Pennsylvania History

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United States > Pennsylvania

The following important events affected Pennsylvania's political boundaries, record keeping, and family movements:

1633-1643 (1647?) Dutch build a blockhouse (single log cabin fort) "at the Schuylkill" (now Philadelphia). It was abandoned about 1643.[1][2] See the New Sweden and the New Netherland Wiki article for details.

1641 Swedes and Finns spreading north from Fort Christina (present-day Wlimington, Delaware) first settle in Finland (Chamassungh), now Trainer, Pennsylvania[3][4][5][6] and Upland (Meckopenacka), now Chester, Pennsylvania.[7][8][9]

1633-1674: The Dutch, Swedes, and English established the first European settlements in Pennsylvania.

1680s: William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania after receiving a grant in 1681 from the king of England. His colony offered religious freedom, liberal government, and inexpensive land. Quakers established the city of Philadelphia.

1700-1754: Welsh, German, and Scotch-Irish groups arrived.

1754: The French and Indian War started in western Pennsylvania.

1768-1792: The boundaries between Pennsylvania and the neighboring states of Connecticut, New York, Virginia, and Maryland were settled.

1776: The Revolutionary War began. The state constitution was adopted.

1787: Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution.

1790-1800: Philadelphia was the capital of the United States.

1811: Steamboats began traveling from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.

- - - -: the Tuscarora tribe moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina

1834: The railroad-canal line extended from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.

1879: Richard Henry Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian Schoool at Carlise, one of the most successful schools for Indians in the U.S. The school was abandon in 1918,

The Family History Library has many local histories and handbooks to help you with your research. Sources for studying the history of Pennsylvania include:

Egle, William Henry. An Illustrated History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Civil, Political, and Military from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Including Historical Descriptions of Each County in the State, Their Towns, and Industrial Resources. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: E. M. Gardner, 1880. (Family History Library book 974.8 H2eg; (Not available, sent to cataloging) (film 1697290 item 11.)

Donehoo, George P. Pennsylvania; A History. 9 vol. contents: [1-4] History. [5-9] Biography. New York, NY: Lewis Historical Pub. Co., 1926-1931. (Family History Library  book 974.8 H2ph; vols. 4, 5, and 8 are on 3 Family History Library films beginning with 1320599 item 5.)

Stevens, Sylvester Kirby. Pennsylvania: The Heritage of a Commonwealth. 4 vol. West Palm Beach, Florida: The American Historical Company, 1968. (Family History Library book 974.8 H2sp.)

Pennsylvania has the following excellent bibliographic resources for materials on history:

Bining, Arthur C., et al. Writing on Pennsylvania History: A Bibliography. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1946. (Family History Library book 974.8 A3bw.) This and the following book often provide comments about the value of the source being described.

Wilkinson, Norman B. Bibliography of Pennsylvania History. 2d ed. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1957. (Family History Library book 974.8 H23b; film 1036387 item 3.) This book updates and expands the previous book.

Wall, Carol. Bibliography of Pennsylvania History: A Supplement. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1976. (Family History Librarybook 974.8 H23b supp.; film 1036387 item 4.) This and the following book continue the effort of the previous works although they do not provide comments on the value of any listing.

Trussell, John B. B. Jr. Pennsylvania Historical Bibliography. Vols. 1-6. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1979-1989. (Family History Library book 974.8 H23p.) This work updates the bibliographies cited above. The library has vol. 1 only.

A very helpful source in addition to the above bibliographies is Dennis B. Downey and Francis J. Bremer, A Guide to the History of Pennsylvania (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993; Family History Library book 974.8 H23g). Of special value is the description of research collections in Pennsylvania archives and manuscript repositories. However, it does not include genealogy societies.

Potentially helpful histories of Pennsylvania counties compiled in 1939-1942 is Historical Records Survey (Pennsylvania), Notes on County Histories and Points of Interest for American Guide Series (Family History Library films 1016396-401). The counties are filed mostly in alphabetical order, and while a general format seems to be followed, they vary in the kind of information given.

There are also Pennsylvania histories available online. Use a search engine and terms of "Pennsylvania History" to find applicable sites.


  1. Amandus Johnson, "Detailed Map of New Sweden 1638-1655" in Amandus Johnson's book The Swedes on the Delaware 1638-1664 (Philadelphia: Swedish Colonial Society, 1915), 392. This blockhouse is mentioned in Johnson's legend, but not displayed on his map, probably because it was replaced by a Swedish fort.
  2. Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan, History of New Netherland, 2nd ed. (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1855; digitized by Google, 2006), 2: 79. "The Swedes had already destroyed the trading-house, which the former [Dutch] had built at Schuylkill, and built a fort in its place."
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named WNN
  4. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  5. Myers, 69, note 3. "Chamassung or Finland, where the Finns dwelt, was on the west side of the Delaware River, between the present Marcus Hook in Pennsylvania, and the mouth of Naaman's Creek just over the circular state line in Delaware."
  6. Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, v. 3, (Philadelphia:M'Carty and Davis, 1834; digitized by Google, 2006), 11. "Chamassungh, or Finland. This place was inhabited by Finns, who had strong houses, but no fort. It lies at the distance of two German miles, east of Christina, by water; and, by land, it is distant two long Swedish miles."
  7. Johnson, Detailed Map.
  8. Johnson, Swedish Settlements, 372. "Johann Companius, who was called by the government to go to New Sweden in 1642, was placed on the new budget, with a salary of 10 R.D. a month and seems to have been looked upon as a sort of military preacher. He was stationed at Christina, but shortly after his arrival here he was transferred to Upland, where he settled with his family and conducted the service at New Gothenborg."
  9. Myers, 150. "If now [the land at] Upland, which belongs to the Company, and is large enough for the sowing of twenty or thirty bushels of grain, might be given to the parsonage for Nertunius, together with the small houses there, it would be very well; then he would need no other salary from the Company." and footnote 4, "Now Chester."