Mount Pleasant Mansion

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Completed in 1763 for Captain John Macpherson (1726-1792), nephew of the 17th Chief of Clan Macpherson, he originally named the house "Clunie" for his family’s ancestral seat in Scotland before changing it to "Mount Pleasant". He situated his home high atop the cliffs overlooking the Schuylkill River. The 2nd President of the United States, John Adams (1735-1826), visited the house in 1775 and described it as the “most elegant seat in Pennsylvania”....

This house is best associated with...

Benedict Arnold

Major-General Benedict Arnold V, "The Traitor"

1741-1801

Margaret Shippen

Mrs "Peggy" (Shippen) Arnold

1760-1804

The entrance to the Georgian mansion is topped by an elaborate pediment, supported by two Doric columns. The roof is crowned by a balustrade with prominent dormers and two large chimneys. Flanking the main house are two small pavilions that served as an office and a summer kitchen. The house bears a striking similarity to nearby Cliveden in Germantown. But, it is the interior that makes this house exceptional, every doorway is crowned by a pediment and it retains all the original panelling with ornamental carving.

Unfortunately for Macpherson, he fell into financial hardships in the 1770s and was forced to lease the house to the Spanish Ambassador, Don Juan de Miralles (d.1780). In 1779, General Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) purchased the house for his new wife, Peggy Shippen (1760-1804) and their children. They used the house as their country estate for two years, during which time they were said to have entertained lavishly. But, in 1780, Arnold famously defected to the British side during the American Revolution and Mount Pleasant, along with his other properties, was confiscated by the state.

The house remained empty until 1784, when it was bought by Arnold’s father-in-law, Chief Justice Edward Shippen IV (1729-1806). It changed hands again in 1791 when it was bought at a Sheriff’s sale by General Jonathan Williams (1751-1815), the first Super-Intendant of West Point Military Academy and a great nephew of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). When Williams died in 1815, his son Henry Jonathan Williams (1791-1889) inherited the house and it’s 35 acres of grounds. 

By 1854, the grounds had been reduced to just 5-acres after Williams sold off the other thirty to the Granite Land Company. In 1868, Mount Pleasant ceased to be a privtae home and was sold to Fairmount Park. From 1878 to 1900, it was used as a dairy selling milk, and in 1906 it became the headquarters for "La Moviganta Klubo," a ladies automobile club.

Today Mount Pleasant contains many souvenirs of Macpherson’s exciting life and times as a privateer who attacked French merchant ships in the French and Indian War; and twice had his arm shot off. The period furniture on display is from the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art who maintain the house. Mount Pleasant gives an excellent insight into the lifestyles of the colonial upper class in eighteenth century North America. The house was named a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 26/11/2018 and last updated on 17/02/2020.
Main Image Courtesy of Brian W. Schaller, Wiki Commons

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