Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Colonial Era

Swedish steel helmet.Swedish steel helmet, c. 1640-1700, found in 1873 in Washingtonboro, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

During the seventeenth century, the Dutch, Swedes, Finns, and English began exploration, trade, and settlement in Delaware River valley, and with them came the region’s first small population of enslaved Africans. The Europeans’ outposts in locations such as the Swedes’ Fort Christina (in the vicinity of later Wilmington, Delaware) and the Dutch Fort Nassau (later Gloucester, New Jersey) began to establish a new regional geography. Europeans of the seventeenth century also divided the region into counties: Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester in Pennsylvania, and Burlington, Gloucester, and Salem in West New Jersey.

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William Penn received his land grant for Pennsylvania in 1681 and a year later founded Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love.” Although the Delaware River served as a boundary between Pennsylvania and West New Jersey, the two were connected for travelers and commerce by Cooper’s Ferry, which began operation in 1688 on the future site of Camden, New Jersey. By the 1690s, Philadelphia was the leading port on the Delaware River for Pennsylvania, West Jersey, and Delaware, and older ports such as New Castle, Chester, and Burlington became commercial satellites.  Philadelphia grew rapidly as abundant land combined with Penn’s Quaker principle of tolerance for all faiths attracted diverse settlement. By 1720, the city’s population exceeded New York.

Topics: Colonial Era

Gallery: Colonial Era

Treaty of Shackamaxon
Treaty of Shackamaxon

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in City of Brotherly Love and Treaty of Shackamaxon).

South East Prospect of Philadelphia
South East Prospect of Philadelphia

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Row Houses).

Poor Richard’s Almanac
Poor Richard’s Almanac

Library of Congress (Explore in Printing and Publishing to 1950).

Alice of Dunk’s Ferry
Alice of Dunk’s Ferry

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Slavery and the Slave Trade).

Elfreth’s Alley
Elfreth’s Alley

Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Explore in Elfreth’s Alley).

Robert’s Old Grist Mill
Robert’s Old Grist Mill

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Flour Milling).

Timeline: Colonial Era

August 28, 1609: Henry Hudson, Englishman sailing for Dutch East India Company, sails into Delaware Bay and River (shown here).

1610: English navigator Samual Argall names Delaware Bay after Thomas West, Lord de la Warr, governor of Virginia.

1624: As Dutch, Swedes, and the English vie for dominance in the region, the Dutch establish Fort Nassau (later Gloucester, N.J.). Upriver, Walloons (French-speaking religious refugees from Holland) establish a short-lived settlement on Burlington Island.

1638: New Sweden established at Fort Christina (vicinity of later Wilmington, Del.); over time, Swedish settlements extend to both sides of Delaware River. 

1643: Governor of New Sweden, Johan Prinz, fortifies Tinicum Island, ousting English settlers.

Image credit: Library of Congress

1651: Dutch construct Fort Casmir (later site of New Castle, Delaware).

1655: Five Dutch ships arrive and close off Delaware River, effectively ending Swedish dominance.

1663-64: English assert control over Dutch and Swedish territory; New Jersey created, 1664.

1664: Concession and Agreement for New Jersey grants religious freedom.

1666: Swedish settlers receive gift of property at Wicaco (later South Philadelphia), where they build Gloria Dei Church in 1698-1700 (shown here in 1828 painting).

1674: New Jersey is divided into East New Jersey and West New Jersey.

Image credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

1675: John Fenwick establishes a Quaker settlement in Salem, West New Jersey.

1677-82: West New Jersey attracts investment by English Quakers, including William Penn. More than 1,750 Quakers migrate to the colony; they build Burlington Town in 1678-79 and establish additional settlements along Cooper’s, Newton, and Timber Creeks.

1681: By Charter, King Charles II of England grants William Penn 45,000 square miles of land in what becomes Pennsylvania. To assure access to the sea, Penn also gains control of three lower counties (the later state of Delaware).

1682: Founding of Philadelphia. William Penn arrives aboard the Welcome; by tradition, enters into a treaty with the Lenni Lenape chief Tammanend at at Shackamaxon (depicted here).

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia 

1682: Frame of Government issued for Pennsylvania.

December 4, 1682: Pennsylvania Assembly meets for the first time in Chester; consists of representatives from three newly-created Pennsylvania counties (Philadelphia, Bucks, and Delaware) and the three lower counties.

