Imagine being taken to a virgin field in the middle of nowhere, a very large one, and being instructed by your boss that you must build a human settlement, a town on it.

Where do I get the stuff I need to do that, you push back  That’s your job, he counters-but I’ll give you one hint: you either make your own/improvise, or you get it from somewhere.

Stop reading! Think a wee bit. Let your mind wander. How do you actually do this?

Pause for thought Please!

Congratulations! You have now become a Pennsylvania/Philadelphia  economic developer in a primeval start from scratch in the New World.

There may be other options than your boss gave you, but she does force you back to basic reality: either you develop self-sufficiency by innovating, and then entrepreneurship in creating an entity to produce the product-service OR, you get it from somebody, the Indians perhaps (that’s what the Jamestown Virginians and Pilgrims did), or you import it from the outside world. You need tools and people, or you’re going to have to do it yourself with your own hands–even Robinson Crusoe had his Friday. Sooner or later, the stuff Penn brought with him would be exhausted, and then rubber had better hit the road.  Not much rubber hit the road in Jamestown, that’s why so many died in those first years. Plymouth was a bit better, but not by much. The Indians brought the food for Thanksgiving.

If you want to borrow from someone nearby, than you have got to trade, and finance that trade. Eventually the Indians wanted weapons, and that didn’t seem like a good idea. So you figure out, I’ve got to import–but you still have to trade and finance that trade, and you also have to get there (transportation–ships for coastal trade or cross-Atlantic but you need tools and some idiot that knows how to use them for planks-masts and sails (i.e. make rope/cloth) or wagons, wheels and horses have to come from somewhere though. Where is Door Dash when you really need them–and Amazon?

Well that is people-attraction, skills development, and toss in some creativity, innovation (making do, experimenting), and the get up and go to make it all sustaining (an organization, hate to use the word business it sounds capitalistic today). Obviously the Maslowian necessities come first (you’ll worry about empowerment and self actualization later): home (another word for protection), heat, food, and if you are really smart, the tools and expertise–that’s the people-attraction stupid. So, it appears that the obvious is what one does to start an economic base; you borrow where you can, you import what you must to survive, and then strive for self-sufficiency. Underlying all this is currency and getting your hands on it (venture capital-philanthropic endowments–and trade, exchanging what you have for money or barter. These are the economic development strategies that come into play in the founding of a colonial port city-settlement. BTW How does community development fit into all this?

It can. Bethlehem Pennsylvania is an example found later in the chapter. John Winthrop’s Puritans had some ideas on that subject as well (next chapter). In any case this is pretty much what Philadelphia did for the first generation of its existence. It did not really move beyond this self-sufficiency phase until after 1710 or so. Still as we shall see, self-sufficiency requires food (agriculture), importing people, and development from scratch of a transportation cluster–and some thought regarding how to pay for all this. It also, if you think about it, requires urban settlements. History suggests that agricultural economic bases can meaningfully diversify only if they develop an urban settlement.

Wait a minute, didn’t you leave out agriculture? Yep! If you were smart enough to bring your tools, and had the skill to use them, you were your own master of a settlement–more precisely an individual homestead. But a subsistence agricultural homestead is not a settlement (people clustered together to symbiotically living in an economic community). Still, there is one sector of the economy that with luck and good weather, you can meet the basic needs. Interestingly, the great thinkers that founded Jamestown wanted to find a natural resource (gold), and then trade that for stuff to find more gold–a sophisticated ED strategy to be sure. Eating and safety, however, got in the way of that–their algorithm was faulty.

But they did have another idea: grow a crop that others wanted and sell it to them; that turned out to be tobacco, and voila you have an economic base revolving on export. Establish a brand, i.e. Virginia tobacco is better than  its competitors, and you can sit back, light up, and import whatever you want (sounds like Facebook)–but is it sustainable? Brands, have a lifecycle. . Of course, that required an innovator-entrepreneur (Rolfe and Pocahontas), but if you are content to copy, a little dose of that is all you need. You can import whatever you need and exporting the crop pay for it.  Export only economies have their faults; diversified economies reduce dependence on the crop and the volatility of its export–but that requires settlements, not just plantations, and Virginia was not into city-building. It didn’t fit into the royalist Tidewater political culture, or the plantation owner mentality. So an economic developer could only learn so much from the Virginia chapter.

These are the core of building the economic base from scratch. They were prevalent in Pennsylvania in 1682, as they will be in the first colony on the moon. In any case the reader has been introduced into the deeply profound and sophisticated conceptual morass that I collapse within a macro-economic development strategy, which dependent on the province we call settlement, or town, or city-building. Now we are ready for Pennsylvania economic base-building.



The Rise of Philadelphia

the Free Society of Traders: Penn Creates an EDO to Install Pennsylvania’s Initial Economic Base

To advance his desire to develop the Pennsylvania economic base along he lines envisioned by his plan–and to (1) attract direct capital investment, and (2) promote a balanced diversification of economic activity, Penn created and entrusted a charter to “the Free Society of Traders” in 1682 when he arrived. Intended to be an organization of affluent merchants, large landowners, and associates close to him personally, who would shape, lead, and even direct key economic sectors in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. He granted the company 20,000 acres, allocated three seats on the upper legislative chamber, the Provincial Council. The Society developed a plan that encompassed management of agricultural fields, mining, and manufactories in Philadelphia, the Delaware River or Chesapeake Bay. “The Society obtained a charter from the Proprietor enabling it to buy and sell lands, to establish manufacturers, to conduct trading operations, and to carry on an extensive systems of agriculture. The sum of 12,475 pounds was quickly subscribed to by a group of two hundred twenty members [99] John Pomfret, “the First Purchasers of Pennsylvania: 1681-1700, pp. 153-54

The Free Society of Traders was clearly an economic development organization (EDO), a forerunner of the state-chartered corporation–a quasi-public, public private partnership. “The Society laid out an ambitious plan that would take advantage of resources such as agricultural fields, mining operations, fisheries, a fur trade with regional Indian tribes, and manufactories in Philadelphia on the Delaware River or on the Chesapeake Bay” [99] Lance R. Eisenhower, the Free Society of Traders“.

The Company, whatever blessings it offered Penn, was controversial to non-Free Society members. When Penn convened the Legislature in 1683, one of its first acts was to reject the Free Traders Charter, one of Penn’s first indications that Pennsylvania politics was already “going south”. To compensate the Free Society, Penn granted on his own authority more acreage for the Society’s Philadelphia land allotment. Instead of eight acres, he gave them one hundred contiguous acres in a prominent location central to the city and the waterfront, and partly on a hill. This critically placed land was selected primarily of its natural advantages and also because in Penn’s eye this was the area he wanted best developed so to seed his new economic base.

From this location  would come the coordinated decisions for the economy of the entire province as well as Philadelphia. There the Society constructed its exchange and auxiliary buildings. As the land was platted it was transferred to a who’s who of Penn’s close associates and Free Society members.  and well-place location. To glimpse ahead a bit, the merchant elite of the Free Society did not prove to be the “best and the brightest, its officials on the whole and over time proved incompetent administrators. The Society wasted no time in creating financial difficulties within a year of its birth. Worse arguably, the Society became a lightning rod for dissatisfaction with Penn and his own indifferent management. A spate of lawsuits followed from non-Society merchants, speculators and businessmen. By 1686, all these woes combined and the Society had to sell of much of the land it owned, as well as its Trading House to pay off its debts.

That land is better known as Society Hill, and is arguably Philadelphia’s present day most affluent and historical neighborhood.

Indeed, practically all of the two hundred and twenty subscribers to the Society of Free Traders … were members of the Society of Friends, and fully half of them were First Purchasers. I am sure the present day residents of the neighborhood are honored by the heritage and memory of a neighborhood of economic developers, founded by proceeds of a fire sale when the economic developers went bust. There’s a little bit of something here for everyone. [99] John Pomfret, “the First Purchasers of Pennsylvania: 1681-1700,

Philadelphia First Municipal Policy System: the “Closed” Philadelphia Corporation

Our previous English to Philadelphia municipal corporation discussion alerted the reader to several “moving parts” (dynamics) that would play a role in its organization, policy-making, and effectiveness: these included the tradition of guild-Managed Privatism, the absence of the guild in America, the vagaries of personal rule/administration by the sole proprietor, the “herding cats” value system of Quakers and First Purchasers (There was precious little of Winthrop in Penn and less commitment to governance in Quakerism than in Puritanism). and the unknown realities of establishing a commercial center in the American wilderness. The daunting task of reconciling urban order in a Holy Experiment intended to produce a successful urbanization and prosperous economic growth in all its aspects was obviously not a known science with well-thought-through principles. That matter was even more complex in that neither Penn, nor his citizens/residents, were profoundly interested  in their governance, and considerably more involved with their personal affairs, and with attending to their mercantilist and agricultural ambitions and enterprises. Urban governance from Philadelphia’ rude beginning were decidedly secondary.

