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Philadelphia is often called the Revolutionary City. It was the center of political power for the patriots during their fight for independence from Great Britain, served as the setting for the meetings of the Continental Congress and the writing of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787), and eventually became the temporary capital of the United States (1790–1800). The emphasis on Philadelphia’s role as the center of patriot politics and power obscures the fact that the Continental Congress fled from Philadelphia in September 1777 and British troops occupied the city for the next nine months. From late 1777 to early 1778, Philadelphia was a British city occupied largely by loyalists, people who continued to be loyal to the British rather than joining the fight for colonial independence.

Art became imbued with layers of meaning in this highly charged and constantly changing environment. During this time, furniture, silver, paintings, and even household items were seized and sold, hidden and saved, and moved unchecked from owner to owner. This exhibition explores the difficulty of defining art as being either patriot or loyalist, and considers the personal, political, and economic forces that shaped the revolutionary story of shifting people, places, and objects.

Powel House Room
Powel House Room, 1769-1770
Ceiling plasterwork attributed to James Clow, American (trained in Scotland)
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Powel House

The second-floor parlor from Samuel and Elizabeth Powel’s house (elements of which are on view in the adjacent gallery) is commonly associated with patriotism—Samuel Powel was a mayor of colonial Philadelphia and, after the colonies’ independence from Britain, the city’s first American mayor. When the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777, however, the Earl of Carlisle took up residence at the house and the Powels moved to the back rooms. Diarist Elizabeth Drinker described how the British would not “suffer” displaced Philadelphians like the Powels to “make use of their own front doors.” Instead, they were “obliged” to “go up and down the Alley.” The Powels’ situation demonstrates the continual shifting of objects from owner to owner that characterized the Revolutionary period. It follows that Revolutionary objects were often not completely patriot or wholly loyalist, but both.



Tea Table
Tea Table, 1750-1760
William Savery, American (Philadelphia)
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“This morning . . . Jacob Franks and a Son of Cling ye Vendue Master came to seize for ye Continental Tax: they took from us one walnut dining Table, one mahogany Tea-Table, 6 hansom walnut chairs . . . a mahogany fram’d service looking glass, and two large pewter dishes.”
—Elizabeth Drinker, September 1779

In 1779, Elizabeth Drinker, a Quaker, watched two men cart off her family’s possessions, including two tables (represented here by a similar object), six chairs, two dishes, and a looking glass (mirror). The action was for the economic benefit of the patriot cause as well as punishment for the Drinker family’s unwillingness to pay war-related taxes. Philadelphia’s large population of pacifist Quakers, including Elizabeth and her merchant husband, Henry, could not conscientiously abide by the mandate to support the war against the British in action or by taxation. Their possessions were confiscated in lieu of the tax payments and subsequently sold at “vendue” (public auction) with all the proceeds going to the cause for American independence. As a result, items like the Drinkers’ chairs, tables, mirror, and dishes indirectly financed the war.


High Chest of Drawers
High Chest of Drawers, 1765-1775
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Also "Seized"...from loyalists, not necessarily Quakers

After the British left Philadelphia in May 1778, the entire contents of a household still refusing to pledge allegiance to the cause for American independence could be confiscated and sold for the benefit of the Continental Army. Confiscation sales first took place in Pennsylvania in 1778 and continued through the 1780s. It is believed that this mahogany high chest, made in Philadelphia between 1765 and 1775 and resplendent with carving, went through the process of confiscation and sale. The name “James Milligan” across the backboards of the high chest refers to the Philadelphia city official James Milligan, who served in several treasury-related roles in the patriot government during this period and likely had a hand in this process. His name is written first in pen with the date 1783 and then again in chalk with the date 1784. The dressing table is the companion piece to the high chest and was also likely sold at a confiscation sale.



Cann showing the Penn Family Coat of Arms
Cann showing the Penn Family Coat of Arms, c. 1725-1740
Chinese, for export to the British market
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In 1783, after the American victory for independence, John Penn, Jr., left England to join his cousin, the former Pennsylvania governor also named John Penn, in an effort to lay claim to the family’s proprietary lands in Pennsylvania. The effort was not successful and both John Penns relocated to London to plead their case to Parliament in 1788. In leaving, the Penns abandoned hopes that they would ever realize the full worth of the family’s properties and relinquished considerable landholdings, grand houses (including The Solitude, which still stands within the Philadelphia Zoo), and possessions.

