When Lenape Indians in July 1694 crossed the Delaware River from New Jersey to meet with Pennsylvania government officials, they represented a people whose homeland became the Greater Philadelphia region: southeastern Pennsylvania, central and southern New Jersey, and Delaware. Despite their decline in population from European diseases, the Lenapes remained strong. They told the Pennsylvanians that while many Lenapes “live on the other side of the river [in New Jersey], yet we reckon ourselves all one, because we drink one water,” the Delaware and its tributaries. Since the 1670s, English settlers had imposed political divisions on the more open Lenape homeland, most obviously with the boundary along the river separating West New Jersey from Pennsylvania and the Lower Counties (Delaware). But while these political divisions gained potency as colonial elites developed legal and political structures, the Delaware Valley in many ways remained integrated economically and socially as its residents exchanged goods and traveled readily across borders.
When Europeans arrived in the Delaware Valley in the early seventeenth century, Native Americans had lived there for at least ten thousand years. The Lenapes lived in autonomous towns on creeks flowing into the Delaware River and along the Atlantic coast near Delaware Bay. The river united the territory of Lenape people such as the Armewamese and Cohanseys who possessed land on both banks.
Because Lenapes traveled frequently by canoe, they viewed rivers and streams as highways rather than obstacles. They also built trails across the region by which they traveled from agricultural towns where they raised corn and other crops to hunting, fishing, and gathering areas in the Pine Barrens, Atlantic shore, Lehigh Valley, and central Delaware. The Lenape trails linked with pathways of neighboring Munsees to the north up into southern New York, Susquehannocks to the west in the Susquehanna Valley, and Nanticokes of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Lenape towns lacked palisades (unlike those of the Susquehannocks and Iroquois), reflecting the Lenapes’ efforts to maintain peace with their neighbors and more distant nations.Read More
Successive European Settlements
Starting with Dutch explorers who arrived about 1615, successive groups of European colonists built settlements on both sides of the Delaware River, sometimes adjacent to Lenape towns. The natives welcomed European traders, granting permission in 1624 for a short-lived Dutch settlement on Burlington Island and two years later permitting construction of Fort Nassau at Arwamus (later Gloucester, New Jersey) opposite the future site of Philadelphia. To facilitate exchange of furs and Indian corn for European goods, the natives and Dutch colonists developed a trade jargon based on Unami, the Lenapes’ Algonquian language.
The Dutch trade precipitated war from 1626 to 1636 between the Lenapes and Susquehannocks, who sought to control the Delaware River as a market for Canadian furs. The war ended with an agreement that while the Lenapes retained ownership of the land, both groups could trade in the region. Violence also flared in 1631, when Lenapes destroyed a Dutch plantation called Swanendael near Cape Henlopen at the mouth of Delaware Bay. It seemed to the natives that the Dutch were shifting their priorities from trade to plantation agriculture similar to the English colonists in the Chesapeake Bay region who murdered Indians and expropriated land. The Lenapes and Dutch made peace when the Dutch captain David de Vries (1593-1655) arrived in late 1632.
Over the next half century, with the legacy of Swanendael, Lenapes controlled the lower Delaware Valley, accepting European trade goods in exchange for small parcels of land for forts and farms, but not plantation colonies. In 1638, the Lenapes permitted Sweden to establish a colony at Christiana Creek (Wilmington, Delaware), while also trading with merchants from New Netherland and New England. Though the Lenapes rejected efforts by Swedish Lutheran missionaries to convert them to Christianity, the natives forged a special friendship with the colonists of New Sweden beginning with the 1654 treaty with Governor Johan Risingh (c. 1617-72), in which each side promised to warn the other if they heard of impending attack by another people.
By the mid-seventeenth century, the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, later the site of Philadelphia, became the region’s commercial center. As the Dutch and Swedes competed to buy lush beaver pelts that the Susquehannocks obtained from Canada, Lenapes built six towns from the Delaware to the falls of the Schuylkill to be near the terminus of trade. The Swedish engineer Peter Lindeström (d. 1691) praised the area for its beauty, fresh water springs, fruit trees, and wildlife.
Defeat of the Dutch
After New Netherland defeated New Sweden in 1655, the Lenapes, Swedes, and Finns solidified their alliance to resist heavy-handed Dutch authority; after 1664, when troops of James, Duke of York (1633-1701) defeated the Dutch, the natives and colonists fought English efforts to expropriate their land. In the late 1660s, many of the natives left their towns on the west bank of the Delaware to join Lenape communities in New Jersey. Though most European colonists lived in the area extending from New Castle (Delaware) to the Schuylkill River, Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish colonists also moved to southwestern New Jersey, purchasing land from the natives.
Despite generally good relations between Native Americans and Europeans in the lower Delaware Valley, the Lenapes there declined steadily from smallpox, influenza, measles, and other diseases. In 1600 they had numbered an estimated 7,500; by the 1650s their population decreased to about 4,000, and to about 3,000 by 1670. Still, in that year, the European population was only 850, as the memory of the Swanendael attack successfully deterred large-scale colonization.
The balance of population between natives and immigrants began to shift in the mid-1670s, on both sides of the Delaware River. In 1664, though the Lenape sachems believed the river united their homeland, the English crown drew political borders, most prominently between West New Jersey and the west bank. These borders, at first only figments in charters and on maps, gradually took force in the 1670s and 1680s as thousands of English settlers flooded in. The provincial and county boundaries that English colonialists drew across the more open Lenape landscape assumed real political and legal meaning.
The organizers of West New Jersey and Pennsylvania were members of the Society of Friends, a religious group founded in England around 1650 that repudiated many of the practices of the established Church of England (Anglican). The Friends believed that the inner Light of Christ could enter any person without the intervention of priests and bishops. The Quakers endured imprisonment, physical assaults, and fines in their home countries for holding worship services and refusing to take oaths or pay tithes to support the established church.
Quakers in New Jersey
Friends established West New Jersey through a series of complicated financial deals, lawsuits, and political battles that continued to plague the colony until the crown revoked the proprietorship in 1702. The English Quaker John Fenwick (c. 1618-1683), who claimed one-tenth of the colony, founded Salem in 1675, selling 148,000 acres to about fifty purchasers. The Friends entered a country dominated by Lenapes where some Europeans, mostly Swedes, Finns, and Dutch, had lived for fewer than ten years. Fenwick promptly purchased land from the Lenapes of the region—the Cohanseys—with whom he maintained good relations. Deeds of 1675 and 1676 specified that Fenwick would receive territory, “excepted always … the plantations in which [the natives] now inhabit,” in return for cloth, rum, guns, and other items.
Another English Friend, Edward Byllynge (c. 1623-1687), and three Quaker trustees, including William Penn (1644-1718), initiated plans for settling the remaining 90 percent of the colony. When the ship Kent arrived in 1677, the Lenapes, Swedes, and Finns offered the 230 Burlington colonists food and shelter despite worry about the increasing numbers of new immigrants. Swedish and Finnish interpreters facilitated their purchase of land from the Lenapes. As had earlier settlers, the Burlington colonists brought smallpox that killed many natives. An estimated 1,760 Friends settled in West New Jersey by 1682, taking up land from the Falls of the Delaware (later Trenton, New Jersey) south toward Salem.
The West New Jersey Concessions (1676) explained the process for distributing land, granted religious freedom and trial by jury, was unusually democratic in calling for an annually elected general assembly, and described a plan for mediating disputes between natives and Europeans. The Duke of York delayed implementation of the Concessions by not transferring until 1680 the right of government to Byllynge, who then renounced the Concessions by becoming governor, an office not included in the document. Though the Concessions failed to become the official constitution, many of its provisions, including the elected assembly, religious freedom, and trial by jury, became West New Jersey law.
As colonists set up farms and towns along the Delaware River and its tributaries from the Falls to Cape May, the assembly created four counties in the 1680s and 1690s: Burlington, Gloucester, Salem, and Cape May. Because the provincial government remained factionalized and unstable, county courts took responsibility for governing and enforcing laws. The proprietary government dissolved in 1702 when the proprietors of both East and West New Jersey surrendered their right to govern to the English Crown to create the unified royal province of New Jersey. The new province elected an assembly of twenty-four members, equally divided between the eastern and western divisions, and shared its governor with New York until 1738, when New Jersey obtained its own royal executive.
