Pennsylvania Colony Facts

1681–1754

Pennsylvania Colony was founded in 1681 when King Charles II granted a charter to William Penn for the establishment of a new colony between Maryland and New York.

William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, Illustration, NYPL

William Penn, the Founder of Pennsylvania. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Essential Facts About Pennsylvania Colony

Pennsylvania Colony was founded in 1681 when King Charles II granted a charter to William Penn for the establishment of a new colony between Maryland and New York, in a region that was initially part of New Sweden and then New Netherland. The King named the colony Pennsylvania, in honor of Penn’s father, Admiral William Penn. The first settlers arrived in Pennsylvania in December 1681 and Penn arrived in October 1682. Pennsylvania grew quickly due to Penn’s skills at marketing the colony, his commitment to diversity, and his willingness to make business deals with the Indian tribes to acquire land. Pennsylvania was full of rich, tillable land, ideal for farming, making it attractive to settlers.

Pennsylvania has been known as the Colony of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Colony, and the Province of Pennsylvania.

Early European Settlements in Pennsylvania Colony

The easter portion of the territory given to Penn was originally part of New Sweden. The Swedish colony struggled and in 1655 the Dutch invaded and conquered it and New Sweden became part of New Netherland. During the Anglo-Dutch Wars, England gained possession of New Netherland.

Most of the early settlements in the region were on present-day Delaware Bay, south of the land granted to Penn, and on the east side of the Delaware River.

It was in 1644 that the Swedes established the first settlement in Pennsylvania, on the western shore of the Delaware River. They called it Upland. Later, it was renamed Chester, after the city in England.

Swiss Log Cabin, Pennsylvania
This photograph shows a Swedish log cabin in Pennsylvania. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Swedes continued to move north, and Fort New Gothenburg was built on Tinicum Island which is the present-day site of the Philadelphia International Airport. The settlement included a mansion for Governor Johann Printz. His estate, which was called “Printz’s Hall,” included at least one other house and an orchard.

After England took control of the region and Penn received his charter, new settlements were established.

Philadelphia was founded by William Penn in 1682 and quickly became the largest city in Colonial America. Later, it served as the meeting place for the Continental Congress, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were drafted.

Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, Illustration
This illustration depicts Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Bristol, situated along the Delaware River, was settled in 1681.

Germantown was founded by German Quaker and Mennonite immigrants in 1683. It was one of the first German-speaking settlements in America.

Lancaster, originally a part of Chester County, was founded in 1709. The area, including the village of Paradise, was a haven for French Huguenots who were granted land by Penn. Paradise is notable because the first white settler was a woman — Mary Warenbauer Ferree.

Lancaster was the capital of Pennsylvania from 1799 to 1812 and played a crucial role during the American Revolution.

New Hope, initially a mill town, was established in 1710 as Coryell’s Ferry, along the banks of the Delaware River. The town played a role in the events that took place in December and January of 1776. Continental Troops used the ferry to cross the Delaware River before and after the Battle of Trenton. The town was renamed “New Hope” in 1790 after a fire destroyed some of the mills.

York was founded in 1741. It was briefly the capital of the United States when the Continental Congress met there in 1777–1778.

In 1734, Daniel Boone, the legendary frontiersman, was born in a one-room log cabin roughly 10 miles northeast of present-day Reading in the Oley Valley. Reading was mapped out in 1743 and became an important industrial and manufacturing center.

Daniel Boone, Portrait, Harding
Daniel Boone. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

1681 Charter of Pennsylvania Colony

Date Granted — King Charles II granted the Charter to William Penn on February 28, 1681.

Recipients of the Charter — The charter was granted to William Penn, “his Heires and Assignes.”

First Government — Unlike many other colonial charters, the Pennsylvania government did not specify the structure of the first government. It was defined by Penn in 1682 in his document, “Frame of the Government of Pennsylvania.”

