A view of Philadelphia from the Delaware River, in 1774. (John Carter Brown Library, Brown University)
On November 17, 1774, twenty eight men assembled at Carpenters Hall to form the military unit known today as the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. In this blog post, we'll explore some examples of the financial underpinnings that allowed these men to equip themselves and serve Continental Congress at their own private expense.
At the outbreak of the Revolution, Philadelphia was the largest city in British Empire after London, and North America’s busiest seaport, a dense community of merchants, mariners, and mechanics who derived their prosperity from the city's rich Pennsylvania hinterland.
Philadelphia merchants exported raw materials, such as grain, meat, lumber, flax seed, pine tar, pig iron, animal skins to ports in England, Ireland, Portugal, Madeira, and the Caribbean sugar islands in exchange for ironware, woolens, cutlery, East India goods, linens, wines, sugar, molasses, rum, indigo, and other manufactured goods. In addition to overseas commerce, Philadelphia traded heavily with sister colonies up and down the east coast.
Working life in 18th-century Philadelphia was intimate. Nearly everyone in town, from the humblest tradesmen to the wealthiest merchants, worked from their homes, living above their businesses. One-man shops were the standard unit of labor, with even the great merchants operating in partnerships of two or three men. With less than 20% home ownership in the city, many well-to-do Philadelphians derived their incomes from rents.
Colonial Philadelphia society was highly stratified, but offered unmatched social mobility in comparison with England. Many of the rich Troopers whom General Washington described as "Gentlemen of Fortune" came from the city's upper middle class.
Here are six examples of founding First City Troopers and the work they did as civilians:
1. Abraham Markoe:
Abraham Markoe, the Troop's founding captain, was born in St. Croix, which was then the Danish West Indies. His family were Huguenots, Christian Protestants renowned for their business acumen, who had fled religious persecution in France. A rich man through inheritance and trade with American colonies and Europe, Markoe moved to Philadelphia around 1770. Upon forming the Philadelphia Light Horse in 1774, he commissioned the unit's regimental flag, but resigned from the unit when hostilities broke out with Britain. As a Danish subject, Markoe was forced to adhere to the King of Denmark's Neutrality Edict with Great Britain.
2. Samuel Morris:
Samuel Morris, who replaced Markoe as Troop commander, was a founder and president of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, and "governor" of the social club "The State in Schuylkill," which contributed twenty-two of the Philadelphia Light Horse founding members. Although born and raised a Quaker, Morris was disowned by the Quaker Meeting for his military service with the Troop. He retained Quaker dress, speech, and worship for the rest of his life, and served at times in the Pennsylvania legislature.
3. Jonathan Dunlap:
Jonathan Dunlap emigrated from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia, where he apprenticed to his uncle as a printer and bookseller. In 1766 started managing his uncle's business, and eventually bought it, making a living by printing sermons, broadsides, and handbills. In 1776, Dunlap won a lucrative printing contract for Continental Congress, printing the first 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence (known today as the Dunlap broadsides). As a founding member of the Philadelphia Light Horse, he saw action with George Washington at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. In 1784, Dunlap's newspaper, the North American and United States Gazette, became the nation's first successful daily. In addition to his printing and military success, Dunlap purchased property confiscated from Loyalists refusing to take Pennsylvania's loyalty oath and reaped large financial rewards from land speculation in Kentucky. In 1795, at age forty eight, he retired with a sizable estate, but ended up dying a drunkard. His business survives today in the Philadelphia printing firm Smith-Edwards-Dunlap.
4. Benjamin Randolph:
Benjamin Randolph was a cabinetmaker specializing in Queen Anne and Philadelphia Chippendale furniture styles, and who made the lap desk on which Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. The Fitz-Randolph family were Quakers who settled in New Jersey after fleeing religious persecution in New England. Having been trained as a craftsman, Randolph inheritance that his wife enabled to buy property, and an investment in a French and Indian War privateer, which then allowed him to set up his own cabinetry shop in 1764. He bought a shop on Chestnut Street, advertised himself as a cabinetmaker, and hired London-trained carvers to join his team of joiners and apprentices. In addition to Thomas Jefferson, Randolph catered to other such prominent clients as John Dickinson, Captain John Macpherson (owner of the country house Mount Pleasant), Michael Gratz, and Samuel Rowland Fisher. George and Martha Washington rented lodgings from him, as did Thomas Jefferson during the First and Second Continental Congresses.
5. Blair McClenachan:
Blair McClenachan was born in Ireland and emigrated to Philadelphia at an early age. As an adult, he work in mercantile pursuits, banking, and shipping at the time when he helped found the Philadelphia Light Horse. In addition to fighting in the war as a soldier, he also subscribed a large sum of money to help the American effort and advanced money and credit to the Continental Congress. His daughter Deborah married Walter Stewart, who became Inspector General of the Continental Army and then Major General of the Pennsylvania Militia. After the war, he was elected a United States representative from Pennsylvania as a Democratic-Republican.
6. Thomas Leiper:
Thomas Leiper was born in Scotland, educated in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and emigrated to Maryland in 1763. From there he moved to Philadelphia, where he opened a tobacco sorting and exporting business. He helped form the Philadelphia Light Horse in 1774, serving with distinction as lieutenant at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Germantown. When the Revolution began, his largest competitor was interdicted and legally prevented from trading, allowing Leiper to seize the opportunity to expand his business and become Philadelphia's principal tobacco agent. In time, he would count Maryland and Virginia planters as customers, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. As Troop treasurer, he carried the last subsidies of the French to the Americans at Yorktown, and after the war, served with other Troopers who help quell a number of riots and insurrections, including the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. After the war, Leiper built several large tobacco processing mills in Delaware County, and he rented out a Philadelphia home to Thomas Jefferson when Jefferson served as George Washington's Secretary of State. After buying quarries in Delaware County, Leiper constructed an ox-cart on a pair of iron rails laid on wooden ties running from the quarries to a landing on Ridley Creek. According to some sources, this three-quarter-mile conveyance was the first permanent railroad ever built in the United States (1810). This short railway was used until 1828, and then superseded by a cargo canal that Leiper also designed just before his death. A staunch Democrat, Leiper nominated General Andrew Jackson for the presidency, but he was also a director of the banks of Pennsylvania and the United States.