Penn’s Charter, 1681
William Penn received his charter for Pennsylvania from Charles II (1630-85), the English King, in March 1681 and proposed a model society founded on principles of peace and religious liberty. He made specific plans to build a great city named Philadelphia, in a grid pattern with large lots on the Delaware River, to serve as the focal point for surrounding townships. He also pledged to treat the Native Americans equally and demanded that “no man shall . . . in word or deed, affront or wrong any Indian.” During 1682-1684, the first of his two two-year visits to the colony, Penn systematically purchased land in southeastern Pennsylvania from the Lenapes, paying at least £1,200 in goods, with the assistance of Swedish and Finnish interpreters.
Offering sanctuary from persecution to members of many religions, the proprietor also expected to succeed financially by selling land and collecting quitrents (annual taxes on acreage) to defray the ongoing costs of colonization and provide his family an income. He quickly recruited thousands of colonists from northwestern England, London and its environs, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, and Holland. While many people who immigrated during the first decades were Quakers, new settlers also included Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Mennonites, and other sects who joined the Dutch Reformed and Swedish Lutherans already in the region. Most colonists were farmers, artisans, laborers, and their families. Prosperous Quakers who purchased large acreages soon dominated Pennsylvania society and politics, though some Swedes, Finns, and Dutch continued to hold public office. While Penn created no established religion, the Friends controlled the government through much of the colonial period.
Before sailing to his colony in 1682, Penn developed his Frame of Government that provided for a governor, and a provincial council and assembly to be elected by free male taxpayers of the province. An assembly of settlers amended the constitution in 1683 and over the next eighteen years the legislature made additional changes to assume greater power. The colony’s final constitution, the Charter of Privileges (1701), created a powerful unicameral assembly that could initiate and pass legislation subject to the governor’s approval. The Charter of Privileges also confirmed religious liberty to everyone who believed in “one almighty God” and extended the right to hold office to all Christian men, not just Anglicans or Quakers.
Lower Counties Provided Sea Access
Because Pennsylvania lacked direct access to the Atlantic Ocean, Penn sought rights to the three Lower Counties (the area of the later state of Delaware) from the Duke of York. The Quaker proprietor received deeds in 1682 to New Castle, Kent, and Sussex Counties, which remained separate from the counties of Chester, Philadelphia, and Bucks that he established in Pennsylvania, with the boundary set twelve miles north of the town of New Castle. Despite this colonial border, the Lower Counties and Pennsylvania shared a governor and at first elected representatives to one assembly that met alternately at Philadelphia and New Castle. The Swedish, Finnish, Dutch, and English inhabitants of the Lower Counties quickly felt overpowered by the Quaker government in Philadelphia and wanted local control because of divergent economic interests and the refusal of pacifist Quakers to accept the need for military defense. With Delaware’s long coastline facing the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, residents felt vulnerable to pirates and enemy attack. Delaware obtained its own assembly in 1704 but continued to share a governor under the Penn proprietorship.
Since the late 1660s, English settlers—many with enslaved Africans—had moved to the Lower Counties from Maryland to join the predominantly Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch population. The Delaware economy was primarily agricultural, with exports in tobacco, pork, and corn to the West Indies, England, and Scotland. The colony sustained several attacks from Maryland, which claimed on the basis of its 1632 charter that Delaware fell within its bounds. The dispute with Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore (1637-1715) dogged William Penn, who sought evidence from old maps and Dutch documents to protect his ownership of the Lower Counties and Pennsylvania. Ironically, the 1631 founding of Swanendael at Cape Henlopen—despite the Lenapes’ prompt destruction—demonstrated prior European occupation on the Delaware before Baltimore’s grant. The Penns’ boundary dispute with Maryland continued until the mid-1760s, when the survey of the Mason-Dixon line also finalized the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Even as Penn, the West New Jersey Proprietors, and their surveyors drew provincial, county, and local boundaries across the Delaware Valley, the increasing European population developed cohesive economic and social connections much like the Lenapes who reckoned themselves “all one.” By 1700, West New Jersey had approximately 3,500 settlers, while Europeans numbered 18,000 in Pennsylvania and 2,200 in the Lower Counties. Dispersed farms across the countryside produced wheat, corn, rye, barley, tobacco, fruit, and vegetables, and raised cattle, pigs, and fowl. The small port towns of Greenwich, Salem, Gloucester, Burlington, Bristol, Chester, New Castle, and Lewes collected and shipped agricultural produce, deer skins, furs, lumber, and wood products mostly to Philadelphia but in some cases directly to other ports in North America, the West Indies, and Europe.
Philadelphia as Cornerstone
Most important to integrating the Delaware Valley was William Penn’s planned city, Philadelphia. Along with religious liberty, peaceful conflict resolution, and representative government, the city was Penn’s most significant achievement. Built upon the earlier commercial hub near the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, Philadelphia grew quickly from immigration and commerce. Within a decade of its founding, the city had an estimated population of two thousand; by 1730 more than seven thousand people lived there and by 1765 about twenty-three thousand, making it the largest city in North America. Despite Penn’s plan for ample lots stretching two miles from the Delaware to Schuylkill River, residents quickly clustered along the Delaware waterfront to participate in the growing mercantile economy. By the 1760s, Philadelphia was a dense urban space of brick houses and mansions, small dwellings in crowded alleys, warehouses, workshops, churches, and taverns. Some notable structures included Gloria Dei (Old Swedes Church), Christ Church, the Quaker Great Meeting House, Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), and Pennsylvania Hospital.
As the center of Pennsylvania government and Delaware Valley commerce, Philadelphia drew talented people from throughout the region, North American colonies, and Atlantic World. The city’s population and financial base supported innovation in science, medicine, printing, public welfare, the humanities, and arts. The list of organizations founded by people such as Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) testified to the colonial city’s vitality: American Philosophical Society, Library Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Hospital, College of Philadelphia and its Medical Department (later the University of Pennsylvania), arboretums, insurance companies, and mutual aid societies.
The rural Delaware Valley population also grew quickly, especially Pennsylvania with a European and African American population of 52,000 in 1730 and 184,000 in 1760. The large geographic size of Pennsylvania, with room for expansion to the north and west, helped to propel its dynamic growth. Between 1729 and 1752, five new inland Pennsylvania counties joined the ten original and two additional West Jersey counties along the Delaware River. Thousands of German-speaking and Irish immigrants crossed the Atlantic Ocean during the eighteenth century, entering through the ports of Philadelphia and New Castle. German Reformed, Lutherans, Moravians, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, and Irish Catholics added to the region’s diversity. Many immigrants served first as indentured servants or redemptioners to pay the cost of their passage, then built farms or followed crafts. While some stayed in the Quaker City, many migrated to rural areas in the Lehigh Valley and western Pennsylvania, from which some continued their journey south into western Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. German and Irish newcomers also settled in northwestern New Jersey, helping to push West Jersey’s population growth from 14,380 in 1726 to 71,000 in 1772. Some Irish immigrants stayed in Delaware as its population expanded to 33,250 in 1760.
Delaware Valley’s Ideal Conditions
Immigration and an abundant environment interacted to fuel strong economic growth in the Delaware Valley. Its mild climate and productive soils offered ideal conditions for raising wheat, which as grain and flour led exports from Pennsylvania, West Jersey, and Delaware to the West Indies, New England, and southern Europe. Philadelphia merchants also sent corn, beef, and pork to the Caribbean, thus provisioning the brutal slave regimes of the sugar islands. From the 1730s, flaxseed became an important export to Ireland, where farmers used the seed to grow flax for high quality linen that they traded back to Philadelphia. Delaware Valley merchants also financed iron furnaces and forges in southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Beginning in 1716, ironmasters produced iron stock that local artisans used to make goods such as pots, stoves, nails, tools, and wheels. Iron also became an important export after 1750.
