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The "Frankfort Advice":

How a Small Philadelphia Suburb Helped John Adams


Orchestrate the American Revolution
By Harry Kyriakodis

Frankford is a neighborhood in Philadelphia about six miles northeast of the original part of the city. It was
originally a small town in Philadelphia County and a suburb of Philadelphia founded in the mid to late
1600s. Frankford very likely took its name from the Frankfurt Company, an organization of German
pietists who purchased great tracts of land in Pennsylvania from William Penn. One settlement was
located along what later became called Frankford Creek. Penn forged a trail through the hamlet from
Philadelphia to New York City, a trail that became known as "Frankford Pike" (later "Frankford Avenue").
At the start of the American Revolution, a critical political event occurred in this village that is very much
unknown and unappreciated today. It was here, in Frankford, Pennsylvania, that local (i.e., Philadelphia)
revolutionaries imparted some vital advice to delegates from Massachusetts on their way to the
Continental Congress. This guidance set the stage for the entire War of American Independence, by
fostering the unification of the disparate American colonies so as to pursue the break between them and
Great Britain.

From 1849 Map of the Township of Oxford, Boroughs of Frankford & Bridesburg
The First Continental Congress met at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26,
1774. Delegates from twelve of the thirteen American colonies attended, including John Adams, his
second cousin Samuel Adams, Thomas Cushing, and Robert Paine, all representing Massachusetts.
These four men had left Boston together on August 10, 1774, and proceeded in a carriage south through
the New England colonies, then New York and New Jersey before reaching Pennsylvania.
1
As the Massachusetts delegation neared Philadelphia, a group of local "Sons of Liberty" rode out to
welcome them in the village of Frankford. Dr. Benjamin Rush, Thomas Mifflin, and several other patriots
of Philadelphia made up this party. They and the New Englanders proceeded to a private room at a
tavern and got down to business.
The Philadelphians warned John Adams and his associates that they had been characterized as "four
desperate adventurers" and were "suspected of having independence in view." Furthermore, Adams and
company would be "undone" if they so much as uttered the word "independence" because the notion of
breaking from England was unpopular in many colonies, particularly Pennsylvania. Still, the local Sons of
Liberty, being radicals who were for Independence, gave the men from Massachusetts some important
advice on how to sidestep their extremist reputation so as to promote their goal of American
independence.
Dr. Benjamin Rush and John Adams
John Adams describes in detail what happened in Frankford almost fifty years later in a letter, dated
August 6, 1822, to Colonel Timothy Pickering, a Massachusetts politician:
* * * As Mr. Hancock was sick and confined, Mr. Bowdoin was chosen at the head of
the Massachusetts delegation to Congress. His relations thought his great fortune
ought not to be hazarded. [So] Cushing, two Adamses, and Paine, all destitute of
fortune, four poor pilgrims, proceeded in one coach, were escorted through
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, into Pennsylvania. We
were met at Frankfort [Frankford] by Dr. Rush, Mr. Mifflin, Mr. Bayard, and several
other of the most active sons of liberty in Philadelphia, who desired a conference with
us. We invited them to take tea with us in a private apartment. They asked leave to
give us some information and advice, which we thankfully granted. They represented
to us that the friends of government in Boston and in the Eastern States, in their
correspondence with their friends in Pennsylvania and all the Southern States, had
represented us as four desperate adventurers. "Mr. Cushing was a harmless kind of
man, but poor, and wholly dependent on his popularity for his subsistence. Mr.
Samuel Adams was a very artful, designing man, but desperately poor, and wholly
dependent on his popularity with the lowest vulgar for his living. John Adams and Mr.
Paine were two young lawyers, of no great talents, reputation, or weight, who had no
other means of raising themselves into consequence, than by courting popularity."
We were all suspected of having independence in view. Now, said they, you must not
utter the word independence, nor give the least hint or insinuation of the idea, either in
Congress or any private conversation; if you do, you are undone; for the idea of
independence is as unpopular in Pennsylvania, and in all the Middle and Southern
States, as the Stamp Act itself. No man dares to speak of it. Moreover, you are the
representatives of the suffering State. Boston and Massachusetts are under a rod of
iron. British fleets and armies are tyrannizing over you; you yourselves are personally
obnoxious to them and all the friends of government; you have been long persecuted
by them all; your feelings have been hurt, your passions excited; you are thought to
be too warm, too zealous, too sanguine. You must be, therefore, very cautious; you
must not come forward with any bold measures, you must not pretend to take the
lead. You know Virginia is the most populous State in the Union. They are very
proud of their ancient dominion, as they call it; they think they have a right to take the
lead, and the Southern States, and Middle States too, are too much disposed to yield
it to them."
This was plain dealing, Mr. Pickering; and I must confess that there appeared so
much wisdom and good sense in it, that it made a deep impression on my mind, and
it had an equal effect on all my colleagues.
This conversation, and the principles, facts, and motives, suggested in it, have given
a color, complexion, and character, to the whole policy of the United States, from that
day to this. Without it, Mr. Washington would never have commanded our armies;
nor Mr. Jefferson have been the author of the Declaration of Independence; nor Mr.
Richard Henry Lee the mover of it; nor Mr. Chase the mover of foreign connections.
If I have ever had cause to repent of any part of this policy, that repentance ever has
been, and ever will be, unavailing. I had forgot to say, nor had Mr. Johnson ever been
the nominator of Washington for General.
There you have it: the whole framework of the American Revolution, laid out in Frankford, Pennsylvania.
Adams continues in the 1822 letter: "You inquire why so young a man as Mr. Jefferson was placed at the
head of the Committee for preparing a Declaration of Independence? I answer; It was the Frankfort
advice, to place Virginia at the head of every thing." [emphasis added]
Where exactly in Frankford did this decisive meeting happen? The tavern was very likely the Jolly Post
Inn, which was once located on the west side of Main Street (Frankford Avenue) just north of Orthodox
Street. Built around 1680 and originally called the Jolly Post Boy, the place received its name from having
been a stop for post riders between Philadelphia and New York. It was a principal hotel-tavern during the
colonial period and hosted many luminaries of the Revolution, including George Washington, Thomas
Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette (in 1824). The landmark Jolly Post was about 230 years old
when it was demolished in 1911/1912.

