Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania German: Pennsilfaani), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, and the Great Lakes region. The state borders Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and Ontario, Canada to the northwest, New York to the north and New Jersey to the east. The Appalachian Mountains run through the middle of the state.
Pennsylvania is the 33rd largest, the 6th most populous, and the 9th most densely populated of the 50 United States. The state's five most populous cities are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, and Reading. The state capital is Harrisburg. Pennsylvania has of coastline along Lake Erie and of shoreline along the Delaware Estuary. The state is one of the 13 original founding states of the United States.
By June 3, 1631, the Dutch had started the settlement of the Delmarva Peninsula by establishing the Zwaanendael Colony on the site of present day Lewes, Delaware. In 1638, Sweden heated up the issue by establishing the New Sweden Colony, centered on Fort Christina, on the site of present day Wilmington, Delaware. New Sweden claimed and, for the most part, controlled the lower Delaware River region (Parts of present Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) but settled few colonists there.
On June 24, 1664, The Duke of York sold the portion of his large grant that included present day New Jersey to John Berkeley and George Carteret for a proprietary colony. The land was not yet in British possession, but the sale boxed in the portion of New Netherland on the West side of the Delaware River. The British conquest of New Netherland was commenced on August 29, 1664, when New Amsterdam was coerced to surrender, facing the cannons on British ships in New York Harbor. This conquest continued, and was completed in October 1664, when the British captured Fort Casimir in what today is New Castle, Delaware.
On September 12, 1672, as part of the Third Anglo—Dutch War, the Dutch re-conquered New York Colony/New Amsterdam, the Dutch established three County Courts which went on to become original Counties in present day Delaware and Pennsylvania. The one that later transferred to Pennsylvania was Upland. This was partially reversed on February 9, 1674, when the Treaty of Westminster ended the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and reverted all political situations to the status quo ante bellum. The British retained the Dutch Counties with their Dutch names. By June 11, 1674, New York reasserted control over the outlying colonies, including Upland, but the names started to be changed to British names by November 11, 1674. Upland was partitioned on November 12, 1674, producing the general outline of the current border between Pennsylvania and Delaware.
On February 28, 1681, Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn to repay a debt of £16,000 (around £2,100,000 in 2008, adjusting for retail inflation) owed to William's father, Admiral William Penn. This was one of the largest land grants to an individual in history. The King named it Pennsylvania in honor of William Penn. Penn, who originally called it New Wales, then Sylvania, was embarrassed at the change, fearing that people would think he had named it after himself, but King Charles would not rename the grant. Penn established a government with two innovations that were much copied in the New World: the county commission and freedom of religious conviction.
What had been Upland on what became the Pennsylvania side of the Pennsylvania-Delaware Border was renamed as Chester County when Pennsylvania instituted their colonial governments on March 4, 1681. The Quaker leader William Penn had signed a peace treaty with Tammany, leader of the Delaware tribe, beginning a long period of friendly relations between the Quakers and the Indians. Additional treaties between Quakers and other tribes followed. The treaty of William Penn was never violated.
Between 1730 and when it was shut down by Parliament with the Currency Act of 1764, the Pennsylvania Colony made its own paper money to account for the shortage of actual gold and silver. The paper money was called Colonial Scrip. The Colony issued "bills of credit", which were as good as gold or silver coins because of their legal tender status. Since they were issued by the government and not a banking institution, it was an interest-free proposition, largely defraying the expense of the government and therefore taxation of the people. It also promoted general employment and prosperity, since the Government used discretion and did not issue too much to inflate the currency. Benjamin Franklin had a hand in creating this currency, of which he said its utility was never to be disputed, and it also met with the "cautious approval" of Adam Smith.
James Smith wrote that in 1763, "the Indians again commenced hostilities, and were busily engaged in killing and scalping the frontier inhabitants in various parts of Pennsylvania." Further, "This state was then a Quaker government, and at the first of this war the frontiers received no assistance from the state." The ensuing hostilities became known as Pontiac's War.
