History of Pennsylvania

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A map of the Province of Pennsylvania.

The history of Pennsylvania is as varied as any in the American experience and reflects the salad bowl vision of the United States [citation needed]. Before Pennsylvania was settled by Europeans, the area was home to the Delaware (also known as Lenni Lenape), Boss, Iroquois, Erie, Shawnee and other Native American tribes. Most of these tribes were driven off or reduced to remnants as a result of new diseases such as smallpox that arrived long before any permanent colonists.

It was colonized by Dutch and Swedish settlers; and the former especially brought slaves into the colony. In 1664 the English took over the colony, following its taking control of New Netherland. William Penn established a colony based on religious tolerance; it and its chief city, Philadelphia (the first planned city), were settled by many Quakers. In the mid-eighteenth century, the colony attracted many German and Scots-Irish immigrants; the latter were the largest ethnic group from the British Isles before the American Revolutionary War.

Dutch and Swedish influence[edit]

Main article: New Sweden

The area known as present-day Pennsylvania was mapped by the Spanish and labeled L'arcadia, or "wooded coast", during Giovanni da Verrazzano's voyage in 1524 .[1] The British claimed the Delaware River watershed based on the explorations of John Cabot in 1497, Captain John Smith and others. They named it for Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, the Governor of Virginia from 1610 until 1618. At that time the area was nominally part of the Colony of Virginia.

The Dutch thought they also had a claim, based on the 1609 explorations of Henry Hudson, and, under the auspices of the Dutch West India Company, were the first Europeans to occupy the land. They established trading posts in 1624 at Burlington Island, Delaware, opposite present-day Bristol, Pennsylvania, and then in 1626 at Fort Nassau, now Gloucester City, New Jersey. Peter Minuit was the Dutch Director-General during this period. He likely spent some time at the Burlington Island post, although his chief responsibilities were in New Netherland (Manhattan).

Minuit had a falling out with the directors of the Dutch West India Company, and was recalled from New Netherland. He volunteered his services to friends in Sweden, then a major power in European politics. They established a New Sweden Company and, following much negotiation, Minuit led a group under the flag of Sweden to the Delaware River in 1638. They established a trading post at Fort Christina, now in Wilmington, Delaware. By 1644 Swedish and Finnish settlers were living along the western side of Delaware River from Fort Christina north to the Schuylkill River. In 1655 the Dutch seized the Swedish communities and reincorporated the area back into New Netherland. In 1664, the British defeated the Dutch to take control over all the Dutch possessions in North America, and established the Duke of York as the proprietary authority in the whole area.

British colonial period[edit]

Land purchases from Native Americans.

On March 4, 1681, Charles II of England granted a land tract to William Penn for the area that now includes Pennsylvania because of a £16,000[2] (around £2,100,000 in 2008, adjusting for retail inflation)[3] debt the King owed to Penn's father. Penn founded a colony, providing for it as a place of religious freedom for Quakers, and named it for his family "Penn" and the "woods" (from Latin) sylvania.

Welsh Quakers settled a large tract of land north and west of Philadelphia, in what are now Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware counties. This became known as the "Welsh Tract", and many cities and towns were named for Welsh municipalities.

The colony's reputation of religious freedom also attracted significant populations of German and Scots-Irish settlers, who helped to shape colonial Pennsylvania. Arriving in the eighteenth century before the American Revolutionary War, they generally settled in the backcountry; gradually they migrated west and south into neighboring colonies and states.

In order to give his new province access to the ocean, Penn had leased the proprietary rights of the King's brother, James, Duke of York to what became known as the "three lower counties" on the Delaware. The Province of Pennsylvania was never merged with the Lower Counties because the Duke of York, and Penn, never had a clear title to it. He governed them both, and his deputy governors were assigned to both as well. In Penn's Frame of Government of 1682, he tried to establish a combined assembly by providing for equal membership from each county and requiring legislation to have the assent of both the Lower Counties and the Upper Counties of Chester, Philadelphia and Bucks. The meeting place alternated between Philadelphia and New Castle (now in Delaware). Once Philadelphia began to grow, its leaders resented having to go to New Castle, which was a lengthy trip by horse. They gained agreement by the assemblymen of the Lower Counties in 1704 to have the two assemblies meet separately from then on.

