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City Archives of the City of Philadelphia Department of Records
 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19104-2807  

http://www.phila.gov/Records/Archives/PHILS.html    http://www.phillyhistory.org

Hours/Access Policy  Reading room and gallery: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Appointments are encouraged..

Contact Information  
215-685-9401; Fax: 215-685-9409;
Dona Horowitz-Behrend, Ph.D, Historian
Jill Rawnsley, Conservation Consultant
Joan Decker, Commissioner, City of Philadelphia Records Department

PDF version of this page.

Overview
As stated in the Rules of the Department of Records, the City Archives supports the city’s administration by actively identifying and preserving records designated for permanent value. Underpinning the mission of the City Archives is the need to ensure the preservation of the City records into perpetuity. The City Archives was established on April 17, 1951 under section 5-1101(d) of the Home Rule Charter. The City Archives is charged with the following responsibilities:

  • Preserve all City records not in current use and of historical, administrative, legal, research, cultural, or other important value under the care and supervision of an archivist.
  • Receive such records from any department, board or commission, or other government agency of the City.
  • Collect, classify, preserve, and make acceptable for reference all records.
  • Periodically examine the condition of City records of any office, department, board or commission or other governmental agency.
  • By agreement with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the City Archives is the local repository for records of Philadelphia County officers and County Courts.

Holdings date from the 1701 City Charter, chronicling actions and decisions of city government and the public. The Archives are unmatched in the comprehensiveness of their eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century records. City Council Minutes from 1704 to 1865 chronicle Philadelphia as the nation’s capital; and later the birthplace of abolition and an Underground Railroad center (certified by the National Park Service in 2008 as a member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom). Also chronicled is how the city government and citizens adapted to federal law. The City of Philadelphia Archives has extensive records holdings (some 21,000 cubic feet), and approximately two million photographs dating from the late 1800s until recent times.

Civil War Collections
Philadelphia was the national capital until 1800. However, even after that period and well after the Civil War, the city remained an important federal center with many federal agencies remaining. The records in the City Archives not only speak to the continuing federal presence and reaction to sectional conflict over slavery, but also to the actions of those who sought freedom and fought to bring an end to slavery. The archival records provide the evidentiary context for understanding the African American community, as well as the political and social environment leading up to, during, and after the Civil War. Of particular importance are:

1. Board of Health: Marine Hospital Accounts Lazaretto Hospital, 1794-1800. Port of Entry for City of Philadelphia. Due to the 1794 yellow fever outbreak, all ships entering the Port of Philadelphia were quarantined for 31 days. The various government hospitals in Philadelphia during the Civil War worked outside of the Board of Health’s control because they were Federal. Even the deaths that occurred at these hospitals were not reported as part of the Death Registers. Most record-keeping was by federal or state governments, or by private individuals.

2. The Minutes of City Council beginning in 1704 chronicle the actions and decisions of city government officials and the public in confronting the issue of slavery and status of blacks.

3. Prison records: Moyamensing Prison, built in 1835, was used for misdemeanors, maximum two-year sentence. Prisoners were also held while awaiting trial. Abolitionists and fugitive slaves were among the prison population, as well as deserters from vessels and the army during the Civil War.  Moyamensing Prison Records list 29 men involved in the Christiana Riot case awaiting trial for treason; the five black dockworkers who helped Jane Johnson’s flight to freedom, and also the imprisonment of Passmore Williamson, the white man who aided her escape [both immortalized in the historical novel The Price of a Child, and much earlier in William Still’s book The Underground Railroad].

4. Property deeds and the earliest and longest continuous run of birth and death records. The City of Philadelphia passed a law in 1860 that called for the quick and exact recording of all city births, marriages, and deaths in a systematic and continuing manner by the Board of Health. The Civil War brought a significant increase in   the number of requests to the Board for certified birth certificates. Widows and families were compelled to make such requests to obtain pensions due from the federal government.
5. Marriage Returns 1860-1885; Marriage Records 1857-1904 indexes; Marriage Register 1860-1885; Bills of Mortality 1861-1884: weekly total of death analyzed by cause; Death Register, 1860-1903: includes marital status, cause of death.

6. Quarter Sessions Court, District and Common Pleas Court. Naturalization Records.
In order to serve in the army, people immigrating to the United States after 1776 had to appear before the District or Common Pleas Court to become naturalized American citizens. Special naturalization provisions for aliens serving in the U.S. military date back at least to the Civil War. The Civil War statute affected only   persons serving in the army and required residency of one year.

7. Mayor’s Addresses
8. Reports to Mayor’s Office 1864-1867.
9. Reports to Bounty Commissioner, of bounties due to Civil War Volunteers by city,    1864.
10. Military Service Enrollment Book, Wards 19 and 20, 1861-1862, 2 vols., no index.

*11. Philadelphia in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Vol. 1: 1912-1913. In March
1912, Mayor Rudolph Blankenburg appointed a committee of three individuals
to supervise the compilation of a book detailing Philadelphia’s contributions to the Civil War. This book, prepared during the 50th anniversary period of the Civil War, followed closely the preparation and dedication of the Soldiers’ Monument. Frank H. Taylor compiled the book.

