On July 6, members of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment took over the Powel House on South Third Street in Philadelphia. While we did this as part of the July 4th, the actual occupation would have begun shortly after June 18 as the British, under Gen Henry Clinton, evacuated Philadelphia after spending the winter of 1777 in the former seat of government of the Continental Congress.
Our troops took possession of Mayor Powel’s residence and held it for several hours. Passers by were interdicted and asked for their Loyalty Papers. In an effort to be less oppressive than the former occupiers, General Wayne has allowed us to simply administer the oath rather than arrest and detain those who could not product papers. Oaths were adminstered in the gardens by the paymaster and officers.
Could some Tories have sworn allegiance falsely just to avoid punishment? Perhaps but in the 18th Century people took oaths sworn before witnesses VERY seriously. In a culture where religion was still the cornerstone of daily life, swearing false witness was bound to reap punishments far more severe than imprisonment by an army that would leave soon. Sure, you could avoid punishment today by swearing a false oath but Eternal costs were far too high.
While we were there, we heard that two deserters had taken refuge in the City Tavern. This was a very foolish move since the tavern keeper, a true Patriot, was actively encouraging the citizens of Philadelphia to openly show their allegiance to the Continental Army. How was he doing this> Well by offering a glass of madeira to anyone who displayed their signed loyalty card. So, over the course of the day we sent well over one hundred sworn Patriots to the tavern and our poor deserters hoped to hide out right under their noses. We soon got word of where they were hiding and the Provost, armed with 18 members of the Regiment stormed the tavern capturing the deserters and placing them in irons. They will soon face the Courts Martial.
I really wish there were more events like this in the Historic District of the city. Having people in period attire adds a lot to the visitor experience and reminds everyone of the important role Philadelphia played in American History. It also allows us to highlight some of our unique treasures. I visited with the Executive Director of the Powel House and was disheartened to learn that during a typical Saturday, she expects 10-25 visitors. Well with the 2nd PA greeting everyone on the street and interviewing them we upped that count to about 175 – much more respectable. Plus it was a lot of fun.