Philadelphia in 1787

Every September our nation observes Constitution Week to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution. It was the culmination of four long months of daily sessions attended by delegates from twelve of the thirteen states who had traveled to Philadelphia with the purpose of adding some much-needed changes to the Articles of Confederation. In the end, they ditched the Articles and came up with our constitution which is a magnificent document that has been the framework of our government for 234 years.

At that time, Philadelphia was America’s largest city. It was the center of wealth and power in the new nation. It was a mix of fine homes and modest houses, wealthy families and working people. It had fine taverns, and nice boarding houses, paved streets, private schools and a busy waterfront. It was also the printing and publishing center of the United States.

Lots of new things were “trending” during those days. Broccoli and kabobs were the new food fads. George Washington got to see a steamboat go down the Delaware River. The bubonic plague was killing people in Algeria and most people in America made their living by farming.

“Flip”, made from liquor and sugar, was the favorite drink, Hepplewhite furniture was the rage, and exotic treasures were ordered from Asia.

Women were no longer wearing the colonial clothes of years past, but were sporting high waisted gowns, shorter sleeves and “bums” which were rounded padding for the derriere! When shoes were made, they would actually fit either foot, but the shoe would soon mold to the shape of each foot.

Toothbrushes were becoming fashionable for women. (Men just dipped a cloth in snuff if they wished to sweeten their breaths.)

The most popular children’s book was Little Goody Two-Shoes. Dogs and cats were the favorite pets. Children often didn’t live past the age of five.

The Indian Queen Tavern was a popular place and home to five of the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention: Nathaniel Gorham, Caleb Strong, George Mason, Wm Pierce and Richard Basset. It is said that many important negotiations took place there after the daily sessions in the State House were adjourned.

Wooden trenchers and spoons were used to serve stew at the taverns. Biscuits were free because people would have to sop up all the leftovers as the trenchers weren’t washed before the next person used them!

You could tell if a tavern was one of the better ones by the size of their mousetraps. It was wise to leave if you saw a really big trap!

You paid for a bath, but they didn’t change the bathwater until after the fourth bath. Colonial women always wore a white cap to cover their hair because they did not bathe much and only washed their hair once or twice a year.

Many inns and taverns used a type of straw mattress that would roll out. If you had some money in your pocket, you could take your straw mattress to a room that had a bedframe with slats made from ropes. You would have to wind the rope from a knob at the end of the bed every night; hence the saying, “Goodnight, sleep tight”.

A lot of things have changed since then, but because of the wisdom and foresight of its framers, our Constitution remains the guiding force of our government and the law of our land.

“The Constitution is a little short of a miracle.”  (George Washington)


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