PHILADELPHIA REFLECTIONS
Musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for six decades

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Benjamin Franklin
A collection of Benjamin Franklin tidbits that relate Philadelphia's revolutionary prelate to his moving around the city, the colonies, and the world.

The Park and Beyond: East Falls, Germantown, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill
Fairmount Park is large enough to split the City from its suburbs, and is partly a playground, partly a museum. East Falls, Germantown and Chestnut Hill are almost a separate world on the far side of the park.

The Proprietorship of West Jersey
The southern half of New Jersey was William Penn's first venture in real estate. It undoubtedly gave him bigger ideas.

Revolutionary Philadelphia's Loyalists
History is written by the victors, so the Tory Loyalists of Revolutionary Philadelphia have mostly fallen from view.

Touring Philadelphia's Western Regions
Philadelpia County had two hundred farms in 1950, but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.

The Main Line
Like all cities, Philadelphia is filling in and choking up with subdivisions and development, in all directions from the center. The last place to fill up is the Welsh Barony, a tip of which can be said to extend all the way in town to the Art Museum.

Montgomery and Bucks Counties
The Philadelphia metropolitan region has five Pennsylvania counties, four New Jersey counties, one northern county in the state of Delaware. Here are the four Pennsylvania suburban ones.

Bystanders to the Revolution
It wasn't heroic to everyone.

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
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Lansdowne

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/Lansdowne2.jpg}
Lansdowne Map

The Granville, or Lansdowne, family had so many members important in English history, that the Lansdowne name adorns countless schools, boroughs, colleges, museums and other monuments around the former British empire. It would require undue effort to sort out just why each memorial is named after just which member of the family. In the Philadelphia region, Lansdowne is the name of a small borough in Delaware County,

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/Lansdale3.jpg}
Lansdale

often annoyingly confused with Lansdale, a small borough in Montgomery County. However, it really seems more appropriate to focus reverence on the Lansdowne mansion, which from 1773 to 1795 was the home in now Fairmount Park of the last colonial Governor. That would have been John Penn, who was one of several Penns who still shared the Propietorship until 1789, and who shared in the miserly payment which the Legislature of the new Commonwealth made as compensation for expropriating twenty-five million acres of their property. The French Revolution was going on at that time, so there were probably some patriots who would scoff that John Penn was lucky not to be guillotined.

The Penn family could see the Revolution coming, and like everyone else were uncertain who would win. Real decision-making for the Proprietorship rested with Thomas Penn in London, a close friend of the King and his ministers. The strategy employed in this difficult situation was to surrender the right to govern the colony conferred by its original charter, and to become mere real estate owners with John their local representative pledging local allegiance. That might have worked for a while, until General Howe's troops captured Philadelphia. Soldiers were dispatched to Lansdowne to tell John Penn he was under detention, to reduce his potential utility to the occupying army.

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/HorticulturalHall2.jpg}
Horticultural Hall

As matters eventually worked out, some of the Penn descendants remained fairly wealthy after the Revolution, especially those whose wives had inherited substantial assets from other sources. But some were severely impoverished. The stately Georgian mansion burned down in 1854, and the site was then occupied by the Horticultural Hall of the 1876 Centennial Exposition. Perhaps because of misplaced patriotic fervor, it is now difficult to find a picture of Lansdowne.

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William Bingham

The elegance of the place, on 140 acres, is suggested by the fact that William Bingham, the richest man in America at the time, apparently acquired it from James Greenleaf the partner of Robert Morris, and the nephew by marriage of John Penn, who acquired it from Penn's estate but probably had to give it up in the financial disasters of Morris and his firm. Lansdowne was still a grand manor when it was briefly acquired by Joseph Bonaparte, the former King of Spain. In view of the fact that Bingham had provided President Jefferson with the gold to finance the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon Bonaparte, and earlier had practically forced the Congress to call off an impending war with France, there was likely a connection here.

And to some extent, the ill treatment which John Penn received from the Pennsylvania legislature (roughly fifteen cents an acre) in the Divestment Act of 1779 can possibly be traced to the unrelenting hatred by Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania's icon. History does not tell us what made these two former friends fall out in 1754, sufficient to make Franklin willing to spend years in London trying to get the colony away from the Penns. The feeling was surely mutual. When John Penn was offered the patronship of the American Philosophical Society, he declined, just because Franklin was its president. In retrospect, that sounds unwise.

(1140)

WOW. I beg the reader's pardon. There is much that is right in this short piece; I generally like it! I want to thoroughly like it, but it is also screwy. Yes, there was building at the place cited which once was known as Lansdowne. The fact is the John Penn Lansdowne Mansion stood to the north and east within Philadelphia. This error is really sloppy and a sad point in an otherwise good article.
Posted by: Thomas R. Smith   |   Dec 3, 2009 2:37 PM

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