Philadelphia, PA

The President’s House

Moon Philadelphia, 4th edition

IN 2015 Philadelphia became the first American municipality named a World Heritage City for its historical significance—as the birthplace of the United States. Independence National Historical Park, in the centre of town, has some of the most significant sites, including Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated, drafted and signed) and the Liberty Bell Center (which houses the famously cracked Liberty Bell, said to have been rung on the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776).

Independence Park is also where America’s first White House still stands. During the initial 10 years of the republic’s existence, Philadelphia was its capital and its first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, lived in what is now known as the President’s House, a three-storey brick mansion Washington called “the best single house in the city.”

In 2010, the latest addition to Independence Park opened: “the President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation.” The 4th edition of Moon Philadelphia calls it the city’s “most complicated site,” since its mandate is to explore how “many of the men who fought for [American] independence on the premise that ‘all men are created equal’ also owned slaves.”

Adams never did, but Washington had nine and only freed them in his will. Significant House visitors who owned slaves included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. “Archaeologists,” says the guidebook, “have discovered over 10,000 artifacts to help recreate the history and layout of the house, including the location of the slave quarters.”