Phily Trip Day 11 – Lectures and self-guided exploration

June 11, 2008

Greetings everyone. Yes, some may call me a slacker because I have three days still to blog, but I prefer to think of it as building the reader’s anticipation and suspense. 🙂

I spent the morning of Day 11 attending two lectures. The first with Professor David Waldstreicher and the second with Robert Engs. The lectures were held on the University of Pennsylvania campus in this building.

Benjamin Franklin sits in front of this building.

And this sculpture is in front of him. Apparently, he’s popped a button.

Back to the lectures…Professor Waldstreicher spoke about his book, Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution.  Franklin was a man who envisioned the future and tried to prepare for it. He was a leader; he formed organizations; he was a statesman; he was a politician. Mostly, he was a Renaissance man. He was ahead of his time. Franklin was amazing in every facet of his life and especially that he molded all these personal attributes into one cohesive persona. In his later life, he added abolitionist to his many interests and causes.

For me, the most interesting part of Franklin’s life was that he was a runaway indentured servant (carpentry) who fled a cruel master and ended up in Philadelphia at age 15. Eventually, he married Deborah Reed, became involved in printing his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, prospered financially, and was able to retire around the age of 40.

Professor Waldstreicher’s posed this question. How did Benjamin Franklin become free? His answer is thought-provoking. Franklin became free out of his own ingenuity, the distance between his place of servitude and Philadelphia, trickery on his own behalf, and lack of what we now call extradition of fugitives.  Professor Waldstreicher left me with another point to contemplate. Indentured servitude is the theft of a person’s labor. I’m still mulling over the ramifications of that statement.

I could go on and on about Franklin’s life, but in addition to Professor Waldstreicher’s book, these two books, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon Wood and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Issacson, would obviously be better sources of information for further reading. 🙂

Robert Engs said his lecture is called Banned from Gettysburg because of the controversial material of the Great American Slave Rebellion because the subject matter doesn’t show up in history texts. His main points were these:

*Slaves were denied the right to write their own history.

*The South called the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression.

*It is a myth that President Lincoln freed the slaves. They freed themselves through cooperation with the North, participation as soldiers, and noncooperation with the South.

Professor Engs explained there the four questions that whites were preoccupied with during the Civil War.

1. Would blacks rebell?

2. Do blacks want freedom?

3. Will blacks fight for their freedom?

4. Will blacks know what to do with freedom when/if they get it?

These are his answers.

Answer #1. Slave insurrection wasn’t a viable worry because blacks weren’t fools nor were they suicidal. They knew what would happen. They were well aware the war was, in part, about their freedom. They knew that to rebell on their own was futile and they bided their time, but desertion and noncooperation helped bring the South down through passive resistance. They also aided the northern wounded and those that make it to the northern states provided intelligence information. If there was rebellion on their parts, it was a silent rebellion. 

Answer #2. This question implies that slaves were a subhuman species who couldn’t think. Professor Engs said, “Of course they wanted freedom. So long as they could obtain it without losing their lives.” Whenever northern troops were close enough, slaves deserted by the droves. However, the downside of this was sometimes the escaped slaves were treated worse by the north than by the southern plantation owners. Often times in the Union camps, they were little more than contraband and not considered freemen. Quartermasters tended to rerout the supplies and food allocations for runaway blacks (refugees) rather than give it to them.

Answer #3. Blacks learned to survive. They worked for officers for money and also went out to work land on their own. There were 400,000+ slave/laborers and 200,000+ served in the military. This means that that same number of northern white men would have been needed to continue fighting and these men didn’t exist. So blacks helped move the North to victory by sheer numbers. In essence, blacks were prepared to fight for their own freedom. The white South was furious over the North using black troops and even some northern newspapers said it was better to lose the war than to use blacks to help win it. The South didn’t use black soldiers until the ending days of the war and this had been a practice of the North for two years. Freedom was offered in exchange for service. Blacks served mostly in the navy. Lincoln approved black soldiers, not bewcause he wanted to, but because he couldn’t win without them. Black soldiers were often in as much danger from Union whites as Confederate whites. There were even instances where northern white soldiers actually fired upon the black soldiers in their regiments.

Professor Engs mentioned that the movie Glory was a fairly well-done depictment of the 54th Massachusetts black regiment, although it has its issues in showing the black soldiers as mostly uneducated, which is incorrect, and it was overdone in Robert Shaw’s portrayal as the hero. It was the first black regiment to fight and, Shaw, the commander was a white Boston aristocrat. This group was renouned for its refusal to accept wages that were unequal to white soldiers.

