The Rising Sun Tavern
Germantown Ave & W York St, Philadelphia, PA
From the late 18th century into the dawn of the 19th century, the Rising Sun Tavern confirmed the golden real-estate rule: “Location, Location, Location.” Situated on the intersection of York and Germantown Road, the Tavern was right in the middle of the main roadway leading into Philadelphia. Perhaps this is why it always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. During its lifetime, the Tavern played a crucial role in two of America’s struggles for freedom: the American Revolution and The Abolitionist Movement.
Although the Tavern’s date of establishment is unclear, newspaper articles on The Rising Sun Tavern appeared as early as 1755. On July 17th 1755, The Pennsylvania Gazette published a series of advertisements that listed properties on Germantown Road. The advertisements used the Rising Sun Tavern as a landmark several times, as exemplified in the following excerpt: “Situated in the Northern Liberties of the city of Philadelphia, on the west side of the road leading from said city to Germantown, near the Rising Sun Tavern…” James Milnor also mentioned the Tavern in an 1802 lease where he wrote that a Mr. Rodrigue rented a, “country place on the westerly side of the Germantown Main Road, between the Rising Sun Tavern in the Township of Northern Liberties.” These records hint that for an extensive period of time the tavern was likely popular enough for it to be a well known name for locals.
The Rising Sun Tavern was also an important location for the early Abolitionist Movement in the United States. The Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society (PAS) held its very first meeting at the Rising Sun Tavern in 1775. The organization was the first of its kind in the United States, and was vital in promoting petitions, social reforms, and court cases that supported the end of slavery. Inside the tavern, Anthony Benezet and nine other Quakers formed the “Relief for Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage.” Seven of the ten white men in attendance were Quakers. Their early meetings focused on liberating African Americans and Native Americans who claimed to be falsely enslaved. One of their earliest cases revolved around Dinah Nevill and her three children. Nevill was a Native American and African American women who claimed that she was free and falsely enslaved. Despite her objections, Nevill was sold to a Virginia man named Benjamin Bannerman. The PAS worked with Israel Pemberton, a Quaker merchant, and Thomas Harrison, a Quaker tailor, to defend Nevill’s freedom. Although they were unsuccessful in court, Harrison secured a Manumission Deed, a contract that freed a slave from its master, in 1779. After a short disbandment during the Revolutionary War, the group reorganized in 1784 and acquired several prominent members including two future presidents of the society: Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush. The organization still operates to this day.
The Tavern was the setting for a mysterious American spy legend as well. Lydia Darragh, an Irish Quaker woman, allegedly travelled to the Rising Sun Tavern on December 3rd 1777, to send warning to George Washington that General Howe of the British Army was planning to attack the Americans stationed at White Marsh. Multiple accounts interpret Lydia’s story and the Rising Sun’s role in securing America’s independence. (To read more about Lydia Darragh, please see the attached essay to this entry: “Taverns, Flour, and Revolution: Lydia Darragh - the Forgotten American Spy.”) Perhaps Howe had some hard feelings about the Tavern’s role in debunking his plans, as Howe’s men set fire to the Tavern during their march to Chestnut Hill.
Unfortunately, despite its many adventures, all rising suns must set. The Rising Sun Tavern was demolished in 1892. Although the structure may be gone, the Tavern’s legacy still survives through the legends and the people it has impacted.