12. PhillyHistory.org: online archive of the City of Philadelphia photographic archives dating from 1865. Civil War-related material includes photographs of United States Army Hospital, 1865; drawings of water system; Market Houses east of 6th Street; Broad Street north from Sansom; Spring Garden ladder truck, etc.

13. Sheet Music from the American Songbag by Carl Sandburg. “Lincoln and Liberty,” “There was an Old Soldier.”

14. Other related records:
Bureau of Highways and Street Cleaning-1859-64, 1866-67.
Water Department Bureau of 1858-64.
Contagious Diseases Registered 1854-1897.
City Hospital Register, 1855-1896
Misc. book: 1799-1951, 46 vols., index. Includes court orders, decrees, and military discharges.

*15. Then and now: Civil Rights – Commission on Human Rights.

Collection Highlights
The holdings of the City of Philadelphia Archives are essential to understanding the actions and decisions of city government officials and the public in confronting the issue of slavery and status of African Americans in Philadelphia before, during, and after the Civil War.

Home Front/Civilians

City Council Minutes: The City of Philadelphia passed a law in 1860 that called for the quick and exact recordings of all city births, marriages, and deaths in a systematic and continuing manner by the Board of Health. The Civil War brought a significant increase in number of requests to the Board for certified birth certificates. Widows and families were compelled to make such requests to obtain pensions due from the federal government. Among other materials are citizen, government, and police responses to the burning of Pennsylvania Hall 1838. Related records: Marriage Returns, 1860-1885; Marriage Records, 1857-1904; Marriage Register, 1860-1885; Bills of Mortality, 1861-1864: weekly totals of death analyzed by cause; Death Register, 1860-1903 (includes marital status, cause of death).

County Prisons and City and Criminal Court Records index prisoners including abolitionists awaiting trial for treason as a result of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, for participation in the 1851 Christiana Riot; fugitive slaves and Civil War deserters. Two of Richard Allen’s runaway servants are recorded in Inspectors of the Walnut Street Jail, Vagrancy Dockets (1790-1797). Jane Johnson’s rescue in 1855 is also documented in the Prison Daily Occurrences, Moyamensing Prison. The five names of the workers assisting in her getaway are listed as well as that of Passmore Williamson.

Tax Assessments and Probate Records list the possessions of individual businesses and residents. Tax Assessments list the taxable possessions of individuals, including their slaves. These give important secondary support information for documenting economic and social context. Probate Records list the possessions, including slaves, at death of citizens including free African Americans.

Bureau of Highways and Street Cleaning: 1859-64, 1866-67.
Water Department Bureau of 1858-64.

PhillyHistory.org  Online photographic archives dating from 1865 of public works projects: housing, municipal buildings, neighborhoods, parks, streets, etc.

Commission on Human Rights

The African-American Community

Beginning with the 1701 City Charter and then City Council Minutes from 1704 chronicle Philadelphia’s response to the African American community. Included are materials documenting the citizens, government, and police response to the 1838 burning of Pennsylvania Hall; a splendid building built to provide a forum for discussing the evils of slavery and the importance of liberty and equality of civil rights.

The working documents of the City of Philadelphia government include property deeds, tax records, and the earliest and longest run of birth and death records. These records identify abolitionist-owned property, pinpointing locations where runaway slaves were harbored, and concentrated areas of black communities. Tax assessments show taxable possessions of individuals including their slaves. Accurate marriage returns and certified birth certificates document bi-racial marriages and families separated due to slave trade.

County Prisons and City and Criminal Court records index prisoners including abolitionists awaiting trial for treason, as result of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, for participation in the 1851 Christiana Riot, fugitive slaves and Civil War deserters. The Prison Daily Occurrences records of Moyamensing Prison confirmed the names of the five African American American dockworkers who assisted in the getaway of Jane Johnson and her two boys in 1855, and also the length of time that Passmore Williamson was held for assisting their escape. The Walnut Street Jail Vagrancy Docket showed that Richard Allen owned slaves. Constable Returns trace the age of runaways when returned, and the age and number of hired and bound servants in each household.

Philadelphia in the Civil War 1861-1865, Frank H. Taylor, published by the City, 1913. Ordered by Mayor Rudolph Blankenburg. Chronicles formation of Camp William Penn and mustering of black Civil War troops beginning in 1863. Excellent description of the racial environment of Philadelphia before the war.

The Medical Contribution

The records of the Public Health Department date back to 1729 and include the Philadelphia Almshouse; Marine Hospital Accounts of Lazaretto Hospital, the quarantine hospital for the Port of Philadelphia; and the Guardians of the Poor, established after the Yellow Fever epidemic, summer of 1793. During the Civil War, the various government hospitals in Philadelphia worked outside the Board of Health control because they were federal.

Bills of Mortality: 1861-1864, weekly totals of death analyzed by cause.
Board of Health: 1858-64, 1866-67.
Contagious Diseases Registered: 1854-1897.
City Hospital Register: 1855-1896.

