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The Accident in Lombard Street

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The Accident in Lombard Street

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Although he was known primarily as a portraitist, Charles Willson Peale's The Accident on Lombard Street provides an example of how Peale used his work to make statements about morality and culture in 18th century Philadelphia. Peale also hoped that this image would allow him to enter the printmaking and printselling business, but it did not do well and he abandoned his plan for a series of etchings of city life.

Like a number of his contemporaries, Peale believed that any kind of excess, including rich or overabundant meals, had moral implications. The etching shows a white girl, distressed over having dropped a pie in the street, surrounded by black chimney sweeps. An accompanying verse reads:

The pye from Bake house she had brought
But let it fall for want of thought
and laughing Sweeps collect around
The pye that's scatter'd on the ground

Considering Peale's belief in the observance of a strict social order, he likely located the scene in Lombard Street in order to underscore the moral decline that the dessert and its loss represented.

Lombard Street, located near Philadelphia's southwestern perimeter, was a main artery in the Cedar Ward area, where main streets lined by large houses were criss-crossed with narrow alleys and courtyards. Late in the 18th century, there were still more whites than blacks in the area, but blacks began to form neighborhoods around the two black churches that opened there in 1794, St. Thomas's African Episcopal Church and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bethel was erected on the east side of Sixth Street, between Lombard and Pine.

Image Credit: Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Funds for purchase, Gift of Caroline Clendenin Ryan Foundation, Inc.

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Related Entries:
Map of Philadelphia, c. 1796
Portrait of Benjamin Rush
Thomas Jefferson by Peale
Jeffrey Leath on Philadelphia
Emma Lapsansky on Philadelphia
Margaret Washington on Philadelphia

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