Type of Charter and Colony — Because the charter was granted to a person, it was a Proprietary Charter, which made Pennsylvania a Proprietary Colony. Under the charter, Pennsylvania was given the freedom to govern itself, as long as its laws were based on English law at the time.

King Charles II, Crowned at Westminster Abbey
King Charles II. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Pennsylvania Colony and the Evolution of Its Government

Penn intended to maintain control of his colony and guide it as he saw fit. However, he also wanted to provide liberties to the citizens, including religious freedom. 

Penn wrote a document he called the “Frame of Government,” which followed the same basic structure of government in the other colonies by providing for a Governor, a Provincial Council, and a General Assembly.

William Penn’s 1682 Frame of Government

The Frame of Government was accompanied by a set of “Laws Agreed Upon in England.”

Penn himself was the first Governor of the Pennsylvania Colony. In his absence, a Deputy Governor was appointed to carry out the tasks of the office. The first Deputy Governor was William Markham, Penn’s cousin.

In the Frame of Government, Penn called for the eligible voters of Pennsylvania, known as “Freemen” to meet on December 20, 1682, for the purpose of choosing 72 “persons” who were known for their “wisdom, virtue and ability.” Those people would serve as the Provincial Council and meet for the first time on January 10, 1683.

The Frame of Government provided for a bicameral legislature:

  1. The Provincial Council would have 72 members, elected by the people.
  2. The General Assembly would have no more than 200 members, elected by the people.

Penn put rules in place that ensured the members of the Provincial Council rotated, so that “all may be fitted for government, and have experience of the care and burden of it.”

When the Provincial Council voted on any matter, the Governor, or his representative, was given three votes. Together, the Governor and Council were responsible for proposing legislation, which would be presented to the General Assembly.

The Assembly was then responsible for approving laws and could propose amendments. However, it could not propose new laws.

Once the Assembly approved laws, the Governor and the Provincial Council were responsible for enforcing them. However, the Governor had the power to veto any law, as did the Provincial Council.

William Penn, Landing in Pennsylvania, 1682
This painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris depicts the arrival of William Penn in Pennsylvania in 1682. Image Source: Library of Congress.

The 1683 Frame of Government

In December, 42 Freemen gathered to discuss the Frame of Government and the Laws Printed in England. They approved the Laws but rejected Penn’s Frame of Government. 

Penn agreed to make changes. In the 1683 Frame of Government, he eliminated the Governor’s vote on the Council, and dramatically reduced the number of members on the Council (18) and in the Assembly (36).

Unfortunately, the Assembly was still unable to propose laws, which the members disliked. As a result, they often rejected bills or refused to renew them.

Penn Sails to England

On August 12, 1864, Penn returned to England so he could deal with issues regarding a border dispute with Lord Baltimore and Maryland Colony. The persistent refusal of the Assembly to approve or renew certain laws was troubling to Penn, but the border issue was more pressing, so he stayed in England.

Commissioners of State

Penn responded by reducing the Council from 18 to 5. He called it the “Commissioners of State,” and authorized it to act on his behalf. The first members were:

  • Thomas Lloyd
  • Nicholas More
  • James Claypoole
  • Robert Turner
  • John Eckley

After More and Claypoole failed to accomplish anything, they were replaced by Arthur Cooke and John Symcock.

Although Penn instructed the Commissioners to essentially repeal most of the laws, except those that were absolutely necessary, they ignored him and continued to operate under the status quo. The Commissioners took control of the government in February 1688.

Deputy Governor John Blackwell

By 1689, Penn was no happier with the Commissioners of State, so he appointed Captain John Blackwell as Deputy Governor. Blackwell was a Puritan and clashed with the Quakers. Blackwell served for just over a year and asked Penn to replace him. He left office on January 1, 1690. 

The Provincial Council resumed control of the government, until 1691, when Thomas Lloyd was named Deputy Governor.

