Last mayor of Philadelphia under the royal charter and first mayor under the new charter after the Revolution, Powel was active in the early political life of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was speaker of the Pennsylvania Senate, trustee of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), and a member of the American Philosophical Society. A wealthy landowner, he was friends of Martha and George Washington, entertained Lafayette and was a pallbearer at Benjamin Franklin’s funeral in 1790. Because of his wide connections, he was instrumental in helping John Beale Bordley gather together a distinctive body of men interested in forming an agricultural society. He became the Society’s first president and continued in that office until his death in 1793. The importance of his support is evidenced by the waning of Society activity for several years after his death.