The Jolly Post Inn in earlier days


In his letter to Timothy Pickering, Adams does not state the year in which the fateful Frankford meeting
took place. For sure, the Massachusetts delegation passed through the town in late August, 1774, on its
way to the First Continental Congress. John Adams recorded the journey in his diary, as this was his first
time outside of New England. Here he writes, contemporaneously, about his entry into Pennsylvania and
his stop at Frankford—which, as in his letter to Pickering, he writes as "Frankfort"—in 1774:
[August] 29. Monday. Rode to Trenton upon Delaware River, to break fast.
***
We then crossed the Ferry over Delaware River to the Province of Pensylvania. We
then rode across an Elbow, and came to the Delaware again—a beautifull River
navigable up as far as Trenton. The Country on each Side is very level. We arrived
at Bristol about Eleven O Clock, a Village on the Delaware, opposite
to which is Burlington. The Scenes of Nature are delightfull
here. This is 20 Miles from Philadelphia. Here We
saw two or 3 Passage Waggons—a Vehicle
with four Wheels contrived to carry
many Passengers and
much Baggage.
We
then
rode to
the red
Lion
and
dined.
After
Dinner We
stopped at Frankfort
about five Miles out of
Town. A Number of Carriages
and Gentlemen came out of
Phyladelphia to meet us. Mr. Thomas
Mifflin, Mr. McKean of the Lower Counties,
one of their Delegates, Mr. Rutledge of Carolina,
and a Number of Gentlemen from Philadelphia. Mr. Folsom and Mr. Sullivan, the N.
Hampshire Delegates. We were introduced to all these Gentlemen and most
cordially wellcomed to Philadelphia.
We then rode into Town, and dirty, dusty, and fatigued as we were, we could not
resist the Importunity, to go to the [City] Tavern, the most genteel one in America.
There we were introduced to a Number of other Gentlemen of the City—Dr. Shippen,
Dr. Knox, Mr. Smith, and a Multitude of others, and to Mr. Linch and Mr. Gadsden of
S. Carolina. Here we had a fresh Welcome to the City of Philadelphia, and after
some Time spent in Conversation a curtain was drawn, and in the other Half of the
Chamber a Supper appeared as elegant as ever was laid upon a Table. About
Eleven O Clock we retired.
Furthermore, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote in his autobiography (A Memorial Containing Travels Through Life
or Sundry Incidents in the Life of Benjamin Rush):
In September 1774, the first Congress met in Philadelphia. I went as far as Frankford
to meet the delegates from Massachusetts, and rode back into town in the same
carriage with John Adams, and two of his colleagues. This gentleman's dress and
manners were at that time plain and reserved. He asked me many questions relative
to the state of public opinion upon politics and the characters of the most active
citizens on both sides of the controversy.
Mr. Adams does allude to "A Gentleman who returned into Town with Mr. Paine and me in our Coach" in
his diary entry for August 29, 1774. This gentleman is surely Dr. Rush.
Neither Rush's autobiography nor Adams' diary indicate that any pressing political discussion arose when
the Philadelphia men convened with the Massachusetts delegation in Frankford. Indeed, John Adams
does not mention any secretive meeting at Frankford and only briefly states that a "Number of Carriages
and Gentlemen" from Philadelphia came to greet the New Englanders. Perhaps Adams felt it best not to
record such a significant meeting for posterity so soon after it happened, particularly since it dealt with
proposing treason of the American colonies (and himself) to Great Britain. (It is fortunate that all of
Adams' writings have subsequently been published and are available electronically.)
Then again, maybe the import of the "Frankfort Advice" had not fully hit home to Mr. Adams when he
