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Pennsylvania History
A Historical Overview

© 2004 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 1

Historical Review 1.1   
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Native Americans of Pennsylvania

     Pennsylvania was inhabited by a number of Native American tribes before the arrival of the Europeans. The Delawares (or Leni Lanape) were an Algonquian-speaking tribe that lived at the basin of the Delaware River. This tribe merged with the Algonquian-speaking Mahicans, a tribe related to the Mohegans of Connecticut. These Mahicans inhabited the upper Hudson Valley of New York, and joined up with the Delawares after being driven from the Hudson Valley area by settlers. The Connoys and Nanticokes also merged with the Delawares.

      The Susquehannocks were another Algonquian-speaking tribe, who lived along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Their population, like many other native tribes at the time, was devastated by European diseases. Those who didn't die from disease were killed in 1763 at a Lancaster County massacre of a small Indian camp.

      The Shawnees, again an Algonquian-speaking tribe, came to Pennsylvania from the west in the 1690s. They settled near Easton as well as along the Susquehanna River. Gradually, they began moving back west to the Wyoming and Ohio Valleys to join other Shawnees. During the French and Indian War the Shawnees allied with the French, and later during the Revolution, allianced themselves with the British. Descendants of the Shawnees now inhabit Oklahoma.

      Another tribe, the Eries, lived along the south shore of Lake Erie until being eradicated by the Iroquois in 1654.

Early Exploration of Pennsylvania

     Historians are unsure if the early voyages of the English, Spanish or French ever led them to the Pennsylvania area, but it is known that Captain John Smith ventured up the Susquehanna River and visited the Susquehannock Indians in 1608.

      In 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the Dutch service, sailed into the Delaware Bay and claimed the area for Holland. Trading posts were later established in the area by the Dutch in 1647. Although the Dutch had visited the area earlier and set up these trade posts, it was the Swedes who were the first to firmly settle the area. In 1638, the Swedes established the colony of New Sweden which would endure for nearly twenty years. With competing interests in the area, the Dutch and Swedes eventually came into conflict over the territory, and in 1655 the governor of New Netherlands seized New Sweden and made it a part of the Dutch Colony. The territory was once again seized in 1644, this time by the English in the name of the Duke of York.

William Penn and the Quakers

     William Penn was born in England in 1644 of high social position. After receiving a good education he shocked his family by converting to the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. The Quakers believed that everyone had an "inner light" of Christ, which was a considerably radical viewpoint at the time. The Quakers held many other beliefs that were considered equally radical, such as their belief that children were born innocent, in other words, without original sin. Women were also given more rights in the Quaker religion. Most notably, the women were not considered to be subordinate, and in some instances, Quaker women even preached. These unorthodox beliefs led to the persecution of the Friends in England. William Penn's connections with the Duke of York (who later became King James II) enabled him to secure a land grant for a colony that would become a refuge for persecuted Quakers in the New World. Penn's petition was granted and the Charter of Pennsylvania was signed on March 4, 1681 by the King. The new state adopted a constitution which, called for a Great Law, a humanitarian code that guaranteed liberty of conscience and opened up Pennsylvania for settlement to other persecuted people of Europe.

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2004 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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