Pennsylvania History Timeline

Important Dates, Events, and Milestones in Pennsylvania History

Offers a chronological timeline of important dates, events, and milestones in Pennsylvania history.

Native Americans live in the geographical region now known as Pennsylvania long before Europeans explore the area. The two primary groups are the Algonquin and the Iroquois. Native Americans travel around the area by canoe or on foot. Although some farming is done, most food is acquired through hunting and gathering.

One of the original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn as a haven for his fellow Quakers. After the American Revolution, Pennsylvania became the second state, after Delaware, to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

15th Century Pennsylvania History Timeline

1497 - The English based their claims in North America on the discoveries of the Cabots

16th Century Pennsylvania History Timeline

1520 - The Spanish claim was founded on Columbus' discovery of the West Indies, but there is evidence that Spanish ships sailed up the coast of North America as early as 1520. It is uncertain, however, that any of these explorers touched land that became Pennsylvania.

1524 - French based their claims on the voyage of Verrazano in 1524.

17th Century Pennsylvania History Timeline

1608 - Captain John Smith journeyed from Virginia up the Susquehanna River, visiting the Susquehannock Indians.

1609 - Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the Dutch service, sailed the Half Moon into Delaware Bay, thus giving the Dutch a claim to the area.

1610 - Captain Samuel Argall of Virginia visited the bay and named it for Lord de la Warr, governor of Virginia.

1616 - After Hudson's time, the Dutch navigators Cornelis Hendricksenm explored the Delaware region

1623 - After Hudson's time, Cornelis Jacobsen explored the Delaware region

1643 - Although the Lutheran Church was established by the Swedes on Tinicum Island

1647 - trading posts were established

1637-1638 - The Swedes were the first to make permanent settlement, beginning with the expedition of 1637-1638, which occupied the site of Wilmington, Delaware.

1638-1655 - The Colony of New Sweden
1643 - Governor Johan Printz of New Sweden established his capital at Tinicum Island within the present limits of Pennsylvania, where there is now a state park bearing his name.

1644 - William Penn was born in London on October 24, 1644, the son of Admiral Sir William Penn.

1647 - The origins of the Society of Friends lie in the intense religious ferment of 17th Century England. George Fox, the son of a Leicestershire weaver, is credited with founding it in 1647, though there was no definite organization before 1668.
1655-1664 - Dutch Dominion on the Delaware

1664-1681 - Duke of York's Rule

1655 - Trouble broke out between the Swedes and the Dutch, who had trading posts in the region. In 1655 Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Netherlands seized New Sweden and made it part of the Dutch colony.

1664 - In 1664 the English seized the Dutch possessions in the name of the Duke of York, the king's brother. Except when it was recaptured by the Dutch in 1673-1674, the Delaware region remained under his jurisdiction until 1681.

1675 - Quakers held their first meeting at Upland (now Chester)

1676 - English laws and civil government were introduced by The Duke of Yorke's Laws in 1676.

1681 - March 4 - King Charles II owed William Penn £16,000, money which Admiral Penn had lent him. Seeking a haven in the New World for persecuted Friends, Penn asked the King to grant him land in the territory between Lord Baltimore's province of Maryland and the Duke of York's province of New York. With the Duke's support, Penn's petition was granted. The King signed the Charter of Pennsylvania on March 4, 1681, and it was officially proclaimed on April 2. The King named the new colony in honor of William Penn's father. It was to include the land between the 39th and 42nd degrees of north latitude and from the Delaware River westward for five degrees of longitude. Other provisions assured its people the protection of English laws and, to a certain degree, kept it subject to the government in England. Provincial laws could be annulled by the King.

1681 - April - Penn made his cousin William Markham deputy governor of the province and sent him to take control. In England, Penn drew up the First Frame of Government, his proposed constitution for Pennsylvania. Penn's preface to First Frame of Government has become famous as a summation of his governmental ideals.

1682 -

  • Duke of York deeded to Penn his claim to the three lower counties on the Delaware, which are now the state of Delaware.
  • October, the Proprietor arrived in Pennsylvania on the ship Welcome. He visited Philadelphia, just laid out as the capital city, created the three original counties
  • December 4 - the Proprietor summoned a General Assembly to Chester
  • December 7 - This first Assembly united the Delaware counties with Pennsylvania, adopted a naturalization act and, on December 7, adopted the Great Law, a humanitarian code that became the fundamental basis of Pennsylvania law and which guaranteed liberty of conscience.

