History of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

History of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Indigenous people

According to a2zdirectory, the first settlers in the area where Philadelphia was to be founded were the Paleo-Indians. In the lower reaches of the Delaware, near present-day Philadelphia, Native Americans lived about ten thousand years before the European colonization of America. Because the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers formed natural barriers, the inhabitants, mainly tribes of the Lenni-Lenape Indians, lived quite isolated from other tribes and peoples.

The former Lenape settlements of Nitapèkunk, Pèmikpeka, and Shackamaxon were located on the Delaware, in sites now located within the Philadelphia urban conglomeration. The tribes living in the area were Armewamese, Cohanseys, Mantes and Sickoneysincks. They spoke Unami, an Algonk language.

The Lenape had long hiking trails through their habitat. According to censuses, there were 131 such trails in all of Pennsylvania. Several of these also headed toward Philadelphia and were later cultivated by the settlers.

In the 17th century, the number of the Lenape Indians declined sharply due to the introduction of European diseases such as measles and smallpox. Most Native Americans were driven out of the area in the 18th century by advancing colonization. Moreover, their population declined due to mutual conflicts.

Dutch and Swedish colonization

Map of New Netherland showing the mouth of the Delaware where Philadelphia was to be founded, Nicolaas Visscher II.

European colonization began in 1609 when Captain Henry Hudson, in the service of the VOC Chamber of Amsterdam, explored the American coast in search of the Northwest Passage. The valley in which Philadelphia is now located became part of the colony of New Netherland in 1623 under the leadership of Governor Cornelius Jacobsz May. The colony had been founded nine years earlier to trade with the local population. West of the Delaware Bay, settlers led by Samuel Godin founded Fort Swaanendael in 1631. In 1638, Swedish. also settledsettlers settled in the area, led by the Dutchman Peter Minuit. They founded the colony of New Sweden to circumvent the Dutch trade monopoly in North America and built Fort Christina in their colony , the first European settlement on the Delaware.

The first English settlement in the area was founded in 1642 by some fifty Puritan families who came from New Haven, Connecticut. They settled at the mouth of the Schuylkill River. In 1646 there was a quarrel between the different parties about land rights. Each side wanted access to the Native American territory to collect furs. After several Swedish raids on the Dutch colony, Governor Willem Kieft gave Andries Huddethe order to buy indigenous land and build permanent settlements, the first since the massacre of the inhabitants of Swaanendael in 1632. Hudde obtained the area that the Indians called Wigquachkoing Scituated and the settlement built here would later become part from Philadelphia.

Neither the Swedish nor the Dutch settlers tolerated the presence of the English Puritan newcomers. They burned down their buildings and eventually expelled them. The Dutch and Swedes acted as allies in this. However, in 1655, Peter Stuyvesant organized a military expedition against New Sweden after the Swedes captured the Dutch Fort Casimir. The Dutch conquered the colony and placed it under the authority of New Netherland. Nineteen years later, at the Peace of Westminster, after the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch exchanged their territory in North America with the English for thecolony of Suriname.

Foundation by William Penn

William Penn (right, standing) receiving the royal charter from Charles II (left), painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

In 1681, King Charles II of England transferred much of his land holdings in the American colonies, including the present-day states of Delaware and Pennsylvania, to William Penn, leader of the Quakers. The transfer was set out in a charter, in which the debts the king owed to Penn’s father were settled, and in which the king retained the right to one-fifth of the proceeds from gold and silver mines. The charter was very much in Penn’s favour, presumably because the king had an interest in providing Quakers and other “troublemakers” with a residence far from the homeland. As a result, Penn became the largest private landowner in the world at the time, with a total of 120,000 km 2. According to legend, under an elm tree in Shackamaxon, he concluded a number of treaties with the Lenape chieftain Tamanend to ensure peace in his area. Penn respected the Native Americans’ claims to the land and bought land from them before spending it to be cultivated.

Penn wanted to build a settlement on the banks of the Delaware and designed a town with a checkerboard pattern. He also took into account spacious gardens and orchards around the houses in the city plans. Its location on the Delaware gave residents access to the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Out of religious conviction, Penn left the city undefended.  He named his city Philadelphia after the church in Philadelphia from Revelation 3:7-13 – of the seven churcheswas that which was judged most favourably. The city would have its own commercial center with a market and all kinds of public buildings. Penn’s tolerance also led to a good relationship between the settlers and the Native American tribes in the area.

