The master builder James Worrell first comes to historical attention when he married Hannah Parsons, daughter of William Parsons, at Christ Church on 11 October 1749. When his father-in-law died in 1757, Worrell received forty pounds with which he was "to make up and decorate the graves and tombs of my late dear mother" and his three children, including Worrell's first wife who had died in 1753. Worrell continued to live in Parson's house near the corner of Second and Vine (which placed him in the Northern Liberties, Vine being the northern-most boundry of the City at that date) throughout the pre-Revolutionary War years. He was also a founding member (1756) of the Northern Liberties Fire Company.
A keen patriot--as were most of the master builders--Worrell was an officer of the 1st Company of Artillery of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia (see, Benjamin Loxley). Together with Robert Allison, Worrell worked on the Liberty Island fort in 1776 and in 1777 (again with Robert Allison and also Evan Evans) he removed lead downspouts prior to the fall of the city to the British.
Worrell became a member of The Carpenters' Company prior to the date of the earliest surviving records of the 1760s. Certainly he was fully active in his craft by the 1750s; he worked for Edmund Woolley at the State House (Independence Hall), 1751-1752, and in 1758 he performed a variety of repairs to the Rolls Office at the State House. By the 1760s he was a leading member of The Company. In the 1760s he was on the important committee that set the prices charged for carpentry work in Philadelphia; in 1765-1767 and again in 1775-1779, Worrell was Assistant of The Company. At some time in the 1770s he took Joseph Armitage as an apprentice and in 1773 assigned him to his father, Benjamin Armitage. Worrell was also an "encourager" to the Philadelphia, 1775 edition of Abraham Swan, The British Architect, the first book of architecture printed in America.
While Worrell took the oath of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania in 1779, a James Worrell of Philadelphia was attainted and his property confiscated during the Revolution. Since there were two men with such similar names in Philadelphia, it it unclear which James Worrell was elected to the American Philosophical Society on December 20, 1768, and was a subscriber to the Silk Society in 1770.
Roger W. Moss.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Philosophical Society
- Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia
- Silk Society
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