Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

Benjamin Franklin
A collection of Benjamin Franklin tidbits that relate Philadelphia's revolutionary prelate to his moving around the city, the colonies, and the world.

The British Attack Philadelphia
Fighting in the Revolutionary War lasted eight years; for two years (June 1776 to June 1778) Philadelphia was the main military objective of the British.

Historical Preservation
The 20% federal tax credit for historic preservation is said to have been the special pet of Senator Lugar of Indiana. Much of the recent transformation of Philadelphia's downtown is attributed to this incentive.

Revolutionary Philadelphia's Loyalists
History is written by the victors, so the Tory Loyalists of Revolutionary Philadelphia have mostly fallen from view.

Sights to See: The Outer Ring
There are many interesting places to visit in the exurban ring beyond Philadelphia, linked to the city by history rather than commerce.

Historical Motor Excursion North of Philadelphia
The narrow waist of New Jersey was the upper border of William Penn's vast land holdings, and the outer edge of Quaker influence. In 1776-77, Lord Howe made this strip the main highway of his attempt to subjugate the Colonies.

Up the King's High Way
New Jersey has a narrow waistline, with New York harbor at one end, and Delaware Bay on the other. Traffic and history travelled the Kings Highway along this path between New York and Philadelphia.

New Jersey (State of)
The Garden State really has two different states of mind. The motto is Liberty and Prosperity.

Revolution in New Jersey
Early, brief but significant.

Perth Amboy Revisited

Perth Amboy

It's now moderately complicated to find Perth Amboy, New Jersey, even after you locate it on a map. Like New Castle DE it flourished early because it was on a narrow strip of strategic land, and like New Castle, eventually found itself cut off by a dozen lanes of highways crowded together by geography. It's an easy drive in both cases only if you make the correct turns at a couple of crowded intersections. Both towns were important destinations in the Eighteenth century, but by the Twentieth century, both were pushed aside by traffic rushing to bigger destinations. Industrialization hit the region around Perth Amboy somewhat harder than New Castle, destroying more landmarks, and bringing to an end its brief flurry as a metropolitan beach resort. If you aspire to preserve your Eighteenth-century glory, it's easier if you don't have too much progress in the Nineteenth. In Perth Amboy's defense, it must be noted that Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia had just about totally disappeared when noticed by Charles Peterson and John Rockefeller, but neither of those towns was run over by Nineteenth century industrialization. So, while New Castle has treasures to preserve and display, Perth Amboy seems to have only the Governor's mansion like the one notable building to work with. William Franklin, the illegitimate son of Benjamin, was the royal governor installed in this palace shortly before 1776.

Governor's mansion in Perth Amboy

While it is true that some wealthy local inhabitants did a lot to restore and maintain New Castle (and Williamsburg), the Governor's mansion in Perth Amboy was bought and made the home of Mathias Bruen, who is 1820 was thought to be the richest man in America. If Bruen had only had the necessary imagination and generosity, this was probably the best moment for Perth Amboy to have had a historical restoration. Instead, he added some unfortunate features to the mansion; it later became a hotel, and later on, an office building. Public-spirited local citizens are now trying to set things right, but the costs are pretty daunting. Someone has to find an inspired Wall Street billionaire like Ned Johnson to make over an entire town. Occasionally, a state government will do it, as has been done with Pennsbury. Or a national organization might become inspired, as happened with Mt. Vernon and Arlington. Its present state of peeling paint and makeshift repairs suggests uninterest in Perth Amboy's Governor Mansion by the State, and the absence of whatever it is that occasionally inspires fierce and determined local leadership. Perth Amboy needs some help and needs to forget about its handicaps. Sure, it's hard to commute anywhere, it's even hard to drive across the highways to the countryside. The bluff on the promontory was once quite arresting, now a rusting steel mill occupies that spot. Other than that, it doesn't look ominous or dangerous at all. It's just forgotten.

Pennsbury Mansion

Aside from the Royal Governor's former mansion, it is hard to find a historical marker or monument in this scene of former prosperity and glory, but there is one. Down on the beach is a bronze plaque, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of -- Argentina. So there's a clue, which is not difficult to associate with all of the Hispanic names on the stores, and the Hispanics in evidence on all sides. They all seemed to know that this was once the capital of New Jersey, seemed pleased with it, and could point out the famous building. They are pleasant and friendly enough. Perhaps even a little too comfortable. Because, as William Franklin's famous father once said, all progress begins with discontent.

Originally published: Wednesday, May 02, 2007; most-recently modified: Friday, September 20, 2019

Early one New Jersey morning on July 5, 1750, two condemned slaves were led in chains from the hot, steaming Perth Amboy jail and taken a short distance away to Saint Peter’s Church to receive their final rites of absolution. As the prisoners knelt before the pulpit, at a ravine on the north end of town, anxious crowds gathered in anticipation and dread while the executioner and his cronies were busy stacking the wood necessary to carry out the court’s grisly sentences; death by fire. Bill Galetta from my upcoming book.
Posted by: Bill Galetta   |   Apr 28, 2010 5:19 AM
To add further, the youngest slave to be executed in america was a 7 year old boy, burned alive at the stake in Perth Amboy in 1750.
Posted by: Bill Galetta   |   Apr 28, 2010 5:16 AM
Perth Amboy was the slave trade capitol of New Jersey in the 1700's. Bill Galetta
Posted by: [none]   |   Nov 12, 2009 8:08 AM
Just a short detour from Amboy's glorius past leads one directly into the bosom of slavery.
Posted by: William Galetta   |   Nov 12, 2009 8:07 AM
Have another look at the revised commentary on Perth Amboy. On rereading my own comments, I think you made some valid points. Thank you.
Posted by: George Fisher   |   Jul 5, 2007 4:33 PM
Feel free to contact me @
Posted by: Ernie   |   Jun 25, 2007 3:06 PM
As the Chief Financial Officer of the Raritan Bay Area YMCA in Perth Amboy NJ I am quite disturbed by your description of our fine, fine city. Based upon your description of Perth Amboy on your website it appears that you don't know much, if anything at all about Perth Amboy and I am going to do my best to educate you. I'll start by saying that I get out of my car many times a day without incident, whether that entails leaving my home (in Perth Amboy), going to my office (in Perth Amboy) or taking my children to school (also in Perth Amboy). I’m sure that every day thousands of others have the same success.
I have been to Philly more than a hundred times and what perplexes me most about your musings is that I have never seen the ivory tower that you apparently live in. I love Philly just as much as the next person. It provides a graphic representation of our country’s spectacular birth and I couldn’t manage life without it, but if I were you I would think twice about bashing one city while waxing poetically about another. Particularly when that city has the problems that Philly has.
It would seem to me to be appropriate when discussing the “history” of one city to actually be aware of the wealth our town has provided to this great State both today and in our rich past. Your flagrant mistakes as far historical accounts are numerous in not providing a true recollection of our town. The following is a sampling of those inaccuracies:
• The Governor’s Mansion is still standing.
• Perth Amboy is not decrepit; it has built five new elementary schools and is building a state of the art high school and community center.
• There has been massive redevelopment over the last decade on our waterfront and beyond.

I'll save your bigoted overtones for another day.

I am personally forwarding your website address to the City of Perth Amboy, our mayor and the City Council so that they too can bring you up to speed on our fine city and maybe offer you an invitation so that you can see it in person. I will also send you more information on many of the wonderful things that Perth Amboy has to offer. Your case is not hopeless yet.
Check the spelling and grammar on your website. It’s atrocious.
Posted by: Ernie   |   Jun 25, 2007 3:04 PM