Enslaved Africans served significantly in the region’s workforce yet slavery was never as dominant in West Jersey and Pennsylvania as in the southern plantation colonies and West Indies. Though the Dutch and Swedes brought a few enslaved people prior to 1680, the English slave trade developed particularly in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as part of the larger Atlantic economy. In Pennsylvania, in 1684 the ship Isabella quickly sold 150 Africans to new colonists eager for workers to help build their houses, businesses, and farms. Along with servants and free laborers, enslaved Africans were especially important to Philadelphia employers. From 1691 to 1720, an estimated 10 to 17 percent of the city’s population was enslaved, and for the rest of the colonial period 8 percent of Philadelphians lived in bondage. Slavery was less substantial in rural Pennsylvania, where immigrant servants provided a great deal of labor. In 1750, slaves comprised 2.4 percent in Pennsylvania overall compared with 4.5 percent in West Jersey and 20 percent in Delaware. Unlike the plantation colonies and New England, enslaved Indians were a very small part of the Delaware Valley workforce. Although colonists imported a few enslaved Native Americans from South Carolina early in the eighteenth century, regional peace prior to the 1750s and strong Lenape resistance to slavery prevented enslavement of local natives.
For Europeans and enslaved Africans in Pennsylvania, life expectancy varied considerably between urban Philadelphia and the countryside. Whereas the rural death rate was an average of 15 per thousand people each year, the death rate for white city dwellers was 46 per thousand and even higher for blacks, averaging 67 per thousand per year. Reasons for higher urban mortality included the illnesses brought on disease-ridden ships; the higher vulnerability of immigrants and imported slaves to diseases such as measles, smallpox, and influenza because of weakened health; and poor nutrition, crowded housing, and inferior sanitary conditions in the city. Deaths were high among infants, children, and women in childbirth. Though natural population increase began in Philadelphia in the 1760s when mortality rates declined, immigration remained the most important factor in the city’s demographic growth.
Quaker Beliefs Distinguished the Region
Quaker belief in the equality of all people before God helped to generate social practices that distinguished the Delaware Valley from other parts of colonial America. Unlike restricted female roles in many religions, women Friends took responsibility as ministers and moral guardians in their communities. Quaker parents paid close attention to keeping their children within the religion while offering them considerable freedom, among Friends, in choice of marriage partner. Consistent with Pennsylvania’s commitment to religious liberty, the colony avoided a rigid marriage code and instead allowed couples to marry according to the rituals of individual denominations. This resulted in more flexibility than the legislators probably intended, with some couples taking vows at home, others choosing not to marry formally, and, if a relationship failed, opting to self-divorce. Philadelphia women gained substantial freedom in an environment of cultural diversity and economic opportunity.
Though many affluent Quakers held African people as slaves, egalitarian ideals fostered the antislavery movement among Delaware Valley Friends. Abolitionists hailed from throughout the region, including William Southeby (d. 1722), Benjamin Lay (1682-1759), and Anthony Benezet (1713-84) of Pennsylvania; John Woolman (1720-72) of West Jersey; and David Ferris (1707-79) of Delaware. Resistance by enslaved Africans and the gradual growth of abolitionist sentiment after 1688, when Germantown Friends petitioned Philadelphia Yearly Meeting against slavery, facilitated the decline in slaveholding and rise of the free black community in Philadelphia and rural Pennsylvania, especially after 1750. In West Jersey, because of its high proportion of Quakers, slaveholding was less significant (4.5 percent) than in East Jersey, where about 12 percent of the population was enslaved. In Delaware, while Quaker influence helped to diminish slaveholding, slave owners prevailed politically, preventing adoption of a gradual abolition law similar to acts passed by Pennsylvania in 1780 and New Jersey in 1804.
As early as 1684, William Penn faced challenges to his “holy experiment” in consensual government and peace from Friends who opposed civil authority, settlers of other religions who despised Quakers, and Lenapes who watched immigrants and their descendants spread out across the land. Economic downturns increased unemployment and misery among working families, leading to popular discontent. Colonists seeking opportunity moved westward in Pennsylvania and northward into the Lehigh Valley and northwestern New Jersey, taking most of the Lenapes’ remaining land. In the early eighteenth century, the West New Jersey Council of Proprietors and their counterparts in London, the West Jersey Society, purchased large tracts on the east bank of the Delaware north of the Falls, opening this territory to settlers. Europeans also filtered into the remaining unpurchased area on the western side of the river in Bucks County.
The Deceitful Walking Purchase
Pennsylvania strayed seriously from Penn’s vision of peaceful coexistence with the Lenapes in the 1730s, when his sons Thomas Penn (1702-75) and John Penn (1700-46), now the proprietors, plotted with their agent James Logan (1674-1751) to acquire lands in central and northern Bucks County. Logan had already made an illegal individual purchase in 1726 to build the Durham iron furnace. To facilitate what became known as the Walking Purchase, he located an unsigned draft deed dated 1686—not a signed document—that he claimed as proof that the Lenapes had sold all territory that could be walked in a day and a half north from the previous boundary at Wrightstown. On September 19, 1737, three young settlers ran, rather than walked, a route cleared in advance, covering much more territory than Lenape leaders expected. On the second day just one of the settlers finished the run, completing sixty-four miles in eighteen hours. Logan started the new boundary there, extending a diagonal line northeast to the Delaware River to maximize the “purchase” of more than one million acres.
The fraudulent Walking Purchase forced many Lenapes west to the Susquehanna and Ohio valleys in the 1740s and 1750s as the proprietors sold lands in northern Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley to speculators and immigrants. The Lenapes, called Delawares by the English, joined the Conestogas (Susquehannocks) and Indians from Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina who had migrated into the Susquehanna Valley. In the Ohio country, Delawares allied with Shawnees and Senecas. Though some Lenapes joined Moravian missions in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1740s, they too eventually relocated to the Ohio Valley with rising tensions and war between natives and European settlers.
The Seven Years’ War ended the tenuous peace in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In the mid-1750s, in response to incursions from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the British government, many natives of the Susquehanna and Ohio valleys allied with French troops and colonists who claimed the region from Canada through the Ohio and Mississippi valleys to Louisiana. After French troops and their Indian allies overwhelmed the army of British General Edward Braddock (1695-1755) in July 1755, Delawares and Shawnees attacked European settlements from western Pennsylvania to northwestern New Jersey. The outbreak of war provoked a political crisis for pacifist Quaker legislators who had dominated the Pennsylvania assembly yet successfully avoided military actions that jeopardized their beliefs. In 1756, ten Quaker assemblymen resigned, thus relinquishing Friends’ control. The Pennsylvania government funded the war and unleashed violence against natives by offering scalp bounties. New Jersey required Lenapes to wear a red ribbon and carry identification. The New Jersey government also appointed five commissioners who instructed the natives to bring in a list of lands they claimed as unsold. When the Lenapes submitted their list in 1758, the commissioners noted that colonists had settled on much of the territory. The sachems accepted a three-thousand-acre reservation called Brotherton in southern Burlington County in return for all but a few parcels of land.
Boundaries and Indian Wars
The Easton Treaty of 1758 brought short-lived peace to the region when the Delaware sachem Teedyuscung (1700?-1763), with support from Quaker leaders, obtained a pledge from the British to recognize Indian possession of the Ohio country after defeat of the French. Teedyuscung and the Quakers made it clear that the Walking Purchase had motivated Delawares to go to war. Peace proved illusory despite the Proclamation Line of 1763, by which the British government sought to create a boundary along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains between the colonies and Indian country. In 1763, spurred by continued white settlement and the nativist doctrine of the Delaware prophet Neolin, Indians attacked forts and colonists in the Great Lakes region, Ohio country, and Pennsylvania frontier in what became known as Pontiac’s War (1763-66). The largely Scots-Irish vigilante Paxton Boys of Lancaster County then killed neighboring Conestogas, allies of the Pennsylvania government since 1701, and marched to murder refugee Moravian Delawares in Philadelphia, but turned back after negotiating with Benjamin Franklin. The Paxton Boys reflected anger among Scots-Irish Presbyterians in western Pennsylvania who blamed Quakers for their support of Native Americans and the Assembly’s failure to provide adequate defense.
The end of Pontiac’s War brought only a temporary halt to hostilities between European settlers and Indians, as colonists continued to push west. Hatred exacerbated by more than a decade of war heightened boundaries between natives and colonists. Still, in New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of eastern Pennsylvania, Lenape and Nanticoke families continued to live in their homeland, often in the Pine Barrens and other marginal areas.
