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Origins of Pennsylvania


William Penn
William Penn

Before Europeans arrived in what is now Pennsylvania, the area was inhabited by several major Native American groups. In the eastern river valleys lived Algonquian-speaking peoples, including the Delaware, who called themselves the Lenni Lenape, meaning original people. Along the Susquehanna River were the Susquehannock, a group who spoke an Iroquoian language. Originally living in the Wyoming Valley along the upper Susquehanna, the Susquehannock later moved to the lower Susquehanna River basin, until they were mostly absorbed into the Delaware and Iroquois in the 1670s.

Less well-known native peoples existed in the western part of Pennsylvania. In the late 17th century the Shawnee began to migrate into Pennsylvania, and in the early 18th century the Tuscarora and the Nanticoke passed through on their way north to settle among the Iroquois. By that time the Iroquois Confederacy, centered in what is now New York, had established dominance over most of the native groups from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and from the St. Lawrence River to the Tennessee River, including nearly all the native peoples living in Pennsylvania.

For many years, European settlers in Pennsylvania lived at peace with the native peoples, who exerted an important influence on the colony.

William Penn, the founder of the colony, treated the Native Americans as equals and scrupulously paid for land received from the local chiefs. In a treaty negotiated in 1682 in Philadelphia, he established a peace and friendship that lasted half a century. Because the Native Americans aided the early settlers, Penn’s colony suffered no periods of hardship and starvation, which were common in other colonies. The native groups’ trails were the original routes by which traders and settlers reached the interior. But later conflicts, mostly over settlement of traditional native lands, forced the eventual migration of most Native Americans from the state. "Pennsylvania" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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