Archaeologists don’t agree on when the first humans came to the area we now call Pennsylvania, but they’ve found artifacts that are at least 19,400 years old. Native American tribes including the Lenape, Susquehannocks, Erie, Seneca, and Oneida, lived on the land that’s now Pennsylvania thousands of years later.
In 1681 Englishman William Penn, a member of a Christian group called the Quakers, founded the British colony of Pennsylvania. Because Penn’s colony offered settlers religious freedom, it attracted people of other denominations. A wave of German immigrants including Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish moved to the area. These settlers eventually developed their own dialect and their descendants are now called the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The French and English fought for control of the land during the French and Indian War, which lasted from 1754 to 1763. The English won but ended up in debt from fighting. To make back the money, they taxed the colonists—something many people didn’t think was fair. Anger over this action helped lead to the Revolutionary War, which started in 1775.
In 1775 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, held the second Continental Congress. This was when representatives from each of the colonies met for the second time after deciding to go to war with Britain. And it was during this time that Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. That same year George Washington led the colonial forces known as the Continental Army across the Delaware River—and to an important victory—in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1787, after the war ended, Pennsylvania became the second U.S. state.
Pennsylvania supported the Union during the Civil War. One of the most important battles took place at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863. The Union won the battle, marking a turning point toward eventual victory in the war.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Pennsylvania is a combination of Latin words that together mean “Penn’s woods.” The name was created by William Penn to honor his father.
Some think Pennsylvania’s nickname comes from its central location among the 13 colonies.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Pennsylvania is bordered by New York and Lake Erie in the north; New York and New Jersey in the east; Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia in the south; and West Virginia and Ohio in the west. The land can be divided into six regions.
The Atlantic Coastal Plain Province in the extreme southeast is a flat, low region with narrow valleys that were cut by streams. It contains Tinicum Marsh, the first urban wildlife refuge in the United States.
West of the Atlantic Coastal Plain is the Piedmont Province, with rolling hills, ridges, tower-shaped rocks, caves, and sinkholes.
The New England Province is northeast of the Piedmont Province, and contains steeply sloped hills and ridges.
Farther west is the Ridge and Valley Province, which contains part of the Appalachian Mountains. About half of the region is forested.
The Appalachian Plateaus Province sweeps across the central and western part of the state. It’s a heavily forested area that includes Allegheny National Forest and the Pocono and Catskill Mountains.
The Central Lowland Province is in the extreme northeast and has low ridges that were created by glaciers.
Pennsylvania’s mammals include black bears, elk, red foxes, and white-tailed deer. Golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and redheaded woodpeckers fly overhead, while reptiles such as eastern spiny softshell turtles, northern coal skinks, and venomous eastern Massasaugua rattlesnakes creep and slither on land. Pennsylvania is also home to amphibians such as Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders and Valley and Ridge salamanders.
With more than half the state covered in forests, Pennsylvania has a wide variety of trees, including eastern white pine, red maple, sycamore, and eastern hemlock (the state tree). Wild bergamot, wild bleeding heart, black-eyed Susan, and Penngift Crownvetch are among the state’s many wildflowers.
Pennsylvania is one of the top states for coal mining. It also has the largest reserve anthracite coal (a very hard, pure variety) in the nation.
—Washington Crossing State Park is where George Washington led his troops across the Delaware River and sprang a successful sneak attack during the Revolutionary War.
—The state’s many famous folks include James Buchanan, who was America’s fifteenth president (and the only U.S. president born in Pennsylvania), impressionist painter Mary Cassatt, flag maker Betsy Ross, author Louisa May Alcott, and pioneer Daniel Boone.
—Pennsylvania is known for handmade pretzels, which were originally brought by German settlers, whoopie pies, and Philly cheesesteaks.
—This state is officially a commonwealth, an old term that refers to the "common weal" or well-being of the public.