1683 - The second Assembly reviewed and amended Penn's First Frame with his cooperation and created the Second Frame of Government.

1684 -

  • By the time of Penn's return to England late in 1684, the foundations of the Quaker Province were well established.
  • William Penn and his wife Hannah Callowhill Penn were made the third and fourth honorary citizens of the United States, by act of Congress.

1685 - May 8 - the Penns were granted honorary citizenship of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

1688 - . As a result of the English Revolution of 1688 which overthrew King James II, Penn was deprived of his province from 1692 until 1694.

1696 - A popular party led by David Lloyd demanded greater powers for the Assembly, and in 1696 Markham's Frame of Government granted some of these.

1699 - December, the Proprietor again visited Pennsylvania and, just before his return to England in 1701, agreed with the Assembly on a revised constitution, the Charter of Privileges, which remained in effect until 1776.

18th Century Pennsylvania History Timeline

1720 - The first Catholic congregation was organized in Philadelphia and the first chapel was erected in 1733

1727 - German immigration increased after 1727

1730 - About 4,000 slaves were brought to Pennsylvania by 1730

1739 and 1749 - The Longueuil and Celoron expeditions of the French in 1739 and 1749 traversed this region, and French traders competed with Pennsylvanians for Indian trade.

1740 - Mikveh Israel Congregation was established in Philadelphia

1746 - The Reformed Church owed its expansion to Michael Schlatter, who arrived in 1746.

1750s - exceptionally prosperous farming area had developed in southeastern Pennsylvania. Wheat and corn were the leading crops, though rye, hemp, and flax were also important.

1753 - Washington failed to persuade the French to leave.

1754-1763 - The French efforts in 1753 and 1754 to establish control over the upper Ohio Valley led to the last and conclusive colonial war, the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

1755 -

  • Gen. Braddock's British and colonial army was slaughtered on the Monongahela
  •  An academy that held its first classes in 1740 became the College of Philadelphia in 1755, and ultimately grew into the University of Pennsylvania.

1758 - Gen. John Forbes recaptured the site of Pittsburgh in 1758.

1760 - Defeat of the French and Indian war alliance

1763 - After the war, the Indians rose up against the British colonies in Pontiac's War, but in August 1763, Colonel Henry Bouquet defeated them at Bushy Run, interrupting the threat to the frontier in this region.

1764 - Crushing of Chief Pontiac's Indian alliance

1765 - The American Revolution had urban origins, and Philadelphia was a center of ferment. Philadelphia was a center of resistance to the Stamp Act (1765)

1768 -Although William Penn was granted all the land in Pennsylvania by the King, he and his heirs chose not to grant or settle any part of it without first buying the claims of Indians who lived there. In this manner, all of Pennsylvania except the northwestern third was purchased by 1768.

1769 - Methodism began late in the colonial period. St. George's Church, built in Philadelphia in 1769, is the oldest Methodist building in America.

1773 - Deputy or lieutenant governors (addressed as "governor") resided in Pennsylvania and represented the Penn family proprietors who themselves remained in England until 1773. After 1763, these governors were members of the Penn family. From 1773 until independence, John Penn was both a proprietor and the governor.

1773 - There were eleven counties. Westmoreland, the last new county created before the Revolution, was the first county located entirely west of the Allegheny Mountains.

1774 - Support Boston in opposition to the Intolerable Acts

1776 -

  • Stagecoach lines reached from Philadelphia into the southcentral region.
  • Province's imports and exports were worth several million dollars.
  • Province of Pennsylvania had become the third largest English colony in America, though next to the last to be founded, Philadelphia had become the largest English-speaking city in the world next to London. There were originally only three counties: Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks.

October 1777 - June 1778 - While Congress was sitting in York ( it approved the Articles of Confederation, the first step toward a national government. After the war, the capital was moved to New York, 1790 until the opening of the District of Columbia in 1800, Philadelphia was again the capital.

1780 - The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 was the first emancipation statute in the United States.

1784 and 1789 - The Commonwealth bought the Six Nations' claims to the remainder of the land in 1784 and 1789

1785 - The Commonwealth bought bought the claims of the Delawares and Wyandots

1787 - the US Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia.

1790 - The census of 1790 showed that the number of African-Americans had increased to about 10,000, of whom about 6,300 had received their freedom.

