Miss Dally’s boarding house: Historic Marker Petition

There is no shortage of historic markers in Philadelphia. Yet, the location where the Constitution was “drafted” by Gouverneur Morris has been entirely overlooked. But not for long.

It is now time to recognize Miss Mary Dally and her historic boarding house. During the formative decades of American history members of Congress boarded with Miss Dally, including Gouverneur Morris, the “penman of the Constitution.”

In honor of Constitution Day, StatutesandStories.com is posting a draft of the petition that we will file later this year with the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. If you are interested in signing the petition, feel free to send an email to adam@statutesandstories.com.

Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident…”

The Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson at the “Graff House” located on the corner of Market and 7th Street in Philadelphia. Today, this location where Jefferson rented two rooms in 1776 is operated by the Park Service, in a carefully reconstructed three-story red brick building. Jefferson’s portable desk is on display at the Smithsonian.

Gouverneur Morris: “We the People….”

By contrast, there is nothing commemorating Miss Dally’s boarding house, the location where the “penman of the Constitution,” Gouverneur Morris, boarded during the summer of 1787.

Overview: Who was Miss Dally and why does she deserve a historic marker?

History has largely ignored Miss Mary Dally[1] and her important boarding house where Gouverneur Morris likely “drafted” the Constitution. This proposal aims to rectify this historic oversight by placing a historic marker at (or near) the north-eastern corner of Market and Third Street in Philadelphia. The signatories to this proposal also contemplate robust educational programming for the wider public about Miss Dally and her important boarding house where Congressional delegates boarded for over a decade, beginning in the 1770s.[2]

Starting in 1778, Miss Dally’s name begins appearing in letters of delegates to Congress.[3] Her name is also mentioned in Elbridge Gerry’s correspondence with his wife during the summer of 1787.[4] Newspaper ads by Miss Dally suggest that she was an entrepreneurial businesswoman. In addition to running a boarding house, she also sold several varieties of imported tea from China.[5] By 1795, Miss Dally was educating young ladies at the Bordenton Academy which promised that “the strictest care is taken of their morals,” while “all possible attention” would be paid to “the different branches of education.”

During the Covid pandemic, exciting new discoveries were revealed regarding Miss Dally, Gouverneur Morris, and the New York delegation to the Constitutional Convention. Indeed, as early as 1778, Miss Dally’s boarding house was referred to as “Liberty Hall” by members of the Continental Congress.[6] It is thus fitting that Gouverneur Morris was boarding with Miss Dally when he was appointed by the five-member Committee of Style and Arrangement (which included James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) to prepare the September 12th draft of the Constitution, including the Preamble. As it turns out, Miss Dally was also a fascinating figure in her own right.

Copied below are links to essays summarizing recent research about Miss Dally, upon which this proposal is based:

Miss Dally’s Boarding House: Where the Constitution was “drafted” – Part I

Miss Dally’s Boarding House: Where the Constitution was “drafted” – Part II

Primary Sources from Miss Dally’s Boarding House: Receipts and Tax Records – Part III

Toogood Map

In preparation for the Bicentennial of the Constitution in 1987, researchers at the National Park Service and the Library of Congress scoured through old manuscripts and records. Their work resulted in several books and a map of Philadelphia created by historian Anna Coxe Toogood and artist Bob Terrio. Among other things, the “Philadelphia, 1787” map depicts the locations where delegates were believed to have boarded during the summer of 1787.

The “Philadelphia, 1787” map indicates that Gouverneur Morris, Alexander Hamilton and Elbridge Gerry boarded at Miss Dally’s boarding house. Unfortunately, the map doesn’t cite to any primary sources to substantiate where Morris boarded. The fact that Hamilton and Gerry boarded with Miss Dally is easily demonstrated by correspondence between Gerry and his young wife, Ann. But what is the proof that Gouverneur Morris boarded at Miss Dally’s?

Since the publication of Toogood’s map in 1987, several historians have cited to her work. Among the important publications which repeat the claim that Morris boarded with Miss Dally are Richard Beeman’s Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution; Peter C. Hoffer’s For Ourselves and Our Posterity: The Preamble to the Federal Constitution in American History; and John R. Vile’s two volume The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America’s Founding.[7] Yet, these well-researched books do not cite to any primary sources to validate Ms. Toogood’s claim that Gouverneur Morris boarded with Miss Dally.