By 1765, the Delaware Valley was no longer Lenape country, a land without rigid boundaries and fences, but it remained a region integrated economically, socially, and culturally. The site of Philadelphia at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers provided an important nucleus of trade for southeastern Pennsylvania, West Jersey, and Delaware just as it had served the Lenapes and Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, and English settlers more than a century earlier. The English had drawn boundaries between the three colonies and then divided the provinces into counties and local governments. Legally and culturally many colonists created racial lines between whites, who could not be enslaved, and Africans and Indians who could be denied freedom and land. Beginning with the Lenapes, the region developed a culture that placed greater emphasis on peaceful resolution of conflict, religious freedom, and personal liberty than other North American colonies, even as economic development encouraged the growth of slavery and expropriation of native lands, leading to war. The Delaware Valley’s culture had a foundation as diverse and complicated as its people.
Jean R. Soderlund is Professor of History emeritus at Lehigh University. She is the author of articles and books on the history of the early Delaware Valley, including Quakers and Slavery: A Divided Spirit (1985) and Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society before William Penn (2015), for which she won the 2016 Philip S. Klein Book Prize from the Pennsylvania Historical Association.
Copyright 2017, Rutgers University
Topics: Colonial Era
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Because of Greater Philadelphia’s position as a political, cultural, and economic hub, the region’s residents have often found their daily lives deeply affected by times of national crisis. Civil defense, generally defined as local voluntary programs designed to protect civilian life and property during times of conflict, has taken many forms: militia, home defense, civilian defense, ⇒ Read More
Classical music stands apart from vernacular (or “folk” music) and from “popular” music (in the form of simplified commercial entertainment) in its complexity of structure and high level of performance requirements. Philadelphia established a major position in American classical composition and performance in the early nineteenth century, and maintained that position through its premier professional ⇒ Read More
Clockmaking in colonial and early republican Philadelphia and its environs was considered an intellectual profession requiring great artisanal skill and scientific knowledge. Among rural communities surrounding the city, the mathematical precision and mechanical intricacy of the profession put it at a superior rank to the crafts of blacksmithing and carpentry. Clockmakers like David Rittenhouse (1732-96) ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s first coffeehouse opened in 1703, and by mid-century half a dozen operated within the city limits. Their purpose, however, changed in important ways as the eighteenth century progressed. Early coffeehouses primarily served the needs of traders and mariners, acting as crucial centers of commerce. In the decades following the American Revolution, however, some coffeehouse ⇒ Read More
Published in Philadelphia in its first edition in January 1776, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense became one of the most widely disseminated and most often read political treatises in history. It looked forward to democratic politics and universal human rights, yet it also reflected local circumstances in Philadelphia. Common Sense was thus an overture to democracy ⇒ Read More
At the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, independence from the British Crown was an outlandish thought in the minds of many American colonists. They enjoyed the protections of one of the world’s most powerful empires and rights and freedoms granted to its subjects. Little more than a decade later, delegates from these ⇒ Read More
Crime is inextricably linked to Philadelphia’s shifting economic fortunes. Its history reflects the region’s status as a port and point of entry for goods, immigrants, and migrants, where concentrations of both wealth and poverty developed in a center of American commerce and industry. As a type of economic activity, forms of crime changed dramatically as ⇒ Read More
Social and economic elites dominated formal politics in Pennsylvania and New Jersey during the colonial and revolutionary eras, but ordinary people, often those who were ineligible to vote, helped shape the political culture. To support or oppose economic conditions and policies imposed by imperial, provincial, and local legislators, they periodically engaged in public celebrations, civil ⇒ Read More
Established in the winter of 1748-49, the Dancing Assembly of Philadelphia— also known as “The Assembly” or “The Assemblies”— originated as an occasion for elite men and women to gather for social dancing in carefully matched pairs. Modeled after the English “assembly,” a type of formal social gathering most famously held in Bath and London, ⇒ Read More
Documentation of the lives of deaf individuals in the Philadelphia region, and elsewhere, is limited. Historic accounts depict desperate individuals roaming the streets or begging. Prior to the advent of public schools for the deaf, only elite deaf individuals received private tutoring. In the early nineteenth century, Philadelphia philanthropists, religious figures, educators, merchants, and policymakers ⇒ Read More
Carved out of Chester County in 1789 (with the remainder of that county lying to its southwest), Delaware County long served as a distinct but close neighbor to the City of Philadelphia. Linked to the Philadelphia port from the eighteenth century onward, the eastern part of the county, including Chester and its neighboring municipalities along ⇒ Read More
As dentistry slowly emerged as a profession in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, innovative dentists in Philadelphia helped to shape dental care, procedures, and tools. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, dental colleges, journals, and societies contributed to the expansion of dental training and practice, which gradually but increasingly became accessible to women and people of ⇒ Read More
The cruel practice of dogfighting has thrived in the shadows of the Philadelphia region for more than 150 years. Most commonly, young men have matched dogs against one another in remote locations and blighted neighborhoods for money and bragging rights. The process of training and culling weak dogs as well as the fights themselves have ⇒ Read More
For as long as people have inhabited Philadelphia and the surrounding area, dogs probably have been present, too. As the first domesticated animal, dogs possess a long, complicated past with humans, likely dating back between fifteen thousand and thirty thousand years. Domesticated canids accompanied human migrants to the Americas around 10,000 to 12,000 BCE. Over ⇒ Read More
Located a mile north of the Routes 611-202 convergence, thirty-five miles north of Center City Philadelphia, Doylestown has served as the government center of Bucks County for over two centuries. Once a small village surrounded by farms, Doylestown developed into a bustling borough with a thriving downtown, a university, two museums, and commuter rail that ⇒ Read More
From seventeenth-century Dutch settlements in the Delaware Valley to twenty-first century business connections, the greater Philadelphia area has had longstanding and meaningful ties with the Netherlands. Not to be confused with the more numerous Pennsylvania Dutch—who are in fact German, or Deutsch, speakers—Nederlanders helped shape Philadelphia through migration and cultural, social, and economic exchange. The ⇒ Read More
Since the early nineteenth century, several reform efforts have aimed to improve Philadelphia-area public schools. While the historical context and the individual actors changed over time, a firm belief that basic education for all could foster social equality animated reform in every era. Of course, race- and class-based inequality did not disappear, but educational reform ⇒ Read More
Nestled between Second Street and the Delaware River, thirty-two Federal and Georgian residences stand as reminders of the early days of Philadelphia. Elfreth’s Alley exists today as a residential street, historic landmark, and interpreted site labeled the “Nation’s Oldest Residential Street.” The heroic efforts of residents and local historians from the 1930s to 1960s preserved ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia and its nearby vicinities became important sites for entomological study by the nineteenth century due to the presence of the Academy of Natural Sciences (established in 1812) and the American Entomological Society (1859). Entomological writing and illustration also flourished in this center for book production. Over time, entomologists’ interest in insects shifted from the ⇒ Read More
From the mid-eighteenth century, prominent Philadelphians looking for a rural, healthy, scenic environment built small mansions, or villas, along the Schuylkill River, one of two major waterways that define Philadelphia’s geography. In the early nineteenth century, the city began to acquire properties along the Schuylkill, including these villa houses. These purchases culminated in the 1855 ⇒ Read More
Long before bridges, trestles, and elevated expressways, the people and products of Greater Philadelphia required a network of ferries to traverse the region’s numerous waterways. Once ubiquitous on the area’s rivers, ferries were economic necessities that were phased out over time as industry changed and transportation improved. Until the advent of steam and internal combustion ⇒ Read More
Upon receiving his grant for Pennsylvania in March 1681, William Penn (1644-1718) immediately set about attracting investors and settlers. To pay expenses and realize a profit from his enterprise, Penn had to sell land. The “First Purchasers” who responded to his promotional tracts provided essential economic support for Penn’s “Holy Experiment.” Penn sought to attract ⇒ Read More
In the colonial era linen and flaxseed were fundamental to the mercantile life of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia’s linen and flaxseed market extended from the farthest point of settlement, Fort Pitt, to the fields of England and Ireland. Traveling in a circle of trade across the north Atlantic, these goods forged relationships among ⇒ Read More
At the time the first European colonists settled in the Delaware Valley, few places in the world were as well-suited to the cultivation of grains. The region’s generous rainfall, mild climate, and rich limestone soils provided the perfect environment for planting wheat, the most desirable and profitable grain in the world. By 1750 the Delaware ⇒ Read More