Pennsylvania’s Charter Revoked During King William’s War

In 1692, King William III suspended Penn’s charter and took control of Pennsylvania. Colonel Benjamin Fletcher was appointed Governor. The charter was suspended over accusations the colony was not adequately prepared to defend itself against France, during King William’s War.

Fletcher arrived in April 1693 and was unpopular from the start. Thomas Lloyd refused to serve under him, so he appointed William Markham as his Deputy Governor. Fletcher increased the size of the Provincial Council and reduced the size of the Provincial Assembly.

He created more controversy when he suggested raising money through a property tax to help the New York Colony defend itself against the French. 

During this time, members of the Council were appointed instead of elected.

Fortunately for Pennsylvania and Penn, the charter was restored in 1694 and Penn resumed control, even though he remained in England. 

Markham’s 1696 Frame of Government

William Markham was appointed Deputy Governor and given two assistants, John Goodson and Samuel Carpenter. The situation was unique because the assistants had the authority to force Markham to act. If either of them made a suggestion, Markham was required to take action.

Like his predecessor, Fletcher, Markham wanted to raise money for the defense of Pennsylvania. However, the Assembly pushed back and insisted on creating a new Frame of Government that gave it the power to propose legislation.

The Council supported the Assembly. Markham responded by dissolving the Assembly and appointing new members to the Council. However, when he called a new Assembly, he was forced to agree to a new Frame of Government. It was passed by the Assembly on November 1, 1696, and is often referred to as “Markham’s Frame.”

Although it was never formally approved by William Penn, Pennsylvania operated under Markham’s Frame until 1700.

Penn Returns to Pennsylvania Colony

Willam Penn returned to Pennsylvania in 1699, landing at Chester in December. In his absence, the colony had significantly grown and Philadelphia was a prominent port on the East Coast. Soon after Penn arrived, he took up residence in Philadelphia. He also spent time at his country estate, Pennsbury Manor, which was roughly 20 miles north of the city, near present-day Bristol, Pennsylvania.

Pennsbury Manor, Manor House, 1938
This photograph shows the reconstruction of the Manor House at Pennsbury Manor. Image Source: Remember William Penn, 1644-1944 by Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1944, Archive.org.

Penn’s Political Enemies

Despite his popularity, Penn did have political enemies, including Colonel Robert Quarry and John Moore. Both of them worked for the Admiralty Court and were responsible for representing the English government and enforcing the Navigation Acts.

Another was David Lloyd, a lawyer and member of the Provincial Council. Lloyd led the political opposition to Penn and influenced the Assembly. Lloyd was also a political opponent of Quarry and Moore.

Essentially, three political factions emerged.

  1. Penn, the Proprietor.
  2. English officials who supported the Crown and the Church of England.
  3. Lloyd and his followers, who were referred to as the “Popular Party.”.

Despite the opposition, John Logan was a key ally of Penn. Logan had traveled to Pennsylvania with Penn and later served as Secretary of the Province, President of the Council, and Chief Justice.

Penn’s Charter of Privileges

When the Assembly met in early 1700, questions about the legality of all laws passed since 1683 came up, especially in regard to Markham’s Frame, which was never formally approved by Penn.

Penn decided his best course of action, which would protect his vision of what he intended Pennsylvania to be, was to take absolute control of the government until he could develop a new Constitution for Pennsylvania. The Assembly agreed to Penn’s plan and agreed to convene again, later in the summer.

Unfortunately, Penn and the Assembly were unable to reach an agreement when they reconvened. Meanwhile, Penn received word from England that the Crown was working on a plan to purchase the Proprietary Colonies, including Pennsylvania. 

If the Crown took control of Pennsylvania, Penn would have been nothing more than its largest landowner, and his dream of the “Holy Experiment” would be over. In order to argue against the plan, he needed to return to England.

Rushing to come to an agreement on a new government before he left, Penn met with the Assembly in August and September. Penn asked the Assembly to review the existing laws and submit a proposal.