Answer #4. Blacks knew clearly what they wanted in freedom: rights, physical freedom, privledges of whites, political freedom, and education. Professor Engs said they wanted four houses: farm, court, church, and school.

It should be noted that the Emancipation Proclamation was a war measure without Constitutional validity and it was the 13th Amendment that ultimately freed the slaves.

Both lectures prompted me to want to research farther into the topics.

Here’s a bronze of Benjamin Franklin on the university campus.

Following the lectures, I spent the afternoon exploring several places of historic interest.

I mailed postcards home from the Benjamin Franklin post office. The cancellation mark reads:  B Free Franklin.  

There is a small postal museum upstairs. Since I have a particular fondness for the American Old West, here’s the display of the Pony Express.

 The next pictures are close-ups of the display.                        


This is Elfreth’s Alley. It is the longest continuously inhabited street in America.




I didn’t actually make it all the way to Penn’s Landing, but this is the statue near the entrance. 

The following information is an excerpt from: A SHORT HISTORY OF PENN’S LANDING ( )

William Penn first sailed up the Delaware River in the fall of 1682 aboard the ship Welcome, an aptly named vessel, for in Penn’s progressive vision of his colony, all religions would be welcome to pray as they pleased. Penn arrived in Philadelphia by barge from the downriver town of Chester where the Welcome had moored. He alit near a tidewater basin called the Dock fed by a creek of the same name. At the time of Penn’s arrival, the area was inhabited, though sparsely, by some landowners in his “holy experiment,” as well as by Swedes, Dutch, and Indians. Many of these locals gathered to welcome Penn near the Blue Anchor Tavern, an inn being built along Dock Creek.

Nineteenth-century historian John Fanning Watson, author of the nonpareil “Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania,” believed that the landing of Penn in Philadelphia rivaled the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in importance and should have been similarly canonized. Writing in 1842, a time when the Penn’s Landing area was a web of wharves and commerce, he rhapsodized fancifully about what Penn might have seen in 1682: “the creek adorned with every grace of shrubbery and foliage, and beyond it…a few of the natives’ wigwams, intermixed among the shadowy trees.”

Penn himself, mindful of the salubrious effect of greenery and open space within a city, had intended to have a tree-lined promenade planted along the area today named for him. Economics dictated otherwise.

Another place I visited was the Christ Church cemetery where Benjamin Franklin is buried.



These are the graves of Benjamin and his wife Deborah. There’s a tradition to throw pennies on Franklin’s grave. Heads up: long and prosperous life. Tails up: you’ll die within the year. I refrained from tossing a penny. I decided to continue living the wildly adventurous and unpredictable life to which I’ve grown accustomed and blatantly mock fate.

While walking through this cemetery, I also came across the Powell family graves. You might remember the Powells from my haunted house tour a few days ago. 

 Carpenter’s Hall was another stop. 

Carpenter’s Hall had just been completed in September of 1774 when it hosted the First Continental Congress which was meeting to oppose British rule. Franklin hired the master architect, Robert Smith, of the Carpenter’s Company. The company had been founded in 1724. The carpenters group became influential and the center of Philadelphia politics. It was also the headquarters of the First Bank of the United States in 1791. The building itself is in the form of a Greek cross with Palladian windown on the second story. Inside there is a display of early carpentry tools and a display of eight Windsor chairs that were used by members of the First Continental Congress. 


 I also browsed through the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. I have a lot of pictures, but the policy for taking pictures inside the museum was they couldn’t be published.


 Click on this link – What would Indiana Jones think? – for a little taste of one of the museum’s exhibits.

 Now, how could I use any of this information in my classroom? Let me count the ways…I could have students explore what their history text doesn’t tell about Benjamin Franklin’s life and how the slaves viewed the war and their ultimate role in winning their own freedom. We could study the history of the postal service beginning with Franklin’s post office. I sent postcards home from the Franklin post office so I’d have a real example (primary source) of the B Free Franklin cancellation stamp for the students to see. We could investigate the Pony Express and Carpenter’s Hall and the critical role the Carpenter Company played in the early days of America’s independence. Delving into William Penn’s life and the role he played in Philadelphia’s history could be another activity.

Day 12…off to Winterthur in Delaware.

Until later.

















  1. Robert Smith is awsome.. he’s going to be my new hero now… just think of it .. i can be a carpenter….

  2. Perhaps you should do some research about Robert Smith and present your information to the class when we study the Revolutionary War this fall.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s