Working with Anna Toogood (“Coxie”), Stefan Kosovych (a historian with Independence National Historical Park [INHP]), Tyler Love (Library Manager and Archivist at INHP), and Sergio Villavicencio (Board member of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society) we carefully searched through files at INHP. We were unable to find any primary sources in the INHP’s files validating the claim that Gouverneur Morris boarded with Miss Dally.

 Thereafter the process of examining Gouverneur Morris’ papers began. The two largest collections of Gouverneur Morris’ papers are housed at Columbia University and the Library of Congress. Other collections are held by the New York Public Library, Gilder Lehrman and other archives. After more than a year of archival research, unmistakable evidence was located in Gouverneur Morris’ bank records that he in fact boarded with Miss Dally. Attached are excerpts of Gouverneur Morris’ bank records evidencing that he boarded with Miss Dally from late 1782 to early 1788.[8] Mystery solved. It is now time to install a historic marker to honor Miss Dally.[9]

Gouverneur Morris & the Committee of Style and Arrangement

In its closing days, the Constitutional Convention appointed an extraordinary committee to finalize its work in Philadelphia. According to James Madison’s notes on 8 September 1787, a five-member committee was selected to “revise the stile of and arrange the articles which had been agreed to by the House.” (II Farrand at 553). Despite its unassuming name, the Committee of Style and Arrangement was arguably one of the Convention’s most important committees. Two of the members of the Committee are household names: James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Outside of scholarly circles the other three members of the Committee have largely been forgotten.

A decade earlier the Continental Congress appointed a similar committee of five to draft the Declaration of Independence. Famously, Thomas Jefferson was selected to prepare the Declaration of Independence in 1776. A decade later Gouverneur Morris – who had spoken more than any other delegate at the Constitutional Convention  – was selected by the Committee of Style to finalize and polish the Constitution, including the Preamble.

After only four days the Committee of Style submitted its report on 12 September. (II Farrand 582). In addition to its seminal work finalizing the Constitution, the Committee also prepared a transmittal letter (hereinafter the Constitution’s “Cover Letter”) and two resolutions addressing the ratification process. Madison’s detailed notes, however, do not describe the behind-the-scenes work of the Committee.

Years later, in a letter to Timothy Pickering written in 1814, Gouverneur Morris matter-of-factly acknowledged his role in drafting the Constitution. According to Morris, “[t]hat instrument was written by the fingers which write this letter.” (III Farrand 419).

No less authority than James Madison candidly admitted in 1831 to historian Jared Sparks that “the finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris…” According to Madison the “task” of drafting the Constitution was probably “handed over” to Gouverneur Morris by Chairman William Samuel Johnson “with the ready concurrence of the others.”  (III Farrand at 499). Yet today, few Americans know about Miss Dally’s and her boarding house where the Preamble and the Cover Letter were likely drafted.

Gouverneur Morris – a long-term boarder with Miss Dally from 1782-1787:

According to his bank records located at the Library of Congress, Gouverneur Morris began boarding with Miss Dally in 1782. At the time, he was working for the first Superintendent of Finance of the United States, Robert Morris (no relation). While serving as the Assistant Superintendent, Gouverneur proposed the decimal coinage system which is the basis for the U.S. monetary system. Thus, at least some of the work that Gouverneur Morris was doing for the Treasury Department likely occurred at Miss Dally’s. After they resigned from office in 1784, Gouverneur continued working with Robert Morris in Philadelphia, while living at Miss Dally’s.

Gouverneur Morris boarded with Miss Dally from 1782 to 1787, when he wasn’t traveling on business for Robert Morris, or visiting his Morrisania estate that Gouverneur acquired in April of 1787. Accordingly, it appears that Gouverneur Morris was Miss Dally’s best customer. One can only speculate what work was performed and what meetings occurred at Miss Dally’s Boarding House during the period when Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris were running the Treasury Department and founding the Bank of North America (the nation’s first bank).

As yet unanswered questions about Miss Dally:

Other than Gouverneur Morris, Alexander Hamilton and Elbridge Gerry, who else might have boarded with Miss Dally during the Constitutional Convention? How many rooms did Miss Dally have for rent? Over a span of nearly two decades Miss Dally interacted with Congressional delegates from around the nation. In addition to providing room and board, did Miss Dally discuss politics or the Constitution with her boarders?  Who were Miss Dally’s students at the Bordenton Academy? What else have historians overlooked about Miss Dally?

