For this easy side quest, head over to 215 East Orange Street. This 2.5 story 1749 colonial-style building housed both Christopher Marshall and James Buchanan. Buchanan’s name is likely instantly recognizable. He was the 15th President of the United States (1857-1861), with many historians considering him the “worst” president in U.S. history…or at least the most inept.
Fewer people, on the other hand, will recognize the name, Christopher Marshall. Nonetheless, he made valuable contributions to the fledgling nation and the recording of local Lancaster history.
If you are a long time Keystone resident, Buchanan, being named the worst President is a hard pill to swallow. Buchanan was a lifelong Pennsylvania native born in 1791 as well as the commonwealth’s only President. What makes Buchanan’s poor performance even more surprising is when you examine his impressive pre-presidential resume.
Buchanan started his career as a successful lawyer. He was elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. Buchanan served as the Russian ambassador in 1832 for 18 months and later as the ambassador to the United Kingdom for three years starting in 1853. Buchanan even served as Secretary of State in the Polk administration.
Buchanan’s poor Presidential marks come from both his lack of action to unite a nation sharply divided over the issue of slavery and doing nothing to prevent Southern states from seceding in the lead-up to the Civil War.
Buchanan Even allegedly influenced the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. The Dred Scott decision ruled that African Americans were not and never could become U.S. citizens. Also, the federal government could not outlaw slavery in its territories.
Legal scholars consider the Dred Scout decision as one of the worst, if not the worst, Supreme Court ruling in history. Buchanan had hoped that the decision would end the slavery argument by putting it outside the realm of political debate. He could not have been more wrong.
Astute students of history know that Buchanan is associated with a home called Wheatland. However, Wheatland is not East Orange Street but Marietta Ave. Buchanan moved to Lancaster around 1810 but did not purchase the 22-acre property with its large Federal style house until 1848. It was during the 1820s that James Buchanan lived at 215 East Orange Street for a few years. He was even neighbors with Lancaster’s first mayor, James Passmore, who lived just a couple of houses up the street. Learn more about John Passmore and his home here.
Buchanan spent the last 20 years of his life at Wheatland. For Buchanan, the estate offered “the comforts and tranquility of home” amid the “troubles, perplexities, and difficulties” of public life. The mansion served as Democratic headquarters during his 1856 presidential campaign. Buchana even gave his first campaign address to townspeople gathered on the front lawn.
While fewer people recognize the name Christopher Marshall, he still made useful contributions to the fledgling nation. As a wealthy, well-educated businessman, Marshall had positioned himself by the time of the Revolutionary War as a prominent Pennsylvanian citizen. Later his diary, The Remembrancer, published posthumously in 1839, made a valuable contribution to the recording of local Lancaster history.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 6, 1709, Marshall was educated in England and, without the permission of his parents, sailed for American in the 1720s. This decision cost him his inheritance by getting him disowned. Marshall settled in Philadelphia and, after several years of study, became a chemist. He established a thriving pharmacy in 1729 that eventually grew to one of the largest in the country. His firm furnished most of the drugs and medicines for the troops of New Jerseys, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Seven years after opening his pharmacy, he married Sarah Thompson in 1736. The couple went on to have three surviving sons. Sarah eventually died in 1771 at age 69 after 35 years of marriage. Then in 1774, Marshall retired and remarried, this time to Abigail Fisher Cooper (1721-1782). Despite retiring, Marshall did not settle for a quiet life remaining a prominent public figure.
Service to America
Marshall’s retirement afforded him the time to contribute to the pro-independence American cause, and, by all accounts, he was in the thick of it. Despite his Quaker beliefs, which are in part firm believers of non-violence, Marshall became an ardent patriot when hostilities broke out. His business reputation and attachment to the revolutionary cause made him friends with many members of the Continental Congress. Many of these favored his home as a place to relax and visit. In fact, John and Sam Adams were frequent guests.
On April 25, 1775, Marshall met at the Pennsylvania State House (now called Independence Hall) as a delegate to the Philadelphia Provincial Council to consider what measures should be adopted given the “critical affairs of America.” The following year in 1776, he was appointed to both the Committee of Inspection (also known as Committees of Observation) and the Committee of Safety serving as a member from their creation to the end of the war.
The Committees of Inspection and Committees of Safety, along with the Committees of Correspondence were groups of local Patriots who acted as a shadow government that usurped control of the Thirteen Colonies from royal officials during the American Revolution.
Moving to Lancaster
In mid-1777, Marshall relocated to Lancaster with his family. The move was made for two reasons: to improve upon his poor health and avoid the British armies in case Philadelphia was invaded. Marshall indicates in his diary that on April 7, 1777, his wife and son, Christoper, visited Lancaster to view a property. Nine days later, on the 16th, Marshall records the purchase of the 215 East Orange Street property as “a stately brick mansion, three stories high with a basement.”
Two months later, on June 27, a tired Marshall arrived in Lancaster accompanied by five loads of goods transported by John Whitehall, who he paid £48 for serves rendered.
Marshall stayed in Lancaster for four years. After hostilities ceased, he moved back to Philadelphia, where he died on May 7, 1797.
Marshall never intended for The Remembrancer to be published and was solely meant for his eyes only. As such, he wrote with a “freedom not to be looked for under less favorable circumstances, and it is this freedom from restraint that adds such piquancy to much he has written.” His first entry is dated January 9, 1774, with almost daily additions until 1795. His last entry was on September 24, 1781. The document provides a first-person narrative of the events before and during the war, not only in the military and political worlds, but also socially, religiously, and economically.
The document provides a fascinating overview of Philadelphia leading up to the war, life in Lancaster, descriptions of the daily weather, and Marshall’s morning coffee routine.
The manuscript was presented to the Pennsylvania Historical Society by his great-great-grandson, Charles Marshall, of Germantown and then edited by William Duane. It was published with the title Passages From The Diary Of Christopher Marshall in 1839.
- Christopher Marshall
- Zillow: 215 E Orange St
- Extracts from The Diary of Christopher Marshall
- Passages from the Diary of Christopher Marshall (full text)
- Why is James Buchanan considered one of America’s worst presidents?
- Dred Scott v. Sandford
- James Buchanan
- Marshall’s Diary in its Relation to Lancaster
- Virtual American Biographies: Christopher Marshall
- Making the Museum
- Committees of Safety (American Revolution)
- 215 E Orange Street