Colonial American History Stories – 1753 – 1763
Chapter title – March 10, 1753- Liberty Bell Hung
Six months after the bell arrived from England workers hung the bell that the nation would later call the “Liberty Bell.” As a worker tested the bell for sound, a crack developed. The new State House bell would have to be re-cast.
Ordering the Bell
The Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania ordered a new bell for the State House on November 1, 1751 from Whitechapel Foundry in London, England. The firm was to place an inscription on the bell from Leviticus 25:10 which would read: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” The inscription refers to the Old Testament’s Jewish tradition of the “Jubilee.” During this time, which occurred every fifty years, the Jews were to return borrowed property to its owners and free slaves. Many historians think that Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly Isaac Norris to commemorate the 1701 Charter of Privileges granted to William Penn by the King. The Charter of Privileges was Pennsylvania’s first constitution and granted self-government to the colony. Whitechapel Foundry delivered the bell to Philadelphia on September 1, 1752. The bell remained in storage until March 10, 1753, when workers hung it. Upon testing its tone, the bell cracked. They would have to recast the bell.
Pass and Stow
The Assembly sent the bell to two local foundry workers, John Pass and John Stow, to recast. The men melted the bell down and recast it, adding a small quantity of copper to the bell. After workers hung the recast bell, no one was pleased with the tone. They sent the bell back to Pass and Stow again. The men obliged, recasting the bell. Workers raised this bell on June 11, 1753. The Assembly was still not happy and ordered a new bell from Whitechapel Foundry. This one, when it arrived, sounded no better than the first one, so the Statehouse Bell remained in its steeple above the Statehouse.
Ringing the Bell
The bell rang frequently after the third casting. It summoned the legislature to session, and to announce special events. The bell tolled when King George III ascended the throne and summoned the people together when the Sugar Act and the Stamp Acts passed Parliament. The bell tolled when the First Continental Congress went into session in the State House in 1774. It is unlikely that the bell tolled after passage of the Declaration of Independence because steeple that held it was in disrepair. During the Revolutionary War, workers removed the bell and moved it away from Philadelphia when the British occupied the city to prevent them from melting it down for cannonballs. It was hidden in the floorboards of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
No one knows when the crack appeared. Most agree that it developed in the 1840’s. The bell had seen heavy use, summoning the Pennsylvania legislature to order, ringing on the Fourth of July and other celebrations. Workers found the crack. Since Philadelphians wanted to ring the bell on George Washington’s birthday, they attempted to repair the bell. Workers drilled the crack wider to prevent it from vibrating together. The repair failed. Upon ringing, another crack developed. The bell would ring no more.
Symbol of Freedom
The bell was not always called the Liberty Bell. At first Philadelphians simply referred to it as the State House Bell, as it hung in the steeple above the State House. After the Revolution people began calling the State House Independence Hall, because it was there that, the Continental Congress passed and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence. Sometime in the 1830’s the bell began being seen as a symbol of liberty. Abolitionists seeking to stamp out slavery adopted the bell as their symbol and first called it the “Liberty Bell,” in 1837. The Abolitionists interpreted the inscription on the bell in a literal, biblical sense, that slaves should be freed every fifty years. After the Civil War, the Bell joined the American flag as a symbol of unity for the nation, serving as a reminder that once Americans all struggled together for a common goal, independence. For many years, the Bell went on tour around the nation, serving as a symbol of unity and freedom. The bell once again rests in Independence Hall. Those interested may visit the Liberty Bell. For information, contact:
Independence National Historical Park
143 South Third Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
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