A Brawl in Streets of Colonial Philadelphia

Dateline: 1704: A brawl broke out in the streets of Philadelphia on the night of 1 Nov 1704. Here is the account from the Minutes of the Provincial Council. By now, a few people of church denominations other than Quakers moved into the city. Where’s the City of Brotherly Love?

Let’s get right to the basic facts.

3 Oct 1704


John Evans, Esq. and Lt. Governor

Edward Shippen, John Guest, Samuel Carpenter, William Clark, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, Samuel Finney, James Logan, all Esquires

Several complaints, having been publicly made of great disorders, lately committed within the city and in the night season, to the great disturbance of the sober inhabitants and the encouragement of vice by evil examples:

It is ordered:

That a proclamation be forthwith issued for the discouraging of vice and suppressing of disorders. (p. 166)

2 Nov 1704 in the afternoon


John Evans, Esq., Lieutenant Governor

Edward Shippen, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, Caleb Pusey, Richard Hill, James Pidgeon, James Logan, Capt. Roche., all esquires

Modern transcription begins:

The Attorney General informed the board that last night there had been a great fray in the City between the watch and some gentlemen; that the gentlemen had received great abuses from the watch who were backed by the Mayor, Recorder and one Alderman; that the peace had been broken, several person injured;

And the Mayor and Recorder (according to the information) concerned as parties, the trial could not be brought into the City Court and therefore he laid it before the Governor, whether [the trial] ought to be ordered in some other proper court, upon which notice being given that several persons concerned in the fray were attending without [outside],

It was ordered that they should be called in.

And being accordingly called, they were examined, but it not being made fully to appear that the said Mayor, Recorder, etc. were really parties in the quarrel or had proceeded beyond the bounds of the duty, the examinants were dismissed and it was ordered that the Mayor, Recorder and the said Alderman should be called to appear at the Board in the afternoon. (p. 175)

Transcription ends.

Same date

John Evans, Esq., Lieutenant Governor

Edward Shippen, Thomas Story, Caleb Pusey, Richard Hill, esquires; Wm Trent, Jasper Yeats, Jos. Pidgeon, James Logan

Transcription begins:

The Mayor, Recorder, and Jos. Wilcox and [sic, it should be an] Alderman of Philadelphia, being summoned to appear at this board, accordingly came and gave account of the fray which was last night in the streets to the Governor and Council, by which account it appeared they were no other ways concerned in it than to quell the disturbance. (p. 175)

Transcription ends.

Unfortunately we don’t know what the “great abuses” the gentlemen received from the city officials. And we don’t know whether the word gentlemen really denotes Gentleman status or is just a generic term for freemen.

In any case, it looks like the Governor (actually the Lieutenant Governor standing in the Governor’s authority) and the Council concluded that the city officials did not participate in the fray on the wrong side, but acted in the only way they could, and no blame should be put on them. They were free to go.


Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg Theophilus Fenn, 1838).

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