The process resulted in the Constitution of 1701, which Penn called “The Charter of Privileges.”

  1. The Provincial Assembly had the right to propose and approve legislation.
  2. The Provincial Council was appointed by the Governor.
  3. The Constitution could be changed, but only if six-sevenths of the Assembly voted in favor of a change.
  4. The Consitution also allowed Delaware to establish its own assembly.

According to some accounts, David Lloyd convinced Penn to agree to the Charter of Privileges. Regardless, the 1701 Charter of Privileges stood as Pennsylvania’s Constitution for the next 75 years. It was replaced in 1776, following the Declaration of Independence.

Facts About Nature in Pennsylvania Colony

Geography — The Pennsylvania Colony was located in the Mid-Atlantic Region or Middle Colonies. According to Penn’s charter, the territory included the land between the 39th and 42nd degrees of north latitude, starting at the Delaware River and progressing westward for five degrees of longitude. Pennsylvania was bordered by New York (North and Northeast corner), New Jersey (East and Southeast corner), the Lower Counties on Delaware (Southeast corner), Maryland (South), Virginia (Southwest corner), and Connecticut (West). Portions of the territory were claimed by Connecticut, Virginia, and Maryland, which led to border disputes between the colonies. The southern border between Maryland and Pennsylvania was resolved in 1767 with the establishment of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Terrain — The terrain of the Pennsylvania Colony varied from coastal plains on the east coast to plateaus in central Pennsylvania, to mountainous regions in the West and North. A significant portion of the land in the colony featured rich soil, which was exceptional for agriculture and subsistence farming.

Climate — Overall, the Pennsylvania Colony enjoyed a mile climate that varied from the coast to the western mountains. Summers in the colony tended to be warm and humid, while winters were cold. However, it did not experience extreme cold like some of the New England Colonies or heat like the Southern Colonies. 

Natural Resources — Pennsylvania was abundant in iron ore, coal, and forests. The forest provided timber that could be used to build ships and buildings. The fertile farmlands also allowed the colony to produce corn, flax, hemp, flax, wheat, and other grains.

Facts About the Society in Pennsylvania Colony

Religion — Although Pennsylvania was founded by a Quaker, it was promoted as a place that offered religious freedom. This led to the immigration of thousands of people from Europe from different religious groups and sects, including Mennonites, Dunkers, Moravians, and Presbyterians. Thousands came from Germany and were also members of the German Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church.

Industry — Pennsylvania industries were largely based on agriculture, trapping, manufacturing, trade, and transportation. Shipbuilding, iron manufacturing, tanning, and printing were all important industries, along with secondary industries, such as papermaking. Gristmills, sawmills, and furnaces were numerous throughout the colony. However, factory production was non-existent. It was not allowed by the Acts of Trade and Navigation that restricted American manufacturing of many finished products.

Economy — The economy of the colony was diverse and had a significant surplus of grains and iron ore that allowed commercial operations to flourish. Philadelphia was an important business center, and the surplus of crops allowed merchants to expand their trade networks because grains like wheat, flax, and hemp were not heavily regulated like tobacco, sugar, and molasses.

Slavery — Slavery existed in the region before it became Pennsylvania because it was allowed in New Netherland and New Sweden. Although Pennsylvania tolerated slavery when it was founded, many Quakers and German immigrants spoke out against it, even though Philadelphia was a significant port for merchants and ships involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In 1688, the first official demonstration against slavery was made by Quakers living in Germantown. Four men, Francis Daniel Pastorius, Garret Hendericks, Derick op den Graeff, and Abraham op den Graeff signed a petition that showed respect for enslaved Africans and considered them as social equals. 

Important People in Pennsylvania Colony

William Penn — William Penn (1644–1718) was the founder and Proprietor of the Pennsylvania Colony. Penn was a Quaker and an investor in the colony of West Jersey. In 1681 he was granted a large tract of more than 45,000 square miles which made him the largest private landowner in the American Colonies. Penn used it to found Pennsylvania, a colony for Quakers and others who were persecuted for their religious beliefs to live in peace and harmony. Penn also played a significant role in the establishment of Delaware, which shared the Provincial Assembly with Pennsylvania until 1704, when Delaware established its own Assembly.