Militaria and Diaries

Minutes of Common and Select Council authorizing formation of militia and appropriations for pay and subsistence in fear of Confederate Army invasion. Tuesday, June 16, 1863: Message of Mayor Alexander Henry to the President and Members of the Common Council at the request of Governor Curtin, asking all citizens to close their places of business and connect themselves without delay to existing military organizations …. By the Select and Common Councils that all citizens, organized as minute men or otherwise … shall receive the pay and subsistence of the Militia of the State of Pennsylvania … paid by the Mayor, with the advice of the Committee and Protection, from the appropriations of the City defense., June 30, 1863 … a Resolution was also adopted suspending temporarily all municipal improvements, construction and repairs … Ordinance appropriating the sum of five hundred thousand dollars for payment of bounties of not less than fifty dollars to each enlisted man; and upon the request of the Committee on Defense and Protection, to allot one or all of the Squares, or unoccupied lots belonging to the City, for the use of the troops that may be mustered in its defense.

Naturalizations: In order to serve in the army, people immigrating to the United States after 1776 had to appear before the District or Common Pleas Court to become naturalized American citizens. Special naturalization provisions for aliens serving in the U.S. military date back at least to the Civil War. The Civil War statute affected only persons serving in the army and required residency of one year.

The Philadelphia Brigade: The soldiers serving in the Philadelphia Brigade were a Union Army brigade that served in the Civil War. It was raised in the city of Philadelphia and had the distinction of being the only brigade composed of troops entirely from a single city. The regiments were the 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania infantry. The 69th Pennsylvania infantry was recruited from Philadelphia Irish militia, the only Pennsylvania regiment to carry the green Irish flag into battle. The 71st Pennsylvania Infantry was recruited from Philadelphia but formed (with the 69th) by Oregon Senator Edward D. Baker and credited to the California 1st and 2nd because the West Coast wanted a presence in the conflict. The 72nd was recruited from the firemen of Philadelphia and also became part of Senator Baker’s California Brigade. Upon his death all three were reclaimed by Pennsylvania. The 106th Pennsylvania Infantry was also raised in the city of Philadelphia but remained a Pennsylvania Brigade.

Sheet music from the American Songbag by Carl Sandburg: “Lincoln and Liberty,” “There was an Old Soldier.”

Misc. book: 1799-1951, 46 volumes, index.  Includes court orders, decrees, and military discharges.

Military Server Enrollment Book: Wards 19 and 20, 1861-1862.

Philadelphia in the Civil War, 1861-1865, volume 1: 1912-1913, Frank H. Taylor,  published by the City, 1913. Ordered by Mayor Frank Blankenburg. Chronicles formation of Camp William Penn and mustering of black Civil War troops beginning in 1863.

Lincoln in Philadelphia

Philadelphia in the Civil War, 1861-1865, contains a vivid description of Lincoln’s visit to Philadelphia during the Civil War. Additional material is in Mayor’s Addresses and City Council Minutes.

Reference Sources:

http://www.phila.gov/Records/Archives/PHILS.html
http://www.phillyhistory.org

Vital Records:
Birth Index: 1860-1903.
Death Registers: 1860-1890.
Cemetery Returns: 1803-1860.
Marriage Index: 1860-1885; Marriage Register: 1860-1885.
City Directories: 1785-1935.
Business Directories: 1869-1916.
Naturalizations.

Indexes in Reference Area:

  • Annual Report Appendix to the Descriptive Inventory of the City Archives.
  • Common Pleas Court Naturalizations 1851-1862.
  • Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the City and County of Philadelphia.
  • District Court Equity Docket March Term 1854-March Term 1867.
  • District Court Petitions for Naturalizations 1811-1859.
  • Guardians of the Poor Support Bonds 1811-1859 Index.
  • Military Services Enrollment Books 1861-1862 Philadelphia 19th & 20th Wards.  Publication # 009, Southampton, PA: Bare Roots Publishing, 2000.
  • Office of the Mayor and Related Agencies Reporting to the Mayor. Record Group 60.
  • PhiladelphiaCity Archives Inventory. 7 vols. Copies of the Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the City and County of Philadelphia.
  • Philadelphia Guardians of the Poor. Bonds for the Support of Illegitimate Children and Other Indigent Persons. 1811-1859. The Chestnut Hill Almanac. Genealogical   Series Publication #3.
  • Philadelphia Mayor’s Marriage Records 1856-1870. Vol. I. Southampton, PA: Bare Roots Publishing, 1999.
  • Quarter Sessions Court Petitions for Naturalizations 1802-1880. Index. 7 volumes.
  • Annual Reports of City Departments such as Prisons, Board of Health; publications by The Commission on Human Relations and Pennsylvania Economy League.
  • Philadelphia in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Frank H. Taylor, 1913.
  • Reports to Mayor’s Office 1864-1967.
  • Misc. book: 1799-1951, 46 volumes, index. Includes court orders, decrees, and military discharges.

 


This project has been generously supported by the Honorable Larry Farnese, PA Senator, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
the Department of Community and Economic Development, and the Samuel S. Fels Fund.

 

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