Pennsylvania History

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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Origin of Pennsylvania[edit | edit source]

The earliest European settlers in what became Pennsylvania were part of the New Sweden Genealogy and New Netherland Genealogy colonies.

Pennsylvania began as a British colony in 1681 when King Charles II appointed William Penn (1644-1718) proprieter. Pennsylvania was the second state admitted to the Union in 1787. Colony, and later state boundary lines, were in dispute for many years, and often lead to bloodshed (i.e. Cresap's War). The Mason-Dixon Line was the result of one of these disputes. Philadelphia served as the capitol of the United States from 1790 to 1800.

Brief History[edit | edit source]

The following important events affected Pennsylvania's political boundaries, record keeping, and family movements:

1633-1643: (-1647?) Dutch build a blockhouse (single log cabin fort) "at the Schuylkill" River (now Philadelphia). It was abandoned about 1643.[1][2] See the New Sweden Genealogy and the New Netherland Genealogy Wiki article for details.

1641: Swedes and Finns spreading north from Fort Christina (present-day Wlimington, Delaware) first settle in Finland (Chamassungh), now Trainer, Pennsylvania[3][4][5] and Upland (Meckopenacka), now Chester, Pennsylvania.[6][7][8] The New Sweden Genealogy Colony continues to expand northward with new settlements as far as Philadelphia in the following years.

1642: The English build a blockhouse on Province Island (now Philadelphia airport) but are soon removed by the Dutch, probably with help from the Swedish.[9][10][11]

1648-1651: The Dutch built Fort Beaversrede (now Philadelphia) inland from the Delaware River to be the first contact for Indian fur traders coming down the Schuylkill River.[12][13][14][15] The Swedes respond by building a blockhouse between the Schuylkill and the Dutch fort in order to obscure the view of the fort from the river.[16][17]

1651-1655: The New Netherland Genealogy Colony builds Fort Casimir[18][19][20] (now New Castle, Delaware), settle Sandhook,[21][22][23] and abandon Fort Beversrede in 1651. In 1654 New Sweden Genealogy captures Fort Casimir from the Dutch without a fight and rename it Fort Trinty (Trefaldighets).[24] In 1655 New Netherland Genealogy returns with a large army and all of New Sweden Genealogy in presend-day Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey submits to Dutch rule.[25]

1664: As part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War New Netherland Genealogy including southeast Pennsylvania is surrendered to the English.[26]

1673-1674: A new war breaks out and the Dutch send a large armada to retake New Netherland for a few months. But as the war ends the colony is ceeded to England for the last time.[27]

1680s: William Penn founded the English colony of Pennsylvania after receiving a grant in 1681 from the king of England. His colony offered religious freedom, liberal government, and inexpensive land. Quakers established the city of Philadelphia.

1700-1754: Welsh, German, and Scotch-Irish groups arrived.

1754: The French and Indian War started in western Pennsylvania.

1768-1792: The disputed boundaries between Pennsylvania and the neighboring states of Connecticut, New York, Virginia, and Maryland were settled.

1776: The Revolutionary War began. The state constitution was adopted.The three "lower counties on the Delaware" officially broke away to become the State of Delaware.

1787: Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution.

1790-1800: Philadelphia was the capital of the United States.

1811: Steamboats began traveling from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.

- - - -: the Tuscarora tribe moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina

1834: The railroad-canal line extended from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.

1879: Richard Henry Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian Schoool at Carlise, one of the most successful schools for Indians in the U.S. The school was abandon in 1918,

1898: Over 300,000 men were involved in the Spanish-American War which was fought mainly in Cuba and the Philippines.

1917–1918: More than 26 million men from the United States ages 18 through 45 registered with the Selective Service. World War I over 4.7 million American men and women served during the war.

1930's: The Great Depression closed many factories and mills. Many small farms were abandoned, and many families moved to cities.

1940–1945: Over 50.6 million men ages 18 to 65 registered with the Selective Service. Over 16.3 million American men and women served in the armed forces during World War II.

1950–1953: Over 5.7 million American men and women served in the Korean War.

1950's–1960's The building of interstate highways made it easier for people to move long distances.

1964–1972: Over 8.7 million American men and women served in the Vietnam War.

