Mount Pleasant

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | C.1762

Photo Credit: Jason Coopman

Although elegant and refined, Mount Pleasant mansion was actually occupied by men and women who were of a more…revolutionary sort. Built a decade before the American Revolution, the stately home in Philadelphia once hosted a future American President, a pirate-turned-war veteran, a British spy, and the most infamous traitor of the Revolutionary War.

Following a successful stint in the Seven Years’ War, Scottish sea captain John Macpherson had Mount Pleasant built for himself and his wife Margaret. Macpherson was a privateer, or legalized pirate, who was known to have had “an arm twice shot off” during the War. Seeking to assimilate into Philadelphia society, Macpherson chose a spot overlooking the Schuylkill River as the location for his country estate and hired the city’s finest craftsmen to create his home.

Builder and architect Thomas Newell, an apprentice of Edmund Woolley who designed Independence Hall, designed the mansion in the Georgian style. Macpherson’s ambitions paid off when future President John Adams visited the estate in 1775 and called it “the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania”.

During the 1770s, the Macphersons fell into financial hardship and in 1779, then-American general Benedict Arnold purchased the estate as a gift for his wife Peggy, who also happened to be a British spy. Within a year, Arnold himself would famously defect to the British army. It’s said that financial liabilities brought on by the estate may have motivated his betrayal.

In 1792, General Johnathan Williams, the first superintendent of West Point and a descendent of Benjamin Franklin, purchased the mansion and lived there for twenty years. His children ultimately sold the estate to Fairmount Park, and it was restored in 1926.

Written By: Kelly Murray

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