Samuel Powel was nicknamed the "Patriot Mayor," but was he?

Powel has the distinction of being the last mayor of Philadelphia under British rule and the first after American independence, but new research is calling into question his early commitment to the cause.

Samuel Powel, born in 1738, was a lifelong Philadelphian. In 1759, he graduated from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), inherited his grandfather's Philadelphia properties (making him one of the wealthiest young men in the colonies), and left for a tour of Europe. Powel remained in England for about seven years, living a life of leisure and meeting the pope and Voltaire.

After Powel returned to Philadelphia, he married Elizabeth Willing in 1769. The couple purchased a home on Third Street. Samuel, like his father and grandfather, became active in the city council and was a justice of the Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions Courts. In 1775, he was appointed mayor for the first time. After his second term as mayor, he became speaker of the Pennsylvania Senate in 1792.

Powel was active in Philadelphia organizations such as the American Philosophical Society and the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture. He was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and a manager of the Pennsylvania Hospital. Samuel and his wife mingled among the upper echelons of Philadelphia society and enjoyed the company of George and Martha Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and the Marquis de Lafayette, among many others.

Samuel Powel died of yellow fever during the 1793 epidemic. His residence at 224 S. Third St. is maintained as a historic house by the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks. The question of Powel's patriotism will be debated there at 6 p.m. Thursday by author and retired lawyer David Maxey. For reservations, visit hsp.org/calendar.

Content and images provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. For more stories, visit www.hsp.org.