Meet “The Ingenious Mr. Peale”

As a young man in Maryland, Charles Willson Peale felt he could do just about anything. Evidently, he was correct.

Today, he’s known mostly for more than 1,100 paintings of Revolutionary War colleagues and notables he created. Over 100 of them are in the Second Bank of the U.S. at 420 Chestnut Street.

But Peale, who never saw a painting before he was 20 years old, was far more than a painter. He was also an inventor, a silversmith, a watchmaker, a soldier, and a leader in just about everything he touched.

The Library Company of Philadelphia

If you’re looking for books, prints, periodicals, photos or ephemera from Colonial America through the 19th century, this is the place to go!

Like so many things in our city, the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) was a Ben Franklin creation.

He started the Junto, a self-improvement club that debated morals, politics and natural philosophy. When members realized they needed printed matter to prove their points, Franklin and the Junto began the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first subscription library in the U.S.

Captain Gustavus Conyngham, USN, King George III’s Worst Nightmare

This daring Errol-Flynn-type character terrorized English ships, capturing more vessels than Commodore John Barry and Captain John Paul Jones combined

In my youth, when my family drove to upstate Pennsylvania on summer vacations, I remember noticing the name “Conyngham” on road signs along Route 80 near Luzerne County.

I always wondered about the origin of this strange name. Little did I know it belonged to one of the most important – and now least-known heroes of the Revolutionary War.

Gustavus Conyngham (or Cunningham as some spell it), started the war as a privateer, bringing needed supplies back to the colonies. On March 1, 1777, he received a commission from Benjamin Franklin in Paris signed by John Hancock.

Christ Church

With a soaring 196-foot steeple that towers over newer structures nearby, Christ Church is both a spectacular historic building … and living history at its best.

No musty old buildings or artifacts untouched by human hands here. Instead, this is a flourishing, active modern parish – where members still worship under a brass chandelier (with real candles) that has hung since 1744.

Parishioners continue to be baptized at a 15th century octagonal walnut font used by William Penn in 1644. And, says senior guide and historian Neil Ronk, “The bells we rang for the Revolution will ring for a wedding tonight.”

Welcome Park

Considering all that William Penn did for Philadelphia and our nation – while living here less than four years – he is seriously unappreciated by the very city he founded.

In part, that’s because the remarkable Benjamin Franklin overshadows just about everybody else in local history.

But when you start looking closely at what Penn really accomplished – we should be celebrating his birthday every October 14th at Welcome Park, just across from the City Tavern at Second Street above Walnut.

Historic Fort Mifflin

Thanks to the popular Disney TV mini-series “Davy Crockett,” there’s probably not a child in the U.S. who hasn’t heard about the Battle of the Alamo. That 1836 siege lasted 13 days. Some 182 to 257 Texans were killed, along with 400 to 600 Mexicans, and the battle became a rallying cry for Texas independence.

Contrast that with the 6-day siege of Fort Mifflin, a wood and stone structure located nine miles from center city Philadelphia, on a muddy island in the Delaware River. What happened here may well have changed American history. But few people are aware of it.