Biography

MASTER BUILDER
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Born: 1720, Died: 1802

Gunning Bedford was an important master builder who remained active in the building trades throughout his life, although few buildings can firmly be attributed to him. The son of Gunning and Mary Bedford of New Castle (DE), he appears in Philadelphia by 1746 and as early as 1749 is associated with Robert Smith at the Second Presbyterian Church, Third and Arch streets. Following service as a lieutenant in the French and Indian War, he was engaged as a surveyor for the Philadelphia Contributionship, a position usually held by members of The Carpenters' Company of the City and County of Philadelphia. And, in fact, Bedford was a prominent member of The Company; his election predates the earliest surviving records of the 1760s, and he served on committees or as an officer prior to the Revolution as a President from 1791 to 1794.

Like most of the members of The Carpenters' Company, Bedford supported the Revolution and the Federal Constitution. According to Jacob Hiltzheimer's diary, Bedford built the ill-fated triumphal arch erected on Market Street in 1784. Decorated with paintings by Charles Willson Peale, the 40-foot-high structure was to mark the conclusion of peace. Unfortunately the freshly executed painting caught fire, and the entire structure and a supply of fireworks were spectacularly destroyed. Bedford's triumphal arch erected for the July 4, 1788, celebration of the ratification of the Federal Constitution survived to its purpose. Bedford joined in the Grand Federal Procession to carry at the head of four hundred fifty "architects and house-carpenters" a placard painted to display "designs in architecture." The following year, Bedford was elected an Alderman for Philadelphia.

Written by Roger W. Moss.

Clubs and Membership Organizations

  • Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia

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