William Penn and the Quakers
William Penn was born in London on October 24, 1644, the son of Admiral Sir William Penn. Despite high social position and an excellent education, he shocked his upper-class associates by his conversion to the beliefs of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, then a persecuted sect.  King Charles II owed William Penn £16,000, money which Admiral Penn had lent him. Seeking a haven in the New World for persecuted Friends, Penn asked the king to grant him land in the territory between Lord Baltimore's province of Maryland and the Duke of York's province of New York. With the Duke's support, Penn's petition was granted. The King signed the Charter of Pennsylvania on March 4, 1681, and it was officially proclaimed on April 2. The king named the new colony in honor of William Penn's father. It was to include the land between the 39th and 42nd degrees of north latitude and from the Delaware River westward for five degrees of longitude. Other provisions assured its people the protection of English laws and, to a certain degree, kept it subject to the government in England.  

The New Colony
In April 1681, Penn made his cousin William Markham deputy governor of the province and sent him to take control. In October 1682, Penn arrived in Pennsylvania on a ship named “Welcome.” He created the three original counties and summoned a General Assembly to Chester on Dec. 4. By the time of Penn's return to England late in 1684, the foundations of the Quaker Province were well established.  

Population and Immigration 

Native Americans
Although William Penn was granted all the land in Pennsylvania by the king, he and his heirs chose not to grant or settle any part of it without first buying the claims of Native Americans who lived there. In this manner, all of Pennsylvania except the northwestern third was purchased by 1768. The Commonwealth bought the Six Nations' claims to the remainder of the land in 1784 and 1789, and the claims of the Delawares and Wyandots in 1785. The defeat of the French and Indian War Alliance by 1760, the withdrawal of the French, the crushing of Chief Pontiac's Indian alliance in 1764, and the failure of all attempts by Indians and colonists to live side by side led most Native Americans to migrate westward, gradually leaving Pennsylvania. 

English Quakers were the dominant element. The English settled heavily in the southeastern counties, which soon became the center of a thriving agricultural and commercial society. 

By the time of the Revolution, Germans comprised a third of the population and that volume increased after 1727. The Pennsylvania Germans settled most heavily in and around the counties of Northampton, Berks, Lancaster and Lehigh. Their skill and industry transformed this region into rich farming country. 

Another important immigrant group was the Scotch-Irish, who migrated from about 1717 until the Revolution in a series of waves caused by hardships in Ireland. They were primarily frontiersmen, pushing first into the Cumberland Valley region and then farther into central and western Pennsylvania.  

Despite Quaker opposition to slavery, about 4,000 slaves were brought to Pennsylvania by 1730. 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. The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 was the first emancipation statute in the United States. 

Pennsylvania's political history ran a rocky course during the provincial era. There was a natural conflict between the proprietary and popular elements in the government which began under Penn and grew stronger under his successors. William Penn's heirs, who eventually abandoned Quakerism, were often in conflict with the Assembly, which was usually dominated by the Quakers until 1756.  

The Colonial Wars
As part of the British Empire, Pennsylvania was involved in the wars between Great Britain and France for dominance in North America. The government built forts and furnished men and supplies to help defend the empire to which it belonged. The territory claimed for New France included western Pennsylvania. The French efforts in 1753 and 1754 to establish control over the upper Ohio Valley led to the last and conclusive colonial war, the French and Indian War (1754-1763). After the war, the Indians rose up against the British colonies in Pontiac's War, but in August 1763, Colonel Henry Bouquet defeated them at Bushy Run, interrupting the threat to the frontier in this region.  


From its beginning, Pennsylvania ranked as a leading agricultural area and produced surpluses for export. By the 1750s, an exceptionally prosperous farming area had developed in southeastern Pennsylvania. Wheat and corn were the leading crops. 

The abundant natural resources of the colony made for early development of industries. Sawmills and gristmills were usually the first to appear, using the power of the numerous streams. Textile products were spun and woven mainly in the home. Shipbuilding became important on the Delaware. The province early gained importance in iron manufacturing, producing pig iron, as well as finished products. Printing, publishing, and the related industry of papermaking, as well as tanning, were significant industries.  

Commerce and Transportation
The rivers were important as early arteries of commerce and soon were supplemented by roads. Stagecoach lines by 1776 reached from Philadelphia into the southcentral region. Trade with the Indians for furs was important in the colonial period. Later, the transport and sale of farm products to Philadelphia and Baltimore, by water and road, formed an important business.  

Society and Culture 

Quakers held their first meeting at Upland (now Chester) in 1675, and came to Pennsylvania in great numbers after William Penn received his charter. Most numerous in the southeastern counties, the Quakers gradually declined in number, but retained considerable influence. The Pennsylvania Germans belonged largely to the Lutheran and Reformed churches, but there also were several smaller sects: Mennonites, Amish, German Baptist Brethren or "Dunkers," Schwenkfelders and Moravians.  

Pennsylvania on the Eve of the Revolution
By 1776, the Province of Pennsylvania had become the third largest English colony in America, Philadelphia had become the largest English-speaking city in the world next to London. There were originally only three counties: Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks. By 1773 there were eleven. The American Revolution had urban origins, and Philadelphia was a center of ferment. Groups of artisans and mechanics, many loyal to Benjamin Franklin, formed grassroots leadership. Philadelphia was a center of resistance to the Stamp Act (1765) and moved quickly to support Boston in opposition to the Intolerable Acts, in 1774.

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