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Pennsylvania: A Brief Overview

Sometime after the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherers gave way to the agricultural cultures of regional tribes: Susquehannock, Munsee, Iroquois, Erie, Monongahela, Shawnee, Lenape, and others. Although historical details are a bit sparse, the Lenape were considered by the other tribes to be the oldest and were often referred to as the ‘grandfather’ tribe. What would become Pennsylvania was first known to Europeans by the name L’arcadia (wooded coast). It was discovered in 1524 by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano while he was working for the French King. Soon thereafter, the first European settlers arrived. Swedes and Finns founded a colony, along the northern Chesapeake and the Delaware River, that was eventually captured by the Dutch, who fell – in turn – to the English. Enter William Penn.

The King of England, Charles II, to settle a large debt to William Penn’s father, granted a charter for land just captured from the Dutch, land which would eventually be known as Pennsylvania and Delaware. Penn, a Quaker, founded a settlement called Penn’s Woods (Pennsylvania) based on the egalitarian ideals of tolerance and cooperation. He named the capital Philadelphia, the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’ Soon, settlers began flocking to the new colony from all over Europe. The new settlement had few problems with the natives, most of whom reacted positively to being treated with respect and honesty. Although that ideal didn’t last, the culture of tolerance and progressiveness certainly had a big impact on the culture of the area, an impression that remains to this day.

Pennsylvania has some notable firsts. William Penn was the first to suggest a United Colonies of America, and a United Europe. In 1780, Pennsylvania was the first state to pass a law that abolished slavery. Both of the main governing documents of the United States, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, were written in Pennsylvania. The state is also the site of the first oil well, first commercial radio broadcast, and first public zoo, the Philly Cheesesteak, the country’s oldest brewery (Yuengling), and the York Peppermint Patty. The word ‘hoagie’ was coined in Philadelphia, though it’s exact derivation is a mystery to this day. In 1721, to protect the white-tailed deer, Pennsylvania passed the first hunting laws in the nation. The deer still thrive throughout the state.

Interestingly, today, Pennsylvania is still Penn’s Woods: 59% of the land area of the state is forested. Even though Pennsylvania has no seacoast, it’s home to three important ports, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Erie. At 300+ million years old, the Susquehanna is one of the world’s oldest rivers. The famous Nile is only 30 million years old. Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous weather ‘man,’ lives in Punxsutawney, PA. Weirdest of all, a typical Philadelphian consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.