Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Many Landings of William Penn


This November is the 329th anniversary of the landing of William Penn. Today, a statue of the entrepreneurial Quaker stands atop the Philadelphia City Hall, looking out over the City of Brotherly Love. (Many people think it is Benjamin Franklin.) In the early nineteenth century, Americans knew more about William Penn than they did about the Pilgrims who may have disembarked at Plymouth Rock.  A menu from 1854 reflects the importance once accorded to Penn's arrival in the New World. 

Penn set sail for North America shortly after receiving a royal charter from King Charles II of England to cover a debt. As a result, he became the proprietor of a huge tract of land in what is now Pennsylvania and Delaware. Arriving in the fall of 1682, he landed first at New Castle, before sailing further up the Delaware River to Upland (later renamed Chester) where he moored.1 Continuing his journey another fifteen miles by barge, he came to an area in Philadelphia now known as Penn’s Landing—a ten-block stretch along the river from Vine Street to South Street. The lavish banquet in 1854, celebrating the 172nd anniversary of his arrival, was hosted the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. It was held at La Pierre House, a new luxury hotel with a large statue of a bald eagle on the roof over its entrance.2

La Pierre House (ca. 1854)

The menu shown below also has an American Eagle at the top, here perched over a portrait of George Washington who is flanked by national flags, creating a splendid trifecta of patriotic images. Gilded and tinted in a lithographic process using three stones, the menu was made by Eugene Ketterlinus, one of the first printers in the country to produce colored and embossed lithographs. Ketterlinus received an award for his work from the Franklin Institute in 1858, sixteen years after establishing his printing shop at 40 North Fourth Street, a few blocks from the wharves that lined the river where Penn landed.

Just as the menu was a notable achievement in the graphic arts, the cuisine represented equally high expression of the culinary arts in America in the 1850s. Beginning with the soups and fish courses, the dinner proceeds to the releves, the boiled or roasted joints of meat and fowl that were carved in the dining room. The cold dishes are followed by eighteen entrees which are labeled “side dishes” on this bill of fare. Typical of grand dinners in the fall, there are twelve game dishes, including snipe, partridges, and five species of duck. The local game specialty was diamondback terrapin which would have been stewed in cream, butter, and spices in the Philadelphia style. Also cooked in cream were the stalks of the spiny cardoon plant which was cultivated by the early colonists. The purely decorative sculptures made of confectionery are listed between the pastries and ice creams. Interestingly, one of the nine table ornaments is titled  “Genius of America, Protecting the World.”

Penn Marker (1882)

William Penn urged the English colonies to unite, thereby creating the blueprint for the United States. In 1882, as part of the bicentennial celebration of his arrival, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania dedicated a small monument in Chester, marking the spot where Penn first landed in their state. Given the importance of his legacy in establishing democracy and religious freedom, the anniversary of his arrival could have easily become the historic event most associated with Thanksgiving. Instead, the so-called “Thanksgiving myth” was popularized in pulp fiction during the 1880s, forever linking the nation’s autumn holiday with the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.3
Chester, Pennsylvania

Perhaps William Penn landed in too many places along the Delaware River for his story to be transformed into folklore. Nevertheless, his monument can still be found several hundred feet inland from the Delaware River in a decaying industrial area just south of Chester Creek. The red arrow marks the spot on the above photograph showing Philadelphia in the distance.

1. The settlers in the three southernmost counties of Pennsylvania were permitted to split off in 1704, establishing the semi-autonomous colony of Delaware with New Castle as its capital.
2. La Pierre House opened in 1853 on the west side of Broad Street, between Chestnut and Sansom Streets. It was designed by John McArthur, Jr., the architect of the Philadelphia City Hall, a landmark building that is topped with a statue of William Penn. La Pierre House, later renamed the Lafayette Hotel, closed in 1900.
3.  Various apocryphal stories about the First Thanksgiving became ingrained in the national consciousness. Although some maintain that the first Thanksgiving was held at Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia in 1619, the most prevalent tale is that the Pilgrims celebrated it in 1621.

1 comment:

Deana Sidney said...

Wonderful post, Henry, and what a menu. You never cease to amaze with what you find!!!