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Thomas Jefferson at Freedom's Crossroads, Pennsylvania

As told by Matthew Jackson
Hanover, Pennsylvania

Story Narrative:

Painting of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale shows the Founding Father with gray hair and a dark, collared jacket.

The Witnessing York (Pennsylvania) digital project maps sites of deep meaning, reflection, healing and redemption in York County (YoCo) through blurbs, clips and “teachable moment” questions. In southwestern YoCo, Main Street Hanover is the steward of The Heart of Hanover Trail, an interactive walking storyboard tour and leg of the York County Heritage Rail Trail.

A pivotal crossroads since before our nation’s founding, the site of the first Civil War battle on free soil, and a hub of industry, the town of Hanover was laid out in 1763 around five radiating streets. Among the two major arteries, one stemmed from the port of Baltimore to points north and west and the other connected Philadelphia to the Valley of Virginia, the home of future President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).

In 1776, Jefferson stayed in Hanover on his way to Philadelphia to write the Declaration of Independence, which asserted freedom of our young colony from Great Britan. Jefferson penned the famous document under the advisement of Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and John Adams of Massachusetts.

Long-time Hanover historian John McGrew writes:

“Thomas Jefferson spent the night of April 12, 1776 at the Sign of the Horse on Frederick Street in McAlister's town, as Hanover was popularly known in its early days. He was on his way from Monticello to Philadelphia to attend the first meeting of the Continental Congress, where on June 10 he would begin the draft the Declaration of Independence. The Battle of Lexington had been fought a year earlier and the Quebec Campaign only months before. Volunteer Militia companies in York County had been enthusiastically mustering for more than a year and would march to join the Flying Camp in just two months. From Jefferson's memo book, we know he arrived here in time to visit the local barber."

McGrew adds that Caspar Reinecker's inn, located just off the southwest corner of the town square, “was Hanover's leading inn from 1764 to 1792." The next morning, Jefferson "ate breakfast at White's Tavern in York and spent the following night in Lancaster."

Hanover straddles York and Adams Counties, at the crossroads of freedom. Just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the lower Susquehanna Valley, a hotbed of the Underground Railroad, witnessed seminal texts in America's quest for freedom and more perfect unions.

Jefferson came here on his way to writing the famous Declaration of Independence. Our fledgling nation's provincial, threadbare capital in 1777-78, York is the home of the nation's first working constitution, the Articles of Confederation. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln came through Hanover to Gettysburg, where he delivered what some call our nation's second Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address.


Painting of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Asset ID: 2021.08.02
Author: Matthew Jackson
Themes: History, American history, Thomas Jefferson, American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, Architecture, Founding Fathers, Civil War, Abraham Lincoln
Date recorded: August 19, 2021
Story type: Text story
Related traveling exhibition: Crossroads: Change in Rural America
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Witnessing York, Main Street Hanover; Explore YorkTrail TownsGuthrie Memorial Library and Hanover Area Historical Society
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