Samuel Powell came to Philadelphia as a child in 1685 and was probably apprenticed to his uncle John Parsons, carpenter from Somersetshire. Powell's marriage in 1700/1 to the prosperous orphan Abigail Wilcox was witnessed by William Penn, Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, and David Lloyd (among others) and he inherited substantially from the Parsons--hardly a rags to riches story. Powell became a Regulator of Party Walls and Partition Fences in 1712 and, "being a Man remarkable for his Care in promoting Regularity in the Buildings" (quoted by Bridenbaugh in Rebels and Gentlemen), was soon elected to the Common Council (1717 and 1729).
A founder or early member of The Carpenters' Company, he was known--according to a long-time resident of the city--as the "rich carpenter." (This observation appears to originate in Watson's Annals, v.1, p. 9.) Indeed, Powell made speculative building a big business, moved into foreign trade, and accumulated a vast estate for the time consisting of over ninety properties (according to Joseph Jackson) in and around Philadelphia. The only building that can be firmly attributed to him is the Philadelphia Court House of 1710, although he was responsible for the Dock Street bridge of 1718, a bridge over Cobb's Creek c.1732, and another bridge over Dock Street in 1735-37.
Powell's son of the same name followed the trade of carpentry and was also elected to the Common Council and later became an Alderman; he pre-deceased his father, however, and the accumulated wealth of Samuel Powell the elder passed to Samuel Powel, III. Of him one historian of Philadelphia has written, "the benefits of inherited wealth, superior education and ample leisure, the experiences of extended travel and the effects of changing tastes produced a rounded, urban and cultivated person." Unfortunately, Samuel Powel, III, gentleman (1738-1793), has been confused with another Samuel Powel (see above, d.1815).
Roger W. Moss.
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