The French and Indian War The western portions of Pennsylvania were among disputed territory between the colonial British and French during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War). The French established numerous fortified sites in the area, including the pivotal Fort Duquesne (later developed as the city of Pittsburgh). Indian tribes loyal to the French because of their long trading history raided pioneer settlements in western Pennsylvania. The settlers' pleas for military relief were stymied by a power struggle in Philadelphia between Governor Robert Morris and the Pennsylvania Assembly. Morris wanted to send military forces to the frontier, but the Assembly, whose leadership included Benjamin Franklin, refused to grant the funds unless Morris agreed to the taxation of the proprietary lands, the vast tracts still owned by the Penn family and others. The dispute was finally settled, and military relief sent, when the owners of the proprietary lands sent 5,000 pounds to the colonial government, on condition that it was considered a free gift and not a down payment on taxes.[4]

Britain's victory in the war secured Pennsylvania's frontier, as the Ohio Country came under formal British control following the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when France ceded its lands east of the Mississippi River. Shortly after this, the American Indian Pontiac's Rebellion began. After it was settled, the British government passed the Proclamation Act barring any further settlement west of the Appalachians by European-American settlers, in order to preserve a territory for the American Indians. By that time, remnants of numerous tribes, after encroachment in the East, had migrated to present-day Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, which also had tribes that had historically been in the region for centuries.

American Revolution[edit]

See: Pennsylvania in the American Revolution, Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown, Valley Forge.

Most of Pennsylvania's residents generally supported the protests common to all 13 colonies after the Proclamation of 1763 and the Stamp Act were passed. Pennsylvanians originally supported the idea of common action, and sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. When difficulties continued, they sent delegates to the first Continental Congress and its later meetings, and hosted the Congress in Philadelphia.

Statehood and constitutional government[edit]

After elections in May 1776 returned old guard Assemblymen to office, the Second Continental Congress encouraged Pennsylvania to call delegates together to discuss a new form of governance. Delegates met in June in Philadelphia, where events (the signing of the Declaration of Independence) soon overtook assemblymen's efforts to control the delegates and the outcome of their discussions. On July 8 attendees elected delegates to write a state constitution. A Committee was formed with Benjamin Franklin as chair and George Bryan and James Cannon as prominent members. The convention proclaimed a new constitution on September 28, 1776 and called for new elections.[5]

Elections in 1776 turned the old assemblymen out of power. But the new constitution lacked a governor or upper legislative house to provide checks against popular movements. It also required test oaths, which kept the opposition from taking office. The constitution called for a unicameral legislature or Assembly. Executive authority rested in a Supreme Executive Council whose members were to be appointed by the assembly. In elections during 1776, radicals gained control of the Assembly. By early 1777, they selected an executive council, and Thomas Wharton, Jr. was named as the President of the Council. This constitution was never formally adopted, so government was on an ad-hoc basis until a new constitution could be written fourteen years later.

In 1780 Pennsylvania passed a law for the gradual abolition of slavery; Vermont had partially abolished it in its constitution of 1777.[6] Children born after that date to slave mothers were considered legally free, but they were bound in indentured servitude to the master of their mother until the age of 28. (Such indentures could be inherited and sold.) Gradually existing slaves were also freed, and the last slave was recorded in the state in 1847.

Pennsylvania ratified the U.S. Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention on December 12, 1787, the second state to do so after Delaware.[7] A new state constitution was ratified in 1790.

Westward expansion and land speculation[edit]

An 1810 map of Pennsylvania. From Low's Encyclopaedia

After the United States government granted land to Revolutionary war soldiers for military service, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a general land act on April 3, 1792. It authorized the sale and distribution of the large remaining tracts of land east and west of the Allegheny River in hopes of sparking development of the vast territory. The process was an uneven affair, prompting much speculation but little settlement. Most veteran soldiers sold their shares sight unseen under market value, and many investors were ultimately ruined. The East Allegheny district consisted of lands in Potter, McKean, Cameron, Elk, and Jefferson counties, at the time worthless tracts. West Allegheny district was made up of lands in Erie, Crawford, Warren, and Venango counties, relatively good investments at the time.

