Pennsylvania History

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United States > Pennsylvania

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" (now Philadelphia). It was abandoned about 1643.[1][2] See the New Sweden and the New Netherland 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 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 inland from the Delaware River to be the first contact for Indian fur traders coming down the Schuylkill.[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]

1680s: William Penn founded the 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,

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

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. (Family History Library book 974.8 H2eg; (Not available, sent to cataloging) (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. (Family History Library  book 974.8 H2ph; vols. 4, 5, and 8 are on 3 Family History Library films beginning with 1320599 item 5.)

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

Pennsylvania has the following excellent bibliographic resources for materials on history:

Bining, Arthur C., et al. Writing on Pennsylvania History: A Bibliography. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1946. (Family History Library 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. (Family History Library book 974.8 H23b; 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. (Family History Librarybook 974.8 H23b supp.; 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. (Family History Library 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; Family History Library 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 (Family History Library 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.


  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. Buffington.
  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."