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Location: Philadelphia, PA
Date Built: Various
Our next stop was Laurel Hill Mansion. Francis Rawle, a dry goods merchant, and his brother-in-law Joshua Howell bought a 76 acre tract along the Schuylkill River. The tract was divided and Rawle's land in September 1760 was a "31 acres with tenements and messuage" (land and right to build dwellings on it). During a hunting trip in June 1761 at Point-no-Point in Frankford, Rawle mistakenly discharged a bullet from his fowling piece into his left arm. He died a few days later on June 7, and left the majority of his estate to his wife Rebecca. In 1767 Rebecca married Samuel Shoemaker who became mayor of Philadelphia from 1769 to 1771. It is believed that Rebecca built the summer country home in the Georgian style prior to her marriage on November 10, 1767. It was originally a two story brick home which is the center section of the home. In the early 1800's, the south wing was added. The north wing with an octagonal room in the Federal style was added between 1830 and 1846. Laurel Hill was considered their summer home. for the next ten years. Samuel's other home was located in Germantown.
Exterior of Laurel Hill Mansion
During the Revolutionary War, Rebecca and Samuel where staunch British Loyalists. Samuel held many important public posts under the Royal and Proprietary governments including city treasurer, mayor, alderman, councilman, judge of the County Courts, and Justice of the Peace. He along with Joseph Galloway was put in charge of the city's civil affairs by Sir William Howe in 1777-1778. The State Legislature found him guilty of high treason and confiscated all of his property. Samuel and Rebecca along with his stepson left for New York before the British forces evacuated Philadelphia. It is interesting to read an excerpt from her daughter, Anna's diary while her mother was in New York:
Mantle decorated for Christmas inside the Octagonal Room, North Wing, Laurel Hill
October 25. Fifth Day. I suppose, dear Mammy, thee would not have imagined this house to be illuminated last night, but it was. A mob surrounded it, broke the shutters and the glass of the windows, and were coming in, none but forlorn women here. We for a time listened for their attacks in fear and trembling till, finding them grow more loud and violent, not knowing what to do, we ran into the yard. Warm Whigs of one side, and Hartley's of the other (who were treated even worse than we), rendered it impossible for us to escape that way. We had not been there many minutes before we were drove back by the sight of two men climbing the fence. We thought the mob were coming in thro' there, but it proved to be Coburn and Bob. Shewell, who called to us not to be frightened, and fixed lights up at the windows, which pacified the mob, and after three huzzas they moved off. A number of men came in afterwards to see us. French and J.B. nailed boards up at the broken panels, or it would not have been safe to have gone to bed. Coburn and Shewell were really very kind; had it not been for them I really believe the house would have been pulled down. Even the firm Uncle Fisher was obliged to submit to have his windows illuminated, for they had pickaxes and iron bars with which they had done considerable injury to his house, and would soon have demolished it had not some of the Hodges and other people got in back and acted as they pleased. All Uncle's sons were out, but Sammy, and if they had been at home it was in vain to oppose them. In short it was the most alarming scene I ever remember. For two hours we had the disagreeable noise of stones banging about, glass crashing, and the tumultuous voices of a large body of men, as they were a long time at the different houses in the neighborhood. At last they were victorious, and it was one general illumination throughout the town. As we had not the pleasure of seeing any of the gentleman in the house, nor the furniture cut up, and goods stolen, nor been beat, not pistols pointed at our breasts, we may count our sufferings slight compared to many others. Mr Gibbs was obliged to make his escape over a fence, and while his wife was endeavoring to shield him from the rage of one of the men, she received a violent bruise in the breast, and a blow in the face which made her nose bleed. Ben. Shoemaker was here this morning; tho' exceedingly threatened he says he came off with the loss of four panes of glass. Some Whig friends put candles in the windows which made his peace with the mob, and they retired. John Drinker has lost half the goods out of his shop and been beat by them; in short the sufferings of those they pleased to style Tories would fill a volume and shake the credulity of those who were not here on that memorable night, and to-day Philadelphia makes an uncommon appearance, which ought to cover the Whigs with eternal confusion. A neighbor of ours had the effrontery to tell Mrs. G. that he was sorry for her furniture, but not for her windows÷a ridiculous distinction that many of them make. J. Head has nothing left whole in his parlour. Uncle Penington lost a good deal of window-glass.... Aunt Burge preserved hers thro' the care of some of her neighbors. . . . Was I not sure, my dearest Mother, that you would have very exaggerated accounts of this affair from others, and would probably be uneasy for the fate of our friends, I would be entirely silent about it, but as you will hear it from some one or another, not mentioning it will seem as if we had suffered exceedingly, and I hope I may depend on the safety of this opportunity.
Laurel Hill was sold by the State agents in 1779 to Major James who in turn leased the property to the French Prime Minister, the Chevalier de la Luzerne, After five years, Laurel Hill was returned to Rebecca who raised strawberries and cabbage to sell at the food market in Philadelphia. After the death of Rebecca on December 21, 1819, Laurel Hill went to her son William.
The Choir taking lunch and learning about the history of Laurel Hill
William had many accomplishments including United States District Attorney for Pennsylvania appointed by George Washington in 1791, Trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. He wrote "View of the U.S. Constitution," the first legal treatise on constitutional law.
As a trustee to his mother's will, William sold the property to Doctor Philip Sung Physick who was known as Father of American Surgery. Upon Physick's death in 1837, the home was inherited by his daughter Sally Randolph. The country estate was then known a Randolph House. Fairmount Park bought the property in 1869 and by 1976 restored the name back to Laurel Hill.
The Kitchen in Laurel Hill
In 1828, the house passed into the ownership of Dr. Philip Syng Physick who was known as the "Father of American Surgery,". Upon his death in 1837, the house was inherited by his daughter, Sally Randolph and it became known as the Randolph House. The house was purchased by the Fairmount Park Commission in 1869. The house was given back its original name of Laurel Hill when it was restored for the Bicentennial in 1976.
The theme for the Holiday House Tour was "A Victorian Wedding." Laurel Hill was decorated by the Community Garden Club of Wayne. Free tea and the sales of gingerbread cookies were offered by The Women for Greater Philadelphia for the visitors who were also treated to music by the choir.
Victorian Wedding at Laurel Hill
Source: Text and Photos by Bryan Wright
Laurel Hill Mansion
Philadelphia Museum of Art Fairmount Park Houses
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