We are well aware Penn likely intended his chartered private-public corporation, the Free Society of Traders (1682) to be his first effort to impose order on what would be Philadelphia. That order, primarily economic in its ambitions, dedicated more to founding a Philadelphia and Pennsylvania economic base than to serving as a municipal corporation in our modern sense. Lloyd was always the corporation’s driving force, as well as the agent of its actual formation. So Penn was likely not willing to create a true residential “freeholder” democratic franchise which to the extent it could vote at all would likely vote to support his political Quaker Party opposition. Penn had to confront that possibility because it was obvious that lacking a guild structure in Philadelphia the English definition of urban freeholder–a member of a guild–was a null set. Who were the Philadelphia freeholders of this proposed municipal corporation going to be. The freeholders were “members” of the corporation that were appointed by him as members. About fifty families were included in its initial membership. This was far from Athenian democracy at its best.

It’s second mayor, Edward Shippen (the First), a wealthy Quaker merchant from New England, a Pennsylvania real estate speculator and a Penn Proprietary supporter) dominated the first years of the Philadelphia Corporation. The members were the Corporation’ voting franchise, and they elected a “city council”. The lowest level of the Philadelphia Corporation, a city council, elected a higher level legislature , the aldermen, who themselves elected the mayor. The mayor possessed little formal power, and no pay for his efforts and troubles. Reimbursement for expenditures was all they got. Usually the members met at the annual meeting, and attended Corporation affairs after only to the extent they were called to action.  Although Penn named the four principal officers from among his supporters, fourteen of the twenty aldermen and councillors chosen [by him] had signed Lloyd’s petition of protest [which had triggered Penn’s reluctantly issued Charters of Privilege] [99] Joseph E. Illick, Colonial Pennsylvania: a History (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), p. 74 This none-too-subtle bipartisan composition of the Corporation’s governing elite suggests the political compromise that underlay the Charter of Privileges.


I am sure the wonder wonders why I stressed so lengthy how the residents of Philadelphia were disenfranchised before 1701. It should also be apparent that the economic, fiscal and quality of life relevant policy areas were essentially out of Philadelphia political control, competing at best for attention with the hinterland Pennsylvania Quaker majority. It is obvious to me at least that Penn’s municipal corporation did little formally to address these deficiencies. In essence, the Philadelphia Municipal Corporation, obviously a closed corporation restricted to those appointed by Penn to membership, would only possess a limited Philadelphia loyalty and identity. Just as obvious is that the individuals he appointed where overwhelmingly Quakers and First Purchasers. What mattered even more was Penn allowed members to appoint their replacement upon death or retirement. There is no doubt that one can describe the Philadelphia Corporation as a “closed corporation”. What also is equally valid is that it is “a private corporation”. Penn had replaced guild-certified freeholder franchise with a Quaker moneyed elite–who did not necessarily reside in Philadelphia–with private individuals often from a selected set of families who over time looked more like a Roman Senate oligopoly whose interests in the affairs of a Roman Mob was negligible if not oppositional. Penn had “privatized” Philadelphia governance, yes, but he did so in a very distinctive “style” than what would evolve in other American cities of size (New York City being the most conspicuous counter-example).

That these Quakers were likely to appoint their sons or male relatives meant that the Municipal Corporation’s membership turned into a family affair, and that families were likely to develop coalitions and rivalries with other families given sufficient time–and the future descendents may or may not retain their Quaker beliefs or redefine them–or that a member could designate a non-Quaker wealthy business partner were all dynamics that escaped Penn’s mind and his pen. The reader may assume correctly that I have given her a glimpse in the crystal ball of the Philadelphia Corporation. What the reader might not know is this Corporation “governed” if that is the word Philadelphia into the American 1776 Revolution, at such time as it was overthrown by the likes of the outside agitator Massachusetts Addams’ Family (Sam and John) perhaps hints that the gap between the Philadelphia the Corporation did not represent and the narrow interests of the Corporation widened considerably over the seventy-five years.

Changes in the Common Council–a body of twenty-two men in 1701–depended on the wishes of whatever faction held a majority vote there; the dominant party decided who to choose to membership [in the powerful Board of Alders], and whether new members be chosen at all. The [Philadelphia] Corporation government was thus closed … in striking contrast to the New England town to full or even meaningful citizen participation” [99] Judith Diamondstone, “the Government of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia” in Bruce C. Daniels (Ed), Town and County: Essays on the Structure of Local Government in the American Colonies (Wesleyan  University Press, 1978), pp. 243-4.


Philadelphia’s Policy-Making Quandary

The municipal corporation established by the Charter of Privileges  in 1701 had to find its niche in the competitive cacophony that was Pennsylvania’s post-Charter of Privileges policy system. The Philadelphia Corporation overlapped by Philadelphia County, also had issues with the Provincial legislature (reduced to one branch in 1701) which met in the capital city. The Pennsylvania General  Assembly was very much involved in Philadelphia governance in its day-to-day affairs. As Judith Diamondstone asserts “The Philadelphia Corporation played second fiddle to the provincial government on every count. It suffered from the Assembly’s presence in Philadelphia and from its tendency to interest itself in the details of city government“. Citing  the classic historian of American cities, E. S. Griffith, she further asserts this situation was common in the colonies,  quoting Griffith that  “In many instances, notably in the capital cities, the assembly (lower house) appeared to regard itself as the actual government of the town[99] Judith Diamondstone, “Philadelphia’s Municipal Corporation, 1701-1776Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (April, 1966), p. 183. In that the Philadelphia Corporation stood apart from the larger diverse policy streams and politics, as well as the expectations, and wishes and expectations of its residents and citizens, the Philadelphia Corporation was a relatively sedate backwater political body reflective of an elite old Quaker upper political class and those wealthy entrepreneurs who were able to gain membership.

In fact political responsiveness of the general community does not appear to have been an important goal of the Corporation; response to the interests of the Philadelphia upper class or at least of those well-to-do families from which most Corporation members were drawn, was far more important. Private self-interest animated the Philadelphia Corporation far ahead of service to the community [99] Judith Diamondstone, “the Government of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia” in Bruce C. Daniels (Ed), Town and County: Essays on the Structure of Local Government in the American Colonies (Wesleyan  University Press, 1978), p. 248

The original 1701 Corporation (entitled “the mayor and commonality of Philadelphia in the province of Philadelphia”) was little more than a collection of elective offices.What it did retain from the English municipal corporation, however, was that its purpose, the functions and policy areas assigned to it, which mirrored those of the traditional English municipal corporation. In Penn’s words the function of the Philadelphia Municipal Corporation was  “for the more immediate and entire government of the said town, and better regulation of the trade within“. which Diamondstone summarizes as “the Corporation was both a commercial body, and a political and administrative one ..As a commercial body it supervised the markets and fairs, the wharves of the port, and the commons of the city” (parks and public buildings) [99] Judith Diamondstone, “Philadelphia’s Municipal Corporation, 1701-1776“, p 186-7 . The” better regulation of trade”  included maintenance of several market areas and public fairs, constructing the buildings associated with each, setting the price of food staples and necessities, establishing and inspecting weights and measures, establishing and regulating the rates of modes of transportation, and constructing and maintaining facilities. Philadelphia’s problem, not evident in 1701, was how to pay for expenses and debt related to these functions–the administrative power to tax for specific purposes was the key administrative power not specifically mentioned in the corporation’s charter.

While Philadelphia’s economic functions were reasonably precise, its urban administrative functions/powers were loosely defined:

and to make … such and so many good and reasonable laws, ordinances, and constitutions (not repugnant to the laws of England and this government {proprietary] as … shall seem necessary and convenient for the government of said city“.

Colonial courts and the state legislature, however, were “literalist” and biased toward limited government/low to no taxes: if the constitution does say it outright you don’t have the power. What is not evident to the reader is Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges granted to the Pennsylvania General Assembly the power to regulate cities. The Pennsylvania Corporation whenever it desired to enter into a new policy area, exert some specific power or program would have to appeal for approval from the State Legislature because the Philadelphia Corporation lacked specific authorization to do so. That, as we shall see, allowed the Legislature the opportunity to either consent to empowering the Corporation and enlarging its sphere or operations and resources available–or figuring out its own way to resolve the issue or problem, without necessarily employing the services of the Corporation, i.e. it could bypass the Corporation and set up its own administrative channel into Philadelphia city-policy-making and implementation. Oh what a tangled web we weave when we write constitutions and charters.

With an incredibly nasty, chronically polarized elite-dominated partisan policy system, the average Pennsylvanian was virtually untaxed and ungoverned, burdened by little governmental regulation, and free to improve and prosper economically, and accordingly move up into the colony’s political elite. If ever a city could be compared to a enterprise or opportunity zone that endured for nearly a century, 18th century Philadelphia would be it–no wonder Sam Bass Warner found it the bastion of privatism.  It is perhaps possible that even Ayn Rand would have been happy there. It is also little wonder the City became America’s largest, its port the biggest, its piers the entry way for America’s first horde of foreign migrants, its merchants the wealthiest–they would found America’s first commercial bank, and by the time of the Revolution  it served as the capital of the Articles of Confederation,. Until 1840 Philadelphia was North America’s most heavily populated urban center (if one counted its two suburbs).


