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This Day in Frankford History

This is from our contributor Joe Menkevich.

August 31, 1774

Here in Frankford, the Revolution began long ago with the arrival of the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers stopped in Frankford before the first meeting of Continental Congress in Philadelphia took place.

The History:

There were many secret meetings held here in Frankford during the formative stages of the Declaration of Independence. A Pickering family had a seat here, and is is said (as oral history) that Jefferson was distantly related to Dr. Enoch Edwards who bought the old Summer Home from the Drinker family. Womrath park is the only thing left of that estate.

Frankfort Advice

In later years John Adams would recall the warning advice given to the Massachusetts delegation the day of their arrival for the First Congress.  Benjamin Rush, Thomas Mifflin, and two or three other Philadelphia patriots had ridden out to welcome the Massachusetts men, and at a tavern in the village of Frankford, in the seclusion of a private room, they told the New Englanders they were “suspected of having independence in view.” They were perceived to be “too zealous” and must not presume to take the lead. Virginia, they were reminded, was the largest, richest, and most populous of the colonies, and the “very proud” Virginians felt they had the right to lead.
According to Adams, the advice made a deep impression, and among the consequences was the choice of George Washington to head the army. But Adams also wrote that he had “not in my nature prudence and caution enough” always to stand back. Years before, at age twenty, he had set down in his diary that men ought to “avow their opinions and defend them with boldness.”

Excerpts from: Thomas Jefferson, July 27, 1821, Autobiography Draft Fragment, January 6 through July 27 – Library of Congress

In Congress, Friday June 7, 1776. The delegates from Virginia moved in obedience to instructions from their constituents that the Congress should declare that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free & independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them & the state of Great Britain is & ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together….(note immediately below in quotes)
“The Congress sat till 7 o’clock this evening in consequence of a motion of R. H. Lee’s rendering ourselves free and independent States. The sensible part of the House opposed the Motion–they had no objection to forming a Scheme of a Treaty which they would send to France by proper Persons & uniting this Continent by a Confederacy; they saw no wisdom in a Declaration of Independence, nor any other Purpose to be enforced by it, but placing ourselves in the power of those with whom we mean to treat, giving our Enemy Notice of our Intentions before we had taken any steps to execute them…..” — E. Rutledge to John Jay, June 8, 1776.]

A different account is given of this by John Adams, as follows

John Adams to Timothy Pickering.
August 6, 1822
You inquire why so young a man as Mr. Jefferson was placed at the head of the committee for preparing a Declaration of Independence? I answer: It was the Frankfort advice to place Virginia at the head of everything. Mr. Richard Henry Lee might be gone to Virginia, to his sick family, for aught I know, but that was not the reason for Mr. Jefferson’s appointment. There were three committees appointed at the same time, one for the Declaration of Independence, another for preparing articles of confederation, and another for preparing a treaty to be proposed to France. Mr. Lee was chosen for the Committee of Confederation, and it was not thought convenient that the same person should be upon both. Mr. Jefferson came into Congress in June, 1775, and brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of composition. Writings of his were handed about, remarkable for the peculiar felicity of expression. Though a silent member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit and decisive upon committees and in conversation-not even Samuel Adams was more so-that he soon seized upon my heart; and upon this occasion I gave him my vote, and did all in my power to procure the votes of others. I think he had one more vote than any other, and that placed him at the head of the committee. I had the next highest number, and that placed me the second. The committee met, discussed the subject, and then appointed Mr. Jefferson and me to make the draught, I suppose because we were the two first on the list.
The sub-committee met. Jefferson proposed to me to make the draught. I said, “I will not.”
“You should do it.”
“Oh! no.”
“Why will you not? You ought to do it.”
“I will not.”
“Reason enough.”
“What can be your reasons?”
“Reason first – You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second – I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third – You can write ten times better than I can.”
“Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.”
“Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.”
A meeting we accordingly had, and conned the paper over. I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose. There were other expressions which I would not have inserted, if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal; for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and, in his official capacity only, cruel. 1 thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or suggested a single
We reported it to the committee of five. It was read, and I do not remember that Franklin or Sherman criticized any thing. We were all in haste. Congress was impatient, and the instrument was reported, as I believe, in Jefferson’s handwriting, as he first drew it. Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if any thing in it was. 1 have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is the vehement philippic against Negro slavery.
As you justly observe, there is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before. The substance of it is contained in the declaration of rights and the violation of those rights in the Journals of Congress, in 1774. Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston, before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose, in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel Adams. …”
(Disclaimer, almost all of the above text is borrowed and only rearranged. Many other authors have written on the subject. This is just a reminder of this day in Frakford’s History.)