updated his diary for that day. In his 1822 Pickering letter, Adams admits that he had occasionally ignored
the counsel of Dr. Rush and the other Sons of Liberty during sessions of the First Continental Congress:
Although this advice dwelt on my mind, I had
not, in my nature, prudence and caution enough
always to observe it. When I found the
members of Congress, Virginians and all, so
perfectly convinced that they should be able to
persuade or terrify Great Britain into a
relinquishment of her policy, and a restoration of
us to the state of 1763, I was astonished, and
could not help muttering, in Congress, and
sometimes out of doors, that they would find,
the proud, domineering spirit of Britain, their
vain conceit of their own omnipotence, their total
contempt of us, and the incessant
representation of their friends and instruments
in America, would drive us to extremities, and finally conquer us, transport us to
England for trial, there to be hanged, drawn and quartered for treason, or to the
necessity of declaring independence, however hazardous and uncertain such a
measure might be.
Adams further laments to Pickering how he was regarded in Philadelphia soon after arriving in 1774:
It soon became rumored about the city that John Adams was for Independence; the
Quakers and Proprietary gentlemen took the alarm; represented me as the worst of
men; the true-blue Sons of Liberty pitied me; all put me under a kind of Coventry. I
was avoided like a man infected with the Leprosy. I walked the streets of Philadelphia
in solitude, borne down by the weight of care and unpopularity.
As for his opinion about Philadelphia, Adams penned this in his diary for the day of October 9, 1774:
Philadelphia, with all its trade and wealth and regularity, is not Boston. The morals of
our people are much better; their manners are more polite and agreeable; they are
purer English; our language is better; our taste is better; our persons are handsomer;
our spirit is greater; our laws are wiser; our religion is superior; our education is better.
We exceed them in every thing, but in a market, and in charitable public foundations.
But by October 28, after the First Continental Congress had concluded its work and he was able to start
back home to Massachusetts, John Adams had a change of heart and spoke better of the City of Brotherly
Love:
"28. Friday. Took our departure, in a very great rain, from the happy, the peaceful, the
elegant, the hospitable, and polite city of Philadelphia. It is not very likely that I shall
ever see this part of the world again, but I shall ever retain a most grateful, pleasing
sense of the many civilities I have received in it, and shall think myself happy to have
an opportunity of returning them."
As it turns out, John Adams saw Philadelphia again less than a year later when he and his cohorts
(Samuel Adams, Thomas Cushing and Robert Paine) again comprised the Massachusetts delegation to
the Second Continental Congress. This body began its work at the Pennsylvania State House (now
known as Independence Hall) in May of 1775.
A few accounts specify that the crucial encounter that John Adams related to Timothy Pickering took place
in 1775. It is surely possible that the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty met the New Englanders in Frankford
yet again in 1775 and offered their wise words to Adams and his associates at that time. It would even be
more logical for the Massachusetts men to have received the Frankfort Advice in 1775, as it was during
the Second Continental Congress that they actually acted upon the recommendations of the
Philadelphians. But there is no verifiable record of a clandestine meeting in Frankford that year between
these parties.