Constructed from the seventeenth through the mid-twentieth century, defensive fortifications along the lower Delaware River and bay guarded the region during times of international and sectional upheaval. As important structures with such long histories, forts help to explain the political, economic, and social history of the Greater Philadelphia region. The earliest fortifications in the lower ⇒ Read More
Freemasonry, one of the oldest fraternal societies in the world, arrived in America with migrants from England to Philadelphia, Boston, and other places in the British colonies. The fraternity in the Philadelphia area became one of the strongest of all American grand lodges and created one of the finest examples of Masonic architecture in the ⇒ Read More
In the Philadelphia region, burial and funeral rituals have served to honor the dead and comfort the living. These practices have reflected shifting gender roles, new material and technological developments, and changing demographics. Until the mid-nineteenth century, women were the primary caretakers of the dead prior to burial, while male sextons interred bodies. By the ⇒ Read More
From the founding of Philadelphia in 1682 until the late 1800s, a vibrant community of cabinetmakers plied their skills alongside specialists in carving, chair making, and turning. Others who worked with wood included carpenters, coopers, shipwrights, and wheelwrights. These tradesmen were as diverse as the city itself, and their complex webs of language, ethnicity, religious ⇒ Read More
The grand jury, enshrined in common law and inscribed in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, has represented a force for citizen participation in the judicial process as well as for government power. The grand jury has the power to indict in felony cases and the broad right to investigate crimes. Although Delaware, Pennsylvania, ⇒ Read More
How often have you heard people proudly call Philadelphia a “greene country towne,” quoting William Penn’s evocative description of the city he founded? Along with “city of brotherly love” – another catchy Penn coinage – the phrase ranks as the granddaddy of all municipal brands, pre-dating “Big Apple” and “Big Easy” by almost three centuries. ⇒ Read More
The Delaware Valley’s frosty winters have always required residents to heat their homes for months at a time. At the time of the Philadelphia’s founding, the dense forests in its hinterland offered ample stocks of firewood—the region’s first home heating fuel. Anthracite coal from northeastern Pennsylvania began to supplement wood in the early nineteenth century ⇒ Read More
Over the course of three hundred years, urbanization and habitat loss in the Philadelphia region threatened amphibians and reptiles that once fostered rich scientific discussions. Nevertheless, pioneering herpetologists influenced medical, paleontological, and ecological studies of these creatures in North America. Beginning in the eighteenth century, naturalists on both sides of the Atlantic became entranced with ⇒ Read More
Since its founding, Philadelphia has acted as a commercial hub for the surrounding region, its hinterlands. Although New Jersey and Delaware had European settlers before Philadelphia’s establishment in 1682, Pennsylvania and its founding city quickly became the focus of economic activity in the region extending both east and west of the Delaware River. With an advantageous ⇒ Read More
Located six miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia, Germantown is one of America’s most historic neighborhoods. It is also one that offers provocative examples of how people consider the past. Originally part of 5,700 acres that William Penn sold to two groups from the Rhine region of what is now Germany, German Township was a processing center, made ⇒ Read More
Hog Island, at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, exemplifies many broad trends in the environmental history of the region. Once improved for agriculture, the natural landscape ultimately deteriorated through overexploitation, leading to its conversion for industrial, commercial, and other forms of development. No longer productive in the early twentieth century, the island ⇒ Read More
What might you do if you found yourself with almost 50,000 square miles of seemingly virgin land in a place you have never seen, far from home? In 1681, when William Penn – entrepreneur, scholar, religious mystic, Enlightenment intellectual – acquired Pennsylvania, he had a ready answer. Primed with forward-looking ideas about equality and shared ⇒ Read More
Although Philadelphia has been a premier city for medical innovation since the mid-eighteenth century, the diverse peoples of the region also have used home remedies to heal themselves. Home remedies preserve traditional domestic healthcare practices, and they have persisted into the twenty-first century as part of alternative medicine and mainstream scientific therapies. Medical recipes often ⇒ Read More
The Greater Philadelphia area’s position near the Atlantic Ocean has made it vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms, especially along the Delaware and New Jersey shores, and to flooding from storm surges along the Delaware River. The majority of storms to hit the region have been tropical storms, because hurricanes have tended to weaken over ⇒ Read More
European settlement of the region on both sides of the Delaware River dates to the early seventeenth century. The population grew rapidly after 1682, when Pennsylvania’s policy of religious tolerance and its reputation as the “best poor man’s country” attracted people from all walks of life. By the time of the American Revolution, Philadelphia was ⇒ Read More
Originally the Pennsylvania State House, this eighteenth-century landmark associated with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution evolved from a workplace of government to a treasured shrine, tourist attraction, and World Heritage Site. Its history encompasses more than 275 years of struggles for freedom and public participation in creating, preserving, and debating the founding ⇒ Read More
Despite Philadelphia’s prominence, throughout its history, as a center for medical education and care, the region has experienced numerous epidemics of infectious disease. British America’s largest city in the eighteenth century, Philadelphia suffered dreadful outbreaks of smallpox and yellow fever, while the nineteenth century brought an exotic new disease—cholera—that killed hundreds. By the early twentieth ⇒ Read More
Insurance is sometimes called an “invisible” element of commerce, but in Philadelphia, it has never been far from view. From the eighteenth century through the twenty-first, Philadelphia’s leadership in the field of insurance has enhanced the city’s preeminence in many types of commercial and communal endeavor. Insurance in Philadelphia, over the years, has meant everything ⇒ Read More
Contacts between the Philadelphia region and Ireland began in the late seventeenth century, shortly after the creation of Penn’s colony. Long a part of the urban fabric of Philadelphia, Irish Catholics endured nativist assaults of the Bible Riots of 1844 and did not see one of their own become mayor until James H. J. Tate, ⇒ Read More
Long before western Pennsylvania dominated the American iron and steel industries, southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey became the epicenter of colonial iron production. In a little over forty years beginning in 1716, Pennsylvania ironmasters erected nearly fifty furnaces and forges for producing iron stock and goods, and by 1840 the region’s national preeminence had ⇒ Read More
“Do you love truth for truth’s sake?” If the answer is yes, you are one-fourth of the way through the initiation ceremony of the Junto, which Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) founded in 1727 in Philadelphia. The 21-year-old Franklin, according to his autobiography, established the Junto as a club for “mutual improvement,” inviting acquaintances to meet weekly ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia was a center of patriotic fervor and activity during the American Revolution. Many of its residents, including women, participated in the war for independence by providing material and moral support for the “patriot” cause. On June 12, 1780, one such Philadelphian, Esther De Berdt Reed (1746-80), penned a broadside entitled “Sentiments of an American ⇒ Read More
From its earliest days as an English colony, Pennsylvania needed lawyers to run the government, settle disputes, and keep the peace. As Philadelphia became a large city and important commercial, insurance, banking, and shipping center on the eve of the American Revolution, its lawyers were crucial to every civic endeavor, including the making of ⇒ Read More
Over the centuries, strong ties of transport, investment, and culture grew between the Greater Philadelphia region and the Lehigh Valley. The valley was carved by retreating glaciers twenty thousand years ago and maintained by its namesake river running from the Pocono Mountains, through Blue Mountain, south and east into the Delaware River. Only in recent ⇒ Read More
It is America’s most famous relic, a nearly sacred totem. Several million people each year make a pilgrimage to see it, many dabbing their eyes as they gaze at it intently. Around the world it is regarded as a universal symbol of freedom. It began inconspicuously as a two-thousand-pound mass of unstable metal; it nearly ⇒ Read More
With a handful of like-minded associates, the twenty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) formed a self-improvement club in 1727. By reading, conversing, and improving their minds, members of the Junto believed they would also improve their circumstances, their social position, and their community. Four years later, much the same group institutionalized edification and self-improvement by establishing the ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s literary societies typically have combined the social with the intellectual and artistic, with ongoing shifts in the balance between the two. As descendants succeeded the founding members, they prized the relationships and traditions handed down over generations, perhaps more than the original literary pretext of the organization. Philadelphia has often been described as a ⇒ Read More
The Philadelphia region served as an important diffusion ground for log cabins in America as Swedes, Finns, and later Germans transposed their traditional building practices to the Delaware Valley, melding old-world models with the bounty of timber but adapting to the lack of tools and skilled craftsmen. By the mid-nineteenth century, log cabins had become ⇒ Read More
