13 South Fifth Street, Philadelphia
November 1797May 1800

When the Department of State returned to Philadelphia in November 1797, it moved into a building at 13 South Fifth Street on the east side of the street between Market and Chestnut Streets. A notice of the move, ordered by the Department,1 appeared in the Philadelphia Gazette of the United States on November 10, 11, 13, 14, and 16, 1797. It stated that “The Office of Secretary of State OF THE UNITED STATES IS removed to No. 13, South Fifth street, near Chestnut street.”

No picture of this building is known to exist, but it is described as a three story brick house measuring 21 by 35 feet on a lot measuring 21 by 56 feet, and its valuation is given as $2,700.2 In that part of the house which was occupied by the Department of State the chimneys had 16 flues.3 The walls and ceilings of the rooms were whitewashed, and there were venetian blinds at the windows.4 The premises included a kitchen with a fireplace, a cellar, and a yard in which there was a pump.5

The Department shared this building with the office of the Postmaster General. The rent was $950 a year, payable in advance to the owner, James Simmons. Of that amount, the Department of State paid $600 and the office of the Postmaster General $350.6 When the Department left the building in 1800, it had to pay the owner an extra $100 for damage done to the house during its occupancy, and an additional $25 because the house was left uncleaned.7 The site of this house is now occupied by the Lafayette Building, a ten-story office building erected in the 1920’s.8

The Department of State remained in the building at 13 South Fifth Street until May 1800, when it moved with the seat of government to Washington, D.C. In this building, Timothy Pickering concluded his period of service as Secretary of State on May 12, 1800. He has the dubious distinction, according to Graham Stuart, writing in 1949, of being the only Secretary of State who was “dismissed from office.” After Pickering declined to follow President Adams’ suggestion that he resign, Adams wrote to him as follows: “Divers causes and considerations essential to the administration of the government, in my judgment, requiring a change in the Department of State, you are hereby discharged from any further service as Secretary of State.”9

  1. MS Department of State, Accounts Records, Contingent Expenses, Day Book, 1798-1820, p. 72.
  2. MS. National Archives, Record Group 58, Book A, “List of the Taxes Assessed...,” October 1, 1798, pp 141, 155; ibid., Book B, No. 4, “Particular List or Description of all Lands, Lots, Buildings, and Wharves, owned, possessed, or occupied, on the 1st Day of October, 1798, in Middle Ward being within the City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania, excepting only such Dwelling-houses, as, with the Out-houses appurtenant thereto, and the Lots on which they are erect, not exceeding two Acres in any Case, are above the Value of One Hundred Dollars,” items 109, 128.
  3. MS. Department of State, Accounts Records, Contingent Expenses, Day Book, 1798-1820, p. 38.
  4. Ibid., pp. 8, 19, 51, 53.
  5. Ibid., pp. 24, 39, 46.
  6. Ibid., pp. 22, 46, 72, 78; Cornelius W. Stafford, the Philadelphia Directory, for 1797-1801 (Philadelphia, 1797-1801), 1798 volume, register section, p. 14; ibid., 1799, register section, p. 12; ibid., 1800, register section, p. 18.
  7. MS. Department of State, Accounts Records, Contingent Expenses, Day book 1798-1820, p. 78.
  8. Letter from Yoelson to Costrell, Arch 27, 1975.
  9. Quoted in Stuart, op. cit., p. 33.