1683: Founding of Germantown.

1684: Penn departs for England.

May 1684: Slave ship Isabella arrives in Philadelphia carrying 150 enslaved Africans.

1688: Germantown Protest is the first organized protest against slavery in the Americas.

1688: Ferry across Delaware River connects Philadelphia and Cooper’s Ferry (later Camden, New Jersey).

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

1680-90s: Philadelphia becomes chief port on Delaware River for Pennsylvania, West Jersey, and lower counties; older ports in New Castle, Chester, and Burlington become commercial satellites.

1690s: Second and High Street intersection becomes center of activity in Philadelphia with opening of a market (1693) and Quaker Meeting House (1698).

1690: First paper mill in America established near Germantown by William Rittenhouse.

1690-94: Keithian controversy divides Quakers.

1694: Burlington, Gloucester, and Salem counties created in West New Jersey.

1699-1701: William Penn returns. In 1701, issues first Charter for Philadelphia, establishing civil government. Edward Shippen is elected mayor.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia 

1702: East and West New Jersey consolidate into one royal colony, sharing a governor with New York until 1738.

1702-13: Queen Anne’s War.

1704: After several years of friction with Pennsylvania, lower colonies on the Delaware separate and form their own Assembly, meeting at New Castle.

1706: In Philadelphia, a small cart path is opened between Front and Second Streets to create  Elfreth’s Alley (shown here in 2013).

1710: Christ Church constructs its first building near Second and High Streets.

1718: William Penn dies in England; proprietorship passes to sons of second wife Hannah Callowhill.

Image credit: Photograph by Jamie Castagnoli

1719: Andrew Bradford launches Philadelphia’s first newspaperThe American Weekly Mercury.

1720: Philadelphia is home to at least twelve shipbuilding firms. By 1750 the city is the major shipbuilding center in the colonies.

1720s: Surge of German and Scots-Irish immigration.

1723: Runaway apprentice Benjamin Franklin arrives in Philadelphia. In 1728 he establishes a printing business and in 1729 purchases The Pennsylvania Gazette from Samuel Keimer (Poor Richard’s Almanac pictured here).

1730s: Philadelphia passes a series of acts to protect its flour milling interests.

1731: Library Company of Philadelphia is founded, and is America’s first successful lending library.

Image credit: Library of Congress

1730s-40s: Great Awakening evangelical movement sweeps the region. George Whitefield, Great Awakening evangelist from England, draws large audiences in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and lower counties in 1739-40.

1731: Thomas Willing, an English merchant, begins selling town lots on banks of Christina River; city of Wilmington chartered, 1739.

1732: Construction begins on Pennsylvania State House; first Assembly meeting there, 1735.

1734: Philadelphia’s first Catholic church, St. Joseph’s, is a tangible demonstration that Penn’s “Holy Experiment” continues.

1737: Walking Purchase” unjustly extends Pennsylvania claims over Indian lands; displaced, remaining Lenape in northeastern Pennsylvania migrate farther west.

Image credit: Library of Congress

1743: American Philosophical Society founded to “to cultivate the finer arts, and improve the common stock of knowledge.”

1744-48: King George’s War.

1751: Dr. Thomas Bond conceives of Pennsylvania Hospital, first hospital in America.

1751: Pennsylvania Assembly orders a bell for the State House with inscription from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

1753: The Academy of Philadelphia, forerunner of the University of Pennsylvania, is founded.

1754-63: During Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War) between England and France, New Jersey builds barracks for British troops in five towns, including Trenton and Burlington; Philadelphia houses troops and refugees.

Image credit: Library of Congress 

1755: Pacifist Quakers leave government rather than administer Pennsylvania’s role in Seven Years’ War.

May 14, 1762: District of Southwark is created.

1763: William Franklin appointed Royal Governor of New Jersey.

February 10, 1763: Treaty of Paris ends the Seven Years’ War.

1763-67: Mason-Dixon line settles boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland; also establishes western boundary of Delaware.

January 1764: After attacking an Indian settlement near Lancaster, about 600 armed “Paxton Boys” march to Philadelphia to confront Pennsylvania Assembly with their grievances. Delegation including Benjamin Franklin persuades them not to enter the city.

Image credit: Library of Congress

Map: Colonial Era

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