Lotteries have a long and controversial history in the Philadelphia region. Since the early eighteenth century, random drawings of numbers have funded charities and clubs, paid for roads and schools, settled estates, distributed land, and promoted various private and state-run initiatives. Lotteries have drawn multitudes of customers seeking cash and other prizes, but over three ⇒ Read More
The colonies that became the state of Delaware lay in the middle of the North American Atlantic coast, extending about 120 miles north from the Atlantic Ocean along the southwestern shore of the Delaware (South) Bay and River to within 10 miles of Philadelphia. Between 1609 and 1704, the area was a contested borderland between ⇒ Read More
During the American Revolution, Loyalists, or “Tories” as Patriots called them, included prominent Pennsylvania political and religious leaders as well as many less affluent individuals from the state’s Quaker and German pacifist communities. A large number of “neutrals” also struggled with increasing difficulty to remain uninvolved in the conflict. Religion, ethnicity, economic status, and local ⇒ Read More
Hundreds of machine shops, large and small, built and maintained Philadelphia’s position as the “Workshop of the World” through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the city and beyond, especially in Conshohocken, Pottstown, Phoenixville, Chester, and Camden, machining made the Delaware Valley a hub of foundries, craft shops, mills, workshops, and manufactories. During the latter ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia-based writers and publishers produced literary magazines as early as the 1740s, and, through the nineteenth century, the city was home to a succession of influential publications that supported many local authors and contributed to the establishment of a national literary culture. However, Philadelphia’s greatest prominence in literary publishing was achieved through a series of ⇒ Read More
Since the earliest European settlement in the seventeenth century, but especially from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, large houses constructed by elites in the Philadelphia region provided agreeable places to live that demonstrated social status. As architectural fashion and geographic distribution changed, mansions served as conspicuous symbols for elite Philadelphians and were a salient ⇒ Read More
Market Street, one of Philadelphia’s primary east-west thoroughfares, originated in the 1682 city plan devised by William Penn (1644-1718) and Thomas Holme (1624-95) as High Street, one hundred feet wide and located at the longitudinal center of the city. Penn’s knowledge of plague and a devastating conflagration in 1660s London prompted the width of the ⇒ Read More
The Mason-Dixon Line, which settled a border dispute dating back to the founding of Philadelphia, is the southern boundary of Pennsylvania. Originally surveyed by Englishmen Charles Mason (1728-86) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-79), the line separates Pennsylvania from Maryland and West Virginia along the 39º43ˊ N. parallel and bounds Delaware along an arc that extends from ⇒ Read More
In colonial Philadelphia, physicians and other medical practitioners contended with a difficult disease environment. The best medical efforts of the day were often inadequate or even harmful in the face of chronic illness and epidemic disease. The health of the colonial population varied by race and region. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as in the ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia offered seventeenth-century Mennonite immigrants a gateway to the New World and their first permanent settlement in what would become the United States. Despite decades of migration to other parts of the country, Mennonites not only persisted in the city but also grew and diversified. By the early years of the twenty-first century, Mennonites in ⇒ Read More
Philadelphians have pursued significant scholarly and popular interests in meteorology, the scientific study of the atmosphere, since the eighteenth century. Pioneering individuals, including Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) and Reuben Haines (1786–1831), tracked meteorological data, and scientific societies made the practice increasingly systematic by the late nineteenth century. Short-term weather forecasting became possible as technological innovations such ⇒ Read More
As the social and political center of colonial Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and the surrounding region served as a microcosm for the complex and often convoluted history of the colonial and early national militia. The role of Philadelphia militia also illustrates the nature of militia units during the American Revolutionary War. The first militia in the region ⇒ Read More
The early Europeans who settled in what would become Montgomery County in the eighteenth century tended prosperous farms, forges, and mills. They depended on the Philadelphia market to sell their products and on its port to connect them to the wider colonial world. Subsequent generations built a dense transportation network that linked county laborers, suppliers, ⇒ Read More
Mount Holly, New Jersey, established by Quakers in 1677 and known variously in its early history as Northampton and Bridgetown, became the county seat for Burlington County through an act of legislation in 1793. Three years later the Burlington County Court House, similar in style to Philadelphia’s Congress Hall, opened to serve as the official ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s fascination with Egyptian mummies began modestly, but by the end of the nineteenth century the city held some of the largest collections of mummies in the United States. Although some mummies had only a transient stay in Philadelphia or were lost to the ravages of time, many remained in museums to teach later generations ⇒ Read More
“My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free,” written in Philadelphia in 1759 by Francis Hopkinson (1737–91), is generally considered the first secular song written by a native-born American. Hopkinson, then a young graduate of the College of Philadelphia, later became a leading figure in Philadelphia music as well as a prominent patriot, signer of the ⇒ Read More
Indian-brokered alliances more than Quaker pacifism anchored the “long peace” in the decades that followed Pennsylvania’s founding in 1681. The Iroquois Covenant Chain and the Lenapes’ treaties with William Penn (1644-1718) established the diplomatic parameters that made the long peace possible and allowed Pennsylvania to avoid the kind of destructive frontier warfare that engulfed the ⇒ Read More
Relations between Pennsylvania’s Native American and European peoples underwent cataclysmic change during the second half of the eighteenth century. Despite the reputation for peaceful intercultural relations that Pennsylvania had enjoyed since its founding in 1681, a series of wars engulfed its frontiers after 1754, leading to the dispossession and exile of the colony’s native peoples. ⇒ Read More
During the colonial period, the diversity of the region that became southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware made trade and diplomacy difficult. The many cultural, especially linguistic, barriers between various Native American and European groups required go-betweens, or intermediaries. The intermediaries who were called upon to interpret across cultures and help maintain the ⇒ Read More
Native Americans lived in what became southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware for more than 10,000 years before the arrival of Europeans in the early seventeenth century. By emphasizing peace and trade, the Lenapes retained their sovereignty and power through 1680, unlike native peoples in New England and Virginia who suffered disastrous conflicts ⇒ Read More
While Philadelphia has not been alone in experiencing sharp undercurrents of nativism, virulent rhetoric and periodic waves of violence aimed at the foreign-born have often wracked the city. Clashes between nativists and immigrants between the 1720s and the 1920s helped to set the boundaries of the city as well as define the limits of American ⇒ Read More
Founded in 1638, the colony of New Sweden survived less than twenty years and at its peak numbered only about four hundred people, most of whom lived along the western bank of the Delaware River between what became Philadelphia and New Castle, Delaware. As small and short-lived as it proved to be, New Sweden had ⇒ Read More
New Year’s celebrations in the Philadelphia region have often included parties, formal wear, fireworks, and parades as part of a two-day, secular celebration from December 31 to January 1. The changing of a calendar year from one to the next has long been cause for commemoration and reflection, and the city’s diverse communities have shaped ⇒ Read More
Founded in 1784 as the county seat of Montgomery County, Norristown sits on three hills that slope down to the Schuylkill River fifteen miles northwest of Center City Philadelphia. Its riverfront location and abundant waterpower helped the town prosper throughout the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth. In the second half of the twentieth ⇒ Read More
The history of nursing in the Philadelphia area is one of long and storied traditions. Men and women have often nursed their sick families and friends at home, which for millennia represented the best, safest, and most comforting site for treatment and care. Bringing a stranger into that home to provide nursing care was a ⇒ Read More
Opera has played an important role in Philadelphia arts and entertainment since the mid-eighteenth century. The city has long been a key center for opera and holds several important distinctions in opera history, including being the site of the first serious opera performances in America, birthplace of the first major American opera composer, and home ⇒ Read More
While Philadelphians maintained scientific interest in birds between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, the region became an important scholarly center for ornithology by the early nineteenth century. Primarily known for taxonomy (the science of classifying organisms), ornithological study transformed in the 1860s after the scientific community discovered a conclusive evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs. ⇒ Read More
Historians have often situated Philadelphia in three geographic contexts: on the western edge of the “Atlantic World” during the colonial era, as an eastern metropole for hinterlands and the receding frontier to the west, and in the mid-Atlantic region between the North and South of the United States. These geographic frames all make sense, given ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia has a long, distinguished history as a center of American painting. In addition to the work of individuals and artistic family dynasties, the history of Philadelphia painters is linked with the city’s art schools, particularly the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), founded in 1805. Working locally and abroad, Philadelphia painters have connected ⇒ Read More
