Colonial Ethnicity

Pennsylvania Province

The First Comers — Before telling the story of the events that took place in the new colony, it is well to say something about the different classes of people who settled it. We have already spoken of the Swedes and Dutch, whom Penn found there on his arrival, and who were very willing to remain under his just rule. There were English, too, who were not Quakers, and many of these lived in what were then called "the three lower counties," now the State of Delaware. Most of those who came to Penn’s Colony in the early years of its settlement were Quakers; but as time passed persons of other religious faiths came, so that by the year 1700 there was quite a mixture of European peoples and religions, although the Quakers were still the most numerous.

Christ Church Built — Among the English settlers were some who belonged to the Church of England, here known as the Episcopal Church. By 1695 these people had become strong enough to support a church of their own and they built one named Christ Church. Its first bell was hung in the crotch of a tree. The old church gave way to a new one about fifty years later, and this fine old church still stands on Second Street north of Market [citation needed]. It is one of the historic relics of the city, and the pew occupied in it by President Washington is still pointed out.

Welsh Settlers — People from Wales, most of them Quakers, were among the early settlers. They had been as badly treated as the English Quakers and were glad to sail for a new home beyond the seas where they could dwell in peace and safety. Some of them came with Penn in the ship Welcome and others soon afterwards. Not many of these settled in the city, most of them going back into the country west of the Schuylkill, where they took up land in what came to be known as the Welsh Tract. We find Welsh names all over this district, such as Bryn Mawr, Penllyn and Gwynedd, and the name of Montgomery County also came from Wales. Some of them went west as far as Lancaster County, where we still have their name in the "Welsh Mountains." The trail made by them through the forest in their first journeys westward was the beginning of the Lancaster pike, in later years a noted highway.

Penn and the Germans — William Penn, in his early days of preaching, made two visits to Holland and Germany, where he explained to the people the doctrines of the Friends. He found many of these to be much like the Friends in their ideas, chief among them the Mennonites, who did not believe in war or display, but used plain speech and wore simple clothing. They bad long been persecuted like the Friends and were glad to bear these new doctrines. When they were told that William Penn had made a home across the seas where all were free to worship in their own way, many of them hastened to that land of freedom.

The Mennonite Colonists — Some Dutch Mennonites had come to America as early as 1662, but their small settlement had been broken up by the English, their leader escaping into the wilderness. Others came in 1683, among them a learned German named Francis Daniel Pastorius, who made his first home in one of the caves along the Delaware. He was a great scholar, who had learned seven or eight languages and knew much about science and philosophy. Those who followed these first settlers made their way to a large tract of land which had been bought for them above Philadelphia. As these were all Germans they named their new place Germantown, and by this name it is still known, though it was long ago swallowed up by the great neighboring city.

The Building of Germantown — The new settlers were soon busy digging cellars and building huts above them. They were poor people and had to begin their new life in a very simple way. When the first two-story house was built and the dinner spread for the house-raisers, William Perm was one of those who sat down to the humble meal. He was glad to have these people in his province. Others soon came, and the little settlement grew rapidly. Corn and buckwheat were planted, and at the end of the first year they had plenty to eat and better houses to live in.

A Settlement of Weavers — These early German settlers had learned the art of weaving: in their own country, and soon the spindle and the loom There at work in the little village, woven and knit goods being made that became known as Mennonite goods. Pastorius chose for the town seal a three-leaved stalk of clover, there being on one of its leaves a vine, on another a stalk of flax, and on the third a spool of thread, with a suitable Latin motto. The Germans soon started other industries, for most of them were skilled workmen in various trades. As early as 1690 they built a paper-mill on a branch of Wissahickon Creek, the first in America. Also they had among them printers, lace-makers, silversmiths, and artisans of other kinds.

