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7 Not-to-Miss Graves at Christ Church

On the corner of 5th and Arch streets, the signers of the Declaration of Independence still socialize (albeit underground). The Christ Church Burial Ground serves as the resting place of some of Philadelphia’s elite — from a Founding Father to the richest man in Philadelphia during the 18th century. In fact, since its opening in 1695, Christ Church has attracted some of the country’s most famous characters. President George Washington reserved a pew toward the front of the church, and Philadelphia-native Benjamin Franklin, a less-religious man, rented a pew at the back of the church in case he needed to leave early for an appointment with a kite. The church bells that still ring today share the same mold as the historic Liberty Bell. The church’s burial ground holds more signers of the Declaration of Independence than any other in the country (with two additional signers resting for all eternity just a few blocks away).

While the burial ground earns much foot traffic thanks to Benjamin Franklin’s grave, its other residents — like a doctor who discovered and treated the first woman soldier and Benedict Arnold’s aide-de-camp — tell the lesser-known (but equally interesting) stories of the founding of America. So, when in Philly, avoid lingering at Ben’s grave and check out what John Hopkins, the burial ground coordinator, considers Christ Church’s most interesting graves.

“We’re significant because we have more signers than anywhere else. We have five signers [of the Declaration of Independence], but because of Benjamin Franklin they always get lost.” –John Hopkins, burial ground coordinator

Name: Dr. Benjamin Rush
Born: January 4, 1746
Died: April 19, 1813
Notable Fact: Father of American Psychiatry
As Philadelphians lay dying in their homes during the yellow-fever epidemic of the 1790s, one doctor returned to the city to save the lives of countless Americans. But before the “Father of American Psychiatry” earned recognition for his work, he garnered attention for being a traitor to General George Washington. During his time as the surgeon-general of the middle department of the Continental Army, Rush pushed for the removal of Washington after a series of losses during the war. But thanks to his contributions to the war effort and his advocacy for mentally ill patients, he remains an important figure in psychiatry and the war’s history.

Name: Major David Salisbury Franks
Born: ~ 1740
Died: October 7, 1793
Notable Fact: Highest Ranking Jewish Officer During the Revolutionary War
Franks was screwed from the start. As the nephew of a well-known Philadelphia loyalist, he earned much suspicion as the logical source of supplied information to the British Army as the second in command to Benedict Arnold. Luckily, Franks counted George Washington and Benjamin Franklin as critical connections, and his charges were cleared. But Franks failed to rid himself of his traitorous reputation in the court of public opinion and died during the yellow fever epidemic.  

Name: Dr. Barnabas Binney
Born: ~1751
Died: June 21, 1787
Notable Fact: Treated the First Woman to Fight in an American War
When he first met dying soldier Robert Shirtliff, Revolutionary War surgeon Binney focused on one thing — saving his life. What Binney didn’t expect was to learn that Shirtliff was Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army. Sampson came to Binney because she was sick at the end of the war, but previously she had taken a musket ball out of her own leg to avoid seeking medical attention. While Binney is most famous for his work with Sampson, he treated many soldiers in Washington’s army until it disbanded in 1783.

Name: Robert “Trooper” Hare
Born: ~1752
Died: 1811
Notable Fact: America’s First Brewer
Hare came to the emerging United States from England in 1773, and brought over more than just a patriotic spirit. Hare came with his father’s recipe for a new type of beer — a porter — and made a name for himself as a brewer in Philadelphia. Washington loved Hare’s beer so much that he became one of the suppliers to the first president’s Philadelphia home. Hare was elected later to the Pennsylvania state Senate, and eventually served as the speaker of the state Senate after the war.

Name: Francis Hopkinson
Born: September 21, 1737
Died: May 9, 1791
Notable Fact: America’s First Songwriter
Hopkinson would tell you that Betsy Ross is a liar, and some historians would agree. Along with signing the Declaration of Independence, Hopkinson claims to have designed the original American flag, a feat popular culture credits to Ross. But whether he developed the stars and stripes or not, Hopkinson made great contributions to the arts in the 18th century. Along with designing many of the seals for the United States government after the war, Hopkinson wrote the first non-religious song — My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free — in American history.

Name: George Ross
Born: May 10, 1730
Died: July 14, 1779
Notable Fact: Betsy Ross’ Uncle
Ross may have signed the Declaration of the Independence, but it’s his relation to the nation’s most famous seamstress that earns him historical props. His niece is credited with sewing the first American flag, and it is said that her uncle commissioned the flag from Betsy. Ross may be less famous than his niece, but he served on both the First and Second Continental Congress and helped draft Pennsylvania’s first state constitution. He is also known for his negotiations with Native Americans during his time as a colonel in the Continental Army.

Name: John Dunlap
Born: ~1747
Died: November 27, 1812
Notable Fact: The Declaration of Independence’s Printer
Benjamin Franklin may be Philadelphia’s most famous printer, but Dunlap printed some of the most famous documents in American history. He came to Philadelphia from Ireland at 10 years old and worked under his uncle William Dunlap, a printer in the city. After taking over the business from his uncle, Dunlap was named the official printer of the Continental Congress. In that position, he printed the first copies of the Declaration of Independence and, eventually, the United States Constitution.


Cover photo courtesy of Angela N.