Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania (the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) is one of four states of the United States of America that is called a commonwealth. It has given its name to the Pennsylvanian time period in geology. Pennsylvania is called the Keystone State.
Although Swedes and Dutch were the first European settlers, the Quaker William Penn named Pennsylvania for the Latin phrase meaning "Penn's Woods", in honor of his father. Today, two major cities dominate the state--Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and a thriving metropolitan area, and Pittsburgh, a busy inland river port and major center for educational and technological advances. The Pocono Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap provide popular recreational activities.
Pennsylvania is one of the U.S.'s most historic states. Philadelphia is often called the cradle of the American Nation. It was here that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drawn up by the Founding Fathers.
The so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch" region in south-central Pennsylvania is another favorite of sightseers. Pennsylvania Germans, including the Amish and the Mennonites, dominate the area around the cities of Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg, with smaller numbers extending northeast to the Lehigh Valley and up the Susquehanna River valley. Some of the Old Order Amish have left the area, but many Mennonites remain, particularly in Lancaster County. Some adherents eschew modern conveniences and use horse-drawn farming equipment and carriages, while others are virtually indistinguishable from non-Amish or Mennonites.
(The term "Dutch" is a misnomer, since there were much fewer of Dutch origin; the German adjective for "German", Deutsch, was misheard as "Dutch" and the name stuck.)
The battleship USS Pennsylvania, damaged at Pearl Harbor, was named in honor of this state, as were several other naval vessels. It was repaired at the former Sun Ship Yard & Dry Dock in Chester City.
Before the state existed, the area was home to the Delaware (also known as Lenni Lenape), Susquehanna, Iroquois, Eriez, Shawnee, and other Native American tribes.
In 1643, the southeastern portion of the state, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, was settled by Sweden, but control later passed to the Netherlands, and then to England (later Great Britain).
On March 4, 1681, Charles II of England granted a land charter to William Penn for the area that now includes Pennsylvania. Penn then founded a colony there as a place of religious freedom for the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and named it for the Latin phrase meaning "Penn's woods".
A large tract of land north and west of Philadelphia, in Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties, was settled by Welsh Quakers and called the "Welsh Tract". Even today many cities and towns in that area bear the names of Welsh municipalities.
The western portions of Pennsylvania were among disputed territory between the colonial British and French during the French and Indian War. The French established numerous fortifications in the area, including the pivotal Fort Duquesne on top of which the city of Pittsburgh was built.
The colony's reputation of religious freedom also attracted significant populations of German and Scots-Irish settlers who helped to shape colonial Pennsylvania and later went on to populate the neighboring states further west.
In 1704 the "three lower counties" of New Castle, Kent, and Sussex gained a separate legislature, and in 1710 a separate executive council, to form the new colony Delaware.
Pennsylvania and Delaware were two of the thirteen colonies that revolted against British rule in the American Revolution of 1776. Pennsylvania became the second state on 12 December 1787 (five days after Delaware became the first).
Pennsylvania also saw the Battle of Gettysburg, near Gettysburg. Many historians consider this battle the major turning point of the American Civil War. Dead from this battle rest at Gettysburg National Cemetery, site of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. oil (kerosene) industry was born in western Pennsylvania, which supplied the vast majority of U.S. kerosene for years thereafter, and saw the rise and fall of oil boom towns.
During the 20th century Pennsylvania's existing iron industries expanded into a major center of steel production. Shipbuilding and numerous other forms of manufacturing flourished in the eastern part of the state, and coal mining was also extremely important in many regions. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Pennsylvania received very large numbers of immigrants from Europe seeking work; dramatic, sometimes violent confrontations took place between organized labor and the state's industrial concerns.
Pennsylvania was hard-hit by the decline of the steel industry and other heavy U.S. industries during the late 20th century.