Part II

Philadelphia’s First Policy System: Privatism Personified

So now the reader understands (1) the creation of Philadelphia’s First Policy System in 1701; (2) the thesis of this history on how and why Pennsylvania (and Philadelphia) initial policy systems were created–by a seventy-five year struggle of the Pennsylvania Legislature against the Penn Proprietorship. In this module we tackle how they evolved during the pre-1776 period and will hopefully discover in that struggle produced an enlarged Philadelphia policy system that included, not only the forlorn Philadelphia Corporation, but  a rival set of semi-independent elected officials and what comes perilously close to special, semi-autonomous independent commissions and districts that held sway over critical policy areas.

This dastardly structural evolution did not come by accident but by intention of the Pennsylvania General Assembly which was determined to secure its dominance over the key legislative functions and policy areas of Pennsylvania’s provincial-state Policy System, freeing it from the capricious governance of the Penn Family Proprietary. The effort as well shall later discover came to naught for both parties as they were overthrown in the 1776 Pennsylvania Revolution. The lessons from this conflict, however, are worth a module, because (1) we can see how Policy Systems evolve, and most importantly (2) can appreciate how the structural mélange created by Proprietorship, Philadelphia Corporation, and the General Assembly left in place a structure and process foundation that was inherited by the Policy Systems created in 1776–and which therefore continued ever after to the present day.

As if these were not sufficient moving parts to confuse and bewilder the reader, I propose to add yet another. Arguably the single best known book on Philadelphia policy-making is Sam Bass Warner’s, the Private City. It is, I think fair to say, one of the classics of urban politics and history as well.  In that book Warner makes his case for Privatism as a dominant style of urban policy-making, a style that fails to adapt to, cope with and alleviate the problems and issues of urban growth, economic development, and political development. His case study of three periods of Philadelphia was subsequently so well received that reviews often lead off with the sentence “Sam Bass Warner’s study of Philadelphia is one of the most important books in the field of urban history[99] Review by Park Dixon Goist, in Technology and Culture (Johns Hopkins University and Society for the History of Technology), Vol 10, No. 4 (Oct, 1969), pp. 618-20. So not 0nly is Warner’s Private City important to our history in its own right, but it also is incumbent on us to integrate into our conceptual fabric the phenomenon he calls Privatism–which to stress to the reader overlaps Philadelphia and overlays the policy systems of colonial and contemporary major American cities. That Privatism is a base on which our Community Development approach will contrast and resist only adds to its importance in our history.

To handle this extra moving part I offer a bit of a insight that will both calm and orient the reader to its discussion in this module.

The Private City is a case study of Philadelphia–which by Warner and by others has been and still is applied to the policy systems of historical and contemporary urban America. I argue that Philadelphia’s privatism cannot serve that wider task, that its findings apply well to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, but to extend them to Charleston, Baltimore, New York City or wherever sets up a straw man policy system which fits none. Indeed, in the Private City Warner applies his findings to Boston and discover he finds a different privatism that in general he finds more pleasing–effective and moral.  The privatism he discovers, in my opinion, is more properly that of Philadelphia’s privatism–and it is very helpful in understanding the political culture of Philadelphia’s privatist elites. If so, the structural fragmentation which Warner suggests accentuates the privatism, is for me a key characteristic of Philadelphia’s (Pennsylvania’s) version of privatism and the two linked, hand to glove, by the Quaker political culture which solidified in its opposition to the Penn proprietary and the colonies-wide privatization of elites that necessarily resulted from the absence of the guild in importing the English municipal corporation. Warner’s deficient privatism is that of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, and privatism as it evolved in other colonies, such as Massachusetts, took other forms and presided over a different structural history and political culture.

Hoping this insight defuses concern about the Privatism moving part of this module, I return to our original argument and commence the second driver, the struggle between the Penn Proprietary and the General Assembly as it impacted the Philadelphia municipal corporation and the evolution of the eighteenth century Philadelphia policy system.

The Municipal Corporation Attempts to Assume the Powers/Responsibilities of the Guild

The 1701 framework for the Philadelphia municipal corporation that Penn crafted/negotiated and which was approved by the General Assembly was obsolete the day it started.  Literally Penn left town for England a week or two later, heading into bad times, and leaving the field of battle to is local proprietary elite and the vicissitudes of the General Assembly. Interestingly, the Crown never repudiated the Penn Proprietary, but Penn from this point on suffered from distance, delegated leadership, and distraction by other problems and concerns. Less obvious, but far more central to the obsolescence of the Philadelphia corporation structure was economic growth that created a sustained population surge in the Pennsylvania port city. Growth directly triggered change that given the Philadelphia Corporations prime objective and mission/purpose–economic development–imposed new demands on the Corporation for action.

Teaford presents strong evidence after 1700 the colonies grew dramatically, and its larger urban centers, similarly entrusted with the prime objective of the English municipal corporation, also reacted. “In the years following late-seventeenth century incorporation “America’s aldermen and [city] councillors fulfilled the expectations of their royal and proprietary benefactors, devoting the bulk of their legislative effort to promoting economic order and growth” He cites that “through 1705 and 1724 of the thirty-four [Philadelphia Corporation] ordinances drafted during this period, again more than half concern commerce“. Public works  another 18%., and Public Safety and Order another 12%. Assuming responsibilities formerly performed by the guild, the municipal corporation, the Philadelphia Corporation in 1705 drafted legislation forbidding non freeholding [merchants] from keeping shop or practicing as master craftsmen, and “six years later limited their leasing market stalls“. The battle between the Philadelphia Corporation membership/freeholders and the city’s nonmember trading community had started [99] Jon C. Teaford, the Municipal Revolution in America: Origins of Modern Urban Government, 1650-1824 (University of Chicago Press, 1975), pp.18-9, See Table 1.

It waged, apparently, though 1717 when it erupted into a full-scale crisis that forced the Corporation to hold and unheard of six weekly meetings devoted solely to the granting of freeholder status to nonmember merchants. At the end of these sessions, the Corporation admitted an additional 424 merchants and artisans to the privileged status as Corporation freeholder. With an expanded elite the Corporation clamped down once again in 1718 by approving yet a new exclusionary ordinance forbidding non-freeholder merchants from selling or making their wares in Philadelphia–taking in particular sight any nonmember butcher that was subject to imprisonment. Teaford also reports a similar struggle occurred in neighboring borough Lancaster which also passed similar legislation–concluding that municipal corporations in the new world “adhered to the Old World belief that unregulated vocational opportunity would ultimately end in commercial impoverishment. thus they looked to the municipal corporation to limit the number of sellers, transporters, and manufacturers, and thereby guarantee each a profit[99] Jon C. Teaford, the Municipal Revolution in America, pp. 20-1 .

Accordingly in Philadelphia, other Pennsylvania incorporated municipalities (Chester, Bristol and Lancaster), and throughout the major municipal corporations harbored in the thirteen Atlantic coast colonies, municipal corporations picked up key duties of the guild as powers and tasks of their municipal corporation. In Philadelphia where the Philadelphia freeholder was initially restricted to a select Quaker merchant/artisan elite, the additional battle had to be waged to create an acceptable level of Corporation members/freeholders to permit the Philadelphia forces-that-be to legitimately pursue this role. In any case, Teaford reports that the Philadelphia Corporation members from 1701 to 1726 some 67% were merchants, 26% tradesmen, and a measly 7% lawyers. “.. the 16 artisans who served as members of the Philadelphia corporation from 1701 to 1726 represented fifteen different crafts… Many of those classed as merchants also engaged in manufacturing as a lucrative sideline[99] Jon C. Teaford, the Municipal Revolution in America, pp. 22-6 . Having done so, the Corporation reduced/managed merchant competition.

Accordingly, the Corporation moved on to set key prices for goods and services (bread, wine, wood, flour, and beer were pervasive), standardizing and inspecting measurements, and ensuring proper quality for goods sold to consumers. Moving into transportation, the early American  municipal corporations regulated free movement of goods into their cities in order to protect the city from unfair competition from the external world; in effect they sought to increase their city’s entrepreneurial innovation by reducing “barriers to entry” of goods and services–while by restricting access into the city from outsiders, they simultaneously erected barriers to entry to protect city craftsmen and industry sectors. Some even forbade sale of goods made in the West Indies.

A third extension into guild functions were performed by the Corporation’s judicial courts. These courts necessarily dealt with debtors, crime and robberies (all of which had commercial implications), but also involved themselves in contract disputes, and the normal span of business and consumer conflicts. In short, the American municipal corporation, Philadelphia being no exception, assumed jurisdiction, powers and responsibility for normal guild functions of the English municipal policy system. Still, from the start, American municipal corporations found the assumption of guild-like functions and responsibilities a very rough go, sort of like swimming upstream against the natural river flow. The reality on the street was that business competed privately as individuals, with not countervailing sector guild to moderate the competition. The responsibility necessarily fell to the individual merchants who were officeholders and freeholders of their policy system–the municipal corporation. This is the origin of Warner’s American Privatism–and it established its presence and power over the period between the late seventeenth century and the first two decades of the eighteenth.

The Guild-Like Corporation Membership Transitions into a Landowning Elite, Leaves Behind its Guild-Functions: 1720’s – 1750

Things change. The first crack in this corporation-substitute guild business monopoly manifested itself in the early 1720’s and 30’s: the freeholder franchise was opened to those whose “land” exceeded certain specified limits and who paid a fee for freeholder status. In the large urban centers large landowners entered the elite, and in smaller cities middling size homesteaders and spec land development owners were allowed in. Property, not just the ownership of a business or craft, but property was the key to urban voter franchise. The nature and composition of America’s privatist elites began to change. Not surprisingly, while the trend affected all municipal corporations, the speed, intensity and “style” of franchise expansion varied by colony and by city. The Philadelphia Corporation was destined to forge its own path. That distinct path set it apart from other port city municipal incorporations.

