18th century view of Arch Street with the Second Presbyterian Church, published in 1800 in "Birch's Views of Philadelphia." (Wikimedia Commons)

Philadelphians are getting ready to elect the city’s 100th mayor. It’s a crowded field this year; over a dozen candidates have filed petitions to be on the primary ballot. 

Before the 1840s, mayoral elections in Philly looked a little different. Instead of a popular vote, the mayor was instead hand-picked by City Council, who usually selected one of their own. 

The term was only for one year, and the city’s first mayors went unpaid. 

In 1747, the outgoing mayor convinced Council to authorize an annual salary for the position: 100 pounds. It’s difficult to calculate how much that would be worth now — but that’s not the point, because several future mayors weren’t even interested.  

Anthony Morris was born in England in 1682, moved to Philadelphia about three years later, and became a successful brewer. Located on Front Street, the Morris Brewery was considered one of Philadelphia’s first businesses.

A sketch of the first Morris Brewery, as found on a map of Philadelphia’s waterfront. (University of Pennsylvania)

Morris was first elected mayor by the City Council in 1738. He was re-elected for a second term in 1739, but turned down the position. 

Council apparently didn’t get the hint. In 1747, the 65-year-old was selected to be mayor once again.

Morris decided to take drastic action: He left Philadelphia entirely, absconding to Bucks County. 

How did the escape go down? Details are murky. A popular biographical history blog says Council sent a messenger to alert the new mayor of his position — and searched three days to find him. Then they gave up, and re-elected the 1746 mayor, William Atwood, to another year-long term.  

When Morris eventually died a decade and a half later, it was recorded as being in Philadelphia. Somehow he managed to return while avoiding another term in office. 

Some who refused the Philly mayoralty in those days faced a financial penalty, a commonplace practice, though it’s unclear if a fine was levied on Morris. What is known: He was not the first reluctant mayor of Philadelphia — and certainly wasn’t the last. 

WHYY’s Peter Crimmins contributed reporting.

Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News. Prior to joining WHYY, Searles was an on-air reporter for Suffolk University/New England Cable News...