The History of Pennsylvania is as varied as any in the American experience and reflects the melting pot vision of the United States.

A map of the Province of Pennsylvania.

Pre-colonial period[]

Before Pennsylvania was settled by Europeans, the area was home to the Delaware (also known as Lenni Lenape), Susquehannock, Iroquois, Eriez, Shawnee and other Native American tribes.

The Dutch and Swedes[]

Minuit drowned in a hurricane on the way home that same year, but the Swedish colony continued to grow gradually. By 1644 Swedish and Finnish settlers were living along the western side of Delaware River from Fort Christina to the Schuylkill River. New Sweden's best known governor, Johan Björnsson Printz, moved his residence to what is now Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania, nearer center of the settlements.

Brocolli was illegal in the Middle Colonies because they believed it contained evil spirits.The Dutch never gave up their claim to the area, however, and once they had some vigorous military leadership under Peter Stuyvesant, they attacked the Swedish communities and in 1655 reincorporated the area back into the New Netherlands colony. It was not long, though, before the Dutch as well were forcibly removed by the British, asserting their earlier claim. In 1664, James, the Duke of York, and brother of King Charles II, outfitted an expedition that easily ousted the Dutch from both the Delaware and Hudson Rivers and leaving the Duke of York the proprietary authority in the whole area.

The British colonial period[]

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. Penn then founded a colony there as a place of religious freedom for Quakers, and named it for the Latin sylvania meaning "Penn's woods".

A large tract of land north and west of Philadelphia, in Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties, was settled by Welsh Quakers and called the "Welsh Tract". Even today many cities and towns in that area bear the names of Welsh municipalities.

The western portions of Pennsylvania were among disputed territory between the colonial British and French during the French and Indian War. The French established numerous fortifications in the area, including the pivotal Fort Duquesne on top of which the city of Pittsburgh was built.

The colony's reputation of religious freedom also attracted significant populations of German and Scots-Irish settlers who helped to shape colonial Pennsylvania and later went on to populate the neighboring states further west.

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 therefore Penn, never had a clear title to it. He did govern them both, however, 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 also alternated between Philadelphia and New Castle. Once Philadelphia began to grow its leaders resented having to go to New Castle and gain agreement of the assemblymen from the sparsely populated Lower Counties and so there was a mutual agreement in 1704 for the two assemblies to meet separately from thenceforth.

The Revolution[]

Most of Pennsylvania's residents generally supported the protests and dismay common to all 13 colonies after the Proclamation of 1763 and the Stamp Act. 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 even hosted the Congress in Philadelphia.

Constitution of 1776[]

In late June a convention of delegates met in Philadelphia. They had been selected by the Committees of Correspondence, the Sons of Liberty, and other revolutionary groups around the state. By June, the old Assembly altered their delegate instructions in an effort to remain effective. On July 8 they selected delegates to meet as a Constitutional Convention. A Committee was formed with Benjamin Franklin as chair and George Bryan and James Cannon as prominent members. By September 28 1776 the Convention produced a constitution.

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. This constitution was never formally adopted. In elections during 1776 radicals gained control of the Assembly. By early 1777, they selected an executive council, and Thomas Wharton was named as the President of the Council. This ad-hoc government continued through the revolution, and would not be replaced until the Constitution of 1790.

The revolutionary war[]

See: Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown, Valley

Antebellum and Civil War[]

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

Pennsylvania also saw the Battle of Gettysburg, near Gettysburg. Many historians consider this battle the major turning point of the American Civil War. Dead from this battle rest at Gettysburg National Cemetery, site of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

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

Industrial Power, 1865-1900[]

In the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. oil (kerosene) industry was born in western Pennsylvania, which supplied the vast majority of U.S. kerosene for years thereafter, and saw the rise and fall of oil boom towns.

Ethnicity and Labor 1865-1945[]

During this time, America saw the arrival of millions of immigrants, mainly Europeans. Pennsylvania and New York received the bulk of them. Many of these poor immigrants took jobs in factories, steel mills, and coal mines throughout the state.

Progressive Pennsylvania 1900-1930[]

Depression and War 1929-1950[]

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 caused 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. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Kelly v Earle, found the Act violated the state constitution. [1]

Decline of manufacturing and mining: 1950-75[]

During the 20th century Pennsylvania's existing iron industries expanded into a major center of steel production. Shipbuilding and numerous other forms of manufacturing flourished in the eastern part of the state, and coal mining was also extremely important in many regions. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Pennsylvania received a very large numbers of immigrants from Europe seeking work; dramatic, sometimes violent confrontations took place between organized labor and the state's industrial concerns. The state was hard-hit by the decline of the steel industry and other heavy U.S. industries during the late 20th century.