The Family History Library has many local histories and handbooks to help you with your research. Sources for studying the history of Pennsylvania include:

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Several online county histories of Pennsylvania are linked from

A Bibliography of American County Histories [28] [29]

United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress [30][31]Pennsylvania has the following excellent bibliographic resources for materials on history:

State Histories[edit | edit source]

Egle, William Henry. An Illustrated History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Civil, Political, and Military from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Including Historical Descriptions of Each County in the State, Their Towns, and Industrial Resources. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: E. M. Gardner, 1880. FHL book 974.8 H2eg (Not available, sent to cataloging) FHL film 1697290 item 11

Donehoo, George P. Pennsylvania; A History. 9 vol. contents: [1-4] History. [5-9] Biography. New York, NY: Lewis Historical Pub. Co., 1926-1931. FHL book 974.8 H2ph; vols. 4, 5, and 8 are on 3 FHL film 1320599 item 5

Stevens, Sylvester Kirby. Pennsylvania: The Heritage of a Commonwealth. 4 vol. West Palm Beach, Florida: The American Historical Company, 1968. FHL book 974.8 H2sp

Bining, Arthur C., et al. Writing on Pennsylvania History: A Bibliography. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1946. FHL book 974.8 A3bw This and the following book often provide comments about the value of the source being described.

Wilkinson, Norman B. Bibliography of Pennsylvania History. 2d ed. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1957. FHL book 974.8 H23b and FHL film 1036387 item 3 This book updates and expands the previous book.

Wall, Carol. Bibliography of Pennsylvania History: A Supplement. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1976. FHL book 974.8 H23b supp. and FHL film 1036387 item 4 This and the following book continue the effort of the previous works although they do not provide comments on the value of any listing.

Trussell, John B. B. Jr. Pennsylvania Historical Bibliography. Vols. 1-6. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1979-1989. FHL book 974.8 H23p This work updates the bibliographies cited above. The library has vol. 1 only.

A very helpful source in addition to the above bibliographies is Dennis B. Downey and Francis J. Bremer, A Guide to the History of Pennsylvania (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993. FHL book 974.8 H23g Of special value is the description of research collections in Pennsylvania archives and manuscript repositories. However, it does not include genealogy societies.

Potentially helpful histories of Pennsylvania counties compiled in 1939-1942 is Historical Records Survey (Pennsylvania), Notes on County Histories and Points of Interest for American Guide Series FHL films 1016396-401 The counties are filed mostly in alphabetical order, and while a general format seems to be followed, they vary in the kind of information given.

There are also Pennsylvania histories available online. Use a search engine and terms of "Pennsylvania History" to find applicable sites.

Draper Manuscript Collection

Look for ancestors from Pennsylvania 1740-1830 in the Draper Manuscript Collection. These manuscripts cover the history of the "trans-Allegheny West," a region including the west Carolinas and Virginia, all the Ohio River Valley, and part of the upper Mississippi Valley. There are 491 volumes of partially-indexed manuscripts, papers, and books.

A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:

Pennsylvania Eastern District Petitions for Naturalization - FamilySearch Historical Records

