know for sure is that someone on the property at this time dug a privy or two, and filled it with poop and bones and broken pottery.

There are a few more substantial things I want to relate about Daniel Williams, but I'll split them into two separate blog entries, because this is just too overwhelming for a single post. Coming soon: Daniel Williams and the Revolutionary War, and Daniel Williams and Slaves, which leads handily into his decline and eventual end.

Click here for part 2 of Daniel Williams's story.

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