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Happy 339th Birthday to Pennsylvania!

March 11, 2020

I had a wonderful day this past Sunday at Graeme Park helping celebrate Charter Day. [Article continues, please click link under the second image below.]

So much fun talking history with friends!

Pennsylvania Charter, 1681

If you’re not sure what Charter Day is in Pennsylvania, you’re not alone. Interestingly, the story begins with a debt from long ago. England’s King Charles II owed Admiral Sir William Penn, an admiral in the British navy, a large sum of money, reported to be about sixteen thousand pounds. After his father’s death, William Penn asked that the king repay him with land in the new world so that he could create a place of religious freedom. Young William Penn had been an Anglican who converted to the Quaker faith, at a time when the Quakers were being persecuted in England. The king agreed. He signed the Pennsylvania Charter on March 4, 1681, giving William Penn land between the 39th and 42nd degrees of north latitude and from the Delaware River westward for five degrees of longitude. This was a startlingly large area of 45,000 square miles of land, almost as large as England itself. Thus, PENNsylvania was born: named for Admiral Penn and “sylvania” (meaning woodlands).

At its most simple, Charter Day celebrates the founding of Pennsylvania.  

Graeme Park on March 8, 2020 - Charter Day 

As part of the annual Charter Day celebrations, more than 20 state museums and historical sites run by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission open their doors to the public free of charge. In addition to tours, many offer living history demonstrations and talks.

Graeme Park (www.graemepark.org) did just that this past Sunday. Tour guides were on hand to show off the beautiful manor house, which broke ground in 1722 under the ownership of one of Pennsylvania’s first lieutenant governors, William Keith. Some historians believe Keith intended the building to be used for a commercial venture, such as a malt house or a distillery, and not a home, but it certainly became a fine Georgian home when Dr. Thomas Graeme purchased Graeme Park for his family in 1739. It’s hard to believe that two years from now the house will be an astounding 300 years old! I was delighted to be stationed in the parlor along with Bill, a fabulous volunteer tour guide (sorry I didn’t get your last name, Bill), talking to visitors about the extraordinary Elizabeth Graeme and signing copies of my book, The Power to Deny.

It was a beautiful day for March, and we were lucky to have warm temperatures and startling blue skies. I enjoyed meeting the many people who came to visit the house and grounds, a surprising number given that it was such a nice day outside. I spoke with a woman who had walked the trails around the house before it was open to the public many decades ago, and others who confessed they have driven by it for decades and were finally visiting for the first time. It was also thrilling to have new fans, and friends, drop in with books they had already purchased online but wanted me to sign. Some had questions for me, and I certainly loved that.

We talked about how well preserved the paneling in the parlor is, marveled at the original wide-plank wood floor (did Benjamin Franklin really stand on those boards?!), and gaped at the 1908 graffiti scratched into the wood by the door. That house has seen some history. When you think about it, Graeme Park is older than the Declaration of Independence and even the French and Indian War. Wow!

Thanks to everyone who came out to Graeme Park for Charter Day 2020. For 4 hours, the people kept coming!

Me talking about books and colonial women to interested readers 

I talked about Elizabeth Graeme’s questionable taste in men, her brilliant mind, her fervent writing, and how she navigated the American Revolution. It wasn’t lost on me that Sunday was also International Women’s Day. I think Elizabeth would say she not only approves of how far women have come, she did her small part in helping lead the way. I’m sure she would remember the day men came to auction off the contents of her home against her will, and then years later how she eventually published some of her work.

Look at this gorgeous fireplace in the Graeme parlor. Does it look almost 300 years old to you?

The woodworking detail is intricate and beautiful. 

A HUGE thank you to Graeme Park for letting me come out and play. I love Graeme Park. I hope you’ll consider a visit, a small donation (or a big one), or perhaps you’d like to volunteer or become a member. Let’s help protect our local history. www.graemepark.org.

 

Meeting Jackie, who wrote a history book for children and included Elizabeth Graeme. I told her she should publish it. 

I'll be waiting, Jackie.