Three major land companies participated in the land speculation that followed. Holland Land Company and its agent, Theophilus Cazenove, acquired 1,000,000 acres (4,000 km2) of East Allegheny district land and 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) of West Allegheny land from Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice James Wilson. The Pennsylvania Population Company and its President, Pennsylvania State Comptroller General John Nicholson, controlled 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) of land, mostly in Erie County and the Beaver Valley. The North American Land Company and its patron, Robert Morris, held some Pennsylvania lands but was vested mostly in upstate New York, former Iroquois territory.[8]

Antebellum and Civil War[edit]

Pennsylvania was the target of several raids by the Confederate States Army. J.E.B. Stuart made cavalry raids in 1862 and 1863; John Imboden raided in 1863 and John McCausland in 1864, when his troopers burned the city of Chambersburg.

The Battle of Gettysburg, near Gettysburg is considered by many historians as the major turning point of the American Civil War. Dead from this battle rest at Gettysburg National Cemetery, established at the site of Abraham Lincoln's notable Gettysburg Address.

A number of smaller engagements were also fought in the state, including the battles of Hanover, Carlisle, Hunterstown, and the Fairfield, all during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Industrial power, 1865-1900[edit]

In the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. oil industry (kerosene) was born in western Pennsylvania, which supplied the vast majority of kerosene for years thereafter. As oil was developed, the oil boom towns, such as Titusville, rose and fell. See the Pennsylvanian oil rush.

Ethnicity and labor 1865-1945[edit]

During this period, the United States was the destination of millions of immigrants, mainly from southern and eastern Europe following the 1840s immigration from Ireland and Germany. As many were Catholic and Jewish, they changed the demographics of major cities and industrial areas. Pennsylvania and New York received many of the new immigrants, who entered through New York and Philadelphia and worked in the developing industries. Many of these poor immigrants took jobs in factories, steel mills, and coal mines throughout the state, where they were not restricted because of their lack of English.

The growth of industry eventually provided middle-class incomes to working-class households, after the development of labor unions helped them gain living wages. The availability of jobs and public education systems helped integrate the millions of immigrants and their families, who also retained ethnic cultures.

Progressive Pennsylvania 1900-1930[edit]

Depression and World War II, 1929-1950[edit]

WPA poster 1935

During the Depression, the Commonwealth attempted to fund public works through passage of the Pennsylvania State Authority Act in 1936. The Act provided for the incorporation of the General State Authority, which would purchase land from the state and add improvements to that land using state loans and grants. The state expected to receive Federal grants and loans to fund the project under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Kelly v Earle, found the Act violated the state constitution.[9] This prevented the state from receiving federal funds for Works Progress Administration projects and making it difficult to lower the extremely high unemployment rate. Pennsylvania manufactured 6.6 percent of total United States military armaments produced during World War II, ranking sixth among the 48 states.[10]

Decline of manufacturing and mining: 1950-75[edit]

In 1962, the Republican Party, which had lost the two previous gubernatorial elections and seen the state's electoral votes go Democratic in the 1960 presidential election, became convinced that a moderate such as Bill Scranton would have enough bipartisan appeal to revitalize the party. He ran for Governor of Pennsylvania against Richardson Dilworth, the mayor of Philadelphia. The ticket was balanced by having Raymond P. Shafer as his running mate. He was later elected to succeed Scranton. After one of the most acrimonious campaigns in state history, the Scranton/Shafer team won a landslide victory in the election, besting their opponents by nearly half a million votes out of just over a 6.6 million cast.

As governor 1963-67, Scranton signed into law sweeping reforms in the state's education system, including creation of the state community college system, the state board of education, and the state Higher Education Assistance Agency. He founded a program designed to promote the state in national and international markets and to increase the attractiveness of the state's products and services.

The state was hard-hit by the decline and restructuring of the steel industry and other heavy U.S. industries during the late 20th century. With job losses came heavy population losses, especially in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh cities, where thousands of working-class people had formerly lived in prosperous, stable neighborhoods. Those who could, left the cities and region for work in other areas. As those two industrial cities lost nearly half their populations, the problems related to poverty and crime increased.

Service state: 1975-present[edit]

Beginning in the late 1970s, Pennsylvania began to turn around and make a recovery. At every new census, the state grew faster than in the previous ten years. Many new immigrants, especially from Asia and Latin America, have arrived. Dirty, lifeless towns have become vibrant, growing places. Slum areas have been gentrified. Jobs and companies have begun transferring their headquarters to the state, and Pennsylvania has one of the best economies in the nation.

