In the years just before the American Revolution, the lower part of Southwark — what is now called Queen Village — was a neighborhood of scattered houses and small farms. The major street of the district, Christian Street, had a growing population of people who had emigrated from German-speaking areas of Europe, such as the Palatine and parts of Switzerland.


REVIEW: “Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution,” by Clifford D. Conner. (Pluto Press, London 2012.)

Historians have not been kind to Jean Paul Marat. Published scholars of the French Revolution, at least in the English language, almost invariably disparage Marat and his work, portraying him as a wild man, a demagogue, even a criminal. Some historians belittle Marat’s significance to the revolutionary struggle as being of small consequence, while others, in complete contradiction, credit his calls for the guillotine as a major inspiration for the Terror that began after his death.

Similarly, a glance at popular biographies of…


“The Whiskey Rebellion” attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).

The winter season of 1794 wore away quickly, yielding a spring of unusual heat in Philadelphia. This raised alarm that an epidemic of yellow fever might strike for a second year in a row. But the heat took a holiday; May Day was cool and drizzly. Despite the chill, about 800 people came out for a “Civic Feast” that was co-sponsored by the Democratic Society of Pennsylvania and the German Republican Society. Participants paid one dollar to get into the grounds.

The Democratic Society closely interlocked in membership with the Tammany Society, a fraternal-type club that had been organized in…


The 1798 fight on the floor of Congress between Democratic Republican Congressman Matthew Lyon (holding tongs) and Federalist Congressman Roger Griswold. Lyon, who opposed the preparations for war by the Adams administration, was later arrested and jailed under the Sedition Acts.

The United States has recently weathered months of political unrest, culminating in the uproar over the outcome of the 2020 elections. To help gain perspective on our own period, it might be worth looking at a time in the early history of the U.S. republic that was particularly contentious.

In the closing decade of the 18th century, many people in this country were deeply inspired by the French Revolution and its message of increased democracy and liberation for the downtrodden. This factor, as well as domestic class frictions, helped to shape a fiercely partisan political scene in the United States…


“A Morning Ramble or the Milliner’s Shop.”

Millinery was an important trade in 18th century Philadelphia, and it was commonly carried out by women. Several millinery shops were located in what is now called Queen Village, especially in the New Market of S. Second Street — the Head House Square of our own times.

Today, milliners are generally considered to be makers or sellers of women’s hats. And hats were the mainstay of the craft in the 18th century as well. But milliners also put together or sold a large variety of clothing — often including gowns and mantuas (evolving forms of dresses) — and accessories.

For…


The yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Source unknown.

Slightly over 200 years ago, Philadelphia was devastated by recurring waves of yellow fever. The epidemic of 1793 wiped out a tenth of the population of the city and adjacent areas, and thousands more died from outbreaks of the disease throughout the next decade.

In the district of Southwark (now called Queen Village), the incidence of infection was quite high. In the epidemic of 1797, proportionally far more died in Southwark than in the city of Philadelphia itself (above South Street). …


“Sailor with Binoculars” by Martin Aagaard (unknown).

For close to three centuries, experienced pilots have guided seagoing vessels through the treacherous waters of the Delaware River and Bay. In the very early days, merchant vessels often relied on Native American pilots from the area of the Delaware capes. By the mid-18th century, however, piloting had become established as a trade; initiates had to undertake training and apprenticeship for four years, and then pass an examination, in order to be admitted to the pilots’ ranks.

Piloting could be highly dangerous in those waters, where currents were unpredictable and storms could sweep in with little warning. Delaware Bay contained…

Michael Schreiber

Michael Schreiber is a writer and local historian who lives in the Queen Village (formerly Southwark) section of Philadelphia. Website: www.philahistory.org

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