1775 - August - Pennsylvania troops took part in almost all the campaigns of the Revolution. A rifle battalion joined in the siege of Boston in August 1775.
1776 - Pennsylvania troops fought bravely in the ill-fated Canadian campaign of 1776 and in the New York and New Jersey campaigns.

1777 - Summer - The British naturally considered Philadelphia of key importance and, invaded the state and captured the capital.

The battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Whitemarsh were important engagements of this period.

1777 to June 1778 - Following these battles, Washington went into winter quarters at Valley Forge from December 1777 to June 1778. 1778 - Spring - News of the French alliance, which Benjamin Franklin had helped to negotiate, and the adoption of new strategy caused the British to leave Philadelphia in the spring

1779 - Frontier Pennsylvania suffered heavily from British and Indian raids until they were answered i by John Sullivan's and Daniel Brodhead's expeditions against the Six Nations Indians.

1780 - the state had contributed more than $6 million to the Congress and, when the American states had reached financial exhaustion, ninety Philadelphians subscribed a loan of £300,000 to supply the army.

1782 - the Bank of North America was chartered to support government fiscal needs. Robert Morris and Haym Salomon were important financial supporters of the Revolution.

1776 - June - Extralegal committees gradually took over the reins of government, and in June 1776 these committees called a state convention to meet on July 15,1776.

1776 -September 28 - The convention superseded the old government completely, established a Council of Safety to rule in the interim, and drew up the first state constitution, adopted on September 28, 1776. This provided an assembly of one house and a supreme executive council instead of a governor. The Declaration of Rights section has been copied in subsequent constitutions without significant change. Many patriot leaders were bitterly opposed to the new Pennsylvania constitution. Led by such men as John Dickinson, James Wilson, Robert Morris, and Frederick Muhlenberg, they carried on a long fight with the Constitutional party, a radical group. Joseph Reed, George Bryan, William Findley, and other radicals governed Pennsylvania until 1790.

1780 - Their most noteworthy accomplishments were the act for the gradual abolition of slavery

1779 - Act which took over the public lands owned by the Penn family (but allowed them some compensation in recognition of the services of the founder). The conservatives gradually gained more strength, helped by the Constitutionalists' poor financial administration.
1789 - the conservatives felt strong enough to rewrite the state constitution, and the Assembly called a convention to meet in November. In the convention, both the conservative majority and the radical minority showed a tendency to compromise and to settle their differences along moderate lines. As a result, the new constitution embodied the best ideas of both parties and was adopted with little objection. It provided for a second legislative house, the State Senate, and for a strong governor with extensive appointing powers.

1787. -The Pennsylvania Assembly sent eight delegates to the Federal Convention. Four of these had been signers of the Declaration of Independence. The delegation included the venerable Benjamin Franklin, whose counsels of moderation on several occasions kept the convention from dissolving; the brilliant Gouverneur Morris, who spoke more often than any other member; and the able lawyer James Wilson, who, next to Madison of Virginia, was the principal architect of the Constitution. Pennsylvania's delegation supported every move to strengthen the national government and signed the finished Constitution on September 17. The conservatives in the Pennsylvania Assembly took swift action to call a ratifying convention, which met in Philadelphia on November 21. The Federalists, favoring ratification, elected a majority of delegates and, led by Wilson, made Pennsylvania the second state to ratify, on December 12,1787.

1790 to 1800, Philadelphia was the capital of the United States. While Washington was president, the state supported the Federalist Party, but grew gradually suspicious of its aristocratic goals. From the beginning, Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania was an outspoken critic of the party. When Thomas Jefferson organized the Democrat-Republican Party, he had many supporters in Pennsylvania. Thomas Mifflin, Pennsylvania's first governor under the Constitution of 1790, was a moderate who avoided commitment to any party but leaned toward the Jeffersonians.

1790 - Large areas of the northern and western parts of the state were undistributed or undeveloped, and many other sections were thinly populated.

1794 - The Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in 1794 hastened the reaction against the Federalists and provided a test of national unity. The insurrection was suppressed by an army assembled at Carlisle and Fort Cumberland and headed by President Washington. Partly as a result, Jefferson drew more votes than Adams in Pennsylvania in the presidential election in 1796. It was a foreboding sign for the Federalists, who were defeated in the national election of 1800.

1799 - Mifflin was succeeded by Thomas McKean, a conservative Jeffersonian Democrat-Republican, who governed until 1808.