From colonial times to the nationwide deindustrialization trend starting in the 1950s, Philadelphia played a leading role in providing American and overseas markets with quality paints and varnishes. “Oil and Colours” merchants of the colonial period turned, during the early nineteenth century, into family-owned-and-managed manufacturing companies, as they opened paint and varnish factories in Center ⇒ Read More
In March of 1681, King Charles II of England (1630-85) granted William Penn (1644-1718), gentleman and Quaker, the charter for a proprietary colony on the North American continent. Although both English colonial policy and the organization of the Society of Friends, known as Quakers, were works in progress between the years 1682 and 1701, in ⇒ Read More
The Charter of Privileges, effective October 28, 1701, and sometimes known as the Charter of Liberties, functioned as Pennsylvania’s constitution until the American Revolution. It replaced several attempts since the colony’s 1681 establishment to create a viable frame of government. Among the more permissive of colonial constitutions in British North America, the document guaranteed religious ⇒ Read More
Petty Island, part of Pennsauken, New Jersey, in the Delaware River opposite the Kensington section of Philadelphia, played a significant supporting role in the economic development of the region. Also known as “Pettys” or “Petty’s” Island, over time it served as a place where people hunted, fished, gathered herbs, farmed, built and repaired boats, operated ⇒ Read More
Dating to 1682, Philadelphia County’s founding coincided with the origin of the city. Although the county faded from view after its consolidation with the city in 1854, it remained important for understanding Philadelphia’s urban development, local government, and long battles for political reform. When founding Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644-1718) followed long-established precedent by dividing his ⇒ Read More
The term Philadelphia lawyer originated in the eighteenth century as a description of members of the Philadelphia bar, then widely considered the best trained in the American colonies and exceptionally skilled in the law and rhetoric. By the twentieth century the term had taken on a less flattering secondary meaning, to denote a clever attorney ⇒ Read More
New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the forest and wetlands area also known as the Pinelands or the Pines, have played a varied but vital role in the region’s cultural and economic history. The Pine Barrens have, over time, been a home to Native American populations, a center of early American industry, a hub of military activity, ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia, like many cities throughout the Atlantic world, encountered a new threat in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries from pirates who raided the numerous merchant vessels in the region. Several historians have labeled this era as the golden age of piracy. Pirates also remained active after 1730, using the city as a staging ⇒ Read More
When American patriots declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, the single largest boon to their cause was the nation’s ability to feed itself—as well as much of the Atlantic world. Beginning in the mid-1700s, crop failures across Europe and an expanding slave population in the West Indies created a huge demand for food from ⇒ Read More
Upon first glance, it may seem odd that in Philadelphia, the intellectual heartland of the American Enlightenment, the first drama did not play until April 1754, over seventy years after the city’s founding. That play, The Fair Penitent by Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), was licensed for twenty-four performances, with the warning that the license would be ⇒ Read More
Created by state law in 1854 to maintain public order, prevent riots, and apprehend criminals, the Philadelphia Police Department operated for its first hundred years under direct control of politicians and served the reigning party’s interests by collecting graft as well as apprehending vagrants and solving crimes. During the twentieth century, especially in the latter ⇒ Read More
Pontiac’s War (1763-66), a conflict between Native Americans and the British Empire, began in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions but had important ramifications for Philadelphians as panic in the Pennsylvania backcountry sent refugees to the city. The arrival of the “Paxton Boys,” who were determined to seek revenge against Indians, sparked a political ⇒ Read More
Urban areas in the United States have always attracted destitute persons, including immigrants and internal migrants fleeing even worse poverty and harsher conditions elsewhere. Philadelphia and its environs were no exception, having had a reputation as “the best poor man’s country” reaching as far back as the city’s founding in 1682. Despite the area’s vibrant ⇒ Read More
From the late seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth century, Philadelphia’s printing and publishing industry was a central component of the city’s evolution from “Green Country Town” to “Cradle of Liberty” to “Workshop of the World.” Growing their operations from small do-it-all shops into large fully mechanized publishing houses, Philadelphia’s printers and publishers capitalized on the ⇒ Read More
In the late 1700s, on the heels of the American Revolution, Philadelphia emerged as a national and international leader in prison reform and the transformation of criminal justice practices. More than any other community in early America, Philadelphia invested heavily in the intellectual and physical reconstruction of penal philosophies, and the region’s jails and prisons ⇒ Read More
The private or independent schools in the Greater Philadelphia area came about mainly to satisfy a need felt by wealthy, white families to educate their children in a cultural and intellectual environment that would prepare them for the responsibilities befitting their gender, race, and class status. Most have existed for at least a century. Although ⇒ Read More
As one of the largest British ports in North America, during the eighteenth century Philadelphia held a prominent place in privateering, the practice of privately financed warships attacking enemy shipping during wartime. These vessels, either converted merchant vessels or purpose-built commerce raiders, were often investments of wealthy or enterprising merchants. In order to operate legally, ⇒ Read More
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 created an imaginary line along the Appalachian Mountains that prohibited European settlement beyond the crest of the mountains, approximately two hundred miles west of Philadelphia. It thus established the region from the eastern seaboard to the mountains as the extent of British North America. In Pennsylvania the proclamation heightened racial, ⇒ Read More
From the moment Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans came together in the Delaware Valley, they confronted a host of health threats. Philadelphia’s earliest public health efforts reflected the lack of scientific understanding of infectious diseases, and usually began only after an outbreak commenced. After the terrible 1793 yellow fever epidemic, Philadelphia’s leaders founded a permanent ⇒ Read More
Public markets in Philadelphia belong to an ancient tradition of urban food provisioning in which the governing authority designated specific places for the exchange of life’s necessities. A formal and organized system of exchange was intended to attract local and regional producers to the city in order to ensure citizens an adequate supply of healthful ⇒ Read More
For more than three centuries public transportation has helped both to shape and define the Greater Philadelphia region. Befitting one of the world’s largest cities, Philadelphia and its hinterland have been served by a bewildering array of transportation options, and these vehicles and routes have helped to define the extent of the region. Public transportation ⇒ Read More
The centuries-long relationship between the Philadelphia region and Puerto Rico unfolded in four interrelated areas: economic links, political channels, personal networks, and cultural exchange. Several dynamics shaped those connections over time. Colonialism, first under Spain and later the United States, set the broad context for trade relations and government policies. Individual reactions to those policies ⇒ Read More
Much as New England was shaped by its Puritan heritage, the history of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley intertwined heavily with the Religious Society of Friends. Philadelphia gained one of its nicknames, “The Quaker City,” from its founding and settlement by the Friends, colloquially known as Quakers, a historically Christian religious sect that emerged during ⇒ Read More
From colonial-era taverns to the celebrity chef establishments of the early twenty-first century, Greater Philadelphia’s restaurants illuminated the region’s socioeconomic, cultural, and culinary trends while also providing sustenance for millions, employing thousands, and in some cases emerging as historic and nostalgic treasures. Taverns and public houses (“pubs”) represented the area’s earliest food-serving establishments; many operated ⇒ Read More
The Stamp Act of 1765, the first direct tax ever imposed by the British government on colonial Americans, inadvertently provoked a ten-year clash of wills between Britain and the colonies that led to the American Revolutionary War. During this Revolutionary Crisis period (1765-75), colonists resisted imperial taxes and other Parliamentary innovations with protests and with ⇒ Read More
Parochial schools in the Philadelphia region share a common Catholic mission and similar patterns of growth and development. For more than three centuries they have responded to the changing characteristics of the region’s Catholic population. Several of these developments, such as schools for specific ethnic groups, occurred in Philadelphia, Camden, N.J., and Wilmington, Del., within ⇒ Read More
Parishes stand at the center of Roman Catholic religious life. Since the arrival of Catholicism in the Philadelphia region in the early eighteenth century, parishes have shaped Catholics’ sense of communal identity by functioning as both the administrative unit of a diocese and the primary site of Catholic worship. Developing into expansive complexes that often ⇒ Read More
