Historical Markers
London Coffee House Historical Marker
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London Coffee House

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Front & Market Streets, Philadelphia

Behind the Marker

People sitting in coffee houses talking over steaming cups of coffee is a familiar image to millions of people today. It was just as familiar to colonial Philadelphians, many of whom frequented the London Coffee House at the southwest corner of Front and High (present-day Market) Streets. Hundreds of people flocked there daily to drink coffee, or something a little stronger, as coffee houses also served a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, and to socialize, catch up on the news and talk business. The Coffee House quickly became the center of business and political life in Philadelphia and the site of auctions that sold carriages, foodstuffs, horses and enslaved Africans and African-Americans to the highest bidders.

The Old London Coffee House Blanc, A., del., photograph ca. 1853, billows smoke from two chimneys and is the central building depicted in this crowded, city, street scene. Among the many shoppers and merchants milling along the outside of the city street buildings are men, women, children and even animals running free. The street is filled with all of the above and includes a horse and carriage, a single rider on his stead, and a covered wagon to the far left.
The Old London Coffee House
Opened by William Bradford in 1754, the London Coffee House was built with funds provided by more than 200 Philadelphia merchants, and it soon became their meeting place. Here merchants, ship masters and others talked business and made deals that they often sealed with nothing more than a simple handshake. The governor and other officials also frequented the coffee house, where they held court in their own private booths. City residents came to get the latest news and to buy tickets for concerts, lectures and other public events. The coffee house was also a destination for weary travelers from other colonies, and countries, and for the businessmen and curious onlookers attending the auctions held regularly outside its front doors.

Slavery was a feature of everyday life in colonial Pennsylvania. In the 1760s, more than 4,400 enslaved Africans and African-Americans lived in the colony. Nearly one of every six white households in Philadelphia had at least one slave. Slavery had first come to the colony in 1684 when the Isabella, out of Bristol, England, docked in Philadelphia with 150 captured Africans. A year later William Penn himself had at least three slaves at markerPennsbury, his manor estate just north of Philadelphia.

In 1682 Penn set up a voluntary association of Quaker merchants called the Free Society of Traders, and permitted them to own slaves, but insisted that if they did they "should make them free at fourteen years end." It is unclear, however, if the proprietor followed this policy. Two years after Penn's death in 1718, his wife markerHannah instructed Penn's secretary James Logan to sell a slave woman named Sue and her children together if possible to help pay off her husband's debts.

Hannah asked Logan to sell them to some one who would not use them "hardly," as she put it. More than twenty years before she expressed her own rather weak concern for the treatment of some of her slaves, Friends in Germantown had drafted a statement protesting the un-Christian "traffick of mens-body." This markerGermantown Protest was the first written opposition to slavery in the British colonies. At that time, however, it fell upon deaf ears.

In the 1740s and 1750s, however, Pennsylvania and New Jersey Quakers spearheaded a growing campaign for the abolition of slavery throughout Britain's North American colonies. In 1776 the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting passed a resolution that disowned all Quakers who owned slaves or bought or sold them for any other reason than to set them free. During the American Revolution, Quakers also worked to convince state legislators to markerabolish slavery in Pennsylvania, and in 1779, Pennsylvania became the first state in the new nation to pass a law ordering the emancipation of all slaves within its borders.

During the war British sympathizers, men and women called Tories by those who favored independence, used the Coffee House as a meeting place, as did British officers after the English occupied Philadelphia in 1777. In 1796, James Stokes bought the Coffee House and then converted it into his home and a store. In 1883, this once important center of colonial commerce, now dilapidated and abandoned, was torn down.

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