13 thoughts on “This Day in Frankford History

  1. To the Frankford Gazette: Thank you for posting the little story on about the Frankfort Advice.

    It is interesting to note that not all scholars agree on what the Frankford Advice actually entailed or where & when it happened.

    It is a fact that on August 31, 1774, the Massachusetts delegation was met by Benjamin Rush, Thomas Mifflin, and two or three other Philadelphia patriots and went to a private place where John Adams was briefed & given instructions by Dr. Benjamin Rush.

    The First Congress finally met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters’ Hall and it lasted until October 26, 1774.

    On September 22, 1774, while Congress is in session, Abigail Adams writes to John Adams: “I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province. It allways appeard a most iniquitious Scheme to me—fight ourselfs for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.”

    It is obvious that Mr. & Mrs John & Abigail Adams were overtly against Slavery.

    “Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable … I have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is the vehement philippic against Negro slavery.”

    The “vehement philippic against negro slavery” that was removed from the First Draught of the Constitution was this:

    “He [being King George the Third] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of another.”

    In latter years Jefferson had some disagreement with John Adams account on the Declaration of Independence and so he writes:

    1821. Jan. 6, “At the age of 77, I begin to make some memoranda and state some recollections of dates & facts…” – Jefferson, Autobiography Draft Fragment.

    Aug. 30, 1822, Jefferson to Madison: 
”You have doubtless seen Timothy Pickering’s fourth of July observations on the Declaration of Independence. If his principles and prejudices, personal and political, gave us no reason to doubt whether he had truly quoted the information he alleges to have received from Mr. Adams, I should then say, that in some of the particulars, Mr. Adams’ memory has led him into unquestionable error. At the age of eighty-eight, and forty-seven years after the transactions of Independence, this is not wonderful. Nor should I, at the age of eighty, on the small advantage of that difference only, venture to oppose my memory to his, were it not supported by written notes, taken by myself self at the moment and on the spot. …”

    I disagree with many of the Library of Congress’s interpretations of Jefferson’s writings, & I believe there is a lot more missing from this story on the Frankford Advice.

    Perhaps a local researcher may fall upon the missing information that will explain all the disagreement.


  2. I would like somebody to explain how Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, wrote that passage against the king and slavery.

  3. Thank you Joe, for the wonderful reminder of Frankford’s rich history. There was always a debate, and could never be proven, as to where they met in Frankford. Most believe it was the long gone Jolly Post that was located on the 4600 blk of Frankford Ave. So much history in the area. We need something positive in Frankford right now . That story reminds me of what a great area it was and could be. Thanks again.

  4. Skeeter, thanks for the compliment.

    I did not begin here in Frankford giving a S–t about Frankford, but that was before researching Greenwood Cemetery and Benjamin Rush’s ownership.

    I soon was struck with revelation upon revelation, and soon I was addicted to it’s history.

    I always hoped that Frankford would & could elevate itself due to all the Colonial & Revolutionary War History and I tried to promote it.

    I never hid that fact [promoting history], and to my detriment as NCA President, it was one of the points used against me by my successors.

    I thought that was extremely unpatriotic, & ignorant on their part. Their actions & words insulted me as a human. I will never muster any forgiveness or sympathy toward the present NCA. My leaving was their loss as it never had to end like this.

