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Philadelphia Settled 1681

The Lenape were some of the first peoples who called the city of Philadelphia their home. Dutch and the Swedish colonists built their own outposts along the banks of the Delaware River, but their population remained small for many years. Eager to flee the hostilities in England, the Quaker merchant William Penn petitioned the king for a land in the New World. The king granted his request, and in 1681, the Quaker settlement of Philadelphia finally began.  This event is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History during that time.

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Early Settler and the European Arrival

Located at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, the area that is now Philadelphia was once home to an Algonquian-speaking people called Lenni Lenape (or Delaware). Henry Hudson was the first known European to visit the Delaware Bay area in 1609. It was not until 1616, however, that the Dutch scout Cornelius Hendrickson explored its coast on board the ship Onrust. Between 1623 and 1624, the fur trader Cornelius Mey explored the coast of modern New Jersey while looking for a new capital for New Netherland. His ship came close to what is now the location of Philadelphia, but the plan was abandoned. The Dutch instead chose to build Fort Nassau (present-day Brooklawn, New Jersey) on the opposite side of the Delaware River.

In 1633, the Dutch bought the land on the eastern side of the mouth of the Schuylkill River from the Lenape people and built Fort Beversrede. Their dominance in the area, however, was challenged with the arrival of Swedish colonists. In 1648, the new emigrants built their own outpost (Fort Nya Korsholm) directly opposite the Dutch fort. The Dutch later demolished Fort Beversrede and built another fort along the bank of the Christina River.

But the population and number of colonies of the Dutch and Swedes still lagged behind their English counterparts. English settlers even slowly migrated to New Jersey and established new colonies there. In 1664, the outnumbered and outgunned Dutch colonists led by Peter Stuyvesant gave up their claims to New Netherland after the land was claimed by the English. The Netherlands completely gave up its colonies in North America in 1674 when its leaders signed the Treaty of Westminster.

The Foundation of Philadelphia

The Governor of Pennsylvania, William Penn, paid the Native Lenape people for their land and negotiated a treaty. He also named the city of Philadelphia, which is Greek for “brotherly love”.

In the mid-1600, a religious group called the Quakers emerged in England. Just like past breakaway religious groups, the Quakers were treated with hostility in their homeland. Tired of the hostility they experienced, they finally decided to look for a new land where they could live in peace.

In 1680, the influential Quaker merchant William Penn requested for the land north of Maryland to be granted to him. King Charles II owed Penn’s father a large sum of money, so the son’s request was granted in 1681. Penn then received a royal charter which allowed the Quakers to occupy the land between the 43rd parallel north and the Delaware River. Penn’s territory, however, overlapped the lands of the Duke of York and Lord Baltimore in Maryland, so a dispute soon emerged.

William Penn, as governor of the colony, immediately drafted laws for the new colony. After looking for new settlers, he then outlined the layout of the city that he called “Philadelphia” even while he was still in England. He sailed to Pennsylvania in 1682 and immediately granted citizenship to the new settlers upon his arrival.

 Penn envisioned the settlement as a place where the citizens could live in peace and equality. What distinguished him from other colonists was that he worked hard to create peace between his people and the natives. Penn befriended them and even paid for the land that they sold to him.

Settlers from the north and western parts of Europe flocked to Pennsylvania as soon as they heard of the new colony. Its population soon swelled to 8,000 by the time Penn returned to England in 1684. Philadelphia itself became a center of trade and had a robust population of 2,500. The harmony between its inhabitants continued until 1685 until the Quakers themselves fell to division.


Picture by: Benjamin West – Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Public Domain, Link

Carsten, F. L., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 5. The New Cambridge Modern History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521045445.

Soderlund, Jean R. “Colonial Era.” Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Accessed August 15, 2017.

Weigley, Russell Frank. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. Edited by Nicholas B. Wainwright and Edwin Wolf. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982.

Young, John Russell. Memorial History of the City of Philadelphia: From its First Settlement to the Year 1895. New York: New York History Company, 1895.

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