Carpenters' Hall

Carpenters' Hall in the Revolution

Delegates to the First Continental Congress met in the east portion of the first floor. Windsor chairs were lent by Company members.

The role of Carpenters' Hall in the war for American independence began before the First Continental Congress and continued long after. During the previous summer the local Committee of Correspondence, charged with exchanging information with counterparts in other colonies, met here. The city's first military organization, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, was formed here in the fall of 1774. On October 23, 1775, delegates to the Second Continental Congress, then meeting at the State House, assembled in the Hall for the funeral service of Peyton Randolph, a close friend of Washington and president of the First Continental Congress.

Just before Christmas 1775 — eight months after the battles at Lexington and Concord — four men met secretly in Franklin's lending library on the second floor of the Hall. Their purpose: to set plans in motion to help arm American soldiers in their very unequal contest with a well equipped and trained British army.

In June 1776, Pennsylvania faced a serious problem. Before their delegates to the Second Continental Congress could sign the forthcoming Declaration of Independence, Pennsylvania would have to declare its own independence from England. But the colonial Assembly, lacking a quorum, had already adjourned. What to do?

Both Carpenters' Company members and their Hall contributed to the war effort.

Benjamin Loxley, who learned to cast bronze cannons from the British during the French and Indian Wars, served as an artillery officer in New Jersey in the summer of 1776, marching his fast-moving "Flying Camp" to Perth Amboy and back.

Joseph Fox, outspoken critic in the Assembly of colonial rule, had his house burned by the British army during the winter it occupied Philadelphia. Earlier, Fox and Loxley had helped construct barracks used by the British army and later by American troops.

Thomas Proctor, another builder turned artillery officer, was commissioned a captain in 1775 and two years later a major. He participated in the battles at Brandywine, Trenton and Germantown.

Robert Smith, architect of Carpenters' Hall, and Joseph Govett helped design and install underwater defenses known as chevaux-de-frise. Their construction was simple: large wooden boxes filled with stone and topped with iron tipped logs. Concealed in the channel of the Delaware, they effectively impaled enemy ships. Installation, however, wasn't easy. Smith designed a mechanism for lowering the ungainly devices into place.

While working with two other members — William Williams and John Smith — on fortifications across the river at Billingsport, Robert Smith fell ill and died not long after.

Until the British occupied Philadelphia in September 1777, American forces used Carpenters' Hall both as a field hospital and military storehouse. During the occupation, British wounded filled the first floor.

The War Office continued to fill the basement and first floor with arms and ammunition for the next dozen years. Major General Henry Knox, using materiel stored in the Hall, fitted out more than one expedition to protect frontier settlements from Indian attacks. Knox, the first Secretary of War, later established his office in "New Hall," the two-story structure in the courtyard which now houses the military museum. In December 1776, Knox — for whom Knoxville and Fort Knox are named — advised Washington to take his army across the Delaware and make the daring Christmas night attack on the British army.


Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Open free to the public daily, except Mondays (and Tuesdays in Jan. and Feb.), from 10am-4pm

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a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942.
Publishing electronically as On the Internet since July 4, 1995.