Tankard, 1788
Made by Joseph Anthony, Jr., American
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Before their departure, the Penns sold the majority of their furniture and household effects, though the proceeds benefited them personally and not any government. A published broadsheet that advertised the auction at John Penn, Jr.’s, house on Sixth and Market Streets listed that everything—from tablespoons, looking glasses (mirrors), and candlesticks to carpets and chairs—was to be sold. The sale at former governor John Penn’s house on Chestnut Street was likely similar. This armchair and table are believed to have been offered at one of these sales and, like the high chest, purchased by Philadelphians. Also, before they left, the cousins bestowed a piece of presentation silver upon Philadelphia lawyer Charles Jarvis to thank him for his help in settling their affairs.

Armchair, 1765-1770
Possibly by Thomas Affleck, American (born Scotland), 1740 - 1795
Carving attributed to Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez, American, active as partners 1762 - 1783
Mahogany, oak, modern upholstery materials
40 1/2 x 28 3/4 x 28 1/2 inches (102.9 x 73 x 72.4 cm)
Lent by the Commissioners of Fairmount Park
Slab Table
Table, 1765-1775
Possibly by Thomas Affleck, American (born Scotland), 1740 - 1795
Mahogany; marble top
31 x 44 3/4 x 24 inches (78.7 x 113.7 x 61 cm)
On loan from The Dietrich American Foundation



Coffeepot, 1750-1753
Made by Philip Syng, Jr., American (born Ireland)
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When fleeing Philadelphia, loyalists took what they could with them or attempted to protect objects that were particularly precious. Joseph Galloway was Pennsylvania’s most ardent and vocal loyalist, and the Galloway family lost nearly all of their possessions due to Pennsylvania’s confiscation policy. Here is the advertisement in The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser, August 15, 1778, announcing the public sale of Galloway’s seized property. (See the advertisement in its context further below.)

Yet somehow this silver coffeepot escaped this fate. It is not known whether Joseph Galloway and his daughter, Elizabeth, took it with them to England when they fled Philadelphia in 1778 or if his wife, Grace, who stayed behind, somehow managed to conceal it from the confiscation agents. The much-cherished Galloway family coffeepot, with its intricately chased Rococo decoration, eventually made it to England, where it was engraved around 1890 with a coat of arms on the occasion of a family marriage.



Looking Glass, 1760
Walnut and gilt mirror with beveled edge
68 x 29 x 2 inches (172.7 x 73.7 x 5.1 cm)
Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Gift of Mrs. John Meredith Read, 1900


As the British neared the end of their occupation of Philadelphia in the spring of 1778, they planned a grand farewell for General William Howe, who had been recalled to England. The festival, which was orchestrated by Captain John André, the infamous British spy, took place on May 18, 1778, outside the city at the country estate of Joseph Wharton. Known as the Meschianza, a name that evoked Italian parades of pageantry, the event began with a trip down the Delaware River to the estate on lavishly decorated barges, included a mock jousting tournament in which “knights” competed for the affection of young loyalist ladies, and culminated with dinner and a ball.

Temporary structures akin to stage sets were painted, tents and pavilions were erected, special costumes were designed, and items like mirrors (such as the one shown to the left) and chandeliers were borrowed from nearby estates to create an environment of luxury and elegance. The celebration allowed loyalists to escape the anxiety accompanying the impending departure of the British and the harsh realities of life in a war-torn region.

Meschianza Ticket
Meschianza Ticket, 1778
Attributed to Captain John André, English, 1750 - 1780
7 7/8 x 6 5/16 inches (20 x 16 cm)
Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Gift of Mrs. John Meredith Read, 1990
Meschianza Costume
Sketch of Ladies' Costume, May, 1778
Attributed to Captain John André, English, 1750 - 1780
Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Gift of Mrs. John Meredith Read, 1990