British period

Between 1683 and 1702, Philadelphia’s population grew from a few hundred to 2,500. Before William Penn finally left the city in 1701, he issued a charter giving city officials the power to legislate, enact ordinances, and regulate markets and fairs. In 1702 Queen Anna’s War broke out resulting in the cut off of trade with the West Indies. As a result, the city fell into a depression for a decade. Philadelphia managed to get out of the malaise through the export of flax and lumber.

In 1741 and 1742, riots broke out in the town over high bread prices, and in October 1742, the Quakers and pacifist German settlers were attacked by sailors for their peace policy in the War for Jenkins’ Ear. By 1750, Philadelphia became one of the most important cities of the thirteen colonies. During this period Christ Church and later Independence Hall were built. The streets were also better paved and equipped with oil lamps.Benjamin Franklin founded the local fire department at that time and was also responsible for establishing mail routes between Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

American Independence

The Independence Hall around 1770

Following the Boston Tea Party, the settlers in Philadelphia also refused to unload a shipment of imported tea in 1773, as a protest against the tax burden from England.The following year, the first Continental Congress was held at Carpenters’ Hall in the city. During the Second Congress in 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence was signed in Independence Hall. According to Robert Morris, Philadelphia played an important role in the war for the Americans:

You will consider Philadelphia, from its centrical situation, the extent of its commerce, the number of its artificers, manufactures and other circumstances, to be to the United States what the heart is to the human body in circulating the blood. 

(You must consider that because of its central location, its extensive trade, the number of artisans, the products manufactured there, and other matters, Philadelphia is to the United States what the pumping heart is to the human body.)

Map of the Philadelphia of 1777

In December 1776, fearing a British takeover of the city, the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia for a brief period and settled in Baltimore. After the battles at Princeton and Trenton, Congress deemed it safe to return. In September 1777, the British attacked Philadelphia from the south. George Washington intercepted them, but was driven back at the Battle of Brandywine. The revolutionary inhabitants of Philadelphia fled to New Jersey or northern Pennsylvania. The Congress departed for a second time and settled first in Lancaster and finally in York. The British troops were welcomed into a half-empty town by Loyalists on September 23. The British then besieged Fort Mifflin, which was located in the Delaware just south of the city, and managed to capture it after a month-and-a-half siege. After ten months, however, the British troops left Philadelphia again. The city council returned within a week after the departure of the British.

Temporary Capital

Dissatisfaction with overdue payouts led to growing unrest among Continental Army veterans. The situation culminated in 1783, when a group of soldiers advanced towards Philadelphia. Delegate Alexander Hamilton then asked the city council for protection against the veterans. He refused and Congress decided to leave Philadelphia and move to Princeton.Congress did not return temporarily for the Constitutional Convention until 1787.

On July 9, 1790, the Residence Act was signed establishing the new capital Washington DC on the Potomac River. At the intercession of Robert Morris, Philadelphia was chosen as the temporary capital until the construction of Washington was completed in 1800. Congress then settled in the Philadelphia Court House, which would become known as Congress Hall, and the Supreme Court took place in City Hall. Robert Morris donated his Market Street home to President George Washington to serve as the presidential residence.

The restored Senate Chamber in Congress Hall

The temporary capital of the United States was enriched in 1792 with the creation of the First Bank of the United States, and the Philadelphia Mint was established a year later. From August to October 1793, Philadelphia was struck by an outbreak of Yellow Fever. The disease probably originated from Saint-Domingue and was brought to the city by refugees of the Haitian Revolution. During the epidemic, 20,000 people fled the city, including the federal government. One-tenth of the city’s population died of the disease. At that time, the capital had 50,000 inhabitants.

The conclusion of the Jay Treaty with Great Britain in 1795, which was intended to settle any pending differences between the two countries, was controversial throughout the United States. The treaty embodied the ideas of the Federalists and went against the foreign policy ideas of the opposition. The treaty sparked a fierce protest from locals in the State House in Philadelphia on September 25 of that year. Four years later, the Pennsylvania state government made Lancaster the new state capital and departed from Philadelphia. The reason for this was that the population increasingly settled in the western part of the state. Finally, on May 14, 1800, the federal government finally left its temporary capital to settle in the newly built city of Washington DC.

