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Province of Pennsylvania
British colony
Capital Philadelphia
Language(s) English, Pennsylvania German
Government Semi-autonomous Constitutional monarchy
 - 1681-1685 Charles II
 - 1685-1688 James II
 - 1689-1702 (Mary died 1694) William III & Mary II
 - 1702-1714 Anne
 - 1714-1727 George I
 - 1727-1760 George II
Royal Governor
 - 1681-1783 List of colonial governors of Pennsylvania
Legislature Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly
 - Established March 4, 1681
 - Treaty of Paris (1783) September 3, 1776
Currency Pound sterling, Spanish dollar

The Province of Pennsylvania, also known as Pennsylvania Colony, was a colony in British America founded by William Penn on March 4, 1681 as dictated in a royal charter granted by King Charles II of England. Pennsylvania got its name for William Penn's father and the Latin word silva, meaning "forest". The name itself means "Penn's Woods".


Religious freedom and prosperity

William Penn and his fellow Quakers heavily imprinted their religious values on the Pennsylvania government. In his 1701 Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges he extended religious freedom to all monotheists and government was open to all Christians. Notwithstanding the privileges of the proprietors, government was under an appointed Governor and an elected Assembly. Laws must be approved by both branches. Religious freedom for everyone and fair dealings with Native Americans were cornerstones of his governing system. This tolerance led to significantly better relationships with the local Native tribes (mainly the Lenape and Susquehanna) than most other colonies had. Until the French and Indian War Pennsylvania had no militia, few taxes and no public debt. It also encouraged the rapid growth of Philadelphia into America's most important city, and of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country hinterlands, where German (or "Deitsch") religious and political refugees prospered on the fertile soil and spirit of cultural creativeness. Among the first groups were the Mennonites, who founded Germantown in 1683; the Northkill Amish Settlement, established in 1740, is identified as the first Amish settlement in the Americas.

Benjamin West's painting (in 1771) of William Penn's 1682 treaty with the Lenni Lenape

In 1737, the Colony exchanged a great deal of its political goodwill with the Native Lenape for more land. The colonial administrators claimed that they had a deed dating to the 1680s in which the Lenape-Delaware had promised to sell a portion of land beginning between the junction of the Delaware River and Lehigh River (near present Wrightstown, Pennsylvania) "as far west as a man could walk in a day and a half." This purchase has become known as the Walking Purchase. Although the document was most likely a forgery, the Lenape did not realize that. Provincial Secretary James Logan set in motion a plan that would grab as much land as they could possibly get and hired the three fastest runners in the colony to run out the purchase on a trail which had been cleared by other members of the colony beforehand. The pace was so intense that only one runner actually completed the "walk," covering an astonishing 70 miles (113 km). This netted the Penns 1,200,000 acres (4,860 km²) of land in what is now northeastern Pennsylvania, an area roughly equivalent to the size of the state of Rhode Island in the purchase. The area of the purchase covers all or part of what are now Pike, Monroe, Carbon, Schuylkill, Northampton, Lehigh and Bucks counties. The Lenape tribe fought for the next 19 years to have the treaty annulled, but to no avail. The Lenape-Delaware were forced into the Shamokin and Wyoming Valleys, which were already overcrowded with other displaced tribes.

1751 was an auspicious year for the colony. Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in the British American colonies, and The Academy and College of Philadelphia, the predecessor to the private University of Pennsylvania, both opened.

Despite Quaker opposition to slavery, by 1730 colonists had brought about 4,000 slaves into Pennsylvania. There were so many things to do that they needed slaves. The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 was the first emancipation statute in the colonies and what would become the United States (after the Vermont State Constitution of 1777). The census of 1790 showed that the number of African-Americans had increased to about 10,000, of whom about 6,300 had received their freedom.

Limits on further settlement

As the colony grew, however, colonists and British military forces came into conflict with Natives in the Western half of the state. Britain fought for control of the neighboring Ohio Country with France during the French and Indian War, and following the British victory the territory was formally ceded to them in 1763 and became part of the British Empire.

With the war just over and Pontiac's War beginning, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 banned colonization beyond the Appalachian Mountains in an effort to prevent settlers invading lands which the Native Americans considered their own. This proclamation affected Pennsylvanians and Virginians the most, as they had been racing towards the rich lands surrounding Fort Pitt (modern-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

Famous colonial Pennsylvanians

  • Benjamin Franklin moved to Philadelphia at age 17 in 1723; during his later years he was Pennsylvania's most famous citizen. Among his accomplishments was founding in 1751 The Academy and College of Philadelphia, the predecessor to the private University of Pennsylvania. Franklin was also a strong advocate for a state militia, creating his own extra-legal militia when the state assembly would not during King George's War.[1]
  • Thomas McKean was born in New London, Pennsylvania. He was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the second President of the U.S. Congress under the Articles of Confederation, Acting President of Delaware, and Chief Justice and Governor of Pennsylvania.
  • Gouverneur Morris, one of the leading minds of the American Revolution, lived in New York City during most of the colonial period, but moved to Philadelphia to work as a lawyer and merchant during the Revolution.
  • Robert Morris, moved to Philadelphia around 1749 at about age 14. He was known as the Financier of the Revolution, because of his role in securing financial assistance for the American Colonial side in the Revolutionary War. In 1921, Robert Morris University was founded and named after him.
  • Thomas Paine emigrated to Philadelphia in 1774 at Benjamin Franklin's urging. His tract, Common Sense, published in 1776, was arguably the most famous and influential argument for the Revolution. He was also the first to publicly champion the phrase "United States of America."
  • William Penn, the colony's founder and son of naval captain Sir Wiliam Penn
  • Arthur St. Clair moved to Ligonier Valley, Pennsylvania in 1764. He served as a judge in colonial Pennsylvania, a general in the Continental Army, and a President under the Articles of Confederation.
  • James Wilson moved to Philadelphia in 1765 and became a lawyer; he signed the Declaration of Independence and wrote or worked on many of the most difficult compromises in the U.S. Constitution, including the Three-Fifths Compromise, which defined slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of census-taking, number of members to be elected to U. S. House of Representatives, and government appropriations.

See also


  1. ^ Rothbard, Murray N., Conceived in Liberty, Vol. II (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999), p. 64.

Secondary sources

External links


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