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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


History of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


The history of the City of Brotherly Love dates back to 1681, when King Charles II gave William Penn a large piece of the American Land Holdings he had recently acquired. This gift of land was to repay a debt that the King owed to Admiral Sire William Penn, the father of William Penn. The land area would today include all of the state of Pennsylvania as well as Delaware. Upon first landing upon the Colony of New Castle Delaware, Penn sailed up the river and founded Philadelphia Proper with a group of Quakers and others seeking religious freedom. The early days of the city were wrought with conflict as the new group of Quakers headed by Penn found conflict with the folks living west of the city, the Conestoga people.

Some of the City’s first settlers lived in caves along with riverbank that were dug out, but quickly the city grew with homes, churches and businesses. The growth of the city was rather swift for the time. From just a few hundred inhabitants in 1683, the city housed over 2500 citizens by 1701–mostly of the English, Welsh, Irish, German, Swedish, and Finnish descent. Quickly Philadelphia became an important trading center and major port trading with the West Indies and became part of the Triangle Trade Route, which included Philadelphia, the West Indies and Africa.

The City’s pledge of religious tolerance drew many other religions besides the Quakers. Large numbers of Mennonites, Pietists, Anglicans, Catholics and Jews moved to the city, quickly outnumbering the Quakers.

Like many cities of the time, Philadelphia was filthy. Garbage and dead animals lined the streets, making the roads impassable. It was not until Benjamin Franklin’s arrival in 1723, when the city was really pushed into development. As the 1760’s approached, relations with the British were getting tense. The Stamp Act and the Townsend Acts increased anger against the English. Following a series of additional acts, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and the Revolutionary began in 1775. Following that they fought the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Second Continental Congress met. They met a third time in 1776, and wrote the Declaration of Independence. Being a port city, Philadelphia was very vulnerable to attacks. In 1777, the British invaded and occupied Philadelphia. Washington intercepted them at the battle of Brandywine, but was not successful and was pushed back. British troops began the Occupation of Philadelphia on September 23, 1777. The occupation lasted ten months and ended when the French joined the war on the side of the Colonies.

In 1793, a serious Yellow Fever outbreak occurred which is attributed to the arrival of 2000 refugees who arrived in the city fleeing the Haitian Revolutions, and was spread by mosquitoes. This wiped out 5% of the population. Trade virtually stopped and the epidemic ended in October when fall brought cooler temperatures and the mosquitoes died.

There were many ethnic rivalries among those in Philadelphia. The immigrants from Ireland and Germany poured into the city in the late 1840’s. This led to the wealthy moving west and the immigrants re-purposing the homes of the wealthy into tenement housing. Violence was a serious problem among the immigrants until the City took firmer control over things.

Politically, the city as well as the schools were dominated by the Republican Party. In 1895, the schools were freed from the political powers. Major industries of the time included the Baldwin Locomotive Works, William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad, with the largest industry being textiles.

Next time you’re walking around Philadelphia, PA, take a tour with the Historic Walking Tour app!