With the end of mining and the downturn of manufacturing, the state has turned to service industries. Pittsburgh's codensation of universities has enabled it to be a leader in technology and healthcare. Similarly, Philadelphia has a concentration of university expertise, and has had growth. Healthcare, retail, transportation, and tourism are some of the state's growing industries of the postindustrial era. As in the rest of the nation, most residential population growth has occurred in suburban rather than central city areas, although both major cities have had significant revitalization in their downtown areas.[11]


Template:Undue Weight Bob Casey served two terms as governor, from 1987-1995. He was an Irish American Democratic "pol" of the old school, the son and grandson of coal miners. He championed unions and believed in government as a beneficent force. At the same time, Casey was conservative in relation to some cultural issues due to his Catholic faith background; he pushed through the "Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act," which placed limitations on abortion, including the notification of parents of minors, a twenty-four-hour waiting period, and a ban on partial-birth procedures except in cases of risk to the mother's life. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania sued, with Casey as the named defendant, asserting that the law violated Roe v. Wade. The case went to the Supreme Court in April 1992. In its decision on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court upheld all of the state's contested restrictions but one (a requirement, for spousal notification)l it affirmed the right of states to restrict abortions.[12]

At the national level, Governor Casey was the most prominent pro-life Democrat; he demanded a minority plank on abortion at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. When refused, he protested strongly. In 1994, Casey refused to endorse Harris Wofford, the Democrat whom he had appointed to the Senate in his re-election campaign, as Wofford had pro-choice views. The result was a deep split in the state Democratic party, which contributed to the election of the conservative Republican Rick Santorum in 1994. Casey’s critics accused him of treason against the Democratic Party.[13] The Democratic divisiveness over abortion did not fade, as cultural issues have been highlighted by politicians in succeeding election campaigns. In 2006, five years after Casey's death, national Democratic leaders promoted his son Bob Casey, Jr. for Senator as a way to attract disaffected pro-life Democrats. Casey, Jr. defeated Santorum by a landslide.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ mapsofpa.com "16th Century Pennsylvania Maps"
  2. ^ Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Governors, ed. (1916). "Samuel Carpenter". Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Governors, Volume 1. pp. 180–181. 
  3. ^ http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/result.php?use%5B%5D=CPI&use%5B%5D=NOMINALEARN&year_early=1681&pound71=16000&shilling71=&pence71=&amount=16000&year_source=1681&year_result=2008 Measuring Worth
  4. ^ Parkman, Francis. Montcalm and Wolfe (1884). Reprinted in France and the and England in North America, Volume 2, New York: The Library of America, 1983. pp. 1076-1083.
  5. ^ "Pennsylvania Constitution", Doc Heritage website
  6. ^ "Constitution of Vermont (1777)". Chapter I, Article I: State of Vermont. 1777. Retrieved June 7, 2014. 
  7. ^ Pennsylvania ratifies the Constitution of 1787
  8. ^ Buck, Solon J. and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck. The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1939. 2nd paperback reprint, 1979, pp. 206-213; Stevens, Sylvester K. Pennsylvania: The Heritage of a Commonwealth, Vol. I, West Palm Beach: American Historical Co., 1968, pp. 323-325; Bausman, Joseph Henderson. History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania and Its Centennial Celebration, Knickerbocker Press, 1904, p. 1230
  9. ^ "Pennsylvania State Authority Act," R. L. T., University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register, Vol. 85, No. 5 (Mar., 1937), pg. 518 [1]
  10. ^ Peck, Merton J. & Scherer, Frederic M. The Weapons Acquisition Process: An Economic Analysis (1962) Harvard Business School p.111
  11. ^ Ashok K. Dutt, and Baleshwar Thakur, City, Society, and Planning (Concept Publishing Company, 2007) pp 55-56
  12. ^ Boyer 2005
  13. ^ Carocci 2005, online excerpt, Vince Carocci website
  14. ^ Shailagh Murray, "Democrats Seek to Avert Abortion Clashes, The Washington Post January 21, 2007 page=A5; Peter J Boyer. "The Right to Choose", The New Yorker November 14, 2005 online


Pre 1900[edit]

Since 1900[edit]

Economic and labor history[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]