Benjamin FranklinBenjamin Franklin (1707–1790) was a Founding Father and most likely the most famous American in the world during most of his life. Although he was born in Boston, he moved to Philadelphia when he was a young man and became a successful printer, publishing the weekly Pennsylvania Gazette.

Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

John DickinsonJohn Dickinson (1732–1808) was a Founding Father and a reluctant Patriot. Dickinson wrote some of the most important documents of the American Revolution, including “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” and the draft of the “Articles of Confederation.” His skills as a writer earned him the nickname “Penman of the Revolution.” Dickinson was born in Maryland, practiced law in Philadelphia, and represented Pennsylvania in the First Continental Congress and Second Continental Congress. Later, he represented Delaware in the Confederation Congress and Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Thomas McKeanThomas McKean (1734–1817) was a well-known lawyer, politician, and judge. He is a Founding Father because he signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He also served as the second President under the Articles. McKean participated in key events that shaped the American Revolution, including the Stamp Act Congress, First Continental Congress, and Second Continental Congress. He also played an important role in Pennsylvania’s ratification of the United States Constitution.

Gouverneur Morris — Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816) was a Founding Father who signed the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. Morris wrote the preamble to the Constitution, which begins with “We the People…” For that, he is often referred to as the “Penman of the Constitution.” Morris was from New York but moved to Philadelphia in 1779. He represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Robert Morris — Robert Morris (1734–1806) was a Founding Father who signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. Morris is often referred to as the “Financier of the Revolution” for his role in using his own money, resources, and expertise to procure supplies for the Continental Army. He also helped establish the Bank of North America, the first bank to operate in the United States. In 1781, the bank issued currency, which was financially backed by Morris.

John MortonJohn Morton Jr. (1724–1777) was a Founding Father, law enforcement officer, and judge from Pennsylvania. He participated in key events that shaped the American Revolution, including the Stamp Act Congress, First Continental Congress, and Second Continental Congress. He also signed the Declaration of Independence and helped write the Articles of Confederation.

Arthur St. ClairArthur St. Clair (1737–1818) was a General in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He fought with Washington during the New York-New Jersey Campaign but was criticized for surrendering Fort Ticonderoga. He went on to serve in the Confederation Congress and served a term as President before becoming the first Governor of the Northwest Territory.

Anthony WayneAnthony Wayne (1745–1796) was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and led men in many key battles of the war, including a victory at the Battle of Stony Point. After the war, he was given command of the Legion of the United States and won the Battle of Fallen Timbers. He negotiated the Treaty of Greenville, which helped open the frontier for expansion.

James Wilson — James Wilson (1742–1798) was a Founding Father who signed the Declaration of Independence and helped write the United States Constitution. Wilson emigrated from Scotland to Philadelphia in 1766 and became a teacher at the College of Philadelphia. He represented Pennsylvania in the Second Continental Congress, Confederation Congress, and Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Pennsylvania Colony Interesting Facts

William Penn Dealt Fairly with the Native American Indians

When Penn arrived in Pennsylvania, one of the first things he did was buy land from the local Lenni Lenape Tribe. The first purchase was dated July 15, 1682. Penn’s agreements with the Indians included language that said it was a crime to “affront or wrong any Indian” and the Indians would have the “liberty to do all things relating to improvement of their ground, and providing sustenance for their families.” Penn also gave the Lenape the right of passage through any lands they agreed to sell.

William Penn's Treaty with the Delaware, Illustration
This illustration depicts Penn negotiating a treaty with the Lenni Lenape. Image Source: University of Michigan William Clements Library.