Lining Philadelphia’s straight, gridiron streets, the row house defines the vernacular architecture of the city and reflects the ambitions of the people who built and lived there. Row houses were built to fit all levels of taste and budgets, from single-room bandbox plans to grand town houses. The row house was easy to build on ⇒ Read More
Before Philadelphia’s founding, Salem, New Jersey, was the first English Quaker colony along the Delaware River. Established in 1675, the city of Salem had early prominence and served as a port of entry, but was soon overshadowed by Philadelphia. Although eighteenth-century settlement in Salem County consisted primarily of farmers and craftsmen, the proximity of the ⇒ Read More
Since the eighteenth century, Philadelphia-area scientific societies have promoted scholarship and innovation, increased access to scientific knowledge and played an important role in the professionalization of various disciplines. Longstanding institutions, including the American Philosophical Society (1743), the Academy of Natural Sciences (1812), and the Franklin Institute (1824), have garnered national and international accolades, while many ⇒ Read More
Pennsylvania’s Scots Irish, a hybrid people of Scots and Irish ancestry, were the most numerically predominant group within an Irish diaspora migration that brought between 250,000 and 500,000 Irish immigrants (most of them Protestants from Ulster and predominately Presbyterians) to America between 1700 and 1820. Philadelphia was one of their principal destinations. As the prototypical ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia and the surrounding area played a significant role in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), also known as the French and Indian War and the Great War for Empire. Beginning in North America and spreading to Europe, India, and the West Indies, the war was a struggle for colonial dominance between France and Great Britain ⇒ Read More
Perhaps no business, industry, or institution illuminates the history of the Greater Philadelphia region from the seventeenth century to the present day more clearly than shipbuilding and shipyards. This may seem surprising since Philadelphia and nearby Delaware riverfront ports lie one hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean up an often treacherous Delaware Bay and river ⇒ Read More
One of Philadelphia’s oldest occupations, shoemaking grew in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to become one of the city’s leading industries. During that period shoemakers in Philadelphia also became some of the leading figures in the city’s, and the nation’s, burgeoning labor movement. The methods and institutions that these leaders used throughout the nineteenth century ⇒ Read More
Slavery and the slave trade were central to the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Philadelphia as the region economically benefited from the institution and dealt with tensions created by slave trading, slave holding, and abolitionism. Early Philadelphia, an Atlantic trading hub, became both a focal point for the slave trade and a community of enslaved ⇒ Read More
Once a prominent feature of the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden, Smith’s and Windmill Islands were shifting signifiers of the recreational, commercial, and financial development of the region. Originally one island, then segmented by a canal in 1838, the islands attracted early but unsuccessful proposals for bridges between Camden and Philadelphia. Although they served ⇒ Read More
The origins of smoking tobacco in the Philadelphia region can be traced to the era before European colonization and evolved from pipes and cigars to the commercialization of cigarettes beginning in the late nineteenth century. Philadelphia-area farmers grew tobacco, local manufacturers produced cigars and cigarettes, and the N.W. Ayer advertising agency helped Camel cigarettes become ⇒ Read More
Dancing has been popular in Philadelphia since the city was founded, in spite of religious opposition, especially from Quakers. Far from succumbing to religious criticism, social dancing gained in importance as a way for socially ambitious Philadelphians to demonstrate their gentility. For most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, well-to-do families gathered for formal balls ⇒ Read More
Society Hill is one of Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhoods, with more buildings surviving from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than any other in the country. Usually defined by the boundaries of Walnut, Lombard, Front and Eighth Streets, this area south of Independence National Historic Park evolved over the centuries as a diverse, complex residential and commercial ⇒ Read More
Soon after its founding, Philadelphia quickly crossed the threshold from a mere rural agglomeration into a true city, complete with an urban soundscape. In contrast to the countryside, where large distances and tree lines weakened the intensity of sound traveling between farms, within the city neighbors had no choice but to hear the diverse noises ⇒ Read More
From the colonial period to the present, street vendors have been integral yet contentious features of Greater Philadelphia’s economic landscape. Providing massive numbers of customers with food, clothing, and other goods while allowing many working people an occupational foothold in the region, vending also sparked controversies regarding taxes, regulation, public health, and uses of space. ⇒ Read More
Land was the most valuable commodity in the Delaware Valley during the colonial period, and it had to be surveyed before it could be granted or transferred. In Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644–1718) relied upon surveyors to measure and map his new lands. Colonial surveyors established tract, manor, township, and county boundaries, laid out city streets ⇒ Read More
From small operations in the colonial era to elaborate social spaces in the twenty-first century, taverns in and around Philadelphia have been vital institutions, offering respite, nourishment, and camaraderie to travelers and patrons. Over time, attitudes and laws regarding the consumption of alcohol altered the character of the tavern and gave rise to modern hotels, ⇒ Read More
Growing, trading in, and manufacturing tobacco were important components of the economy and society of the Delaware Valley for centuries. Early residents raised tobacco for personal use and as a trade commodity, but in most of the region it fell out of favor by the late eighteenth century. The exception was Southeast Pennsylvania, where tobacco ⇒ Read More
In the Philadelphia region prior to European settlement and during the colonial period, the Lenapes and other Indians used their knowledge of the landscape to engineer the most efficient routes through forests, mountains, and often shallow, treacherous waterways. Their complex system of overland paths crisscrossed the region to reach east to the shell fisheries on ⇒ Read More
From the arrival of Europeans in the seventeenth century through the era of the early republic, treaties were an important tool in diplomacy between native nations and colonial Pennsylvania and later the nascent federal government. Treaties followed indigenous modes of diplomacy, into which colonists introduced, and imposed, the signing of treaty documents. However, treaty councils ⇒ Read More
The Treaty of Shackamaxon, otherwise known as William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians or “Great Treaty,” is Pennsylvania’s most longstanding historical tradition, a counterpart to the foundation stories of Virginia (John Smith and Pocahontas) and New England (the first Thanksgiving). According to the tradition, soon after William Penn (1644-1718) arrived in Pennsylvania in late October ⇒ Read More
Trees have been culturally, environmentally, and symbolically significant to the Philadelphia region since the city’s founding. They were believed to improve public health, they beautified and refined city streets, parks, and other green spaces, and several were revered as living memorials to past historical events. Trees also faced their fair share of destruction during the ⇒ Read More
For nearly a hundred years from 1693 to 1781, Tun Tavern served residents and visitors of Philadelphia near the Delaware River waterfront with food, spirits, and sociability. Also a meeting place for social and military organizations, Tun Tavern is best remembered as the “birthplace” of the United States Marine Corps. Its patrons included such noteworthy ⇒ Read More
Vagrancy, generally defined as the act of continuous geographical movement by the poor, often has been interpreted to signify idleness, unemployment, and homelessness. Since the colonial era, it has been a driving social concern in the Mid-Atlantic region, where urban centers, including Philadelphia, attracted poor migrants seeking new economic prospects. Laws created to aid them ⇒ Read More
In 1777 the Continental Army, unable to prevent the British forces from taking Philadelphia, retreated to Valley Forge for the winter of 1777-78. Selected for its strategic location between Philadelphia and York, along the Schuylkill River, Valley Forge had natural defensive positions, access to water, enough land to support the army, and was far enough ⇒ Read More
With the Walking Purchase of 1737, Pennsylvania officials defrauded the Delaware Indians out of a vast amount of land, perhaps over one million acres, in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys. John Penn (1700-46) and Thomas Penn (1702-75), the sons of William Penn (1644-1718), with James Logan (1674-1751), the provincial secretary of Pennsylvania, devised the land ⇒ Read More
Boosted by its strategic location some twenty-five miles from Philadelphia, West Chester, Pennsylvania, grew and prospered for most of its history as the county seat of Chester County. Pressured by mid-twentieth-century suburbanization, the borough lost its commercial and residential dominance and even its role as county seat somewhat diminished as the growth of the surrounding ⇒ Read More
Between 1674 and 1702, New Jersey was divided in half: The proprietary West New Jersey colony faced the Delaware River while East New Jersey looked toward the Hudson. Although this political division lasted less than three decades, it represented long-standing geographical orientations of the Lenape and Munsee native inhabitants and European colonists. Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) ⇒ Read More
Located on the Woodbury Creek in the northwestern part of Gloucester County, Woodbury formed as a result of the first Quaker family to settle the area, in 1683. Initially a lightly populated farming community, the village eventually became the seat of Gloucester County and over time emerged as an important center for transportation, manufacturing, and ⇒ Read More