If walking south down 3rd Street, turn left down the alley of Dock Street. Dock Street is all that is left of Dock Creek, a stream that flowed into the Delaware River. Keep left to walk behind the City Tavern and exit onto 2nd Street. Welcome Park is directly ahead, across 2nd St to the left.
Welcome Park was built by the Friends of Independence National Historical Park in 1982 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Pennsylvania by William Penn in 1682. It was designed by the architectural firm Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown and is named for William Penn’s ship, the Welcome. The park is located on the site of the Slate Roof House, Penn’s residence in Philadelphia from 1699-1701.
Built around 1687, the red brick mansion, known as the Slate Roof House, stood in the 100 block of Second Street between Chestnut and Walnut Streets. Originally built for Samuel Carpenter, a Quaker merchant, the house occupied a small hill overlooking the Delaware River. It was made of brick in the Jacobean style, with its facade featuring two projecting wings that flanked a recessed central entrance. The house was notable for its large size as well as for its slate roof, which was a rarity in early Philadelphia.
William Penn rented the home for 80 pounds a year during his second stay in Pennsylvania from 1699 to 1701; his son John the future Proprietor (equivalent of a Governor, with a Royal Charter) of Pennsylvania, was born on this site. It was here that William Penn wrote the final Charter of Privileges (functioned as Pennsylvania’s constitution until the American Revolution), which reiterated Pennsylvania’s commitment to religious liberty-freedom of worship to all who “acknowledge one almighty God” without attending or belonging to a religious body, and the ability to serve in office by all who believed in Jesus Christ and were willing to affirm, if not swear, allegiance to the government. Along with Rhode Island and several other colonies, Pennsylvania was a pioneer of the separation of religion and government in the American colonies.
During the American Revolution, members of the First Continental Congress occupied the home, including John Adams and John Hancock. By the nineteenth century, the house had fallen into disrepair, and despite some protests calling for historic preservation, it was demolished in 1867. In its place, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce built the Commercial Exchange Building which shortly after burned down. After the fire, the Exchange was rebuilt and sold to the Keystone Telephone Company, which in turn sold it to its competitor Bell Telephone. In 1976 the building was torn down, and the park was built in its place.
Although exact details are unknown, a piece of land located within the park or most likely adjacent to the park was granted to a group of Native Americans (Haudenosaunee) in 1755 by John Penn the grandson of William Penn. In the 1700s, Native American groups often visited Philadelphia for diplomatic and trade meetings. They sometimes numbered in the hundreds and visited so frequently that John Penn asked the Provincial Council of Philadelphia to consider setting aside a piece of land for these gatherings. The delegations often refused to negotiate treaties until they could stand on their own ground and build a council fire. John Penn ceremoniously gave the Native American representatives wampum (made of shell beads woven into a collar). The envoy who received the wampum was a Mohawk chief named King Hendrick Theyanoguin (1692-1755). Also called Chief Hendrick and Hendrick Peters, he was an important leader in the Mohawk Valley of colonial New York. It is unknown if Hendrick gave John Penn anything in return as a token exchange. The event most likely happened sometime between January 7th and January 23rd, 1755, while King Hendrick and twelve Algonquin sachems (chiefs) were visiting Philadelphia. Who had owned the land before, is unclear. The plot of land that Penn set aside is variously reported as “twelve by sixteen” or “fifteen by forty-seven” feet. The site never had a formal name, but it was referred to as the “wampum lot” in the late-19th century, according to The American Architect and Building News, vol. 36 (May 28th,1892).
“In Philadelphia under the shadow of the Chamber of Commerce is a lot of land fifteen by forty-seven feet that would seem to belong rightfully to one of the Six Nations. It appears that in the period of the French and Indian War, when John Penn, the grandson of William, was acting as Proprietary Governor, he lived in a little house at the corner of Second and Walnut Streets, leasing the Governor’s slate-roof house, the state of which he was too poor to keep up, to John Claypole, a wealthy merchant. On the occasion of a reception Governor Penn granted to a delegation of the Six Nations, otherwise known as the Iroquois, he made a wampum-belt deed of a small lot of land on the State-house lawn to the Indians, so that they might erect a lodge on the spot in which to make treaties with the whites and smoke the calumet with their great men.” When the Slate Roof House was torn down in 1867 and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce built the Commercial Exchange Building on the site, they tried to purchase the Wampum Lot, but they were unsuccessful.
“The late Charles Knecht, who negotiated for the purchase of the land on which the Chamber of Commerce now stands, discovered that the title to a part of the ground which he wanted was vested in the Oneidas, who in evidence of it exhibited the famous wampum-belt deed. Nothing could induce them to surrender it, and the lot on which the Chamber was built did not embrace the little section claimed by the Oneidas. To-day tenements and the rear windows of the Chamber look upon the wampum lot in which a huckster’s cart or a stray cur may often be seen. An alley leads up to the little court, and this alley, owned by the Chamber, has been kept closed to the public for more than twenty years. Having thus asserted a prescriptive right to the land, the Chamber now claims it. Whether the title could be confirmed is a question which only the Indian claim makes at all doubtful.”
Sometime in the 20th century, the land was taken by the city. In 1901, the Commercial Exchange Building was sold to the Keystone Telephone Company and became the Keystone Telephone Building. The open courtyard encompassing the Wampum Lot was on the south side of the building and was surrounded by a protective railing in the early 20th century. According to Iroquois tradition, the wampum belt received by King Hendrick was the only record and legal document of John Penn’s land grant. Supposedly the belt joined the other wampum belts passed from one generation of the Six Nations to the next. In 1898, the Iroquois placed the collection of about twenty belts in the custody of the State of New York after the last “wampum keeper” chief died. The John Penn wampum was not among them, and the location of the belt is unknown. The land is now likely part of a new, seven-story condominium development, The Moravian.
--compiled by Milosz Krupinski
Sources & More Information
- These Native American women came to Philadelphia to see their ancestral land. They found apartments and a parking garage.
- Before Even Old Original Bookbinder's: An Official Indian Reservation
- Historic Philadelphia Tour: Welcome Park
- Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia | The Slate Roof House
- American Architect and Architecture