Philadelphia Historical Timeline - 1776: In January, Thomas Paine publishes his pamphlet Common Sense. His argument spreads throughout the colonies, rallying support for American independence. Robert Bell prints Common Sense at his shop at 3rd and Chancellor Streets, near Walnut Street.
John Ross, the husband of Betsy Griscom Ross, dies. Betsy Ross continues the upholstery business. It is likely that John’s uncle, George Ross, in addition to Robert Morris and George Washington, stop by her shop. Tradition holds that they ask the widow to make a flag symbolizing the new American country. Years later, as an elderly grandmother, Ross describes how she showed her distinguished guests how to cut a five-pointed star with one snip of the scissors.
In May, the Second Continental Congress reconvenes in the Pennsylvania State House.
Radical patriots build popular support for independence. Still, about one-third of Philadelphians are for it, one third are against, and the other third are undecided.
Richard Henry Lee addresses Congress on June 7. He offers a resolution that “these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent States.” Congress agrees to vote on the Lee Resolution in several weeks and appoints a committee to draft a declaration to that effect. Four of the members, including Benjamin Franklin, appoint a fifth member, Thomas Jefferson, to sharpen his quill. Jefferson gets to work in his rented rooms in the Graff House, now known as the Declaration House, located at 7th and Market Streets.
On July 1, Congress debates Lee’s resolution. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania makes an impassioned but doomed plea to wait, arguing the colonies are ill-prepared for a full-fledged war against England. John Adams makes an equally passionate plea for independence. In an initial vote, the Pennsylvania delegation is divided: A slim majority sides with Dickinson.
On July 2, Congress votes on Lee’s resolution. John Dickinson and Robert Morris, who voted against independence on July 1, do not attend the session and therefore do not vote. With the two missing delegates, the reduced Pennsylvania delegation votes for independence, joining 11 colonies, now called states. New York abstains.
On July 3, Congress debates the wording of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Edits are made, including the removal of passages that refer to the practice of slavery in America.
On July 4, Congress approves the revised text of the Declaration.
On July 8, John Nixon reads the Declaration of Independence aloud for the first time outside the Pennsylvania State House. Young James Forten, a free black, never forgets hearing those words. He goes on to serve with heroism in the American Revolution. Later, Forten runs a successful sail-making business and becomes a leader in the abolition movement.
The Reverend Jacob Duche, the rector of Christ Church (Church of England), strikes out prayers to King George III in the Book of Common Prayer, substituting them with prayers for the Continental Congress.
On August 2, most delegates sign the official copy of the Declaration, engrossed by Philadelphian Timothy Matlack.
Benjamin Franklin travels to France to persuade King Louis XVI to join the fight against the British.
Thomas Paine begins writing a series of pamphlets, The American Crisis, the first of which starts with the memorable phrase, “These are the times that try men’s souls...”
On Christmas night, George Washington and the Continental Army cross the Delaware River to win a surprise victory over Hessian soldiers slumbering in Trenton, New Jersey
Also, Check Out These Historical Pages:
- Philadelphia History of Beer The American Libation
- Philadelphia's African-American History in Philadelphia
- History of Philadelphia's Independence Mall