The second crack was equally fundamental and began even earlier, around 1710. The timeless and universal adage “follow the money” provides the clue to best understand how Philadelphia’s urban franchise was expanded–and that will explain why a second Philadelphia policy SUB-system developed and expanded its role and functions over urban governance, alongside the Philadelphia Corporation which over the next fifty years was pushed more an more to the sidelines of the the overall Philadelphia policy system. The problem is simple and obvious; the Corporation lacked specific power to tax its residents/citizens. Hence the Corporation survived for its early years from what it could glean from its various assigned functions through fees of rits services of income (ferries, docks, land sales derived from them. With no salaries or personnel (a mayor and recorder were all that comprised its bureaucracy), it supplemented fees and services revenues with the private donations of its members and officeholders. Teaford reports this was common to all seventeenth century Atlantic port municipal corporations. One by one they incrementally acquired power to tax for specified functions or specific expenditures. Not so the Philadelphia Corporation.

Tied to its economic development functions was the obligation to maintain key infrastructure (ports, wharves, piers, ferries, marketplaces and modes of access public buildings). As any owner of property quickly learns, things break and wear out. A new market house was paid for by its members private contributions, as were later repairs to piers and wharves. The private contributions were usually loans which were to be repaid by income derived from the facility. To help the situation the Corporation in 1704 set up a small claims court from which it could charge fees. but city residents directly and successfully petitioned the proprietary governor to shut “that pernicious devouring and Extravagant Court” down. In 1706 it sent legislation to the General Assembly for  power to tax, but both Penn and the Legislature failed to approve. Of note the Penn Proprietary Party during this period had control over the membership and decision-making bodies of the Corporation. Further appeals were made in 1709 and 1711, and in both instances the Legislature was unwilling to empower the Corporation.

In 1712, however, the Assembly acted on yet another request for taxing power by passing the 1712 Act–the need for taxes to raise funds for the Corporation’s functions required immediate attention and had garnered support from various quarters (a similar crisis existed in townships/counties throughout the province). But the General Assembly, however, desperate the need, was not willing to give the Corporation this power to tax. Accordingly it required a popular election of Philadelphia voters eligible to vote under the Pennsylvania franchise requirements–hence external to the Corporation membership and Corporation itself. The popular election would elect six tax assessors who would administer the tax on the city. These assessors would meet with the Corporation’s City Council, determine what funds and expenditures were required that year, and the assessors would then set the tax rate sufficient to raise the funds. This arrangement, as modified by later legislation handled the City of Philadelphia’s general fiscal and budgetary matters until the Revolution.

Ironically, it was the Corporation which started the famous “night watch”, but when it needed to grow and develop a sustainable revenue base, it was transition to this “special district–statutory authority model of the 1712 Act. The 1712 Act began the deinstitutionalization and de-functioning of the Philadelphia Corporation. If properly empowered, as most of its Atlantic port municipal corporations  were, the Philadelphia Corporation could have developed into the government of the City of Philadelphia, but as Judith Diamondstone, the reputed scholar of colonial Philadelphia commented:

Making positive use of its status as symbol and spokesman for the community’s common interest, the Corporation might have become the coordinating agency and merged into a competent and responsive government. But through incapacity, and perhaps a lack of energy, the Corporation gradually lost all touch with the responsibilities it could not handle. These passed to the statutory authorities which had only the smallest administrative link to the Corporation, an which often displayed political antagonism. These authorities having limited responsibility to deal with … often managed very satisfactory. The Corporation, with less and less to do, became more and more segregated from the interests of the growing citizenry of Philadelphia [99] Judith Diamondstone, “the Government of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia“, in Bruce C. Daniels, Town & County: Essays on the Structure of Local Government in the American Colonies (Wesleyan University Press, 1978), pp. 247-8

What is even more important is that from 1712 onward, every expansion of meaningful city services, from Philadelphia’s famed Night Watch, Fire Company and equipment, Library to schools and other key services, similar legislation set up an elected official to preside over and manage, on behalf of the City (and Legislature), raise and tax as needed to pay for its activities and employees, and handle the overall administration of the service. In all instances, from the 1712 tax assessors to later additions, a small organization, complete with bureaucracy, political constituency, vendors and identity developed. Essentially these were today’s “special districts”, but headed not by some appointed, but by an elected official.

The political and administrative failure to make the municipal corporation an effective form of government led, as it did in England, to the creation of ‘statutory authorities’. These were independent and usually uncoordinated administrative agencies that each had responsibility for some limited aspect of the actual government of the town. This development was ultimately fatal to the closed corporation [99] Judith Diamondstone, “the Government of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia“, p. 247.

These bodies expectedly developed relationships with the General Assembly, and periodically were drawn into larger debates and political issues of the day. The uncoordinated outputs of these special districts caused constant friction, and programmatic inefficiencies were well known and constant frustrations. Again what coherence could be managed was usually through private individuals, often members of the Corporation, who by private coalitions could find a path to resolve the need or settle the disruption. The way to get things done in Philadelphia was not by government action, but through the attentions and benevolence of private individuals, usually of wealth, status and access sufficient to the task.

None of these special districts could be fundamentally challenged by the Philadelphia Corporation-that body, the governance of the City–had essentially been bypassed. Since the Corporation’s assigned functions required sustained and increasing revenues over the years, the matter of annual budgets, fund required, tax rates and collection of taxes and fees (of the Corporation) was a bitter annual debacle. The controversy and inefficiency only reinforced the residents and elites unwillingness to press for city government action, thereby reinforcing the City’s bias toward private action and private activism-entrepreneurism. That privatism proved to be the only force capable to raising a private militia to defend the city under threat of invasion–an action required when the Proprietary, the General Assembly and the City’s Policy System were unable to do so. The entrepreneur in that instance was Benjamin Franklin, who was also a key force in the Library and University.

The Evolution of the Corporation’s Municipal Functions

The policy systems of municipal corporations of this very early period were restricted to merchant, tradesmen, artisan/manufacturer occupations they dominated the politics and policy of early urban policy system–in their capacity of private, individuals of wealth, expertise, and status who owned property in such amounts as to constitute being a policy-making elite–if not oligopoly. New England and New York were early starters, Philadelphia became a municipal corporation in 1700 at the tail end of this early period. After 1702 (until 1713) the colonies became involved in Queen Anne’s War. That war affected New England, New York’s western hinterland and Charleston S.C. greatly but the military threat to Pennsylvania was minimal. The War did have its effect in Pennsylvania as the Crown wanted its residents to help pay for the war, and to provide troops–that as you may suspect triggered a first rate crisis among Pennsylvania Quakers,a disruption we shall deal with later. What the War did foster was immigration and economic opportunity for Philadelphia’s merchants and budding shipping industry.After 1710 the German, Scots-Irish and the other various ethnic migrations began what became a chronic trek to Pennsylvania ports–which is obvious shorthand for significant economic and population growth. Coping with that growth, if not in its vanguard was Philadelphia and the newly minted Philadelphia Corporation.

As its ports and piers pick up momentum, the steady arrival of newcomers of all descriptions inevitably led to disruption in urban life. The first obvious effect was Philadelphia got first crack at being the residence for poor, orphans, dysfunctional, and unskilled who could not find an indenture contract and lacked funds to move on. The police force, Night Watch, was a charter-responsibility that commenced immediately upon incorporation. The Corporation also could not ignore the fire-fighting function either. In 1718, for example, the Corporation bought its first fire engines to help with the bucket brigade. The resources to handle these functions initially were largely tossed off to the Corporation members, and the drafting of residents for service.

The Corporation created an eight ward system, a constable for each ward, The Constable recruited residents and drafted individuals into a community watch. It never worked well, and the Watch was in chronic reorganization, or should we say failed innovation, and proved burdensome to the its drafted householders who over time dodged their responsibilities and in general proved unable to cope with street crime. Private contributions from Corporation members and ward householders became more problematic the longer the Watch continued. Eventually a fine for nonpayment was instituted, which was cheerfully paid by all to avoid any actual work in the Watch. In 1743, the Corporation Council finally determined a permanent police force was required., and they applied to the General Assembly for the power to tax to create this police force. No action was taken, and the request became an annual ritual which evolved into a political crisis of sorts by 1749. Finally in the next year the Assembly approved legislation which established its own “Wardens of the Watch”, a statutory body independent of the Corporation, with a head independently elected by the city’s eligible franchise, and was paid for by taxes included in an annual budget aka the 1712 Tax Assessor Act. The Corporation had lost control over the police function With taxing power the Warden Watch extended their responsibility to include street lighting, and in 1756 to protection of the city water supply pumps.

