Can just two documents create a country? These documents, which were written or signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, helped launch the United States:
- The Declaration of Independence, which was signed in 1776, is the founding document of this country. It formally declared or announced the separation of the 13 North American British colonies from Great Britain. This sparked the American Revolution against British rule.
- The US Constitution, which was written in 1787, is a set of rules that guides how our country and states work.
Many historic moments or events took place in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is where the First Continental Congress met in the fall of 1774. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania was the location of the encampment site during the winter of 1777-1778 of the Continental Army (or army of the colonies) during the American Revolutionary War against the British. Likewise, one of the most important battles of the Civil War took place at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863.
Pennsylvania is bordered by New York and Lake Erie to the north; New York and New Jersey to the east; Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia to the south; and West Virginia and Ohio to the west. The state is also referred to as a “Commonwealth” versus a state. Do you know what the difference is? There really isn’t one. The word Commonwealth is simply a traditional English word or name. Commonwealths are just like any other US state regarding their politics and laws.
There are three other states that call themselves a Commonwealth. Can you name another one? Here’s a hint: They’re all located in the Eastern US. Their names are mentioned at the end of this blog.
What really happened
- Although Archaeologists don’t agree on when the first humans came to the area we now call Pennsylvania, they found artifacts that are at least 19,400 years old. Thousands of years later, Native American tribes including the Lenape, Susquehannocks, Erie, Seneca, and Oneida, lived on this land.
- 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. Many German immigrants including Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish moved to the area. Their descendants are called the Pennsylvania Dutch.
- From 1754 to 1763, the French and English fought for control of the land during the French and Indian War. The English won the war but wound up in debt because of the high cost of the war. So, they taxed the colonists to make up for it, which many believed was unfair and helped lead to the Revolutionary War that began in 1775.
- After deciding to wage war against Britain, representatives from each of the colonies attended the Continental Congress in Philadelphia for a second time. This was when Thomas Jefferson, one of this nation’s founding fathers and third US president, drafted the Declaration of Independence.
- In 1775, George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, led the Continental Army across the Delaware River to an important victory. In 1787, after the war ended, Pennsylvania became the second US state and George Washington became this country’s first president from 1789 to 1797.
- Pennsylvania was one of five states to gradually abolish slavery. In 1780, the state passed an Abolition Act. By the early 1800s, the northern states had either abolished slavery or were in the process of gradually eradicating it.
- Pennsylvania became a state in 1787.
- The Pennsylvania cities of Philadelphia and Lancaster once served as the nation’s capital cities for a portion of the 18th century.
- Pennsylvania fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War. One of the most important battles took place at Gettysburg in 1863. The Union won, which was a turning point in the war that eventually led to victory.
- Philadelphia continued to be one of the most populous cities in the country, and it was the second largest city after New York for most of the 19th century. It was home to the first stock exchange, museum, insurance company, medical school and the central bank of the United States.
Stuff you should know
- Pennsylvania is the only one of the original thirteen colonies that is not bordered by the Atlantic Ocean.
- Pennsylvanians twice rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have granted women the right to vote, but the state was one of the first to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote nationwide.
- Even before the Civil War, Pennsylvania was considered to be a center of scientific discovery or place of innovation. People in the state invented many things, like iron bridges, and contributed to advancements in radio, TV, airplanes and farm machinery. The state is also the site of the country’s leading medical science centers.
- Perhaps the most famous bell in this country, the Liberty Bell, is in Philadelphia. The last time it rang or chimed was in July 1776 to gather local citizens to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Colonel John Nixon. Do you know what note was sounded? Read chapter 34 to find out!
Crazy, funny or just weird
- Crayola Crayons makes all of its products in Pennsylvania. They produce nearly three billion crayons each year, enough to wrap around the Earth six times!
- Every February, the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania celebrates Groundhog’s Day. Thousands of people come to see Punxsutawney Phil, the world famous weather-forecasting groundhog. If Phil sees his shadow, the legend is that there will be six more weeks of winter. Otherwise, spring will come early.
- For one season in 1943, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers football teams merged to form the Steagles due to the loss of players during WWII.
- Pittsburgh is known for its steep hillsides covered with houses and streets that have steps for sidewalks. The city has 446 bridges, the most bridges in the world, three more than Venice, Italy.
Tell me more
- The Philadelphia Zoo was the first public zoo in the United States and was founded by Benjamin Franklin.
- Love chocolate? Guess where the chocolate capital of the US is located? Hershey, Pennsylvania!
- The state is known for whoopie pies, Philly cheesesteaks, and handmade pretzels – with or without mustard – which were originally brought by German settlers.
- The polio vaccine was created in Pittsburgh in 1955. Children in the city were the first to be given the new vaccine.
- Half of America’s mushrooms are grown in and around Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Could you guess the name of any of the other three Commonwealths? They are Massachusetts, Kentucky and Virginia.
If you can add other fun or interesting facts about Pennsylvania, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your first name, age and state you live in and we’ll post your information on Mo’s social media pages!