Events and People

The Life of Thomas McKean


Though the majority of the images in PhillyHistory are ‘geocoded’ or associated with a specific address, there are quite a few images and documents that either had no location associated with their creation or did not contain enough location information from the original photographer or author to determine an accurate location. I often conduct searches on with the “Include records without a location” box checked and stumble across some fascinating images.

Recently I came across one such image – a portrait of a man named Thomas McKean (pronounced McKane).

McKean was born in New London Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1733. He was raised in Delaware, and would rise to prominence there as a lawyer and a politician. He was a soldier in the continental army, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Delaware.

Following the American Revolution, McKean served as the ‘President of Delaware’ (equivalent to ‘Governor’) for a short time before moving to Philadelphia to become a Chief Justice, a position which he held from 1777 to 1799. After his tenure, he was elected to three consecutive terms as Governor of Pennsylvania. He was in office from 1799 to 1808. McKean resided in Philadelphia until his death in 1818.

During his time in office McKean was a supporter of free education for all. However, he was met with opposition because he supported strong executive power, which eventually led to a bitter feud with the Aurora newspaper publisher, William Duane, and the Philadelphian populist, Dr. Michael Leib. In 1807, McKean was impeached, but the trial was delayed until his term ended the following year. Despite the controversy, McKean has solidified his place in Pennsylvania history. He has a county in Pennsylvania and a street in South Philadelphia at Pier 78 named after him.

McKean is one of a long line of people who moved to Philadelphia, fell in love with it and stayed here for the rest of his life. He lived at the northeast corner of 3rd and Pine, and attended the First Presbyterian Church at 21st and Walnut.