In his letters to his wife Ann during the summer of 1787, Elbridge Gerry repeatedly mentions Miss Dally and her expertise. In his 9 August letter Gerry indicated that “Miss Dally informs me she has some very good Hyson [tea].” Gerry enclosed a sample of tea for Ann, explaining that “Miss Dally thinks it more difficult to preserve the flavor of Hyson” compared to black tea. In the same 9 August letter, Gerry mentions that “I have had some conversations with Col. Hamilton….We are both at Miss Dally’s.” Presumably these conversations between Hamilton and Gerry took place at Miss Dally’s.

In his 1 September letter to Ann, Gerry mentions purchases that he was considering in Philadelphia. Interestingly, Gerry comments that “silk is not a good bargain by any means. I will desire Miss Dally to look out for some here…” The fact that Gerry was consulting with Miss Dally makes perfect sense, as several of the street directories described below mention that Miss Dally was also a taylor. It is thus logical to assume that Miss Dally offered tailoring services for her boarders, including Gouverneur Morris and Elbridge Gerry, during their extended stays in Philadelphia.

Where was Miss Dally’s Boarding House located?

Miss Dally is listed in several Philadelphia directories, beginning with the city’s first two directories published in 1785. According to The Philadelphia Directory published by Francis White, Miss Dally’s boarding house was located on Market Street between Second and Third. This address matches the more specific street number – 311 Market Street – assigned by MacPherson’s Directory of the City and Suburbs of Philadelphia which was also published in 1785.[10] While MacPherson’s pioneering street numbering system was quickly discarded, we know that Miss Dally’s boarding house was located on the north side of Market Street, near Third Street, “opposite the Indian King” Inn.[11]

Significantly, Francis White’s directory lists the same address for Mary Dally and Gouverneur Morris: Market Street between Second and Third. In other words, Gouverneur Morris either operated his law practice out of Miss Dally’s boarding house or he had a separate office located on the same street, nearby.

It is noteworthy that Miss Dally is described as a “taylor” by Francis White’s directory. This is not surprising. As mentioned above, Elbridge Gerry’s letter of 9 August 1787 indicated that he would consult with Miss Dally about silk for a suit.[12]

According to Francis White’s directory, Miss Dally’s sister, Mrs. Clark, is described as operating a “boarding house.” The same location – Market Street between Second and Third – is listed as the address for “Dally Mary,” “Clark Mrs.” and “Morris Governeur.”

So today, where is the 311Market Street location listed in MacPherson’s 1785 directory? As described by the website Philahistory.net, MacPherson was the first to assign street numbers in Philadelphia “but in doing so went straight up one side of a street and down the other, so that 1 Arch Street might be across the street from 300 Arch Street. He also assigned numbers to outbuildings such as stables and other utilitarian structures, and to where he thought houses might some day be built.”

         While researching the location of Miss Dally’s boarding house we consulted with James Green the Librarian Emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia. We asked Mr. Green whether there is a ready method of translating MacPherson’s early street numbers into a modern address for Miss Dally. Mr. Green’s analysis is copied below:

I can’t find any info on how to locate a house based on MacPherson’s system.  But the next extant directory is 1791, and it uses the Clement Biddle system, which remained in use until 1850. The 1791 directory lists Mary Dalley [sic] shopkeeper at 107 High St.    According to a conversion table we use at LCP (which I have attached) 107 High (which of course is the alternate name of Market) is between 2nd and 3rd streets. So chances are it is the same house.

The table indicates that odd numbers are on the north side, and that the numbers in that block run from 63 to 117. So there must have been 28 houses on that block.