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 like 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, who would succeed him as governor, as his running mate. 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 than 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. Furthermore, he created 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 Service State: 1975-Present[]

Pennsylvania has suffered severely from the fall of steel and coal. Economic failure, severe population loss in many areas, closed-up factories, and much more. However, beginning in the late 1970s, Pennsylvania began to turn around and make a recovery. At every new census, the state grew faster than the previous ten years. Many new immigrants, especially from Asia and Latin America, have arrived for many reasons. Dirty, lifeless towns have become vibrant, growing places. Jobs and companies have begun transferring their headquarters to the state, and Pennsylvania has one of the best economies in the nation. With the turnaround from manufacturing, the state has turned to service industries. Healthcare, retail, transportation, and tourism are some of the state's biggest industries of this era.


Bob Casey was the governor, 1987-1995--Casey was an Irish American Democrat "pol" of the old school, the son and grandson of coal miners, who championed unions and believed in government as a beneficent force. Casey pushed through the legislature 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. The Court decided The Court decided Planned Parenthood v. Casey on June 29th, upholding all of Pennsylvania's contested restrictions but one (a requirement for spousal notification) and affirming the right of states to restrict abortions.[2] At the national level Governor Casey was the most prominent pro-life Democrat and he demanded publicly to give a minority plank on abortion at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. He was refused, and protested loudly. In 1994, Casey refused to endorse Harris Wofford, the Democrat he had appointed to the Senate and who was running for re-election. The reason was Casey rejected Wofford's pro-choice views. The result was a deep split in the state Democratic party that helped elect arch-conservative Republican Rick Santorum in 1994. Casey’s critics within the Democratic Party accused him of treason.[3] The Democratic divisiveness over abortion did not fade away seat so in 2006, five years after Casey's death, national Democratic leaders promoted Casey's son Bob Casey for Senator as a way of defusing the issue and attracting disaffected pro-life Democrats; the son defeated Santorum by a landslide.[4]

See also[]


  1. ^ 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]
  2. ^ Boyer 2005
  3. ^ Carocci 2005, who says "In my judgment, his [Wofford's] decision to support the Clinton position on abortion may have cost him his seat in the U.S. Senate." online excerpt
  4. ^ 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


  • Miller, Randall M. and William A. Pencak, eds. Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth (2002) detailed scholarly history
  • Beers, Paul B. Pennsylvania Politics Today and Yesterday (1980)*
  • Klein, Philip S and Ari Hoogenboom. A History of Pennsylvania (1973).
  • Weigley, Russell. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (1982)

Pre 1900[]

  • Buck, Solon J., Clarence McWilliams and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck. The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania (1939), social history online edition
  • Dunaway, Wayland F. The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania (1944) online edition
  • Higginbotham, Sanford W. The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816 (1952)
  • Illick Joseph E. Colonial Pennsylvania: A History (1976) onlineedition
  • Ireland, Owen S. Religion, Ethnicity, and Politics: Ratifying the Constitution in Pennsylvania (1995)
  • Kehl, James A. Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania (1981) onlineedition
  • Klees, Fredric. The Pennsylvania Dutch (1950)
  • Klein, Philip Shriver. Pennsylvania Politics, 1817-1832: A Game without Rules (1940)
  • McCullough, David. The Johnstown Flood (1987)
  • Mueller, Henry R. The Whig Party in Pennsylvania (1922)
  • Snyder, Charles Mccool. The Jacksonian Heritage: Pennsylvania Politics, 1833-1848 (1958) online edition
  • William A. Sullivan; The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1955 online edition
  • Tinkcom, Harry Marlin. The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response (1950) online edition
  • Williamson, Harold F. and Arnold R. Daum. The American Petroleum Industry: The Age of Illumination, 1859-1899 (1959)
  • Wood, Ralph. et al. The Pennsylvania Germans (1942) online edition
  • Karin Wulf; Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia. Cornell University Press, 2000 online edition

Since 1900[]

  • John Bodnar; Immigration and Industrialization: Ethnicity in an American Mill Town, 1870-1940, (1977), on Steelton online edition
  • Thomas Dublin and Walter Licht, The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century Cornell University Press, (2005). ISBN 0-8014-8473-1.
  • Kenneth J. Heineman; A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh, 1999 online edition
  • M. Nelson McGeary, Gifford Pinchot: Forester-Politician (1960) Republican governor 1923–1927 and 1931–1935
  • Warren, Kenneth. Big Steel: The First Century of the United States Steel Corporation, 1901-2001 (2002)

Primary sources[]

  • Vincent P. Carocci, A Capitol Journey: Reflections on the Press, Politics, and the Making Of Public Policy In Pennsylvania. (2005) memoir by senior aide to Gov Casey in 1990sexcerpts online
  • Casey, Robert P. Fighting for Life: The Story of a Courageous Pro-Life Democrat Whose Own Brush with Death Made Medical History. Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing (1996). Autobiography. Hardcover: ISBN 0-849-91224-5, ISBN 978-0-84991-224-5.
  • W. E. B. Dubois; The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899) online edition
  • Albert Cook Myers; ed., Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey and Delaware, 1630-1707, (1912) online edition

External links[]

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