Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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New topic 2016-12-04 04:23:55 description

State in Schuylkill Fishing Club

{Richard Romm}
Richard Romm

Richard Romm, a rising historical scholar with a special interest in early Philadelphia, recently educated the Right Angle Club in the history of the Schuylkill Fishing Club in the State in Schuylkill, and was immediately accepted into membership. Of the Right Angle, that is, which is an old club by some standards, but scarcely a hundred years old in the eyes of the really old, old clubs.

The State in Schuylkill is an eating club, originally a fishing and eating club, apparently organized around the annual shad run up the river. The clubhouse, or Castle, was moved several times, in response to damming of the river, and is now located on the grounds of, or adjoining the edge of, Nicholas Biddle's estate on the Delaware River called Andalusia. One by one, the Atlantic Ocean rivers of America have been dammed and their annual shad migrations brought to an end, except through the city of Richmond, Va, so there was little point in moving The Castle to follow the fish. It remains, overlooking Delaware in spite of its name.

There seems to have been several name changes, the most important of which was to change the Colony of Schuylkill to the State of Schuylkill for obvious reasons. Originally, the Castle was roughly opposite the falls of Fairmount on the West Bank of the Schuylkill at about Girard Avenue; thus, from 1732 to 1822 located on Baron Warner's property called Eaglesfield. In 1822 it moved to Rambo's Rock (the Rambo family is said to be the oldest European settler family in Pennsylvania) opposite Bartram's Gardens, then finally in 1887 to Andalusia, Nicholas Biddle's country estate. The club was founded in 1732, and dates of movings are possibly hazy, possibly somewhat because of the reluctance of club officers to return the calls of inquiring historians. The State in Schuylkill claims to be the oldest organized men's club in the world, an honor contested by White's in London. The roots of this argument are found tangled in the vital issue of whether their age should be based on the formal organization of the clubs, or on the establishment of the coffee houses which housed the original clubs. Four books are said to have been written about club history, but we depend here on Mr. Romm.

{Chief Tammenend}
Chief Tammenend

There is also an unclear relationship with Chief Tammenend, possibly traceable to the shad run, but in any event to the Indian chief depicted with William Penn in the paintings by Benjamin West and Edward Hicks. May 1 is St. Tammany's day, growing into the fancy that he was the "Patron Saint of America", before a branch of the nation-wide Tammany association opened in New York and sort of tarnished up the name. Other traditions of the Fishing club have to do with wearing Mandarin hats, possibly having to do with the export of ginseng which was once abundant in our colonial suburbs, with a return cargo of Chinese dishware. All of the cooking is done by official citizens of the club. The quantities of food are remarkable; one 19th Century menu listed eleven pounds of meat per member. The club drink is a punch, the famous Fishhouse Punch, widely recognized to be rather strong. Its inventor is reputed to be Edward Shippen Willing, on the occasion of the first visit to the clubhouse by women guests. The quantity of alcoholic beverage at these events is especially remarkable in view of the Quaker origins of many original members of the club, but not necessarily of the guests. Among the various guests were Generals Grant, Meade, and McClellan. Dinner begins with two traditional toasts: to George Washington, and to Captain Sam Morris. Washington was appropriate enough, having a history of drinking a bottle of Madeira every day at lunch. But Sam? Captain Sam the Quaker?

{Free Quaker Meetinghouse}
Free Quaker Meetinghouse, Fifth and Arch Streets

Somewhere in this tradition are allusions to the Free Quakers, Quakers who abandoned the peace testimony to fight the British. There is also the tradition of hostility to British rule which antedates the Revolution and may have some connection to the fanciful contention that their little state was not really part of Penn's colony. Captain (of the City Troop) Sam was a stalwart, possibly the sole founder, of the Gloucester (N.J.) Fox-hunting club. The history is passed down that 22 of the original 26 members of the First City Troop were members of the fox-hunting club, and many if not most were Quakers. The first "Governor" of the State in Schuylkill was Thomas Stretch, but the second Governor, from 1766 until his death, was Captain Sam. He was repeatedly referred to as the life of the club and held in the highest esteem by all. He was "read out" of the main Quaker Meeting, not so much for his drinking as for his flouting of Quaker belief in pacifism. He reputedly led a saber charge at the Battle of Trenton and was a leader of the City Troop in that revolution within a revolution at James Wilson's house, which rescued at least four future signers of the Constitution from a mob of militia which momentarily turned Jacobin.

Naturally, descendants of Quakers on both side of this uproar have been reluctant to say much about it. But somewhere within the history of Samuel Morris must be some important clues about the 18th Century splits within the Quaker Church, to say nothing of the revolt of the three Quaker colonies against British rule.

Originally published: Tuesday, November 29, 2011; most-recently modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2019

We have the apron of William Weaver who was a member of the State of Schuylkill Fishing Club. Also his membership papers. Interesting article.
Posted by: ML Lukens   |   Nov 19, 2014 8:52 PM
The pictures brought back a lot of memories. I grew up here as my father was care taker of the estate. The night of the fire still haunts us all.
Posted by: Sheryl Hoch   |   Apr 14, 2014 1:11 AM
I found very interesting, informative and well written. I have long had an interest in State of Schuykill.
Posted by: E C Fletcher   |   Mar 29, 2014 9:52 PM
The pictures were given to me by Richard Romm. I don't know where he got them.
Posted by: George Fisher   |   Feb 8, 2014 7:41 PM
Dr. Fisher, In the upcoming issue of Early American Life magazine will be an article about the State of Schuylkill Fishing Club. Could you tell me where you obtained the images that appear at the end of your article? I would like to seek permission from the owner to use some of them to illustrate our story. Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to hearing from you. Jeanmarie Andrews Editor Early American Life 16759 West Park Circle Drive Chagrin Falls, OH 44023 440-543-8566; fax 440-543-3016
Posted by: Jeanmarie Andrews   |   Feb 7, 2014 5:37 PM
I write as the CEO of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London, with an unbroken existence of more than 700 years. Please see more details on our web site; I would very much like to contact someone from the Schuykill Fishing Company to discuss whether we might develop a relationship between 2 of the oldest fishing institutions in the world. I am unable to find the website or a name to contact; might you be able to help? Regards Colin Boag
Posted by: Major General CJ Boag CB CBE   |   Jan 30, 2014 5:40 PM
Hello. I am writing to you to inquire about a sketch type painting inherited by my husband from his grandfather George Pownall Orr. The painting depicts the Castle State in Schuylkill by Joseph P.____? (can't quite make out the last name) It looks like it begins with an S and is a short name. We have another similar painting /sketch by the same artist. I can't help thinking that someone with a connection to the club would enjoy owning it. Please contact me at 484-325-0089 or email me at Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you! Jan Orr
Posted by: Jan Orr   |   Jun 18, 2013 3:32 PM
Well written and most informative. Meanwhile, the east side of the river continues to improve as trails move toward the new South Street Bridge and, on the west side, a path extends north from Bartram's Garden. Perhaps Sam Morris would be proud//
Posted by: Burke Stinson   |   Apr 23, 2012 8:23 AM