William Penn Rented Delaware

In 1681, William Penn sent agents to explore the land that had been granted to him as Pennsylvania. The agents found that Pennsylvania’s access to Delaware Bay was under the control of New York on the west bank and New Jersey on the east bank. Penn worked out a deal with the Duke of York to rent the land on the western shore of the Delaware River, which became known as the “Lower Counties on Delaware.” 

Delaware and Pennsylvania Shared a Government

As part of the arrangement, meetings of the General Assembly alternated between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Castle, Delaware. However, the travel was inconvenient, and in 1704 the Lower Counties was given its own General Assembly. In a unique situation, Pennsylvania and the Lower Colonies shared the same Governor.

The Walking Purchase of 1737 Became a Sprint

After William Penn returned to England in 1701, he left Thomas Penn, his son, and James Logan, in control of managing territorial affairs in the colony. Over time, they sold land in the Lehigh Valley, near present-day Easton, Pennsylvania, where the Lenape Indians lived. 

They claimed ownership of the land based on a 1686 agreement they said their Lenape chiefs made with William Penn. Logan was able to produce a map of the alleged agreement, which the Lenape agreed to, although they were skeptical.

Thomas Penn, Portrait, 1752, Devis
This 1752 painting by Arthur Devis depicts Thomas Penn. Image Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Per the document, the land the Lenape had sold Penn was north of Toihkcon Creek on the Delaware River. The distance of the territory was to be measured by a day-and-a-half walk from a mutually agreed-upon starting point.

On September 19, 1737, the walk to determine how much land the Lenape were going to lose took place, starting in Wrightstown. The Lenape estimated it would be about 40 miles, which is how far they thought a man could walk in a day-and-a-half, under normal conditions.

However, Logan brought three men who had been trained to run long distances. Instead of walking, the men ran as fast as they could, and one of them covered 70 miles. The runners were also aided by settlers who cleared a path ahead of them and ferried them across waterways.

The Lenape lost an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. The territory, which is in eastern Pennsylvania, makes up the present-day counties of Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Pike, Schuylkill, and Northampton.

Outraged over the process, the Lenape appealed to the Iroquois Confederacy, who refused to offer support. The Iroquois had agreements with the colonies and did not want to jeopardize them by helping the Lenape. In fact, the Iroquois insisted the Lenape vacate the territory.

Many Lenape relocated and moved into Western Pennsylvania, the Ohio Country, and Quebec. After the Walking Purchase, the Lenape no longer trusted the Pennsylvania government.

The Walking Purchase, 1737, Pennsylvania, Illustration
This illustration depicts the runners during the Walking Purchase. Image Source: The Century Book of the American Colonies by Elbridge Streeter Brooks, 1900, Archive.org.

Pennsylvania Participated in the Albany Congress

Pennsylvania sent delegates to the Albany Congress in 1754. The delegates were Benjamin Chew, John Penn, Richard Peters, Isaac Norris, Benjamin Franklin, and Conrad Weiser. The Congress is most famous for proposing the Albany Plan of Union, which was based on notes Franklin presented to the delegates on June 19.

The First Battle of the French and Indian War Happened in Western Pennsylvania

The French and Indian War started in 1754 near Fort Duquesne, a French fort that was built at the Forks of the Ohio River, where present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is located. Virginia forces, led by George Washington, along with Indian allies led by a warrior known as the Half-King, won the first engagement of the French and Indian War, which is known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen. After the fighting, a French diplomat, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, was murdered by Half-King.

George Washington Lost His First Battle in Pennsylvania

Following the Battle of Jumonville Glen, the French retaliated against Washington at a makeshift fort called Fort Necessity. The fort was located at Great Meadows, about 60 miles from Pittsburgh. Washington knew he could not win, so he capitulated and proceeded to negotiate with the French. They forced him to sign Articles of Capitulation. In doing so, he unknowingly admitted to assassinating Ensign Jumonville. The incident caused outrage in France and was a cause of the Seven Years’ War and the French and Indian War.