Sons of Liberty: Matthias Slough and the White Swan Hotel

Before it was the Lancaster County Convention Center, the southeast corner of Penn Square was home to the Watt & Shand Department Store.

Done in the Beaux-Arts style, the building was four stories of buff brick with elaborate terra cotta and marble ornamentation. The oldest section of the building, facing East King Street, dates back to 1898 and was designed by famous Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban.

The department store operated from 1879 until 1992.

White Swan Hotel

However, the first business to operate in this location was the White Swan Hotel. Located a few feet from the old Lancaster courthouse, the White Swan was a popular resting place for people visiting or passing through the town. It was the most well-known of the old Lancaster inns.

Painting by C. X. Carlson

Matthias Slough operated the White Swan, having been built by his father. It first opened its doors in 1754 and began a century-long history of accommodating travelers and local patrons. Slough was prominent in both local and provincial affairs.

He was the county coroner at the age of 21 and later became an assemblyman. Slough was also a member of the Committee of Observation for the borough of Lancaster in 1774. Committees like these were groups of local Patriots who acted as a shadow government usurping control of the Thirteen Colonies from royal officials during the American Revolution.

The location of the White Swan and the civic and political activities of Slough made his hotel a popular center for the entertainment of distinguished visitors such as George Washington, John Marshall, Marquis de Lafayette, and John Adams.

He was one of the eight deputies chosen from Lancaster county to represent her in the State convention at Philadelphia on July 15, 1775. In the same year, he placed his entire stock of powder—four quarter casks and 200 pounds of lead—at the service of the State.

Later during the Revolutionary War, Slough was elected colonel of the Seventh Lancaster County Battalion, one of the thirteen raised in this county. He joined the Flying Camp in New Jersey with his troops in the summer of 1776.

He was present at the military convention held in Lancaster on July 4, 1776, to vote for general officers to command the military forces of Pennsylvania.

His command took part in the battle of Long Island, on August 27, of the same year. Later it was on duty guarding Hessian prisoners confined at Lancaster and Lebanon.

In 1777 he was appointed by the War Office one of the commissioners to supply the State troops with shoes, blankets, and other supplies.

Several members of the Continental Congress spent the night while Lancaster briefly served as the capital on September 27, 1777.

At the close of the War for Independence, he resumed his former occupations of innkeeper and general merchant.


Sons of Liberty Adventure

Learn more on the Sons of Liberty Adventure. While exploring downtown Lancaster, you will discover the people and sometimes secret locations that helped shape America in her hour of need.

Learn More

Read more about the Watt & Shand Department Store building’s architecture or peruse the 1976 edition of the ‘Watt & Shand Employee Handbook.’

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: