Colonial America as a Setting (Penny Rader)

My novel, Sapphire and Gold, takes place in Colonial Philadelphia and Williamsburg, so I thought I'd share some fun facts about these two settings.


"During colonial times Philadelphia was one of the greatest American seaports handling a rapidly growing volume of trade. It had a well established foreign and domestic trade, and it served as the commercial trade port for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the first purchasers of tracts of Pennsylvania land were merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans and, the settlers of Philadelphia created commodities for Philadelphia merchants to export as well as a market for imports. Craftsmen were also attracted to Philadelphia and they practiced about thirty-five different trades. Among the most common were carpenters, sawyers, bricklayers, plasterers, weavers, dyers, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, brewers, maltsters, butchers, potters, clockmakers, cabinetmakers, barbers, physicians, tavern keepers, and carters." (AWM)

"Hoping that Philadelphia would become more like an English rural town instead of a city, William Penn laid out roads on a grid plan to keep houses and businesses spread far apart, allowing them to be surrounded by gardens and orchards. The city's inhabitants did not follow Penn's plans and crowded by the Delaware River and subdivided and resold their lots. ... The city soon established itself as an important trading center, poor at first, but with tolerable living conditions by the 1750s. Benjamin Franklin, a leading citizen of the time, helped improve city services and founded new ones, such as one of the American Colonies' first hospitals." (Wikipedia)

"Penn dispatched his cousin to lay out a city, which he called Philadelphia, from the Greek for 'brotherly love,' and which Penn envisioned as a haven for his fellow Quakers to enjoy freedom of worship and the chance to govern themselves. He charged his cousin with laying out a 'greene Country Towne, which will never be burnt, and always be wholesome.' The city was laid out in a grid, with large lots, wide streets, and a provision for five city parks, four of which still survive. Historians note that Philadelphia was one of the first cities in the New World built according to a plan." (Philadelphia History)

"In colonial times, Philadelphia was the largest, wealthiest city in North America. It was the center of philosophy, drama, music, art and science. The first American magazine was published in Philadelphia (1741)." (Wikipedy)

By 1750, Philadelphia was Pennsylvania’s largest city, with 15,000 people of the 20,000 people that lived in Pennsylvania as a whole. (The Middle Colonies)


"Williamsburg was one of America's first planned cities. Laid out in 1699 under the supervision of Governor Francis Nicholson, it was to be a 'new and well-ordered city' suitable for the capital of the largest and most populous of the British colonies in America. A succession of beautiful capitol buildings became home to the oldest legislative assembly in the New World. The young city grew quickly into the center of political, religious, economic and social life in Virginia." (Williamsburg VA)

"The charter King George I granted Williamsburg on July 28, 1722, officially authorized markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In the same sentence, the king established annual fairs December 12 and April 23 'for the Sale and Vending of all, and all Manner of Cattle, Victuals, Provisions, Goods, Wares and Merchandises, whatsoever' free from local tolls or taxes." (Colonial Williamsburg)

"For most of the year, Williamsburg was a small college town and market place, but twice annually, during 'publick times,' the planters' capital sprang to life. It was then that the legislature usually met, and the courts were in session. A crowded social and political calendar attracted men of every pocketbook and profession from all parts of the colony. The population of the town doubled almost overnight, and every available inn, tavern, and private house was packed to overflowing. On some occasions, the rooms were insufficient to accommodate the visitors; at such taverns ... guests might be awakened after only a few hours of sleep to make way for others." (Colonial Williamsburg)

"Williamsburg was a thriving center of commerce and government by the middle of the 18th Century. On the eve of the American Revolution nearly 2,000 people, half of whom were slaves, called the city home. Tailors, carpenters, bakers, gunsmiths, coopers, wheelwrights, merchants, clerks, and their slaves all worked to form the economic nucleus for the governmental system being developed by the capitol city's growing number of politicians and lawyers. In retrospect there is a strong argument that the most important institution in town was neither those of the tradesmen or the politicos. It was the taverns. Taverns were not just for drinking. They were the heart of political, social and cultural discourse." (Williamsburg)


And thus we conclude our mini-tour of Colonial Philadelphia and Williamsburg. :D

Do you have favorite settings? Are there settings you'd rather not read about?


Penny Rader said...

Not sure why Blogger hates me. I apologize for the goofed up font sizes. Not sure how to fix it. Aargh.

Melissa Robbins said...

I love Colonial Williamsburg. I grew up in MD so my family visited Williamsburg often. I love all the shops. The blacksmith and the printer fascinated me the most as a kid. I haven't been to Philly that I can remember. Knowing my parents, they probably dragged me there when I was a baby.

Penny Rader said...

What fun, Melissa! I always wanted to go visit Colonial Williamsburg but never quite made it. Maybe one of these years.

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

Starla Kaye said...

Thanks for sharing this information (even if Blogger hates you, which it does a lot of people). I, too, have been to Colonial Williamsburg and found it interesting.

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Starla. I don't know why Blogger has it in for me. I finally finagled more than one pic into the post (and boy did I struggle with that!) I guess Blogger had to get me some other way.

I'm impressed by how many people have been able to go to CW. [sigh] ;D

Reese Mobley said...

What great information. I've never been that far north. Maybe next year I'll be lucky enough to visit.

Is your next novel set in these places too?

Monya Clayton said...

Hello Penny - I was really interested in your blog. I set my historical "The Pirate And The Puritan" in colonial-era U.S.A., in the years 1704-5. For an Australian, the research was a lot of work, but really enjoyable and I discovered a great deal of interesting information. I made a few mistakes, I discovered later, but nothing too drastic, thank heaven.

My settings were Virginia, Charles Town (now Charleston) in Carolina Colony (now South Carolina), and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. I was particularly fascinated with Charles Town, and discovered a 1704 map of the city. I'd love to visit Colonial Williamsburg, but I'm unlikely to make it. However I did find an story & photos about it in an old National Geographic. N.G. was also a fascinating source for information about Charleston and New England.

Thanks for the chance to revisit!

Joan Vincent said...

Thsnks for the interesting facts on Philadelphia. It is a fascinating city with all its history. Colonial Williamsburg is a true jewel. We especially enjoyed the debates between different political figures like Jefferson and Adams. It was great visiting with them afterwards and with the other costumed figures who never break character.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Reese! I'm currently working on what I hope will be a contemporary series set in Kansas.

I do have a free read titled A Colonial Valentine, which is a prequel to Sapphire and Gold. If you're interested in reading it, you can find it here: It is set in Colonial Williamsburg, too.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Mona! Love your title. Isn't it amazing how much information is out there? I can easily research for years and years and years...and not write a thing.

How exciting that you found a map. I was fortunate to find a couple, too. They were tremendously helpful, as was a cutaway of a ship that I found and used as a model for the Wind Spirit.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Joan. I imagine it would be quite intriguing to watch debates between Jefferson and Adams, as well as talk to costumed figures who don't break character. What fun!