Penn’s Frames of Government assigned ” care of the poor” to the township/county, and by implication the city’s municipal corporation. In 1705, the Legislature formally assigned the function to the Corporation and empowered it to appoint “overseers of the poor”, an ominous title if you ask me, and allowed this “Corporation department to levy a penny  per pound on all real estate and personal property of its residents. That tax became an element in the 1712 Act budget, but the tax remained lodged in the Corporation, which for the next forty-four years was not given permission to increase it. In 1749, the same year as the Night Watch, the Assembly incorporated the Corporation department, made its head elected by popular vote, authorized the statutory authority to own and hold property (almshouse) and assigned it an expanded function above mere housing the poor to care of the poor. The Corporation, however, was required to continue its activities in this function, its membership was encouraged to contribute privately to the support of the new almshouse and the larger function, and periodically the Corporation had to borrow money to pay for its obligations. In 1766 the jurisdiction was extended to Philadelphia’s two urban neighboring towns, Southward and Northern Liberties. By that point the Corporation had reduced its role in this function considerably.

City Streets were also a Corporation function. This deviated from Pennsylvania’s normal and statutory practice of making them a county responsibility. Philadelphia was the only municipal level entity responsible for the function. Accordingly, the streets were planned, constructed and maintained by the Corporation, and supervised by a committee of its Common Council. The function was privatized in the sense householders were drafted for labor, and property owners were required to keep their own portion of the street clear and clean. After 1712 Assessors Act some staff were hired and their salary became an annual battle in the city-assessor budget. . The first formal request to change this situation arose in the 1730’s when some citizens directly petitioned the General Assembly to establish a statutory authority to handle the function; that petition was opposed by the Corporation. The situation degenerated when no action was taken, and it was only in 1762 when the Assembly indulged its preference to create its own statutory authority, the Board of Streets Commissioners and that function was largely, but not completely taken over by the independent authority.

So in a brief assessment in 1701 the Proprietary set up the Philadelphia municipal corporation to serve as the city government. The Municipal Corporation, a closed corporation whose chief offices were appointed by the Proprietary who also appointed more than its fair share of its membership, was never embraced by the Proprietary’s main rival the General Assembly. Reluctant to empower a body over which the Proprietorship had heavy influence, the Assembly over the next fifty years instead created a rival Philadelphia sub-system with powers of taxing and authorization to create special districts to run key city functions. While the other Atlantic coast port cities enjoyed the incremental development of their city functions and resources, Philadelphia used the city policy system as a battlefield to weaken the Penn oligarchic Proprietary, and in its place installed a democratic but fragmented sub-policy system beyond the control and influence of the municipal corporation. The battle between the two city sub-systems was further intensified by the rather specific processes of operation and administration set forth in the Assembly authorizing legislation. Actual implementation of policy by each of the statutory special districts required a process in which the Philadelphia Corporation provided key support and required its “cooperation” in the  administration of the key function. As would be expected, that cooperation was not forthcoming, and was converted instead to periodic pitch battles, a general inefficiency, and a time-consuming and frustrating warfare between two rivals who had little to gain by cooperating. Diamondstone collapses this organizational guerilla war in saying:

the extent to which their actions [the statutory agencies] were circumscribed by the need to consult, agree with, or get approval of some other body, frequently the Corporation … the possibilities were immense for delay, inaction, and political one-upmanship. For instance, the Streets Commission had the power to contract with someone to clean the streets, but they could only do so when ordered to by the mayor, recorder and the alderman [of the Corporation]. Money for the town watch was collected through a stultifying process of checks and balances …Over all these bodies there was no coordinating agency: each was independent of supervision. Failure to perform could go unchecked until public discontent reached a high level [99] Judith Diamondstone, “the Government of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia“, p. 253.

So why did the General Assembly refuse to empower the Philadelphia Corporation, choosing instead to create two rival Philadelphia sub-systems, interweave their goals-functions and processes, and seemed content to let them duke it out–even at the cost of inefficiency, public frustration, and even outright disruption.? The root cause was simple: by 1701 Penn had polarized Pennsylvanians into two Quaker camps, his own Proprietary Group, and the what David-Hackett-Fischer calls the “country party” composed of farmers and artisans, but I would add non-First Purchaser merchants and south three county resident and elites. The Proprietary party, with Logan and initially David Lloyd as its chief honcho. By 1701 Lloyd was pretty much on the outs with Penn, and vice versa, but in 1701 the relationship still held by the slightest of threads.

After Penn’s second and final departure in 1701 that thread broke and from then on they were political, if not personal enemies. As we have discussed in an earlier module it was Penn’s personality, style of management, Quaker propensity toward dissidance, and the harsh decision-making realities of setting up a settlement in the American wilderness. I will never accuse Penn of being a natural politician or administrator, and will always insist he was equal parts businessmen and religious utopian as well. In any event, Penn’s proprietary land grant, as long as it was confirmed by the King, was there to stay–and it created a personal, less bureaucratic rule than would characterize governance through a royal governor. Penn was doomed to be sandwiched between King/Board of Trade/Parliament and Pennsylvania elites and masses.

The first decade after the Charter of Privileges and the recommencement of Penn’s time of troubles and distraction was also consumed by Queen Anne’s War and some of the more divisive Quaker politics triggered by its pacifism in a war. This was a horrible ebb and flow Game of Thrones period that defies description but precluded serious and thoughtful policy-making by any in the provincial level. Penn’s Proprietary party wound up in the lead during the 1711-12 period–the time when the 1712 Act actually set the precedent for establishing a bimodal Philadelphia policy system. No doubt that is not what the reader expected to hear. It was only in the 1730’s that these two groupings formalized into something like a stable partisan rivalry, and by that time, certainly after 1740, that the Legislature had stripped the Proprietary faction of all but its most essential prerequisites of independence. Thus the 1712 Act was not the opening blast in a seventy year war, but rather a tenuous compromise  between the two bitterly opposing parties, and that accounts for the bi-modal yet interweaving policy processes.

The municipal corporation charter could have been amended–but it wasn’t. The Corporation, while not a Proprietary monolith, was still safely in the Proprietary camp. We also ought keep in mind Penn’s 1712 debilitating stroke which from then on transferred administration into his wife Hannah’s able hands. The General Assembly in that year did not desire hegemony over Philadelphia or sub-provincial government, but rather the ability to tax and develop its own resources independent of the Proprietor.  A more independent judiciary–which if combined with the powers of the Proprietary created a solid wall between the Legislature and meaningful independent legislative policy-making. Importantly, the path-breaking 1712 Act does not provide support for the proposition the Legislature intended to establish its dominance over sub-provincial government per se. It was more to peel off critical functions of huge importance to the legislature (right to determine Pennsylvania taxes/budget apart from the Proprietor) than imposing its will over the Philadelphia Corporation. Second on its list in fighting the Proprietor was to capture the right and autonomy to raise its own taxes for its own needs, rather than react to those proposed by the Proprietor.

So, in fact, the 1712 Tax Act was not directly aimed at the Philadelphia Corporation. As early as 1696, the Legislature had proposed essentially the same act to apply to county government–almost five years previous to the incorporation of the Philadelphia Corporation. It was not successful at that time, but in the same year as the Municipal Corporation Tax Act of 1712 Act,  the  General Assembly also approved that same act to apply to the counties, including Philadelphia County. The goal was less sub-provincial dominance than to grab ahold of the right to create one specific form of tax over which it could both initiative the tax, set the rate, and take advantage of funds raised by to ensure the tax funded desired purposes relevant to the General Assembly, not the Proprietor. What we are really witnessing im 1711-12 is a series of compromise enactments which reset the Charter of Privileges, and adjusted it to an every more empowered General Assembly, and a correspondingly weakened Proprietorship. Whatever the long term effects would be at the sub-provincial level was, if thought about at all, were of the least concern to either party [99] See, Joseph E. Illick, Colonial Pennsylvania: a History (Charles Scribner Sons, 1976), pp. 99-104.

A final point of considerable importance in the 1712 macro-tax reforms was their reliance on democratic elections as the ultimate source of policy legitimacy. The Philadelphia Corporation, Penn’s attempt to transplant English municipal traditions to Philadelphia, created a restricted electoral franchise, a closed corporation, that effectively disenfranchised most of the city’s population. To the extent this made sense in 1712 to the democratically elected General Assembly, the Philadelphia Corporation was anachronistic –and if anything such a closed corporation was useful more in its guild and economic development functions, than in its provisions of city services such as the Night Watch and streets, both of which were the cause of complaint and drains on the Corporation’s limited resources. By 1712, elections were the chief source of policy legitimacy in all thirteen colonies, and given the general Quaker propensity for limited government, equality, and decision-making as close to the individual as possible the shift into the provision of municipal services caused by the city’s growth elections were no doubt viewed as a more natural fit to the task at hand. Besides, elections fit into the legislature’s drive for local autonomy–the chief obstacle to which was the Proprietor.