Now today the numbers on that block run from 203 to 267, indicating there are still about the same number of lots on the block.  So I’d guess that 107 was about 10 doors east of 3rd or near what is today 245 Market.  The buildings on the block are old — I am guessing mid 19th century, not late 18th  — but they may preserve the same footprints,  with each house running two or three windows wide.  But look for yourself.  245 is part of a snack bar called SNAP Kitchen, whose business address is 243.[13]

Subsequent directories list Miss Dally’s address as 107 High Street (another name for Market Street). For example, Clement Biddle’s 1791 directory describes “Mary Dalley” as a shopkeeper at “107, High Street.”[14] James Hardie’s 1793 directory lists “Dalley Mary, shopkeeper, 107, High.” Hardie’s 1794 directory lists the same address, but updates the listing to describe “Dally Mary” as a “widow, shopkeeper.” In subsequent years, directories continue listing either Mary Dally (or Mary Dalley) as a shopkeeper at 107 High Street.

Beginning in the year 1800, the address for Miss Dally the shopkeeper is listed as 111 High Street. For example, Cornelius William Stafford’s directory lists “Daly Mary” as a shopkeeper at 111 High Street. Curiously, in 1802 Robinson’s directory lists Mary Dalley as both a shopkeeper at 161 High Street and a boarding house operator at 271 S. Front Street. Subsequent directories continue to list Mary Dally at 111 High Street, until 1814, when her name no longer appears.

It is unclear how many times Miss Dally moved and whether she operated her tea shop out of a separate location as her boarding house. In either event, this proposal suggests that the proposed marker be located near the corner of Market and Third or at (or near) 243 Market Street the modern street address identified by James Green which corresponds to 311 Market Street used in the 1785 MacPherson directory and 107 High Street under the Clement Biddle system.

Respectfully submitted,

(names will be listed in alphabetical order)

[1]        Primary sources are inconsistent with the spelling of Miss Dally’s name, which variously appears as Miss Dally/Dalley/Dailey/Daily/Daley/Dolley/M – D. In this proposal she will be referred to as “Miss Dally,” consistent with Elbridge Gerry’s letters to his wife during the Constitutional Convention and the MacPherson and White street directories printed in 1785, which are discussed below. This same issue of multiple spellings of the family name applies to her father, Gifford Dally, who was the doorkeeper for Congress and operated City Tavern at various times.

[2]        Miss Dally’s customers included delegates to the Continental Congress, the Confederation Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and likely the new Federal Congress (which was the interim capital from 1790 to 1800).

[3]        Sample letters from Congressional delegates mentioning Miss Dally are attached as Exhibit “A” and include the following: William Whipple to Richard Henry Lee dated 8 November 1778; Samuel Adams to Elizabeth Adam dated 13 December 1778; James Lovell to Nathaniel Peabody dated 3 October 1780; James Lovell to Elbridge Gerry dated 20 February 1781.

[4]        Elbridge Gerry’s letters to Ann Gerry dated 9 August and 1 September 1787 are attached as Exhibit “B”.

[5]        An example of newspaper advertisements by Miss Dally which were published in the Pennsylvania Packet beginning on 16 June 1789 are attached as Exhibit “C”.

[6]        See William Whipple to Richard Henry Lee dated 8 November 1778, previously attached in Exhibit “A”.

[7]        Book excerpts from Beeman (Exhibit “D”), Hoffer (Exhibit “E”) and Vile (Exhibit “F”) discussing Miss Dally’s boarding house are attached. Hoffer and Vile are both signatories to this application; Beeman passed away in 2016. A copy of the “Philadelphia 1787” reproduced in Beeman’s is attached hereto as Exhibit “G”.

[8]        Excerpts of Gouverneur Morris’ bank records held at the Library of Congress are attached as Exhibit “H”.

[9]        Professors John R. Vile and Gordon Lloyd believe that historic markers should also be added to commemorate the other boarding houses in operation in 1787, including Mary House’s boarding house on Market and 5th, the Indian Queen on 4th Street between Market and Chestnut, and Mrs. Marshall’s boarding house on Carter’s Alley.

[10]       Images from the White and MacPherson directories published in 1785 are attached as Exhibit “I”.

[11]       See Pennsylvania Packet,16 June 1789, previously attached as Exhibit “E”.

[12]       See Elbridge Gerry’s letters to Ann Gerry dated 9 August and 1 September 1787, previously attached as Exhibit “B”.

[13]       This summer a new tenant moved into 243 Market Street, Vanderwende’s Farm Fresh Ice Cream. Will Vanderwende has been notified of this proposal.

[14]       An excerpt of The Philadelphia Directory (1791) by Clement Biddle is attached as Exhibit “J”.

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