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ROBERT TURNER, MERCHANT OF PHILADELPHIA By Marion Balderston* In the 1680's a small group of wealthy Quakers built Philadelphia from a cluster of huts in the wilderness to a rich and prosperous city. They were merchant princes of their day and vast landowners, but their names, unfortunately, have been forgotten . One of the richest of these was Robert Turner, and there is a special reason why he should be remembered, since he set the architectural pattern of the city. For two and a half centuries, Philadelphia's streets were lined with houses of plain red brick, their generous doors and windows outlined in white, with white marble steps leading up to the slightly raised first floor. Their lines were simple and classic and they made old Philadelphia the most beautiful city in the New World. Turner was also an intimate of William Penn; the friendship survived even Turner's apostasy. He was also an intimate of that other hot-head, the lawyer Patrick Robinson. He has been classed as an Irish Friend, though even less Irish than other members of the Dublin Meeting.1 He was born in Cambridge, England, son of Robert and Mary Turner of Hertfordshire , in October 1635. But he was in business in Ireland and a convert to Quakerism by the time he was twenty-two, and shortly after, with the enthusiasm of the neophyte, he published a pamphlet called Truth's Defense, saying, among other things, that Moses was a Quaker.2 He needed all his enthusiasm, for he was beaten and imprisoned, his shop stoned and robbed, because he kept it open on such "pagan" holidays as Christmas. Once he was tied by the hands and feet across a horse and led around town, a splendid target for sticks and stones. From these grim experiences he bounced back with even greater vitality, and in spite of fines and robberies he prospered and grew rich. Most of those old Quaker merchants did. * Marion Balderston lives in San Marino, California. In recent years she has written several articles about early Pennsylvanians. 1 Albert Cook Myers, Immigration of the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania (Swarthmore, Pa., 1902), pp. 257 ff. 2Ibid., p. 257. Robert Turner7 He married in 1662 Elizabeth Ruddock, who died within a year, then Martha Fisher, of Cheshire, by whom he had a daughter , Martha, the only one of his children to survive him. He became a freeman of the city of Dublin in 1672, and had already become intimate with other leading Quakers there—-Richard, father of Joseph Pike, John Gee, the Fullers, Joseph and Jacob and Abraham, whom he addressed as uncle. John Fuller, his special friend, followed him to Philadelphia, a year later. He had met Penn in Ireland, possibly on his first, and certainly by his second visit in 1669, for he is mentioned in Penn's Journal.3 He was interested in colonization; as early as 1677 he purchased one half of one of the hundred shares of the Quaker colony of West New Jersey, and in 1682 he became one of the twenty-four proprietors of East New Jersey.4 Penn's deed for Pennsylvania was signed on March 4th, 1681; on March 5th he wrote the news to Turner,6 who bought 5000 acres for himself6 and was active in getting other Irish Friends to buy. When the Free Society of Traders in Pennsylvania was formed in the spring of 1682, he became one of its heaviest subscribers, with £500 worth of shares.7 This great interest in the new country should have taken him over that summer, when Penn and so many of his friends went. But Turner's wife Martha died that May, and this may have held him back. His friend James Claypoole expected him to go then. However, he got his certificate of removal signed in July 1683,8 and sailed almost at once on the 90-ton ship Lyon of Liverpool, which had carried over the advance guard of Welsh settlers the year before. Daughter Martha, now a young girl, was with him and seventeen servants, mostly named Threeweeks or Furnace. His friend and relative, Joseph Fisher of Cheshire, came with him...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 6-11
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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