The General Assembly, when left to its own devices, was always more concerned with its own politics, with its fight to throw off the Proprietorship, and with coping with larger systemic issues, such as war, oaths of loyalty, and taxes for defense and militia–which was the hot button during the Queen Anne’s War. When things got really bad at the local level, it could pivot and produce a spasm of sub-state legislation–as it did in 1712 by imposing a variation of the 1712 tax act on hinterland counties and townships as well. It would the same in the 1749-51 period as well. In between these spasms of interest, the Assembly contented itself with pork and personnel issues, and specific policies like Wardens of the Night. It was perfectly content to allow private entities to pick up any slack as evidenced by the Union Fire Company, and Franklin’s Library Company. In the General Assembly perspective, there was no special love or compulsion to micro manage or lead urban economic or policy development, although understandably, it was very sensitive to Philadelphia political development and partisanship.

the Development of Pennsylvania Privatism–and Hints of its Offshoots

In effect the b-modal City of Philadelphia policy system, with its incumbent structural fragmentation and embedded inefficiencies , tensions, and hot buttons interacted over sixty-five years promoted a merchant privatism as the only reliable bypass process that could get something done in the City. Is it irony that through this time period, Philadelphia grew to be America’s largest city, most prosperous and commanding port, the wealthiest economic base in North America?  and in some strange way, through fragmented special districts, it was also likely the most democratic, freely chosen government in the colonies–even though that democracy led to inefficient and often ineffective governance?  The unseen glue that made growth possible was Philadelphia’s behind the scene merchant privatism, with an innovative “let’s get this done” public interventionism. That Philadelphia was the nation’s leader in Night Watch, Fire Companies, and a Library, and housed the Province’s University, the forerunner of today’s University of Pennsylvania, 1740, suggest this lack of firm structure may have generated not only entrepreneurism, but innovation as well. Is it irony, or did this commanding heights privatism and government fragmentation create a “economic development opportunity zone” run by the capitalists themselves, as checked by the “people” in popular elections.

Again Diamondstone offers insight into Philadelphia privatism in practice. “in areas where no statutory authority was ever established, voluntary associations played a major role” … the tradition of self-help was strong in Philadelphia” [99] Judith Diamondstone, “the Government of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia“, p. 253. In a small city, coffeehouse coalitions could be formed, who the influential private powerhouses and their activist interests were, where a vibrant newspaper sector could be accessed and mobilized, and if necessary the Quaker Meeting House tapped. Philadelphia in colonial years was large enough to by powerful, but not so large as to create an anomic politics where the individual could not meaningful affect and access the policy processes, until their point of rupture and collapse. If so, urban scale can play a meaningful role in affecting the effectiveness of an urban center. But it also begs the question of whether all styles and cultures of elites, are receptive to innovation and political involvement on behalf of the general community–and the extent to which such elite benevolence is perceived as genuine and to the public benefit by the city rank-and-file.

It did work fairly well in pre-1765 Philadelphia. The Library Company, formed in 1731 by Franklin and his associates and friends, pooled their private libraries, made regular contributions for new books, and membership was free to those who contributed. [99] See its Articles reprinted in Bradley Chapin’s, Provincial America, 1600-1763 (the Free Press, 1966), pp. 267-8.While Franklin’s Company served its members needs, other library companies imitated it, in trade sectors, around coffeehouses and church groups, and the forerunner of non-profit public service companies formed in Philadelphia, and were copied in other cities as well. The system had its own limitations and biases, and in today’s world some combination of pejorative labels would be used to describe it. Individuals learned to work together for the benefit of others beyond themselves–and here is the fertile field that was Philadelphia for people-based economic development, i.e. Community Development, a privatist community development. That topic gathered considerable momentum after 1750, and will be tacked in a later module when Philadelphia, at least as described by historian Gary Nash was “an Enlightenment City”.  More germane to this module’s time period was the example of the formation of the “Union Fire Company” in 1741.

As Diamondstone correctly informed us to how Philadelphia privatism filled in the gaps where statutory authorities and the Corporation did not enter, she also calls attention to privatism’s picking up on the ineffectiveness of the municipal services, in this example inadequately provided by the Corporation. If the Warden’s of the Night dealt with the police and public safety function (which included night lighting), no one but the Corporation handled the fire fighting function–incredibly vital to the seventeenth century wooden and chimney heated city.Philadelphia was a city whose housing was closely spaced, in fact touching in many neighborhoods, including elite neighborhoods such as Society Hill. In its early decades the Corporation tried to provide effective service. Its chief tasks were chimney and building inspection and organizing household-based fire fighting swat teams (to which it provided equipment, buckets). The Corporation purchased its first fire engine in 1718. By the 1730’s however, the Corporation, for its own faults and biases, but also because of its being pushed to the policy margins by the Legislature and the statutory authorities, no longer provided a level of service sufficient to the city’s needs.

In the mid-1730’s it attempted to raise funds from the Tax Assessors to purchase new fire engines and provide salaries for personnel–i..e. to form a government fire company–to no avail, its other deficiencies, a failed inspection system, an unwillingness to pay its fines, an unwillingness of the courts to order payment that could be collected, all encouraged private groupings to organize their own fire companies. It being evident that the General Assembly was not in the mood to form a fire-fighting statutory entity neighborhoods had to take it upon themselves to do it. In 1736 the first volunteer company, the Union Fire Company, sprang into action. Advocated by a local newspaper editor, it came to be called the Benjamin Franklin Bucket Brigade; each volunteer brought his own equipment, and devised their own procedures and code of behavior to get to and fight a fire [99] See its Articles reprinted in Bradley Chapin’s, Provincial America, 1600-1763 (the Free Press, 1966), pp. 264-7.

The Union Fire Company stimulated a number of other groups to organize their own company, and within a decade a private non-profit network of fire-fighting companies took over the function from the Corporation.Looked at by dues-paying households as a form of insurance these companies paid their workers stipends, purchased equipment, and trained their volunteer-employees. At one point these companies employed nearly seven hundred in seventeen companies (which often were based on ethnic identities and serviced particular neighborhoods in a city flooded by German and Scots-Irish migrants.That these fire companies could stand by and watch a non-paying house burn down was very real. . Still, the Union Fire Company functioned until 1820, and companies like it became the standard for most American cities and towns to emulate. That fact, however, forces this state and local economic/community development history, to incorporate these organizations into our heritage, even though by today’s standards they would not be so considered. In 1730 they were they were the background to building economic sectors, employing large numbers of workers, and training citizens and residents on how to organize to serve their own interests when neglected by government, while building social solidarity, and developing structures capable of political activity. We are seeing for the first time, the reality the private sector, profit or non-profit will play a vital role in economic and community development in our history.


Why did the Legislature do this?

Sadly, the defunctioning of the Philadelphia Corporation did not lead its its withering away. The Legislature did not in its tender mercies take the Corporation out to the woodshed and put it out of its miseries. Instead it atrophied into a largely functionless government that became the last bastion of moderation in Philadelphia revolution of 1776–the commanding obstacle to the Declaration of Independence and the institutionalization of what would be America’s most radical state republic.



Economic Base-Building: Pennsylvania and Philadelphia

First the caveats. Pennsylvania was arguably the last of the major colonies to be founded. New York, Boston (et al), Newport and Charleston preceded Philadelphia by a half-century or more. Secondly, Pennsylvania geography/climate/topography and its configuration of Native American tribes offered opportunities that other colonies did not have available at the time of their settlement. Pennsylvania east of the Appalachian soils are extraordinarily fertile compared to its rivals.

Pennsylvanians–had at times the fortune and at times the misfortune, to settle on some of the richest land on the globe. For more than three centuries, German immigrants and their descendants, have maintained much of the soil in Berks, York, and Lancaster counties as among the most productive non-irrigated agricultural regions in the world. During the colonial era, Pennsylvania was the leading producer of raw iron in the British Empire, outside of the British Isles themselves [99] Randall M. Miller and William Pencak, Pennsylvania: a History of the Commonwealth (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), p. xxviii

Founded inland or a river, Philadelphia’s waterfront, the door to the European lifeline, could, and did, stretch for miles  (not without disadvantages, however):

The waterfront’s preeminence fixed the shape of the colonial city. William Penn located Philadelphia with a sharp commercial eye [not sure I agree with this–he had too because of the situation in the three lower counties, and he left the decision to his architect planner. When he arrived it had already been platted.]. The Delaware River afforded a protected yet accessible highway to the markets of Europe. Ships of the heaviest tonnage were able to reach the port in all seasons, because the salty water of the Delaware rarely froze … . Philadelphia positively hugged its waterfront with warehouses and wharfs extending more than a mile along its shore. Philadelphia became a linear city simply because settlement in the eighteenth century rarely wandered more than half a mile from the river [99] David R. Goldfield and Blaine A. Brownell, Urban America: a History (2nd Ed) (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), pp. 38-9.

Thirdly, Atlantic routes to the Chesapeake basin were safer than port rivals, and its mid-Atlantic location did not suffer from lack of access or encounter important barriers; it was not particularly close to Britain’s chief enemies, France or Spain. Pennsylvania was no “perfect storm” of opportunity, but it had excellent prospects if given the opportunity to grow in relative peace and isolation from its rather nasty environment. War would catch up to Pennsylvania by the  mid-18th century, but its first half-century, the childhood of its economic base was among the best the colonies could offer:

Of all the northern seaports, Philadelphia was least affected by the turn of the [18th] century wars. The Quaker -controlled government argued shrewdly that the immature state of the colony, the pacifist beliefs of most of its inhabitants, and its greater distance from the zone of Anglo-French rivalry made Pennsylvania participation unfeasible. So Philadelphians contributed virtually no men to the war efforts, and had to tax themselves only lightly to provide token support for what were supposed to be intercolonial campaigns. On a per capita basis they contributed less than one-twentieth as much as Bostonians did in town and provincial taxes…. By 1725 the median wealth left [at death] by all Bostonians except the upper tenth was half or less …that left by Philadelphians.[99] Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: the Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution(Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 43-4

If “location, location, location”  is all that important, Pennsylvania, despite its late start in the race, did remarkably well–especially in its first half-century.