19th Century Pennsylvania History Timeline

1840 - There was increased urbanization, although rural life remained strong and agriculture involved large numbers of people. The immigrant tide swelled because of large numbers of Irish fleeing the potato famine of the late 1840s and Germans fleeing the political turbulence of their homeland about the same time.

1837 - convention was called to revise the state's laws and draft a new constitution. The resulting constitution, in 1838, reduced the governor's appointive power, increased the number of elective offices, and shortened terms of office. The voters were given a greater voice in government and were better protected from abuses of power. However, free African Americans were disenfranchised. The burning of Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia, a center for many reform activities, in the same year, showed that the new constitution coincided with an awakened hostility toward abolition and racial equality.

1833 - Lucretia Mott, a Quaker preacher and teacher, was one of four women to participate at the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in 1833, and became president of the Female Anti-Slavery Society.

1848 -

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton launched the campaign for women's rights at Seneca Falls, New York.
  • Jane Grey Swisshelm, abolitionist and advocate of women's rights, used newspapers and lectures. e launched her abolitionist paper, The Saturday Visiter, which featured antislavery propaganda and women's rights. Her essays influenced the state legislature to grant married women the right to own property, in 1848.1856 - Pennsylvania took the lead in the organization of the new Republican Party, with former Democratic leader Simon Cameron throwing his support to the new party.

1860 - there were more than two hundred textile mills. Leathermaking, lumbering, shipbuilding, publishing, and tobacco and paper manufacture also prospered in the 1800s.

1861 - Factory system had largely replaced the domestic system of home manufacture, and the foundation of the state's industrial greatness was established.

1862 - Bethlehem Company was organized in 1862.

1854 - The Cambria Works at Johnstown were established, by the end of the Civil War, were the largest mills in the country.

1862 -

  • Bethlehem Company was organized in 1862.
  • October 10 - After the Battle of Antietam, General J.E.B. Stewart's cavalry rode around General George McClellan's army and reached Chambersburg There they seized supplies and horses, burned a large storehouse, and then withdrew as rapidly as they had come.

1863 - June - General Robert E. Lee turned his 75,000 men northward on a major invasion of Pennsylvania. The state called up reserves and volunteers for emergency duty. At Pittsburgh the citizens fortified the surrounding hills, and at Harrisburg fortifications were thrown up on both sides of the Susquehanna. Confederate forces captured Carlisle and advanced to within three miles of Harrisburg; the bridge at Wrightsville had to be burned to prevent their crossing. These outlying forces were recalled when the Union army under General George G. Meade met Lee's army at Gettysburg. In a bitterly fought engagement on the first three days of July, the Union army threw back the Confederate forces, a major turning point in the struggle to save the Union. Not only was the battle fought on Pennsylvania soil, but nearly a third of General Meade's army were Pennsylvania troops. Governor Curtin led the movement to establish the battlefield as a memorial park.

1864 - In retaliation for Union raids on Virginia, a Confederate force under General John McCausland advanced to Chambersburg and threatened to burn the town unless a large ransom was paid. The citizens refused, and Chambersburg was burned on July 20, leaving two-thirds of its people homeless and causing damage of almost two million dollars.

1872-1973 - Pearl S. Buck, won both a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize. She made her home in Perkasie.

1874 - The fourth constitution of the Commonwealth was partly a result of a nationwide reform movement in the 1870s and partly a result of specific corrections to the previous constitution. It provided for the popular election of judges, the State Treasurer, and the Auditor General. It created an office of Lieutenant Governor and a Department of Internal Affairs

1889-1987 - Marquerite de Angelis wrote and illustrated books that thrilled generations of children, such as Thee, Hannah! and Yonie Wondernose.

20th Century Pennsylvania History Timeline

1945 -State Museum and State Archives were placed under the Historical and Museum Commission.

1947 - Tax Equalization Board was created to review school tax assessments so that the burden of public education would fall evenly on all districts.

1950 to 1953 - Iindividual Pennsylvanians were among the many Americans who fought with the South Koreans against the North Koreans and their Red Chinese allies.

1951 - Council on Civil Defense was created, and in 1978 it became the Emergency Management Agency.

1955 - The Human Relations Commission was established in 1955 to prevent discrimination in employment.

