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

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Particular Sights to See:Center City
Taxi drivers tell tourists that Center City is a "shining city on a hill". During the Industrial Era, the city almost urbanized out to the county line, and then retreated. Right now, the urban center is surrounded by a semi-deserted ring of former factories.

Albert Gallatin
A magnificent but largely forgotten man.

Philadelphia Women
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German Immigrants via New York
Twenty-five German families made their way to the Harrisburg area by sailing up the Hudson, and then down the Susquehanna, years before other Germans got there by way of Philadelphia. The trip, re-traveled.

French Philadelphia
French Philadelphia

Ethnic Subcultures
Diverse ethnicities make up this city.

Azilum: French Asylum on the Susquehanna

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Marie Antoinette

Just who had the original idea is now obscure, but the original sponsors of French Azilum were Stephen Girard, Robert Morris, and John Nicholson, all of Philadelphia. The idea was that a large number of refugees from the French Revolution would be escaping the terror and looking for a colony of refuge. The slave revolt in Haiti added another group of refugees likely to be looking for a French speaking colony in the new world. Accordingly, a suitable place was found along a bend of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, at the foot of a high cliff on the opposite bank. That stretch of river, now a favorite place for canoe trips, is particularly winding and crooked. The place selected for Azilum had a narrow neck at the base of a horseshoe-shaped loop of the river, enclosing a flat area of several thousand acres of rich farmland within the loop. This configuration ensured privacy for the aristocrats anticipated to settle there, and might even provide for defense positions. Streets were laid out, houses built, a community center and even a somewhat overoptimistic home for Queen Marie Antoinette who of course did not escape the guillotine. Just what happened next is unclear; Haitian refugees may have brought in Yellow Fever, the financial disasters of Robert Morris and John Nicholson may have intervened, or the refugees may have just stopped arriving. In any event, the colony gradually declined and only a few cabins are left. But the farmland, the climate moderated by the high cliffs surrounding it, and the views remain to stimulate the imagination of visitors.

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Azilum: Overlook From the Endless Mountains

It is proudly related that Talleyrand himself made a visit to Azilum, and no doubt other French notables stopped by. But in many ways the most notable visitors were the three Princes of France, led by the Dauphin Louis Joseph, the Duke of Orleans who was to become Louis Phillippe, "King of the French" in 1830. Louis was the first son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In 1809 he would marry Princess Marie Amalie of Bourbon-Siceles, but at the age of 16 he required the loan of $13,000 from Gouvernor Morris the former Minister to France in order to slip out of the revolutionary dangers of Republican France and escape to Philadelphia. Louis Joseph was in particular danger because he had been educated in the natural philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and therefore was detested by aristocrats as well as hated by Jacobins for his ancestry. Although there was glamor to his ancestry and recent history, he evidently was pear-shaped and did not cut much of a romantic figure. Having lost his money and apparently also his throne, he was not a sort of person to inspire people to risk their own lives on his behalf. Escaping by way of Switzerland and Hamburg, he eventually found himself in a second-floor room at 4th and Locust (Prune Street in those days) in Philadelphia, rather down on his luck. In time, he was joined by his two younger brothers, who were rather sickly with what later proved to be fatal tuberculosis.

{Louis Philippe}
Louis Philippe in 1838

Louis Joseph spent four years in Philadelphia, eventually becoming the subject of two famous adventures. The first was romantic, when he proposed marriage to Abby Willing the sister of Anne Willing Bingham and daughter of rich old merchant Thomas Willing. That clear-eyed Quaker said no, you may not marry my daughter. "As an exile, destitute of means, you are not a suitable match for my daughter. Should you recover your rights, she will not be a suitable match for you." Several wittier versions of the same response are in circulation, so it was treated as a delicious piece of gossip, but no one challenges the essential truth of it.

Appalachian America in 1790 was a dangerous place to travel, so quite a different picture of the three princes emerges from even the briefest recitation of their American travels. They traveled south to see the new capital arising in Washington, and pronounced it a swamp. From there, they toured the Shenandoah Valley and then the length of Tennessee on the Cumberland River, coming back to Pittsburgh and going north to Niagara Falls. From there they toured Iroquois territory, paddling by canoe down Seneca Lake, onward to Elmira, and down the Chemung River to the point where it joins the North Branch of the Susquehanna; and thence down to visit Azilum. What sort of reception they received there is not now known, but the settlers of Azilum were known to be fiercely "legitimate" in their sentiments, and hence may have given the Princes a cool reception in response to arcane loyalties to various branches of the monarchy. In any event, the royal travelers went on to Wilkes Barre and thus back to Philadelphia. Later voyages down the Mississippi led them to New Orleans and Havana. Throughout these adventures it was not uncommon for the royal brothers to sleep three in a bed.

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Not much more than this bare outline has been publicised about the episode of French royalty in America, probably because America entered into a period of intense friction over loyalties to the French help to us in our Revolution, contending with major loyalties to our British heritage and revulsion at the excesses of the French Revolution. The matter was complicated by the strong pro-French sympathies of Thomas Jefferson, mixed into the violent partisanship of the feud between the Federalists and the Republicans at the origin of our political parties. This much can be said in conclusion: the two younger princes both died early of tuberculosis, Louis Joseph reigned as King of the French from 1830 to 1848. And Abby Willing married Richard Peters, a much more suitable husband in the eyes of her family.

In 1794 the Asylum Co. was founded by U.S. Senator Robert Morris and John Nicholson. Pennsylvania Comptroller General, to develop and sell lands in northeastern Pennsylvania. Although it was rumored that Marie Antoinette was to be housed in the 1600 acres on the North branch of the Susquehanna River near the present Towanda, she had actually already been executed in late 1793. In 1795 Nicholson succeeded to Morris' interest, and three years later Morris was put in debtor' prison. In 1802, Napoleon invited all French emigrants to come home, and only a few stayed behind in Azilium. The Asylum Co. soon dissolved.

(2014)

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