Finally, before we launch our narrative, a few insights on what lies ahead–in particular several dynamics-concepts that are central to this module and our history. The first dynamic-concept is that most of Pennsylvania/Philadelphia base-building comes in the form of “private–not public/government–economic development”. This is in startling contrast to the predominant view of contemporary economic development. Today we look to government for leadership and confirmation of the strategy and funding of the programs. In colonial America, certainly Pennsylvania, it is the last place to look for economic development strategy. If the private sector is the key actor in colonial economic base-building, several observations follow: (1) the guiding spirit in guiding private decision-making is making profits (avoiding losses), and private initiatives follow from the opportunity to make a profit by assuming risk.

It is the individual “entrepreneur” assisted by others who supply him/her with capital and resources that determine strategies and initiatives that in aggregate produce an economic base; (2) all this is happening a good half-century before Adam Smith writes is Wealth of Nation–usually regarded as the defining tome of capitalism. We do have not yet reached the period where capitalism has developed into a coherent system of economics. Scholars refer to this a mercantilism, and as I have observed in my review of government institutions, economic institutions and economic paradigm (the Poor Laws, for example) harken back to late medieval periods;

(3) in first half of the 18th century, we are “capitalist” in only a few modern terms. Of critical importance is that we are in the beginning stages of evolving economic classes, an essential dynamic underlying modern capitalism. We have left the medieval class system behind, but we remain in the netherworld as the new class system is still light years in the future. It is further complicated by the reality that “agriculture” is still far and away the predominant sector of the economy and workforce.  Agriculture and urbanization do not fit comfortably in the same box–but, as we shall discover in Philadelphia that is precisely how the city achieves its economic “take-off”. To reiterate our first point, the role of government in that take-off is secondary, supportive, not leadership or cutting edge.

(4) What is primary is the hundreds of individual decisions to assume risks and provide leadership in economic activities that center on sectors associated with a perceived opportunity. In early economic history, economists used the term “agglomeration” to describe the aggregate of these individual actions/decisions that surrounded a particular sector or product. We use the term cluster, not because we want to be different or easier to spell, but because of modern cluster concept provides more meaning and insight as to what actually occurred in colonial times. Suffice it to say at this point, a cluster involves many sectors and business groupings across a variety of products/services that serve a function in the final end product of a cluster. Each North American port city will focus heavily on the same clusters. What will emerge, however, is that port specific features, for example the productivity of the hinterland, the provincial policy system, and the vagaries of war.

The period  1689 to 1713 enjoyed only five years without war Conversely, 1714 thru 1739 had no wars. No surprise that war had its good and bad consequences on economic growth. It was expensive in men/families and it was expensive. Like a sugar high, certain sectors, artisans and merchants-shippers did well, but war exerted net-net negative impact on shipping and population growth–both key dynamic drivers. War put pressure on provincial policy systems, particularly to issue paper money-currency-debt, which in moderation was helpful; but chronic debt burdens, wage deflation, boom and bust, plus heavy taxation.

The linkage of war with paper money-currency-debt issuance, which in colonial America serves the function of deficit spending, leaps to the highest of provincial priorities the more involved the province is in a war. In this respect, Pennsylvania’s inability to effectively and consistently  implement the paper money nexus was not just the civil war between Penn and Legislature or even Quaker pacifism, as much as it did not “need” paper money to the extent that Massachusetts did. The absence of war, however, contributed to spasms of inflation. Contemporary economic developers stress the tools, strategies and programs relevant to their CD/MED approach, but, to me, they have lost sight of the driving macro dynamics whose power and volatility we can see more clearly in colonial economic developers. In this respect we can see state and local economic and community developers as intermediaries between the macro drivers and the people and jurisdictions we serve.

Wars meant a lost generation, widows with or without children, and in the civilian population, disease and loss of investment capital. None of these is a positive driver of economic growth. Interestingly each colony operated within the constraints of British colonial trade policies; each colony reacted to those constraints and rare opportunities, in its own style and direction. For Virginia, with its near-total dependence on English factors, capital, and ports, suffered in silence, and its domestic elite was drained of its investment capital. Not so the others who made alliance with pirates and turned to smuggling–not too dissimilar to our contemporary dependency on drug lords and smuggling. Interestingly, war and its after effects increased the need for colonial community development. The building of almshouses occurred in economic downturns (1720’s) that followed Queen Anne’s War; let’s not ignore the rise of community development in the immediate aftermath of the French and Indian War, and the effects of refugees from Pontiac’s Rebellion. Likely that Boston was the cutting edge in colonial community development; it  needed to be for its chronic economic problems caused by war created tensions and inequalities that needed to be addressed.

It was no accident the Salem Witch Trials occurred in a war and a political crisis set of by Britain’s Glorious Revolution. The impact in Salem was in some measure fueled by Maine refugee camps in neighboring Marblehead. Disease in Boston populated smaller Essex County seaports. I say it here for the first time: in our history the most significant driver that influences the course of our history, both at the state and local level, is war or its threat (Cold War). While I may repeat this often throughout the history, it needs to be; it is that important. We will take care in the next chapter on Massachusetts to explore that topic. Suffice it to say, by 1740 Boston had passed its apogee, dropping to third of the North American colonies. Philadelphia the youngest and least developed would rise to first place–and hold it for one hundred years.

Ending wars was especially difficult on the local merchant and laboring community, although artisans were in general less volatile; local economic recession almost all translated into rising demands from the populace  and a policy system in some turmoil. During war, the province–Massachusetts–closest to the enemy wound up providing most of the manpower and casualties–and paying for it. Before 1740 each colony paid its own way in a war. The costs of war were long-term, extending into the peace that followed into the socio-political structure, and wither creating opportunities to take advantage of trade vacuums and being victorious. Massachusetts diverted its shippers into privateers and launched several significant expeditions against French Canada-most of which ended disastrously. New York, but especially Philadelphia took advantage of a West Indies trade vacuum

I will argue that among the key take off clusters in Philadelphia will be home-building (to accommodate population growth), and ship-building (to export/import to make Philadelphia self-sufficiency possible). The physical building of a home or ship requires a great number of otherwise unrelated firms, artisans and other groupings to come together to add their piece of the home or ship building pie. Rope is essential to a sailing ship, and lumber cutting to a home (and a ship). Each require their own tools and skills. In any event, as we describe the narrative of Philadelphia economic base-building, the reader should keep in mind these underlying clusters that made her economic growth possible. After we see the big picture, we can return to the development of these clusters, and examine them more closely. At that time, we will also tackle the dynamic we call “institutionalization”–to see what institutions were created along the way to achieving take-off.

the Take-Off Narrative

From our earlier discussion on “self-sufficiency” as the first macro goal associated with town-building, we  can assert that attraction of population, particularly those with key skills, is a centerpiece strategy. Philadelphia did not need to “market itself” to the outside world. As part of Pennsylvania, indeed the port of entry, Philadelphia benefited from those seeking opportunity in the western world’s “best poor man’s country”. William Penn had done that before he ever left London, and his religious and ethnic  open-door policy system was more than sufficient. Word of mouth, in the form of letters home from the first settlers usually kept the momentum going. Events in Europe were the drivers in Pennsylvania’s population supply; they created the demand for immigration to Philadelphia. In that Penn was aware this might happen, and that he designed his Frames of Government to lend it credence, we can say that in this instance government did its job.

So from the start, Philadelphia enjoyed a parade of ships, foreign-owned as far as she was concerned, arriving at her port, releasing the precious cargoes of people and resources essential to her self-sufficiency. The earliest known view of Philadelphia, Peter Cooper’s “the Southeast Prospect of the City of Philadelphia” (1720) depicts an armada of ships anchored or sailing in her harbor. You don’t have to be a genius to recognize the opportunity and making boats–for river trade, coastal trade with other colonies, and when the skills were polished, making ocean-going vessels was essential, compulsory initiative to achieve self-sufficiency. The other obvious lesson from Cooper’s engraving was if you didn’t see ships, you saw houses. Once in America, they needed four season shelter, if not a home. Again, these are almost “instinctive clusters” that are found in the initial goal of town-building self-sufficiency. The really vital task was to find and unleash the entrepreneur. Again, Penn came to the rescue, his Holy Experiment intended to create a Quaker homeland in the New World, brought to America a goodly number of Quaker businessmen and artisans–Quakers were firm believers in the Weberian work ethic, many already had investable capital, and they knew what to do and what risks were involved. These were not Jamestown indentured servants or royalist lords. Penn recognized this and created a special role for his “First Purchasers”, and they set up shop very quickly.

the Economic Base

Export and Import Cluster Produced the Gazelles that Drove the Rise of Philadelphia

The collapse of the Free Society of Traders meant the private sector was on its own. Whatever coordination that followed resulted from private individual necessity and/or opportunity that followed from pursuit of self-sufficiency. The core sectors in that had to be lumber-cutting, rope-making, iron/metal-fabrication and the engine of growth, ship-building. Alongside these gazelles were trade (commerce) which we call the export-import nexus, and, capital. Quaker entrepreneurs and Anglican on-the-make emigrants had access to some capital sufficient to start of the First Purchasers in their artisan and sector-company business enterprises. Self-sustaining in those very early days meant not only acquiring necessary goods/materials and bringing in immigrants, but it also required that shippers and merchants acquire hard money capacity to pay the bills. In those early days, pirates did some of that–and Philadelphia tapped pirates for their  hard currency pieces of eight–and successful trading ventures were profitable.

