Colonization, 1562-1753

Author: William Penn  | Date: [Not given]

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Description of Pennsylvania

THE first planters in these parts were the Dutch, and soon after them the Swedes and Finns. The Dutch applied themselves to traffic, the Swedes and Finns to husbandry. There were some disputes between them some years, the Dutch looking upon them as intruders upon their purchase and possession, which was finally ended in the surrender made by John Rizeing, the Swedish governor, to Peter Stuyvesant, governor for the states of Holland, anno 1655.

The Dutch inhabit mostly those parts of the province that lie upon or near to the bay; and the Swedes the freshes of the river Delaware. There is no need of giving any description of them, who are better known there than here; but they are a plain, strong, industrious people, yet have made no great progress in culture or propagation of fruit-trees, as if they desired rather to have enough, than plenty or traffic. But, I presume, the Indians made them the more careless, by furnishing them with the means of profit, to wit, skins and furs, for rum, and such strong liquors. They kindly received me, as well as the English, who were few, before the people concerned with me came among them: I must needs commend their respect to authority, and kind behavior to the English; they do not degenerate from the old friendship between both kingdoms. As they are people proper, and strong of body, so they have fine children, and almost every house full; rare to find one of them without three or four boys, and as many girls; some six, seven, and eight sons: and I must do them that right, I see few young men more sober and laborious.

The Dutch have a meeting-place for religious worship at Newcastle; and the Swedes, three, one at Christina, one at Tenecum, and one at Wicoco, within half a mile of this town.

There rests that I speak of the condition we are in, and what settlement we have made, in which I will be as short as I can; for I fear, and not without reason, that I have tired your patience with this long story. The country lieth bounded on the east by the river and bay of Delaware, and eastern sea; it hath the advantage of many creeks, or rivers rather, that run into the main river or bay; some navigable for great ships, some for small craft: those of most eminency are Christina, Brandywine, Skilpot, and Schuylkill; any one of which have room to lay up the royal navy of England, there being from four to eight fathom water.

The lesser creeks or rivers, yet convenient for sloops and ketches of good burden, are Lewis, Mespilion, Cedar, Dover, Cranbrook, Feversham, and Georges below, and Chichester, Chester, Toacawny, Pemmapecka, Portquessin, Neshimenck and Pennbery in the freshes, many lesser that admit boats and shallops. Our people are mostly settled upon the upper rivers, which are pleasant and sweet, and generally bounded with good land. The planted part of the province and territories is cast into six counties, Philadelphia, Buckingham, Chester, Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex, containing about four thousand souls. Two general assemblies have been held, and with such concord and dispatch, that they sat but three weeks, and at least seventy laws were passed without one dissent in any material thing. But of this more hereafter, being yet raw and new in our gear: however, I cannot forget their singular respect to me in this infancy of things, who by their own private expenses so early considered mine for the public, as to present me with an impost upon certain goods imported and exported: which after my acknowledgment of their affection, I did as freely remit to the province and the traders to it. And for the well-government of the said counties, courts of justice are established in every county, with proper officers, as justices, sheriffs, clerks, constables, etc., which courts are held every two months: but to prevent lawsuits, there are three peace-makers chosen by every county-court, in the nature of common arbitrators, to hear and end differences betwixt man and man; and spring and fall there is an orphan’s court in each county, to inspect and regulate the affairs of orphans and widows.

Philadelphia, the expectation of those that are concerned in this province, is at last laid out, to the great content of those there, that are any ways interested therein: the situation is a neck of land, and lieth between two navigable rivers, Delaware and Schuylkill, whereby it hath two fronts upon the water, each a mile, and two from river to river. Delaware is a glorious river, but the Schuylkill being an hundred miles boatable above the falls, and its course north-east towards the fountain of Susquahannah (that tends to the heart of the province, and both sides our own) it is like to be a great part of the settlement of this age. I say little of the town itself, because a platform will be shown you by my agent, in which those who are purchasers of me, will find their names and interests: but this I will say for the good providence of God, that of all the many places I have seen in the world, I remember not one better seated; so that it seems to me to have been appointed for a town, whether we regard the rivers, or the conveniency of the coves, docks, springs, the loftiness and soundness of the land and the air, held by the people of these parts to be very good. It is advanced within less thana year to about fourscore houses and cottages, such as they are, where merchants and handicrafts are following their vocations as fast as they can, while the countrymen are close at their farms: some of them got a little winter-corn in the ground last season, and the generality have had an handsome summer-crop, and are preparing for their winter-corn. They reaped their barley this year in the month called May; the wheat in the month following; so that there is time in these parts for another crop of divers things before the winter-season. We are daily in hopes of shipping to add to our number; for, blessed be God, here is both room and accommodation for them; the stories of our necessity being either the fear of our friends, or the scare-crows of our enemies; for the greatest hardship we have suffered, hath been salt meat, which by fowl in winter, and fish in summer, together with some poultry, lamb, mutton, veal, and plenty of venison the best part of the year, hath been made very passable. I bless God, I am fully satisfied with the country and entertainment I get in it; for I find that particular content which hath always attended me, where God in his providence hath made it my place and service to reside. You cannot imagine my station can be at present free of more than ordinary business, and as such, I may say, it is a troublesome work; but the method things are putting in will facilitate the charge, and give an earlier motion to the administration of affairs. However, as it is some men’s duty to plow, some to sow, some to water, and some to reap; so it is the wisdom as well as the duty of a man, to yield to the mind of Providence, and cheerfully, as well as carefully, embrace and follow the guidance of it….


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Chicago: William Penn, "Description of Pennsylvania," Colonization, 1562-1753 in America, Vol.2, Pp.239-244 Original Sources, accessed March 19, 2019,

MLA: Penn, William. "Description of Pennsylvania." Colonization, 1562-1753, in America, Vol.2, Pp.239-244, Original Sources. 19 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Penn, W, 'Description of Pennsylvania' in Colonization, 1562-1753. cited in , America, Vol.2, Pp.239-244. Original Sources, retrieved 19 March 2019, from