19th century

The opening day of the World’s Fair in Philadelphia

By the early 1800s, Philadelphia had grown into one of the country’s major ports. However, the Embargo Act of 1807, which was directed against Great Britain and France, and the War of 1812 changed this and the city was overtaken as a port by New York. As its maritime role diminished, the old capital successfully turned to industrial development, enabling the paper and shoe industries to develop into important industries. After the construction of several canals and railroads, Philadelphia grew into America’s first industrial city.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the city suffered from the violence of various gangs that controlled it. The American Civil War, which raged over the next decade, created tensions between supporters and opponents of the Confederate cause. During the war, Philadelphia itself was spared devastation as the Confederates were defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg, two hundred miles from the city.  In 1876, the Centennial Exposition, the first universal world ‘s fair, was held in Philadelphiathat took place in America. The exhibition was to celebrate the centenary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence. At the same time, construction began on a new town hall, which was completed in 1884.

20th century

The urban landscape of downtown Philadelphia underwent a significant change with the City Beautiful movement, which was fashionable in the early 20th century and focused on city beautification and monumental grandeur. The construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway connecting City Hall to Fairmount Park grew out of this movement. However, a plan for the construction of various diagonal avenues, which would connect the outer cities with the center from the five central squares of the city, never went ahead.

The announcement of the armistice on November 11, 1918 caused a huge celebration among the people of Philadelphia.

The former capital’s shipping industry received a major boost during World War I when it was commissioned by the US government to build many naval vessels. The Spanish flu that broke out shortly after the war took the lives of about 12,000 people in Philadelphia. In the years that followed, the city modernized to adapt to the growing traffic. For example, in 1926 the Benjamin Franklin Bridge connecting the city with the state of New Jersey was completed. Also during this time, the first skyscrapers appeared in the growing metropolis. That same year, the city also hosted the Sesquicentennial Expositioninstead, an unofficial World’s Fair and two years later the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened its doors.

As a result of the 1929 stock market crash, fifty banks closed their doors in Philadelphia. Due to the economic depression that followed, unemployment in the city rose sharply and reached its highest value in 1933. Mayor Samuel Davis Wilson initiated a number of programs funded by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to stimulate the local economy. Until 1930, the former capital was predominantly a Republican city, but Roosevelt’s New Deal policy helped the Democratic Party gain more supporters.

After World War II, Philadelphia suffered from a housing shortage, partly due to the massive immigration of African Americans from the south of the United States. In 1950 the city had two million inhabitants, but due to restructuring of the local industry tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and the population of the city declined. In the decades that followed, the population declined substantially, the peak being the 1970s, where there was a decrease of thirteen percent.

Bankers Row was demolished in 1959 to make way for the Independence National Historical Park.

The first phase of refurbishing some parts of Center City was also started in the 1950s. The Society Hill neighborhood was the first to be tackled in the context of urban renewal, because this downtown neighborhood was in a dilapidated state. Due to the urban renewal, the prices of the houses in this neighborhood have increased by 250 percent in just ten years. During those years, Philadelphia, like many American cities, was affected by the civil rights movement. A central figure in this was Marie Hicks who explained the segregationfrom Girard College. Also in 1964, a major riot broke out in the city in which white American businesses were attacked and looted by the African American population. The riots resulted in 341 injuries and in the end 774 people were arrested.

In the eighties, a mafia war raged in the city. One of the most famous victims was mob boss Angelo Bruno. In the first twenty years after his death, 35 mafia-related murders took place in the city. In the late 1980s, Philadelphia was virtually bankrupt, with a budget deficit of nearly $250 million. Mayor Ed Rendell, who was elected in 1992, was able to attract new investment and stabilize Philadelphia’s finances.

21st century

After the turn of the century, Mayor John F. Street focused on revitalizing deprived neighborhoods. He was able to make great progress in several neighborhoods. In addition, Center City’s population increased for the first time in 40 years. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of households in Center City increased by 24 percent.

History of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania