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Pennsylvania

State History

Native Americans

The land of Pennsylvania was inhabited by Native American tribes long before the first Europeans arrived. These tribes included the Shawnee in the southwest, the Susquehannock in the south, the Delaware in the southeast, and the Iroquois (Oneida and Seneca tribes) in the north.

Europeans Arrive

Europeans began to explore the region around Pennsylvania in the early 1600s. English explorer Captain John Smith sailed up the Susquehanna River and met with some of the Native Americans in the area in 1608. Henry Hudson also explored the area on behalf of the Dutch in 1609. Although both England and the Netherlands laid claim to the land it was several years before people began to settle Pennsylvania.


William Penn
William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania by Unknown
An English Colony

The first settlers in the region were the Dutch and the Swedish. However, the British defeated the Dutch in 1664 and took control over the area. In 1681, William Penn was given a large area of land by King Charles II of England. He named the land Pennsylvania after his family name "Penn" and after the forests in the land ("sylvania is "forest land" in Latin).

Penn wanted his colony to be a place of religious freedom. Some of the first settlers were Welsh Quakers looking for a place where they could practice their religion without persecution. Throughout the early 1700s more people from Europe immigrated to Pennsylvania. Many of them came from Germany and Ireland.

Border Disputes

During the 1700s, Pennsylvania had many border disputes with other colonies. Portions of northern Pennsylvania were claimed by New York and Connecticut, the exact southern border was in dispute with Maryland, and parts of the southwest were claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia. Most of these disputes were ironed out by 1800. The border with Maryland, which was called the Mason-Dixon Line after surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, was established in 1767. It would later be considered the border between the North and the South.

American Revolution

When the American Colonies decided to fight for their independence during the American Revolution, Pennsylvania was at the center of the action. Philadelphia served as the capital throughout much of the revolution and was the meeting place for the First and Second Continental Congress. It was at Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.


Independence Hall
The clocktower at Independence Hall
by Captain Albert E. Theberge (NOAA)

Several battles were fought in Pennsylvania as the British wanted to capture Philadelphia. In 1777, the British defeated the Americans at the Battle of Brandywine and then took control of Philadelphia. That winter General George Washington and the Continental Army stayed at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, not too far outside Philadelphia. The British left the city a year later in 1778, retreating back to New York City.

After the war ended, the Constitutional Convention met at Philadelphia to create a new Constitution and government for the country in 1787. On December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania ratified the Constitution and became the 2nd state to join the Union.

Civil War

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Pennsylvania remained loyal to the Union and played a vital role in the war. The state provided over 360,000 troops as well as supplies for the Union army. Since Pennsylvania was near the border between the North and the South, southern Pennsylvania was raided by the Confederate Army. The largest battle to take place in the state was the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, which many consider to be the turning point in the war. Gettysburg was also the site of Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address.


Gettysburg Memorial
Pennsylvania Memorial, Gettysburg Battlefield by Daderot

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Works Cited

History >> US Geography >> US State History





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