Make your own free website on

Pennsylvania: Colonial Times - 1876


Important People

Here is the timeline of Pennsylvania from colonial times through the centennial of the United States.


1612 The French explorer Etienne Brule is believed to be the first European to see the Great Lakes. Brule, believed to have been born in 1592, journeyed to North America with Samuel de Champlain in 1608 and helped found Quebec. Brule explored Lake Huron in 1612 and is believed to have also explored Lakes Ontario, Erie and Superior after 1615. Brule is the first European to live among the Indians and was probably the first European to set foot in what is now Pennsylvania. Brule was eventually killed by the Hurons, for reasons never known, in 1632.

1644 Oct 14, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, or Penn's Woods, was born.

1681 Mar 4, England's King Charles II granted a charter to William Penn (37) for 48,000 square miles that later became Pennsylvania. Penn’s father had bequethed him a claim of 15,000 against the king. Penn later laid out the city of Philadelphia as a gridiron about 2 miles long, east to west, and a mile wide.

1683 Oct 6, 13 Mennonite families from Krefeld, Germany, arrived in present-day Philadelphia to begin Germantown, one of America's oldest settlements. They were encouraged by William Penn's offer of 5,000 acres of land in the colony of Pennsylvania and the freedom to practice their religion.

1688 Feb 18, Quakers in Germantown, Pa. adopted the fist formal antislavery resolution in America. At a Mennonite meeting in Germantown, Pennsylvania, a memorandum was penned stating a profound opposition to Negro slavery.

1692 Mar 18, William Penn was deprived of his governing powers.

1712 Jun 7, The Pennsylvania Assembly banned the importation of slaves.

1718 Jul 30, William Penn, English Quaker, colonizer (No cross, no crown), died.

1726 Oct 11, Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia from England.

1730s German gun makers located in Pennsylvania began producing the Kentucky rifle, so named because it was intended for use on the Kentucky frontier. Its gunpowder was ignited with sparks struck when the hammer, containing a piece of flint, was released. The flintlock Kentucky rifle, with its extra long barrel and small caliber, was the most accurate rifle of its day and was used widely in the French and Indian Wars and American Revolution.

1731 Nov 8, Benjamin Franklin opened the 1st US library. The first circulating library in America, the Library Company of Philadelphia, was founded by Benjamin Franklin.

1750 Benjamin Franklin sent up a kite during a thunderstorm and established that lightning is a form of electricity.

1752 Feb 11, Pennsylvania Hospital, the 1st hospital in the US, opened

1752 May 10, Benjamin Franklin 1st tested his lightning rod.

1752 Jun 15, Benjamin Franklin and his son tested the relationship between electricity and lightning by flying a kite in a thunder storm.

1752 Sep 1, The Liberty Bell arrived in Philadelphia.

1754 May 28, Col. George Washington helped defeat French and Indians at Ft. Duquesne, Pitts.

1754 Jul 3, George Washington surrendered the small, circular Fort Necessity (later Pittsburgh) in southwestern Pennsylvania to the French, leaving them in control of the Ohio Valley. This marked the beginning of the French and Indian War also called the 7 Years' War.

1756 Jun 4, Quakers left the assembly of Pennsylvania.


1758 Nov 25, In the French and Indian War, the British captured Fort Duquesne in present-day Pittsburgh.

1761 French and Indians forces in the Ohio Valley were defeated.

1773 Dec 26, Expulsion of tea ships from Philadelphia.

1774 Sep 5, The first Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in a secret session in Carpenter's Hall. Tensions had been tearing at relations between the colonists and the government of King George III. The British taking singular exception to the shipboard tea party held in Boston harbor. The dispute convinced Britain to pass the "Intolerable Acts"- four of which were to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. Peyton Randolph of Williamsburg, Virginia, chaired the First Continental Congress.

1775 Apr 14, The first American society for the abolition of slavery was organized by Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia.

1775 May 10, The Second Continental Congress convened in Pennsylvania and named George Washington as supreme commander.

1776 Jul 4, The Continental Congress approved adoption of the amended Declaration of Independence, prepared by Thomas Jefferson and signed by John Hancock--President of the Continental Congress--and Charles Thomson, Congress secretary, without dissent. However, the New York delegation abstained as directed by the New York Provisional Congress. On July 9, the New York Congress voted to endorse the declaration. On July 19, Congress then resolved to have the "Unanimous Declaration" inscribed on parchment for the signature of the delegates. Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, two went on to become presidents of the United States, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

1776 Dec 25, Gen. George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River for a surprise attack against Hessian forces at Trenton, N.J.

1777 Jun 14, The Continental Congress in Philadelphia adopted the Stars and Stripes as the national flag. America's Flag Day, commemorates the date when John Adams spoke the following words before the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. "Resolved, that the Flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation." Over the years, there have been 27 versions of the American flag. The present version was adopted on July 4, 1960, when Hawaii became the 50th state.