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Amandus Johnson, "Detailed Map of New Sweden 1638-1655" in Amandus Johnson's book The Swedes on the Delaware 1638-1664 (Philadelphia: Swedish Colonial Society, 1915), 392. This blockhouse is mentioned in Johnson's legend, but not displayed on his map, probably because it was replaced by a Swedish fort.
  2. Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan, History of New Netherland, 2nd ed. (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1855; digitized by Google, 2006), 2: 79. "The Swedes had already destroyed the trading-house, which the former [Dutch] had built at Schuylkill, and built a fort in its place."
  3. "New Sweden" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 7 November 2008).
  4. Albert Cook Myers, Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey and Delaware, 1630-1707 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912; reprint Barnes and Noble, 1959; digitized by Google, 2008), 69, note 3. "Chamassung or Finland, where the Finns dwelt, was on the west side of the Delaware River, between the present Marcus Hook in Pennsylvania, and the mouth of Naaman's Creek just over the circular state line in Delaware."
  5. Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, v. 3, (Philadelphia:M'Carty and Davis, 1834; digitized by Google, 2006), 11. "Chamassungh, or Finland. This place was inhabited by Finns, who had strong houses, but no fort. It lies at the distance of two German miles, east of Christina, by water; and, by land, it is distant two long Swedish miles."
  6. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  7. Johnson, Swedish Settlements, 372. "Johann Companius, who was called by the government to go to New Sweden in 1642, was placed on the new budget, with a salary of 10 R.D. a month and seems to have been looked upon as a sort of military preacher. He was stationed at Christina, but shortly after his arrival here he was transferred to Upland, where he settled with his family and conducted the service at New Gothenborg."
  8. Myers, 150. "If now [the land at] Upland, which belongs to the Company, and is large enough for the sowing of twenty or thirty bushels of grain, might be given to the parsonage for Nertunius, together with the small houses there, it would be very well; then he would need no other salary from the Company." and footnote 4, "Now Chester."
  9. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  10. Arthur H. Buffington, "New England and the Western Fur Trade, 1629-1675" Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts 18 (1917): 168 digitized by Google, 2007. "Regardless of the rights of the Dutch and the Swedes, two large tracts of land were purchased in southern New Jersey, and another tract on the future site of Philadelphia. The colony of New Haven extended its jurisdiction over this territory and lent the Company its full support. A settlement was made the same year [1641] at Varkens Kill (Salem, New Jersey), but as it was below the Dutch and Swedish posts and therefore unfavorably situated for the fur trade, a trading post was erected the next year near the mouth of the Schuylkill and above the rival posts. So seriously did this new post interfere with trade that the Dutch, probably with the aid of the Swedes, destroyed the fort and took away the settlers to Manhattan. The settlement at Varkens Kill was not disturbed, but it amounted to little. Some of the settlers perished of disease, some straggled back to New Haven, and a few stayed on, submitting themselves to Swedish rule."
  11. Myers, 100. "There in 1642, on the present Fisher's or Province Island at the south side of mouth of the Schuylkill River, as Dr. Amandus Johnson makes clear in his Swedish Settlements, page 213, the New Englanders built a blockhouse, the first edifice definitely recorded as erected within the present limits of Philadelphia. Both the Dutch and the Swedes vainly protested against this competition, and finally the Dutch descended upon the place, burned the blockhouse and adjacent buildings, and carried the settlers to New Amsterdam."
  12. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  13. Philip S. Klein, and Ari Hoogenboom, "A History of Pennsylvania, 2nd ed." (University Park, Penn.: Penn State Press, 1980; digitized by Google at, 11. "Stuyvesant in the spring of 1648 sent an expedition to build a fort on the Schuylkill further inland than any of the Swedish posts. This he called Fort Beversreede — 'beaver road' — for its purpose was to be the first point of contact with the Minqua traders. But before the summer had passed, Printz built a Swedish fort, 'right in front of our Fort Beversreede,' wrote an indignant Dutchman. This building stood between the water's edge and the Dutch blockhouse, its back wall standing just twelve feet from the palisade gate of Fort Beversreede. The Indians thus found Swedes at the anchoring place, and could not even see the Dutch post from the water."
  14. Peter Stebbins Craig, "Chronology of Colonial Swedes on the Delaware 1638-1712" in The Swedish Colonial Society [Internet site] at (accessed 10 November 2008). Originally published in Swedish Colonial News, vol. 2, number 5 (Fall 2001). "[1648] Dutch build Fort Beversreede on east side of Schuylkill, but Swedes thwart Dutch attempts to build dwellings in area."
  15. John Thomas Scharf, and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: L.H. Everets, 1884; digitized by Google, 2006), 1024. "The Dutch Fort Beversrede was built immediately opposite Minquas, or Mingo, or Eagle's Nest Creek, to command the trade in furs (skins) brought that way by the savages."
  16. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  17. Klein, and Hoogenboom."But before the summer had passed, Printz built a Swedish fort, 'right in front of our Fort Beversreede,' wrote an indignant Dutchman. This building stood between the water's edge and the Dutch blockhouse, its back wall standing just twelve feet from the palisade gate of Fort Beversreede. The Indians thus found Swedes at the anchoring place, and could not even see the Dutch post from the water."
  18. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  19. "Fort Casimir" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 7 November 2008).
  20. Klein and Hoogenboom.
  21. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  22. Craig. "1651 - Dutch build Fort Casimir at Sand Hook (New Castle) and abandon Fort Bevers-reede in Schuylkill."
  23. Johnson, Swedes on the Delaware, 294. "In October, Novermber, and December the new freemen were ordered to clear their lands at various places, for the purpose of planting maize in the coming spring; and several fields at Sandhook, at Fort Christina and up at the [Christina] River were cleared and sewn for the benefit of the company with the grain which Mr. Lord had brought in . . ."
  24. "New Sweden" in Wikipedia.
  25. "New Sweden" in Wikipedia.
  26. "New Netherland" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 13 December 2008).
  27. "New Netherland" in Wikipedia.
  28. Filby, P. William. A Bibliography of American County Histories. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1985. (FHL book 973 H23bi)
  29. Worldcat
  30. Kaminkow, Marion J. United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress. 5 vols. Baltimore: Magna Charta Book, 1975-76. (FHL book 973 A3ka.)
  31. Worldcat