    Back on track: Frankford is the epicenter (in Pennsylvania) for the the founding of the Declaration of Independence & what part the African-American played in it.

    That fact has never been embraced by our elected officials or our residents.

    This was posted before, but this is a good read on the Frankfort Advice:

    The “Frankfort Advice” How a Small Philadelphia Suburb Helped John Adams Orchestrate the American Revolution


  5. Joyce Haley once told me that the meetings were held at the church across from Overington Park.

  6. I am not sure which meeting that Joyce may had been referencing, but she did save the Waln Street Quaker Meeting House & the Cemetery.

    The Quakers were here in Frankford from the very beginning and it was not by accident that Frankford’s Free-Black Community & Campbell AME Church evolved within walking distance from that Meeting House.

    There was an Underground Railroad here in Frankford but no-one is researching it. Campbell AME is rather xenophobic in promoting it’s history and shy’ away from sharing their records & archives (if they have any).

    Frankford during the Civil War had one of the highest number of enlistments for the Union Army. Cambell AME had a fair share of enlistments included in that number.

    Stranger still, almost no “historian’ is willing to speak about all the African Americans who fought in the American Revolutionary War. (there were plenty and they have not been researched or written into history). That subject has been “taboo.”

    There are many great historic resources in Frankford that need to be highlighted & embraced.

    That is what I mean when I talk about elevating the neighborhood through it’s history.


  7. Yes, too bad there is no access to those records. I would like to know more about the “colored children’s school” that was located in Frankford during that time when it was illegal to teach black people to read. I wonder if Quakers ran that too?


    I was also told by Martha Kearns, playwright, that one of the famous “Mother Jones” marches with child laborers crossed through Frankford. She also wrote a play about it entitled “Mother Jone’s Children” which she had originally planned to heve a scene reading of in Frankford. I am not sure why that never happened.

  9. Lyndad, it did happen. Martha had a friend of hers do the one person play do Mother Jones at the Frankford Historical Society about 5 or 6 yrs ago.

  10. THe church across from Overington Park wasn’t here during the Revolutionary War, so it didn’t take place there. It was always thought that the Frankford Advice took place in the Jolly Post as Skeeter has said. Gil posts a good comment. Any idea on that one?

  11. September 1st, 2011, Gil Says:

    “I would like somebody to explain how Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, wrote that passage against the king and slavery.”

    Many of the Founding father were Slave holders. Dr. Franklin & Dr. Rush were, I do not believe John Adams “owned” Salves but he may have employed them as domestic servants.

    There are several reasons & several schools of thought on “that passage” which was struck from the Declaration.

    In my own research (and I could provide the Frankford Gazette the Photos of the manuscript in the Library of Congress), I have found that the Declaration of Independence was written by Dr. Franklin, Thomas Jefferson & John Adams. That fact seem to make National News when some other “scholar” discovered the same pages (that I did) showing those names inserted on one of the drafts.

    But to address Thomas Jefferson, a Slave owner or any American as a Slave owner; Slavery was an institution forced on America by the “Christian” King: King George III and his predecessors.

    Slavery was embraced by the South more than the North because of the large farm estates & agriculture was labor intensive. “Old money” would never have become wealthy or been able to manage a farm without Slave Labor.

    Ironically, I believe (off the top of my head) in the North, Newport Rhode Island was a slave capital for importing imprisoned Africans for sale to the South.

    I did check and found this:

    Nice short movie on Slavery in Newport R.I.


  12. @skeeter-sorry i missed that. Sounds interesting.

  13. I don’t know much about Thomas Jefferson except that he had a slave/mistress Sally Hemings whom he had children with so I would assume that relationship would make him want to see conditions improve for his own children and the lives of slaves in general. a man in his time would have grown up in a society where slavery was legal and then possibly not have realized until later in his life that it was wrong and he was in a position to do something about it. I can only guess about that not having read much of his writings and ideas.

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