Question of the Week
Who is recognized as the first governor of Pennsylvania?
Answer: Thomas Wharton Jr.
Thomas Wharton Jr., the first governor of Pennsylvania, was among the most prominent members of Philadelphia’s Wharton family,known for their political and mercantile influence in the northeast colonies as well as some parts of Canada.
An established Philadelphia merchant by 1755, Thomas Wharton Jr.’s political interests trumped his business career with the start of the Revolutionary War. He was elected to several political groups including the Committee of Public Safety, Pennsylvania’s governing body in the early days of the Revolution. In 1776, he was elected president of the Committee of Safety and later chosen as Chief Executive of the Commonwealth under the new state constitution. Then, Thomas Wharton Jr. was elected the first president (an office similar to governor) of Pennsylvania, a position which he held until his death in 1778. As president, it was he who called for the banishment of members of the Society of Friends thought to be treasonous, including his own cousin.
Even though Thomas Wharton Jr. was thought of as a conservative, he was a moderate supporter of the newly established American government. He wrote, “If a better frame of government should be adopted, such a one as would please a much greater majority then the present one, I should be very happy in seeing it brought about." In a letter to the Committee of Safety on December 23, 1776, Thomas Wharton Jr. warns “the issue of freedom and of America approaches to a crisis.”
HSP’s Wharton family papers (#708A) contain the papers of Thomas Wharton Jr. and other members of the family. Additional papers about and belonging to Wharton can be found in the Wharton and Willing families papers (#2014), the Cadwalader family papers (#1454), and the Provincial Council letters (Am .2891 folio).
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.