GERMANTOWN, a residential district and former suburb, now the Twenty-second Ward, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on Wissahickon Creek, in the N. part of the city. It is served by the Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia & Reading railways. There are many old colonial houses and handsome modern residences along Main Street (the old Germantown Road or Avenue). Prominent among the historic houses is Cliveden, or the “Chew House,” built about 1761 by Benjamin Chew (1722–1810), who was chief-justice of Pennsylvania in 1774–1777 and was imprisoned as a Loyalist in 1777, and whose home during the battle of Germantown (see below) was occupied by British troops. The well-preserved Morris House (1772) was the headquarters of General Howe at the close of the battle, and in 1793, when Germantown, owing to the yellow fever in Philadelphia, was the temporary capital of the United States, it was occupied by President Washington. Three doors above stood until 1904 the Ashmead House, used for a time by Count Nicholas Lewis Zinzendorf and his daughters for their Moravian school, which was removed to Bethlehem. In the same street, opposite Indian Queen Lane, is the old Wister Mansion, built as a country-seat in 1744 and occupied by British officers during the War of Independence. In another old house (now Nos. 5275–5277), John Fanning Watson (1779–1860), the annalist of Philadelphia, did most of his literary work. Just outside the ward limits, in what has since become a part of Fairmont Park, is the house in which David Rittenhouse, the astronomer, was born; it stands on Monoshore Creek or Paper Mill Run, in what was long called Roxborough (now the 21st ward of Philadelphia). In this vicinity the first paper mill in America was erected in 1690 by a company of which William Rittenhouse, David’s great-grandfather, was the leading member. The King of Prussia Inn, built about 1740, and the Mermaid Hotel, as old or older, are interesting survivals of the inns and taverns of old Germantown. The Germantown Academy was built in 1760, and after the battle of Germantown was used by the British as a hospital. In Germantown are also a Friends’ (orthodox) school, a Friends’ free library, and the Germantown branch of the Philadelphia public library. The first school in Germantown was established about 1701, and for the first eighteen years was under the mastership of Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–1719), the leader in founding the town, who lived in a house that stood on the site of the present First Methodist Episcopal church, High Street and Main Street. He compiled a primer which was the first school book produced in the state; with three others he drafted and signed in 1688 what seems to have been the first public protest made in America against slavery; and he is celebrated in Whittier’s Pennsylvania Pilgrim. Later the same school passed to Christopher Dock (d. 1771), who in 1770 published an essay on teaching (written in 1750), which is said to have been the first book on pedagogy published in America. The first Bible printed in America in any European language was published in Germantown in 1743 by Christopher Sauer (d. 1758), a preacher of the German Baptist Brethren, who in 1739 established Germantown’s first newspaper, The High German Pennsylvania Historian, or Collection of Important News from the Kingdom of Nature and of the Church. His grandsons are said to have cast about 1772 the first American printing type. The Friends were the first sect to erect a meeting-house of their own (about 1693). The Mennonites built a log meeting-house in 1709, and their present stone church was built in 1770. The town hall of Germantown was used as a hospital during the last three years of the Civil War. In Market Square a soldiers’ monument was erected in 1883. The Site and Relic Society of Germantown maintains a museum of relics. Many of the early settlers were linen weavers, and Germantown still manufactures textiles, knit goods and yarns.
Germantown was founded in October 1683 by thirteen families from Crefeld, Germany, under the leadership of Francis Daniel Pastorius. The township, as originally laid out, contained four distinct villages known as Germantown, Cresheim, Sommerhousen and Crefield. Cresheim was later known as Mount Airy, and Sommerhousen and Crefield became known as Chestnut Hill. The borough of Germantown was incorporated in 1689. For many years it was a straggling village extending about 2 m. along Main Street. Its growth was more rapid from the middle of the 18th century. In 1789 a motion for the permanent location of the national capital at Germantown was carried in the Senate, and the same measure passed the House, amended only with respect to the temporary government of the ceded district; but the Senate killed the bill by voting to postpone further consideration of it until the next session. Germantown was annexed to Philadelphia in 1854.
Battle of Germantown.—This famous encounter in the American War of Independence was fought on the 4th of October 1777. After the battle of Brandywine (q.v.) and the occupation of Philadelphia, the British force commanded by Sir W. Howe encamped at Germantown, where Washington determined to attack them. The Americans advanced by two roads, General Sullivan leading the column on the right and General Greene that on the left. Washington himself accompanied Sullivan, with whom were Stirling (an officer who claimed to be earl of that name) and Anthony Wayne. The right at first met with success, driving the British advanced troops back on the main body near the Chew House. Colonel Musgrave, of the 40th Foot, threw a portion of his regiment into this house, and General Agnew came up with his command. The Americans under Stirling attempted to dislodge Musgrave, thus losing time and alarming part of Sullivan’s advance who had pushed farther forward in the fog. General Greene on the left was even less fortunate. Meeting with unexpected opposition at the first point of attack his troops were thrown into confusion and compelled to retreat. One of his brigades extended itself to the right wing, and by opening fire on the Chew House caused Wayne to retreat, and presently both of the American columns retired rapidly in the direction of their camp. The surprise had failed, with the loss to Washington’s army of 673 men as against 500 on the side of the British. The British General Agnew and the American General Nash were both mortally wounded. In December Washington went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, 40 m. west of Philadelphia. The British wintered in and around the city.
See N. H. Keyser, “Old Historic Germantown,” in the Proceedings and Addresses of the Pennsylvania-German Society (Lancaster, 1906); S. W. Pennypacker, The Settlement of Germantown, Pennsylvania, and the Beginning of German Emigration to North America (Philadelphia, 1899), and S. F. Hotchkin, Ancient and Modern Germantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill (Philadelphia, 1889).