When the Founding Fathers of the United States convened in Philadelphia in 1774, 12 colonies sent representatives to the First Continental Congress. The Second Continental Congress, which also met in Philadelphia (in May 1775), drew up and signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, but when that city was captured by the British, the Continental Congress escaped westward, meeting at the Lancaster courthouse on Saturday, September 27, 1777, and then to York. There they and its primary author, John Dickinson, drew up the Articles of Confederation that formed 13 independent colonies into a new nation. Later, the Constitution was written, and Philadelphia was once again chosen to be cradle to the new American Nation.
Dickinson College of Carlisle was the first college founded in the United States. Established in 1773, the college was ratified five days after the Treaty of Paris on September 9, 1783. The school was founded by Benjamin Rush and named after John Dickinson.
The General Assembly met in the old Dauphin County Court House until December 1821, when the Federal-style "Hills Capitol" (named for its builder, Stephen Hills, a Lancaster architect) was constructed on a hilltop land grant of four acres set aside for a seat of state government by the prescient, entrepreneurial son and namesake of John Harris, Sr., a Yorkshire native who had founded a trading post in 1705 and ferry (1733) on the east shore of the Susquehanna River. The Hills Capitol burned down on February 2, 1897, during a heavy snowstorm, presumably because of a faulty flue. The General Assembly met at Grace Methodist Church on State Street (still standing) until the a new capitol could be built. Following an architectural selection contest that many alleged had been "rigged," Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb was charged with designing and building a replacement building; however, the legislature had little money to allocate to the project, and a roughly finished, somewhat industrial building (the Cobb Capitol) was completed. The General Assembly refused to occupy the building. Political and popular indignation in 1901 prompted a second contest that was restricted to Pennsylvania architects, and Joseph Miller Huston of Philadelphia was chosen to design the present Pennsylvania State Capitol that incorporated Cobb's building into magnificent public work finished and dedicated in 1907.
Pennsylvania accounts for nine percent of wooded areas in the United States. In 1923 President Calvin Coolidge established the Allegheny National Forest under the authority of the Weeks Act of 1911 in the northwest part of the state in Elk, Forest, McKean, and Warren Counties for the purposes of timber production and watershed protection in the Allegheny River basin. The Allegheny is the state's only national forest.
James Buchanan, of Franklin County, the only bachelor President of the United States, was the only one to be born in Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg—the major turning point of the Civil War—took place near Gettysburg. An estimated 350,000 Pennsylvanians served in the Union Army forces along with 8,600 African American military volunteers.
Pennsylvania was also the home of the first commercially drilled oil well. In 1859, near Titusville, Pennsylvania, Edwin Drake successfully drilled the well, which led to the first major oil boom in United States history.
*Note: Pennsylvania was one of the 13 original States. In 1792 the "Erie Triangle" in the northwest corner of the state was acquired from New York in order to give Pennsylvania access to Lake Erie. At the same time Pennsylvania transfered a similarly sized narrow strip of land in its northeast corner to New York. These changes established the boundaries close to its current configuration. In 1790 census coverage for Pennsylvania did not include the population in the Erie Triangle, but did include the population in the area later transferred to New York.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Philadelphia databases are also available on FamilySearch:
For Pittsburgh, see:
See Pennsylvania References for Genealogy for a a partial bibliography of references of interest for genealogy in Pennsylvania.
Outstanding guide to Pennsylvania family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.
See PA State Archives for a list of microfilm available from State archives, for various counties
See Pennsylvania Land Records for a discussion of land warrants and patents.
Mid Monongahela Valley History and Genealogy: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pamonval/
http://usgwarchives.org/pa/chester/ Scroll down for the Chester County Archives Index. A lot of good information here: Area History ~ Bibles ~ Bios ~ Cemetery ~ Tombtone Images ~ Census ~ Church ~ Court ~ Directories ~ Family History ~ Immigration ~ Land ~ Maps ~ Military ~ News ~ Obituaries ~ School ~ Tax ~ Vitals ~ Wills
Chester County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project: http://chester.pa-roots.com/ Excellent site; wealth of information!