Import, of course, first of all meant “people”, immigrants. When a ship pulled in, it meant  new workforce as well as salt and pepper. When a ship left harbor, whether for fishing, coastal trade, or export, it left behind payments for ship repair, restocking, unloading and loading payrolls, and all the barkeeps, taverns and “hotels” enjoyed their share of income from these short-term transactions. When a ship sank, or was diverted because of war, weather, privateers or pirates, the effect was quite the opposite. Export trade facilitated the development of formal and informal contacts and relationships in the various ports accessed by Philadelphia shippers.

The opportunity that first arose on the trading horizon was caused by the Queen Anne’s War, which opened up the West Indies. Easier to get to than England (if more volatile), it was the West Indies trade that fueled Pennsylvania’s first take-off economic growth. English victory expressed in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, opened up Nova Scotia, Gibraltar (entrance to the Mediterranean), but also the “Asiento”, monopoly rights to transport slaves. The vacuum left by ravaged Massachusetts shipping was filled by boats from New York and Philadelphia. Philadelphia provided foodstuffs from its hinterland, and the West Indies, sugar, slaves and a huge variety of useful products. West Indies, therefore had no trouble dominating the early foreign trade cluster into 1740. Coastal trade to other colonies further enhanced the profitability of Philadelphia merchants. The West Indies were Philadelphia’s silicon valley  through bust years (the twenties) and boom years (the thirties). Trade with England was mostly one way: people and imports, and in return food stuffs and lumber for British shipping). As early as 1689, ten ships annually made the trek from Philadelphia to the West Indies islands–increasing with each following year; and among the chief merchant ventures were Samuel Carpenter, and Isaac Norton [99] , a Quaker who will play several prominent roles in future politics

Trade with the West Indies was conducted by Philadelphia merchants mainly as a speculative venture, at the risk of the merchant. He bought up a cargo of flour, bread and lumber, and other Pennsylvania products, shipped it to the islands, without having assured buyers [.] .. . several merchants together often investing in a ship’s cargo … sold the goods (and sometimes the ship too) either through a “supercargo”, who accompanied the ship, or more often through a resident factor in the islands … who [sold} the cargo on several month’s credit, and collecting produce and money from the planters to remit in Philadelphia [for goods payment] [99] Edward  B. Bronner,  “Village Into Town, 1701-1746” in Philadelphia: a Three Hundred Year History, Russell F. Weigley, ED), W. W. Norton & Company, 1980), p. 39.

A transaction-venture of this nature was obviously very risky. Weather and deception were endemic problems, and to facilitate the transaction “bills of exchange” were devised and greatly used. A complication set of individuals (at least four including buyer and seller) bridged the need to carry cash, and currency complications, to deliver the goods and transfer of payment upon satisfactory closure of the terms of the bill of exchange. Often, of good favor to Philadelphia merchants, the factor or supercargo would then receive a bill of exchange from British merchants who did business in Philadelphia. In effect no cash was carried on ships. Today letters of credit serve much the same function. With some thought, one can see how hard currency, and spectacularly the lack of it, was in very scarce supply as neither export nor import, with surviving on credit and bills of exchange, yielded little in coin. In their way Philadelphia merchants accumulated considerable sums, i.e. accumulated great wealth and the social status that accompanied it, but no longer paradoxically they lived off of credit and illiquid investments. The creativity in these transactions was spectacular, and the willingness to assume the considerable risks–and constant bankruptcies and fortunes lost were made on a single ship. But, however, fragile, and far from transparent, they transformed Philadelphia into the largest city and commercial port in the Thirteen Colonies.


Philadelphians were able to import and only because they had something to export. Food, lumber, flour in particular were agricultural–hinterland–produce. The good soils and the Quaker-German homesteads and plantations, not only fed (and kept warn) Philadelphians, but excess was available for coastal (intercolonial) trade and foreign export. The expanding Pennsylvania countryside (still composed mostly of area now within Philadelphia’s MSA) is what filled Philadelphia’s export ships, and “consumed”  its people-imports. While  more muted and targeted, imports to those in the hinterland, the great majority of Pennsylvania residents, also kept the English merchants and factors happy. The vibrant Pennsylvania countryside therefore was really the foundation for the self-sufficiency strategy of those early years.

Wheat, flour, and bread continued to be staple Philadelphia exports. Fortunately [for Philadelphia] while weather in Europe had been bad, … [Pennsylvanians] enjoyed a succession of generally excellent crop years … in the 1720’s and 170’s. By the mid-1730’s, Philadelphia exports of breadstuffs approached an annual value of 50,000 (pound). Lumber produces, especially barrel staves remained another major export, and flaxseed also joined the list. And as a foretaste of her industrial future, mineral rich Pennsylvania was soon viewed by the English iron masters as a dangerous rival. … Along with [this] English trade,  grew a new trade with Ireland which by the end of the 1730’s had obtained a volume as great as that of the West Indies trade fifteen years earlier. The same famine that sent immigrants from Ireland to the New World, created an Irish demand for Pennsylvania breadstuffs [99] Edward  B. Bronner,  “Village Into Town, 1701-1746” in Philadelphia: a Three Hundred Year History, Russell F. Weigley, ED), W. W. Norton & Company, 1980), pp. 37-8.

The real gold mine, figurately speaking, however, was trade with the Mediterranean, Portugal and the Madeira Islands. Portugal’s foreign trade had been monopolized by British firms in 1703, and Philadelphia merchants and the English trading firms with whom they worked, saw it to mutual advantage to utilize Philadelphia ships for trade. Because of a loophole in English trade regulations, Portuguese wine could be transported and sold in the colonies without having to stop in an English port. Pennsylvania sent wood for casks, lots of wheat, and Nova Scotian fish sent to Philadelphia by export by New England fisheries. Aside from drinking (it was not viewed as good quality), Madeira was used in quantity for pickling/preserving. A curious trade to be sure, it swelled to serious volumes. To add to the profit, the Philadelphia ship was often jointly owned by the foreign firm and Philadelphia firm  thus becoming part of the transaction. Philadelphia was flooded with Portuguese Madeira, and that was disposed of through an extensive intercolonial trade and shipments to the West Indies. From this peculiar and complicated start, the Portugal trade waxed and waned in response to the difficulty of southern Europe to trade with northern Europe during war–or in famine [99] See Henry D. Berg, Merchants and Mercantile Life in colonial Philadelphia, 1748-1763“, University of Iowa, Iowa Research Online, 1940.

Profits were plowed into investment with some allocation to lifestyle (muted for Quakers) consumption. Speculation (today we inappropriately call it investment) was common to those who accumulated discretionary surplus. In order words, profits from export/import fueled land speculation, housing, and taking positions in business ventures of varying size and ambition were a typical side venture for those who did amass a few pounds (in wealth). This along with the sweat equity and expertise that was contributed by a start up entrepreneur–who typically tapped friends and family, in Pennsylvania or abroad for their proposed venture. There were no banks as we know them in the Thirteen Colonies, British colonial policy kept financial investment and savings as protected sectors, and access to British capital by colonial borrowers was usually handled by financial intermediators, called “factors”.

In the early 1720’s, access to British capital constricted because of the fallout from the 1722 South Seas Bubble, which nearly bankrupted the Crown’s finances, and hard hit the discretionary wealth of both institutions and wealthy. Apparently believers in the Austrian school of economics (just kidding), the Crown reacted with an extended period of financial and budgetary austerity–which in the colonies translated into recession-depression. The early and middle twenties were lean times indeed, which a Philadelphia’s newcomer on arrival noticed, and Franklin commented in his diary that things looked run down, and businesses were shuttered. There was no business cycle as we know it (and with zero interest rates today, we do not know it), but boom and bust, seldom noted in history texts, triggered demands which had to be dealt with in colonial legislatures–such as the need for paper money-currency issuance in Pennsylvania during the twenties.

Factors formed clearinghouses and developed relationships, often very close relationships with the wealthy, affluent and with corporations-lenders with sums to borrow. Factors “advanced funds” but only for fixed asset collateral, or goods in transit; they also purchased English products at the request of their client (often consumer, personal and household goods, books, art). English factors were key to the colonial policy’s intent to keep capital available for English purposes. A vibrant colonial financial capacity was a potential threat; use of English ships was often required in the earlier periods of colonial America. The fear was colonial autonomy, but restricting paper money issuance (for example) while not curtailing immigration of English, only created the driving force which necessitated some form of American domestic capital for both consumption, payrolls and investment. Population increase made inevitable the day that American markets could leverage political and economic autonomy from their colonial masters.