NPS Logo

Historical Background

Biographical Sketches

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Text and History of Declaration

Suggested Reading

Signers of the Declaration
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

Shippen-Wistar House

Location: Philadelphia County, southwest corner of Fourth and Locust Streets, Philadelphia.

Meetingplace of medical and political dignitaries, this townhouse was the residence of three eminent doctors and was visited by some of the signers and other key governmental officials. It was erected about 1750 by Dr. William Shippen, Sr. (1712-1802). A prominent medical man of his day, he also served in the Continental Congress and contributed to Philadelphia's cultural life. His son, Dr. William Shippen, Jr. (1736-1808), won distinction as a teacher as well as a practitioner, helped found the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and in the period 1777-81 directed medical services in the Continental Army. He and his father apparently shared the residence part of the time during their careers. Like the Shippens, Dr. Caspar Wistar (1761-1818), who acquired the house in 1798, was distinguished in medical and intellectual circles.

Various signers and other Delegates to the Continental Congress paid visits to the home. Richard Henry Lee, brother-in-law of young Shippen, stayed there. Francis Lightfoot and Arthur Lee likely often made calls. On occasion John Adams and John Witherspoon stopped by. Other notables who did so later were George Washington, while presiding over the Constitutional Convention (1787); Benjamin Rush, before his clash with Shippen, Jr., over medical conditions in the Continental Army; Robert R. Livingston, who had served on the Declaration drafting committee, in the 1780's; John Adams, while Vice President; and Jefferson, as Secretary of State.

The exterior of the house is in good condition, but the interior has been extensively altered. A 3-1/2-story building in the colonial Philadelphia architectural style, it is constructed in Flemish bond with red bricks and black headers. The windows are shuttered. Notable are a high gable on the Fourth Street side and brick parapet walls on the roof joining the two end chimneys, one on each side of the roof near the peak of the ridge. A garden extends along the Locust Street side at the original rear of the house, which is now entered from that side rather than from Fourth Street. The building is owned and occupied by an insurance company, which has built a passageway between it and the adjacent Cadwalader House on the south. Access to the two structures is limited to the company's customers.

Previous Next
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004