This 1767 Georgian mansion in Germantown was built as a summer home by Benjamin Chew, Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania colony.
The Chew family were early on the scene in America, arriving in Jamestown, VA in 1622. The family prospered, acquiring land in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, and by the 1700’s, Chew’s father was the first Chief Justice of Delaware. Benjamin became interested in law early, and by age 15 was working for Andrew Hamilton, a preeminent lawyer in early America (Botany in Early Philadelphia (pt. 2): Woodlands – America’s First Neoclassical Mansion and a Victorian Cemetery), from whom he inherited the Penn family business, which he represented for 6 decades. He spent time in London, continuing his law training, where he got ideas for the mansion he would later build in Germantown. The urns on the roof were made to replicate those found at Cliveden House in England.
In addition to his law practice, Chew continued to manage his family’s businesses, including plantations in Delaware and Maryland. It was at one of his plantations in Delaware that Richard Allen was born. Chew sold Allen, who was later freed and founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (The Richard Allen Museum: Black History, The AME Church, and Victorian Stained Glass).
Although personal friends with both George Washington and John Adams, because of his pacifism and connections with the British government, Chew was placed under house arrest by the Americans while the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777-1778. He was allowed to return after the British vacated the city. However, his daughter Peggy remained in Philadelphia, where she was considered one of the local beauties and was courted by Major John Andre. She acted as a liason between Andre and and her friend Peggy Shippen (and Peggy Shippen’s husband Benedict Arnold Benedict Arnold & Treason in Philadelphia). She later married and became First Lady of Maryland from 1788 to 1791.
Chew family history aside, Clivedon is best known as the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Germantown, which occurred while Benjamin was under house arrest and Peggy in Philadelphia. After defeats at Brandywine and Paoli, Washington attempted to retake Philadelphia by approaching from the north. However, the British sent troops to Germantown, where poor communication and fog disrupted Washington’s plans. One group of British holed up in Clivedon, firing on Washington’s troops as they attempted to pass. Washington’s army fired on the house in an unsuccessful attempt to oust the British soldiers. Bullet and mortar holes are still visible on the facade and steps.
War casualties are buried on the property (as well as in the cemetery down the street). Washington was defeated and withdrew to Valley Forge for the winter.
The Chew family continued to reside on the property until 1972, when Clivedon was given to the National Trust. Most of house is furnished and interpreted from an early-American perspective, utilizing information from the extensive archive of Chew family papers that are now housed at the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and include stories of the family’s enslaved workers. Interpretive panels in the carriage house focus on the Chew family’s relationship with slavery, and the current (2022) interpretive panels in the house focus on the women of Clivedon, both Chew family members and enslaved workers.
The exception to all the colonial stuff is this fantastic mint green 1959 kitchen, a highlight on the house tour (you can also see it by peaking in the window):
Compare to the recently uncovered colonial-era brick hearth (currently undergoing an archaeological survey):
I love how the original hearth was just hidden away when it became unfashionable…