German Sects — In those days there were many religious sects in Germany which had branched out from the state church. Like the Quakers, most of them opposed war, the taking of oaths, and display in dress, and others besides the Mennonites came to Pennsylvania. Pietists, who came in 1694, settled along the Wissahickon, and were much given to prayer and pious thought. A stone building put up by them for religious uses in 1734 still stands and is known as the "monastery on the Wissahickon." Others, who came later, were the Dunkers, or German Baptists, the Schwenkfelders, and the Moravians. These pushed up into the wilderness, the Dunkers founding a monastery at Ephrata, Lancaster County, the Moravians settling Nazareth in 1739 and Bethlehem in 1741, and the others pushing northward into Montgomery, Lehigh and Berks counties. Here their descendants, commonly spoken of as the "Pennsylvania Dutch," are numerous to-day, and the German language of [three] centuries ago is [likely] still spoken, though with an odd mixture of English words.

Other German Immigrants — It was the visits of William Penn to Germany that had started this tide of settlers towards Pennsylvania. But after 1700 many came for other reasons. The English government was now trying to induce the Germans to emigrate to the American colonies, spreading such glowing accounts of these through the German states that soon multitudes were on their way. They came to England in large numbers and from there were sent to America, most of them going to Pennsylvania. By 1725 many thousands of these useful colonists had sought the province of William Penn. These spread far and wide through the valleys of the Schuylkill and the Lehigh, and we owe to them the towns of Easton, Allentown, Reading, Lebanon and Lancaster. Then they pushed farther west, into the valleys of the Susquehanna and the Juniata and down into Cumberland Valley. By 1750 they numbered nearly one hundred thousand in Pennsylvania.

The Scotch-Irish — Now we have to speak of a different class of settlers, those known as Scotch-Irish. These were people who had gone from Scotland to Ireland many years before to settle on the lands taken by the English government from the Irish [people]. They were farmers by occupation and Presbyterians in religion, and two things took them to Pennsylvania, the story of its fertile soil and its religious liberty. They began to come soon after 1700 and at once sought the frontier regions, going westward and northward into Chester, Lancaster, Bucks, and other counties.

A Pioneer People — The Scotch-Irish were fitted for life on the frontier. They were not men of peace, like the Quakers and many of the Germans, but men ready to fight their way, as they had been forced to do in Ireland. They were soon quarrelling with the Germans, and to stop this the officials induced them to go farther west, while the Germans stayed in the east. These born pioneers were quite ready to invade the wilderness, and when the land beyond the Alleghenies was opened to settlers they pushed forward into it, carrying the frontier of Pennsylvania far towards its western border. Neither wild beasts nor [hostile] Indians could stop them, for they came of a fighting race. Whatever may be said of the doings of the Scotch-Irish in those early days, their rough and energetic ways well fitted them for the work of pioneers. They were the best people to endure the hardship and danger of the frontiers, and the strength and energy they developed made them just the men to face the struggles that were to come.

The Huguenot Settlers — There is still another class of settlers of whom something must be said, though they were not very numerous. These were part of the Protestants of France, the Huguenots, as they are called, who had been treated by the kings of that country in the same cruel wav that the religious sects of England and Germany had been treated by governments and church leaders. As they could not live in comfort in France they sought homes elsewhere, many of them coming to America. 'William Penn induced some of them to settle in Pennsylvania. They had been growers of the vine [wine], and he asked them to cultivate grapes "up the Schuylkill."

The French Settlement — In 1712 a French lady named Madame Ferree arrived. Her husband had been killed in France, and she fled to England, where Penn aided her to go to Pennsylvania. The vineyards on the Schuylkill had not been successful, so he gave her a grant of two thousand acres of land in Pequea Valley, then in Chester, now in Lancaster, County. She bought as much more, and all the French immigrants went to this fertile valley, where they formed a Huguenot settlement. The Delaware Indians, some of whom dwelt here, gave a warm welcome to the new settlers, and they lived together in harmony, the Huguenots showing their good feeling by attending the funeral of the Indian chief, who died after their arrival. The descendants of these French settlers still live in the country surrounding their early place of settlement.

— History Of Pennsylvania by Charles Morris (1913)


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