1964 -

  • In the field of dance the Pennsylvania Ballet, founded by Barbara Weisberger in 1964, has an international reputation, and the Pittsburgh Ballet is also widely known.
  •  Conflict developed in Vietnam. American troops fought beside the South Vietnamese against the North Vietnamese and their supporters until 1973, and many Pennsylvanians served and died there. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., includes 1,449 Pennsylvanians among the 58,715 who died as a result of combat.

1968 - the number of school districts had been compressed from over 2,000 to 742; today there are only 500. Centralization and improved spending had the desired effects

1971 - Voters amended the state constitution to guarantee that equal rights could not be denied because of sex.

1972 - Dec. 6, the State Constitution so amended was declared to be henceforth known and cited as the Constitution of 1968.

1975 - February - State's Commission for Women was created.

1978 -

  • Rreplacement of the Council on Aging with a Department of Aging
  • The establishment of an Ethics Commission

1977 - Pennsylvania began to be the site of the filming of an ever increasing number of major motion pictures. Slapshot and The Deer Hunter were among the first of these productions.

1981 - David Bradley's novel The Chaneysville Incident won acclaim as a profound and sensitive analysis of the African American male in American life.

1982 - Independent Regulatory Review Commission

1987 - Pennsylvania was sixth among the states in the number of business firms owned by women, and these generated over 29 billion dollars in sales and receipts.

1990 and 1991 - Pennsylvania units sent to Saudi Arabia, as part of the international force confronting Iraqi aggression, included the 121st and 131st Transportation Companies of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the 193rd Squadron of the Air National Guard and the 316th Strategic Hospital Reserve.

1990 - Census showed 9.17 percent of the population to be African American, including 40 percent of the population of Philadelphia, 15 percent of Dauphin County, and 11 percent of both Allegheny and Delaware Counties. People of Hispanic origin (regardless of race) comprised 1.95 percent of Pennsylvania's population. There are about 16,000 Native Americans.

1992 - February 25 - 13 members of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment, US Army Reserves, a Greensburg unit, were killed by an Iraqi scud missile attack.

1994 -

  • Sixth largest number of women in the work force but rated 47th among the states in the ratio of women workers to total workers.
  • November - US Representative Tom Ridge defeated Lieutenant Governor Singel and third-party candidate Peg Luksic of Johnstown in the gubernatorial election.

1995 -

  • Pennsylvania's population was estimated by the US Census Bureau as 12,071,842 in mid-1995.
  •  Pennsylvania's 1,363,000 veterans population still included 600 veterans of World War 1; 446,490 veterans of World War II; 229,930 veterans of the Korean Conflict, 376,240 veterans of the Vietnam era, and 67,320 veterans of the Persian Gulf War.

1996 -June - Departments of Commerce and Community Affairs were merged to form the Department of Economic and Community Development.

21st Century Pennsylvania History Timeline

2001 -

  • Tropical Storm Allison moved into Pennsylvania, killed four;
  • United Airlines flight 93, directed by hijackers, crashed southeast of Pittsburgh, killed all 45 passengers, crew;
  • Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania named to direct office of Homeland Security;
  • multi-vehicle accident occured on I-80, covered by ice, snow, five killed

2002 - Somerset coal miners, trapped by flooding, rescued after 77 hours

2004 -

  • Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, demolished in 62 seconds with 2,800 explosions;
  • slot machines authorized

2005 -

  • Pennsylvania legislators increased salaries in secret session;
  • oil painting by Jackson Pollock and silkscreen by Andy Warhol stolen from Everhart Museum;
  • Philadelphia won first NHL scoreless game by a shootout

2006 -

  • Gunman killed students at Amish school;
  • over 200,000 evacuated from homes in Wilkes-Barre area due to flooding

2007 -

  • Ice kept major highways closed, hundreds of drivers stranded;
  • Gov. Rendell ordered range of government services shut down due to budget stalemate, over 24,000 workers off the job

2008 - Philadelphia Phillies won baseball World Series

2009 -

  • Pittsburgh Steelers won sixth Super Bowl;
  • Penguins won Stanley Cup; G-20 Summit held in Pittsburgh

2010 -

  • Casino gambling legalized
  • Blizzards caused airports to shut down, over 7,000 flights cancelled

2011 - Alleged sex abuse scandal at Penn State resulted in firings of several staff, including legendary coach, Joe Paterno

2012 - Joe Paterno, legendary Penn State football coach, died at 85

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