1777 Sep 11, General George Washington and his troops were defeated by the British under General Sir William Howe at the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania. Posing as a gunsmith, British Sergeant John Howe served as General Gage's eyes in a restive Massachusetts colony.

1777 Sep 27, At the Battle of Germantown the British defeated Washington's army. English General William Howe occupied Philadelphia.

1777 Sep 30, The Congress of the United States, forced to flee in the face of advancing British forces, moved to York, Pennsylvania.

1777 Oct 4, George Washington's troops launched an assault on the British at Germantown, Penn., resulting in heavy American casualties. British General Sir William Howe repelled Washington's last attempt to retake Philadelphia, compelling Washington to spend the winter at Valley Forge.

1777 Nov 15, The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation in York, Pa. These instituted the perpetual union of the United States of America and served as a precursor to the U.S. Constitution. The structure of the Constitution was inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy of six major northeastern tribes. The matrilineal society of the Iroquois later inspired the suffragist movement.

1778 Jun 18, American forces entered Philadelphia as the British withdrew during the Revolutionary War.

1778 Jun 27, The Liberty Bell came home to Philadelphia after the British left.

1780 Mar 1, Pennsylvania became the first U.S. state to abolish slavery (for new-borns only). It was followed by Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784, New York in 1785, and New Jersey in 1786. Massachusetts abolished slavery through a judicial decision in 1783.

1782 Jun 20, Congress approved the Great Seal of the United States and the eagle as its symbol.

1787 Aug 6, The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia began to debate the articles contained in a draft of the United States Constitution.
    (AP, 8/6/97)

1787 Sep 17, The Constitution of the United States was completed and signed by a majority of delegates (12) attending the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. The US Constitution went into effect on Mar 4, 1789. Clause 3 of Article I, Section 8 empowered Congress to "regulate Commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes." Two of the signers went on to become presidents of the United States. George Washington, the president of the Constitutional Convention, and James Madison both signed the Constitution. The US Constitution is the world's oldest working Constitution.

1787 Sep 17, The US Constitution included the Connecticut, or "Great," Compromise in which every state was conceded an equal vote in the Senate irrespective of its size, but representation in the House was to be on the basis of the "federal ratio," an enumeration of the free population plus three fifths of the slaves.

1787 Sep 17, The "College of Electors" (electoral college) was established at the Constitutional Convention with representatives to be chosen by the states. Pierce Butler of South Carolina first proposed the electoral college system.

1787 Dec 12, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

1788 Jan 1, Quakers in Pennsylvania emancipated their slaves.

1790 Dec 6, Congress moved from New York City to Philadelphia, where Washington served out his two terms. He is the only president who never resided in the White House.

1814 Dec 14, The steamboat Enterprise, designed by keelboat captain Henry Miller Shreve, arrived in New Orleans with guns and ammunition for Gen. Jackson. It was immediately commandeered for military service.

1829 Jul 4, Cornerstone laid for 1st US mint

1835 Jul 6, John Marshall, the third chief justice of the Supreme Court, died at the age of 79. Two days later, while tolling in his honor in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell cracked. It was never rung again.

1850 Oct 12, The 1st women's medical school, the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, opened.

1856 Jun 17, In Philadelphia, the Republican Party opened its first national convention.

1863 Jun 26, Jubal Early and his Confederate forces moved into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

1863 Jul 1-3, From the opening shot at 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 1863, to 4 p.m. on July 3, when the last rebel assault was repulsed, the Union and Confederate armies suffered an estimated 50,000 casualties in the Battle of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest battle the country had yet seen. Upon whom the responsibility for the South's failure at Gettysburg rests has been widely debated, but five months after the epic battle, Confederate General Robert E. Lee admitted, "I thought my men were invincible." The fighting in the small Pennsylvania town marked a pivotal point in the Union's ascent to victory and helped decide the outcome of the Civil War.

1863 Jul 3, The Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania ended after three days in a major victory for the North as Confederate troops retreated. The last Confederate assault at Gettysburg was Pickett’s Charge against the center of the Union line that left some 7,000 of 13,000 [15,000] Confederate troops dead. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet gave Maj. Gen. George Pickett the assent. General Lee took responsibility

1863 Nov 19, President Abraham Lincoln was asked to deliver a few "appropriate remarks" to the crowd at the dedication of the National Cemetery at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lincoln's Gettysburg address was almost ignored in the wake of the lengthy oration by main speaker Edwin Everett. In fact, Lincoln's speech was over before many in the crowd were even aware that he was speaking. But Lincoln's eloquent words of redemption and sacrifice remain among the most revered in American history. He concluded his speech with this vow: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

1876 May 10, Centennial Fair opened in Philadelphia. Centennial Hall was built in Philadelphia, Pa., to commemorate the country’s 100th birthday. The US Centennial Exhibition was a world’s fair celebrating the founding of the US and drew over 9.9 million people. The US population at this time was 46 million.

1876 Jun 26, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his telephone at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia