AMERICA'S MOST HISTORIC HIGHWAY-MARKET STREET, PHILADELPHIA
 

Contributed by IRA GRAFFMAN
IRGRAFFMAN@delphi.com

AMERICA'S MOST
HISTORIC HIGHWAY
MARKET STREET, PHILADELPHIA

By JOSEPH JACKSON

JOHN WANAMAKER
coyright, 1926
 

164 It was perhaps after William Hudson's death that the two small
streets were opened through his property known as Hudson's Square.  They
are to be found on the map of the city printed in 1762, and the one
nearest Arch street was at first called North alley.  In recent years it
was named North street, and about twenty years ago received its present
name, Cuthbert street.  The other street, which was first above Market '
was known as South alley, but in the last century received the name of
Commerce street.
The grandson of William Hudson lived at the northwest corner of k'ifth
and Market streets, and in the directory of 1785 we find the house on
that corner occupied by Samuel Hudson, the last of the male line of
descent.
At this time the whole of the original property on the square had not
been sold.  There still were vacant lots on the north side of Market
street between Fifth and Sixth streets.  Next to Samuel Hudson at this
time lived Israel Jones, and next to him Dr. Dunlap.
On the siteof what is now 517 lived John Pemberton, gentleman, a son of
Israel Pemberton, whose'great house was at Third and Chestnut streets.
John Pemberton had a mansion near the Wissahickon.  After his death his
widow occupied his Market street house.
In this same row in 1785 lived at what now would be 531, Dr. Joseph
Redman, and next to him, on the site at 533, Nathan Sellers.  The
northeast corner of Sixth and Market streets at this time was a vacant
lot owned by a descendant of William Hudson.  Not a great deal appears
to be known of this Dr. Joseph Redman, who is said to have been a son of
the great Dr. John Redman.
William Shippen, Sr., who, it seems, was not a connection of the Edward
Shippen who was an early Mayor of Philadelphia, and whose only claim to
fame is to be found in the fact that he was a delegate to the
Continental Congress from Pennsylvania from 1778 to 1780, in 1791 was
occupying the house in which Dr. Joseph Redman resided in 178&
Nathan Sellers, who was bred to the law, but became famed for his
invention of drawn wire and wire weaving at a time when this industry
was a new one in this country, erected the house on Market street in
1782.  Horace

165 (Picture of The Sellers House, 231 High Street, 1785-1829)

166 Wells Sellers, a great-grandson of Nathan Sellers,, some
Years ago induced his uncle, George Escol Sellers, an engi-
neer, who died in 1899, aged ninety-one years, to write his
recollections, chiefly about the residents of the vicinity of Sixth and
Market streets, and mainly from these recollections, through the
courtesy of Mr. Sellers, the information about the Sellers' homestead at
Sixth and Market streets is derived.

Nathan Sellers, after studying law and conveyancing with Henry Hale
Graham, Prothonotary at Chester, prior to the Revolutionary War, came to
Philadelphia and for a time served as recorderof the Supreme Executive
Council in this city.  His father, John Sellers, was an active member of
the Assembly, and, being also engaged in numerous undertakings, he
called his son Nathan back to Delaware County to take charge of his wire
working and weaving industries.  At the outbreak of the Revolution
Nathan, who in 1776 was twenty-five years of a ' ge, was an-ensign in
Colonel Paschal's battalion.  He was in New Jersey on active service
when he was recalled from military duty by a special resolution of
Congress, so that he might assist in making paper molds.  '

As may be understood, these are made of wire; and as those used had been
imported from England, the opening of hostilities had placed an embargo.
on this kind of import.  There was need of paper, but it could not be
made without molds.  Nathan Sellers, returning to take charge of this
-new - trade, found he had to begin at the beginning.  He was compelled
to invent a method of drawing and annealing wire, and there were other
processes required that he found had to be invented.  He was so
successful in devising new processes that afterward the improvements he
had made were adopted in Europe for the same work.

After the Revolution Nathan Sellers took one of his younger brothers,
David, into the business, and they established themselves on Sixth
street north of Market.  Thev had a monopoly of the trade and their
business prospered.  In 1782 Nathan Sellers purchased the lot on Market
street from Mrs. Sarah Moore, wife of Dr. Thomas Moore and granddaughter
of William Hudson.  As soon as the new house was built Nathan Sellers
moved his office to his

(167 top half = Nathan Sellers Picture)

dwelling, in accordance with the custom of the time.  The late George
Escol Sellers had left not only a good written description of his
dwelling but also has left a drawing of
the building as he remembered it.
Horace Wells Sellers describing this old house and, being an experienced
architect and engineer, is able to
speak with authority, says:

The building as originally erected was typical of many merchants' houses
of the period, the ground floor being occupied as a warehouse and
counting room, with a separate entrance to the residence portion.  The
entrance was at the eastern line and approached by a flight of marble
steps and opened into a long, wide hallway.  This extended to the stair
hall in the rear of the main building.  The dining room was on the
ground floor of the back building, overlooking a side yard.  This yard
extended to the end of the back building, where it con

168 nected by a terrace and flight Of steps with the garden, which was
the whole width of the lot, extending to the coach house and table,
facing a court which opened into Sixth street.  The stairway in the rear
of the entrance hall led to the living rooms above, the parlor being on
the front of the building, the full width of the house making a room
about 24 feet square.  The entire back building and the remaining
portions of the main house below the attic were fitted for the family
uses.

