The Bishop White House was home to Bishop William White from the time it was completed in 1787 until his death in 1836. White was the Rector of both Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church as well as the chaplain to the Continental Congress and U.S. Senate while the federal capital was located in Philadelphia. White was also the first Episcopal Bishop in Pennsylvania. The Bishop’s former home has been restored to its late 18th century appearance and is now part of the larger Independence National Historical Park. It now provides contemporary visitors with a look into the life of a well-to-do Philadelphian from that era. The house features period artifacts, to include many that are original to the house and were owned by the Bishop.
was born in Philadelphia in 1748 and was educated at Philadelphia College, now
known as the University of Pennsylvania.
He was ordained as a deacon (1770), an Anglican priest (1772) and finally
a bishop (1787), all in England. When
the American Revolution broke out, White faced a difficult decision, remain
true to Britain and its Anglican faith, or support the American cause. He chose the latter and went on to become one
of the most influential leaders of the Episcopalian church. He consecrated most of the Episcopal bishops
during the country’s first twenty years, to include two African-American bishops,
Absalom Jones and William Levington of New York.
guide to many founding fathers, his home was visited by many of them, such as
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert
Morris (who was married to White’s younger sisiter), and the Marquis de
Lafayette. However, White did not just
minister to the elite. He helped found
the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in 1820 (now the Pennsylvania School
for the Deaf) and served as its president for 16 years. He also ministered to prisoners and was
president of the Philadelphia Society for the Alleviation of Miseries of Public
Prisons. Additionally, during the yellow
fever epidemics of 1793 and 1797, he stayed within the city, caring for its
sick, along with his neighbor, Dr. Benjamin Rush, while many others fled to the
Mary Harrison, a member of the First Families of Virginia. Her father had been mayor of
Philadelphia. Together, they had eight
children, of which, only three survived to adulthood. However, they provided him with twelve
grandchildren, many of which, at one time or another, lived with him at his
home on Walnut Street, along with his daughter who managed his household from
1813 until her death in 1831.
White House, located equidistant between the two churches he cared for, now
permits visitors to tour the Bishop’s former parlor, kitchen, dining room,
study, and bedroom. The study, to include
his library, looks exactly as it did when White wrote sermons there as a
painting of the room was completed while he still lived and resides there
now. The parlor is where he entertained
his many guests with music, card games and good conversations, while his
servants fed them in the large dining room.
The home also contained a wine and root cellar, and an indoor privy,
which was rare for the time. Finally,
his bedroom appears as it did the night before his death, to include the book
he read, sitting on the lap desk.