Rains Flood Philadelphia! Do Something!

Dateline: Philadelphia, 2 June 1701. Rains hit the town hard, and things got washed away, particularly in one street. How would William Penn, who was in town, handle the “scandal”?


Proprietary and Governor, William Penn

Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, Caleb Pusey, all Esquires

Modernized transcription begins:

The petition of several inhabitants of Philadelphia, being offered to the board, setting forth the great inconveniency the town in general lies under and more particularly the inhabitants near the end of the High Street on Delaware, by its being broken down and washed away by the great sluices of water at every great rain, to the great scandal of the place and insecurity, as well as inconveniency of the town in general;

It is ordered:

That in pursuance of an Act of Assembly made and passed at the last sessions of the General Assembly of this Province and territories, held at New Castle, titled An Act for Regulating of Streets and Water Courses in the Cities and Towns of This Government, a commission be forthwith directed to Francis Cook, James Atkinson, Charles Read, Jonathan Dickinson, Thos. Masters, and John Parsons, to regulate the streets and water courses of the Town of Philadelphia, for which power is given by the said act and accordingly a commission is drawn and signed by the Proprietor and Governor in these words:

Wm Penn, true and absolute Proprietor and Governor in Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania and Territories thereunto belonging, to my loving friends, Francis Cook, et al.

In pursuance of an Act of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania and Territories thereunto belonging, held at New Castle, titled an Act for the Regulating of Streets and Water Courses in the Cities and Towns of this government,

Know ye:

That by and with the advice and consent of my council, I have nominated and appointed you, the said et al. as often as occasion shall be to regulate the streets and water courses of the town of Philadelphia and to order the pitching, paving, and graveling thereof, as also the clearing of docks where such may be and repair landing places and bridges in the said town, hereby authorizing and empowering you, according to the tenor of the said Act to agree with and employ workmen for performing the same;

And for defraying the charges of such regulations, I do hereby require you or any four of you with the advice and assistance of the justices of the peace of the county of Philadelphia, or at least two of them, to calculate and compute the said charges and thereupon with the assent of me and four of the council, equally to lay rates or assessments, for levying the same upon the inhabitants of the said town respectively;

And the same rates being so laid, forthwith to levy or cause to be levied, according as by the said Act, you are directed and generally to do, act and perform all and all such manner of things whatsoever that by the said Act any persons mentioned to be appointed by me and my council, are empowered to do, act, and perform or execute.

Given under my hand and seal at Philadelphia, the 2nd day of the fourth month [June] in the year 1701.

Transcription ends.

It is interesting that the flood damage is called a “scandal,” as if it reflected badly on the Governor, his council and the city itself. Maybe it is, in part, the fear of embarrassment and reproach from neighboring provinces and the Philadelphia townsmen that motivated city leaders to act and repair things. Also, the city itself was damaged and had to be fixed for the general welfare of the inhabitants.

What were the calculations?

27 June 1701


Proprietor and Governor, William Penn

William Clark, Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, Humphrey Murray, Thomas Story, all Esquires

Transcription begins:

James Atkinson, John Dickinson, Cha. Read, Thos. Masters, four of the six commissioners appointed by the Governor and council for regulating the streets and water courses for the town of Philadelphia, etc., pursuant to a late Act of Assembly for that end [goal or purpose] made and provided, having by a writing under their hands, bearing date the 25th instant, reported to the Governor and council:

That in pursuance of their commission, bearing date the 24th 1701 [sic], empowering them with the assistance of two justices of the peace to calculate the charge of regulating the streets and bridges, etc. of the said town, would, according to the most sparing and cheapest way of management, require the sum of £500 to complete the same.


That in pursuance and by virtue of the aforerecited Act of Assembly and according to the said commissioners report the said sum of £500 be equally laid and levied as the law directs on the inhabitants in and about the said town of Philadelphia, one moiety thereof to be collected forthwith and the other the following spring, before the first of the 3rd month [May] next ensuing [following], by the sheriff of the county or such other officer as the said commissioners shall think fit to appoint, according to law;

And a commission is ordered to be forthwith drawn by Robert Ashton for that purpose.

Transcription ends.

£500 is a huge amount.


Gateway Ancestors of the Middle Colonies

Appointing Commissioners of Peace in Pennsylvania

What Were Market Days Like in Colonial America?

Philadelphia Drowns in Illegal Trade, Piracy and Vice


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), pp. 17-18.

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