As the delegates from Massachusetts approached Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress, they stopped in Frankford, Pennsylvania for a rest. It was during this rest stop a conversation took place which later became a pivotal moment in American history.
The conversation involved the congressional delegates from Massachusetts and members of Philadelphia’s chapter of the Sons of Liberty. The two groups soon adjourned to a local tavern, thought to be the Jolly Post Inn, to work out details of a strategy prior to the upcoming Congress.
John Adams detailed the conversation fifty years later, in a letter addressed to Colonel Timothy Pickering dated August 6, 1822. Adams wrote, “the conversation, and the principals, fact and motives, suggested in it, have given a color, complexion and character to the whole policy of the United States, from that day to this.”
At the time of the meeting, Frankford was a small hamlet which boasted a population of a few hundred citizens. It was situated on one of the main roads that connected Philadelphia to New York and Boston. The location made Frankford a nice stopping place for travelers headed into Philadelphia from the north.
During the conversation, the Philadelphians informed Adams that he and his companions were looked upon by the other colonial delegates as “the four desperate adventurers.” “Mr. Cushing was a harmless kind of man, but poor, and wholly dependent on his popularity for his subsistence. Mr. Samuel Adams was a very artful, designing man, but desperately poor, and wholly dependent on his popularity with the lowest vulgar for his living. John Adams and Mr. Paine were two young lawyers, of no great talents, reputation, or weight, who had no other means of raising themselves into consequence, than by courting popularity.”
The Philadelphians based the reason for this on prior events which had taken place in Massachusetts. The colony was felt to be too radical and intent on severing ties with Mother England; something the others, especially Pennsylvania, had no interest in. Though the other colonies also sought to address certain issues regarding the behavior of Mother England toward her colonies, severing ties and obtaining independence was not a topic of conversation. In addition, Massachusetts was also labeled the “suffering state”, due to the fact the colony as a whole, and Boston in particular, now found itself under the iron fist of England due to prior events.
Dr. Benjamin Rush told Adams, “British fleets and armies are tyrannizing over you; you yourselves are personally obnoxious to them and all the friends of government; you have been long persecuted by them all; your feelings have been hurt, your passions excited; you are thought to be too warm, too zealous, too sanguine. You must be, therefore, very cautious; you must not come forward with any bold measures, you must not pretend to take the lead.”
In an effort to keep the peace during the conference, the Philadelphians recommended the Massachusetts delegates consider taking a back seat and allow Virginia to lead. The reason for that was due to the fact Virginia was America’s largest and wealthiest colony and the delegates she sent to the conference were widely respected.
John Adams could easily see the wisdom and good sense in the advice. By following through with these suggestions, the meeting, which was later named the First Continental Congress, resulted in the appointment of George Washington as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and Thomas Jefferson being selected to write the Declaration of Independence. It also served to set the stage for the American Revolution, due to the fact it helped unify all thirteen colonies.
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This article is an excerpt from my new book “Pen to Paper, Signing the Declaration of Independence”. It will be available on Amazon beginning the first of August. I invite you to order a copy and read even more about the wonderful patriots who birthed the United States of America.