Nathan Sellers retired from business in 1817 and his house at Sixth and
Market streets was then occupied by his eldest son, Coleman Sellers, who
succeeded him in the business.  Coleman Sellers remained there until
1829, when he built a residence and a warehouse adjoining it on North
Sixth street.  The residence was at 10 North Sixth street, at the
southwest corner of what then was Mulberry Court, and now is Commerce
street.  Here Coleman Sellers began to take interest in the construction
of fire engines, and formed a partnership with a Mr. Perkins, probably
Thomas Perkins, who was an iron founder, at Sixth and Market streets,
under the style of Perkins & Sellers, for the manufacture of these
pieces of apparatus.  Their shop was in the rear of Market street near
Seventh, and was reached only through Mull>erry court, not then opened
to Seventh street.  The firm built what was kn ' own as a "Hydraulien,"
which is said to have been the first marked improvement in fire engine
building since they had been adopted.  Later, under the firm name of
Sellers & Pennock, the manufacture of these fire engines was continued
at Sixteenth and Market streets.
Coleman Sellers married Sophonisba Peale, a daughter of Charles Willson
Peale, the American historical portrait painter of the Revolution, whose
work is identified with Philadelphia.  This Coleman Sellers was one of
the commissioners to erect the Eastern Penitentiary.
One day in the late fall of the year 1834, during her six weeks' stay in
Philadelphia, Harriet Martineau, that remarkable woman and writer, was
hovering around the vicinity of Sixth and Market streets, seeking out
historic sites.  It appears from a reminiscence of George Escol Sellers,
already referred to, that at that period he was a young man and lived at
Sixth and St. James, or Commerce, streets.  He recalled the incident by
saying that he was standing at the corner of Sixth and Market streets
when
 

169(top half = picture of Coleman Sellers)

a lady approached him and inquired from him who lived in this house and
that, and drew from him what he had heard of the dwellers in the
neighborhood.  Both seemed to be attracted to each other; Miss Martineau
in the entertaining and well-informed young man, and young Sellers in
the inquisitive stranger.  When the stranger had learned all she could
she thanked Mr. Sellers and placed a card in his hand.  He looked at it
and then, too late to express his astonishment, he learned that he had
been talking to the most remarkable English woman of her time.
. It appears that Miss Martineau was in search of the former home of Dr.
Priestley, which was in this neighborhood, and while she might have been
able to rest her eyes upon the building in 1834, it is certain that no
one can do so today.

170 George Escol Sellers, in his memoirs, also mentions that at one time
their next-door neighbor on Market street, in the house which we have
seen both Dr. Joseph Redman and William Shippen, Sr., had occupied,
Timothy Pickering lived at one time, and Philip Freneau, the journalist
and poet, is also said to have been a resident in the neighborhood at
one of the corners of Sixth and Market streets.
George Escol Sellers maintained the tradition of the Sellers family by
becoming a prominent engineer and inventor.  He invented a process of
making pulp paper from reeds; he made some basic improvements in the
locomotive, on some of the first engines used on the Philadelphia and
Columbia Railroad; his improvement in the process of making lead pipe is
probably used to the present day.  At the time the Panama Railroad was
being constructed Mr. Sellers invented a type of hill-climbing
locomotive for that road which was being built under the direction of
the elder John '.Prautwine, who was chief engineer of the road.  He also
devised what was called an oragraph, a machine for taking levels in
topographical surveying.  It was. a most ingenious instrument, but,
although it was adopted by the United States Government, it was soon
superseded by the plane table method still in use.  Mr. Sellers also
organized an artists' sketch club, the first formed in this city.  Thls
was shortly before 1830, and among the members were Thomas Sully and
Felix 0. C. Darley.

In 1793 this block had a rather remarkable literary and Revolutionary
character among its residents.  This was Philip Freneau, the poet of the
Revolution, who is said to have divided with Thomas Paine the literary
honors of that struggle, and whose poems are said to have been almost
equally effective with the pamphlets of the author of "Common Sense."
Freneau was a printer-journalist who had a gift for the rapid writing of
occasional satirical verse.  It may not have been great poetry, or even
good poetry, but it had what nowadays is called "a punch" in its lines;
it conveyed political sentiments in a compelling manner and always was
stirringly partisan.  The ardent, persistent character of Freneau's
partisanship is difficult to understand by presentday standards.  He
published a paper for the Jeffersonia]Q
THE END