A devout Quaker who had suffered for his beliefs, Penn viewed his colony as a holy experiment, designed to grant asylum to the persecuted under conditions of equality and freedom. In 1681 he sent William Markham as his deputy to establish a government at Uppland and sent instructed commissioners to plot the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia), which was laid out a few miles north of the confluence of the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers.
Penn carefully constructed a constitution, known as the Frame of Government, that gave Pennsylvania the most liberal government in the colonies. Religious freedom was guaranteed to all who believed in God, a humane penal code was adopted, and the emancipation of slaves was encouraged. However, under the representative system that it established, the popular assembly was left in an inferior position in relation to the executive branches controlled by the proprietors. In 1682 Penn arrived at Uppland (renamed Chester). Shortly thereafter he met with the chiefs of the Delaware tribes and a famous treaty was signed that promoted long-lasting goodwill between the Native Americans and the European settlers. After Penn’s death in 1718 proprietary rights were held by his heirs.
By this time Pennsylvania had developed into a dynamic and growing colony, enriched by the continuous immigration of numerous different peoples. The Quakers, English, and Welsh were concentrated in Philadelphia and the eastern counties, where they acquired great commercial and financial power through foreign trade and where they achieved a political dominance which they held until the time of the American Revolution. Philadelphia had by then become the finest city in the nation, a leader in the arts and the professions. The Germans (Pennsylvania Dutch)—largely of the persecuted religious sects of Mennonites (including Amish), Moravians, Lutherans, and Reformed—settled in the farming areas of SE Pennsylvania, where they retained their cohesion and to a considerable extent their language, customs, architecture, and superstitions.
In the early 1600s the English, Dutch, and Swedes disputed the right to the region of Pennsylvania. Explorations were confined to the Delaware River vicinity, where fur trading with the Native Americans was carried on. The original permanent settlement was established on Tinicum Island (1643) in the Delaware River by Johan Printz, governor of New Sweden, and was followed in the succeeding years by the neighboring colony of Uppland.
Swedish jurisdiction was short-lived as the Dutch, operating from their stronghold in New Amsterdam, succeeded in gaining control of the Middle Atlantic region in 1655. In turn the Dutch were overpowered by the British forces of Col. Richard Nicolls, acting for the duke of York (later James II), and in 1664 the British took over the Delaware area. The duke of York remained in control until 1681, when, in payment of a royal debt, William Penn was granted proprietary rights to almost the whole of what is now Pennsylvania, and, in addition, leased the three Lower Counties.
After 1718 the Scotch-Irish began colonizing in the Cumberland Valley and gradually pushed the frontiers toward W Pennsylvania. Their rugged independence and the peculiarities of their frontier problems made them rebellious against the established order. Throughout the province agriculture was the chief occupation, although industry was spurred by abundant water power and plentiful natural resources.
In the west settlement was hindered by a growing unrest among the Native Americans. Penn’s heirs lacked both the good sense and the ethical values that prompted Penn’s fair and considerate treatment. Resentful of encroachment on their lands and of the land purchase made by the Albany Congress (1754), the Native Americans allied themselves with the French, who were then fortifying positions in the Ohio valley. The frontier settlements were severely ravaged until, after several reverses, the French abandoned (1758) Fort Duquesne to British and American forces under Gen. John Forbes.
The power of the Native Americans was not completely broken until the suppression of the uprising of 1763. The inept defenses provided by the Quaker-controlled assembly during the crisis aroused bitter resentment and intensified efforts to overturn proprietary rule. The struggle between proprietary and antiproprietary parties was soon overshadowed, however, by the opposition to British imperial policies that culminated in the American Revolution.