The Jolly Post Inn in later days


Regardless of which year—1774 or 1775—Frankford made its mark in American history, it is nevertheless
clear that the "Frankfort Advice" enabled both John and Samuel Adams to become the leading champions
of the American Revolution during the Continental Congresses.
In accordance with the Frankford Advice, John Adams rose during the Second Continental Congress and
moved that the assemblage should adopt the patriot army that was then at Boston and appoint a
commander for that militia. Adams did not actually name George Washington for this position, but he
described the man he had in mind as a gentleman from Virginia "who could unite the cordial exertions of
all the colonies better than any other person." No one doubted who Adams meant and Washington
modestly left the Assembly Room. Maryland delegate Thomas Johnson formally nominated George
Washington to head the Continental Army a few days later, on June 15, 1775. Many delegates had
doubts about putting a Southern man at the head of an army in New England, composed of New
Englanders and led by New England officers. But there was probably no single act of the Second
Continental Congress that had a more far-reaching significance in creating the United States than a man
from Massachusetts virtually naming a Virginian as commander-in-chief of the American military.
It can be said that John Adams assumed one of the greatest political risks in history by adopting the
Frankford Advice. Members of the Massachusetts delegation said little and kept themselves in the
background at the First and Second Continental Congresses, allowing the Virginia delegation to take a
proactive role in leading the way. A Virginian was appointed commander-in-chief, a Virginian was tasked
to write the Declaration of Independence, and a Virginian moved that Congress adopt the Declaration. Yet
it was all more or less orchestrated behind the scenes by the New Englanders: John and Samuel Adams.
It was certainly a clever strategy, that which the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty passed along to Adams and
his colleagues. It worked so well that Joseph Reed, a sophisticated lawyer and political activist from
Pennsylvania, wrote at the start of the 1774 convention that "the Bostonians are mere milksops"
compared to the Virginians. Delegates from other colonies had a similar view.
Both Pennsylvania and Philadelphia were regarded as having been far more conservative before and
during the Revolutionary War than the New England colonies and most of the Southern colonies—and this
historic reputation persists to this day. But the Frankford Advice episode highlights that the radicals of
Philadelphia and Pennsylvania played a much more active role in the American Revolution than generally
acknowledged.

Frankford, Pennsylvania, was incorporated into a borough in 1800. By 1850, the town's population
exceeded five thousand as it experienced tremendous growth and prosperity. In 1854, the Act of
Consolidation (P.L. 21, No. 16 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) combined Frankford and other
previously-independent communities of Philadelphia County into the city of Philadelphia. Today, Frankford
is primarily a residential neighborhood bounded roughly by the Delaware River, Roosevelt Boulevard,
Cheltenham Avenue, and the original bed of the Frankford Creek.

1
The Sons of Liberty was a secret radical group founded in Boston in 1765 to oppose the Stamp Act. Similar independent
associations soon sprang up in cities and towns throughout the colonies. While this patriotic movement lessened somewhat after
repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, the various Sons groups throughout the colonies corresponded throughout the 1760s and early
1770s. The phrase "sons of liberty" later became a generic term applied to those who supported the goal of American
Independence.