Archaeology at the Site of the Museum of the American Revolution by Rebecca Yamin

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Archaeology at the Site of the Museum of the American Revolution
A Tale of Two Taverns and the Growth of Philadelphia
by Rebecca Yamin
Temple University Press, 152 pp., paperback $19.95

Philadelphia’s rich archaeological heritage has benefited from urban archaeologist Rebecca Yamin’s passion for telling the stories of the colonists in one of America’s earliest cities. Research and excavations conducted prior to the construction of the Museum of the American Revolution in the heart of the city demonstrate the positive results of careful preservation planning and support for archaeology. This beautifully illustrated publication is an example of how archaeology can enrich the interpretation of the past and heighten interest in community. The broken pottery, glass and bones recovered here reveal a culturally diverse landscape that captures the essence of urbanization.

German immigrants initially occupied the area of investigation at Chestnut and South Third streets in the late 17th century. The development of tanneries and artisan industries in the early 18th century reflects the wave of immigrants that contributed to Philadelphia’s rapid expansion.

Taverns served as a gathering place, and in the mid-18th century, politics was at the forefront. Historic and archaeological evidence indicates that this location held the most taverns of any block in colonial Philadelphia. The debris recovered, including food wastes, smoking pipes and locally produced tankards, are indicators of social and political activities among patrons. Yamin’s discussion of Philadelphia potters highlights the significance of the substantial role they played in manufacturing and their value in the archaeological record.

The political debate over Pennsylvania remaining a proprietary state or becoming a royal colony was polarizing. As the discourse grew more divisive, the elite chose to separate themselves from the working-class community, leading to the conversion of the Three Tun Tavern to the Fountain Inn, advertised for “gentlemanly clientele.” Throughout the growth of this city block, the recurring theme of toil, entrepreneurship and vision for the future are woven into the narratives crafted by Yamin.

The discovery of a tin-glazed punchbowl bearing the inscription “Success to the Tryphena” from the privy of a Quaker family who operated an unlicensed tavern in this block is an iconic symbol for the Museum of the American Revolution. The Tryphena was a merchant ship transporting goods, such as Irish linen, English sheeting, and European ceramics, from Liverpool to Philadelphia. In 1766 the Tryphena delivered a message from the Philadelphia merchants imploring England to repeal the Stamp Act and other trade regulations. Philadelphia’s citizens played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War and the growth of Pennsylvania. Yamin’s snapshot into the lives of immigrants who sought political independence, religious freedom and prosperity is a testament to them and our enduring heritage.

Janet Johnson
The State Museum of Pennsylvania