With the launching of William Penn’s colony, settlement quickly commenced. A large portion of the 10,000 Quakers who arrived in Pennsylvania before 1700 began their journey from the North Midlands region of England. In time, this region provided the elites of Pennsylvania’s colonial society, as these first families intermarried and pursued close business and political alliances. Along with these Quakers, nearly an equal number of settlers came from the northern regions of Germany and Scotland, which had long suffered from a lack of economic opportunity and the heavy hand of war. To say that diversity is an essential part of Pennsylvanian history is an understatement; this pluralism provided both opportunity and conflict from the beginning. Opportunity was available for the new colonists for a variety of reasons. First, the natives who lived in the Delaware River Valley the Lenni Lenape or Delaware tribe had been weakened by disease and were small in number and influence. Although this condition explains part of the reason for amicable relationships between the natives and newcomers, the fair and even-handed treatment that William Penn gave to the Lenni Lenape provided for longstanding peace and made warfare a foreign concept in the region for nearly sixty years. New settlers in Pennsylvania were also blessed by a relatively temperate climate and extremely fertile soil, which allowed for a long growing season. Finally, the stated tolerance in religious affairs saved Pennsylvania from some of the conflicts that marked the New England and Virginia colonies.
Despite these opportunities, discord arose among the settlers of Pennsylvania. Non-Quakers resented Penn’s favoring of the group via choice land tracts and property in Philadelphia. The Quaker elites frowned on the Presbyterians and Reformed farmers from Scotland and Germany who sought to ignore land claims that Penn had established. All agreed, however, that as a proprietor, William Penn retained too much political power, limiting the legislature’s say in colonial affairs, and they refused to pay the rents that Penn charged for use of his lands. By the time of Penn’s death in 1718, he was heavily in debt owing to a lack of return on his colony. He lamented that his dream had been taken over by “brutish” settlers intent on having their own way, resulting in the “harmonious society ruined.” By 1723, the colony of Pennsylvania had fulfilled some of Penn’s hopes but dashed others. The colony was indeed a haven of religious tolerance. As a result, a heterogeneous mixture of Protestant groups and sects arrived in the Delaware River Valley. With all this diversity, however, these groups quickly found plenty to disagree about, especially issues of land and representation in the Pennsylvania Assembly, which had gained much power in 1700. The existing system of representation favored the established Delaware Valley region, which was heavily settled by Quakers (especially Philadelphia), over the rapidly expanding Presbyterian and Reformed population in the backcountry of the colony. This geographic and religious division remained until the early 1800s. Colonial politics in Pennsylvania often became nasty; the politics of the region became even more confrontational over the issue of the Penns’ powers.
Hence, the Quaker elite, which was overrepresented in the assembly, divided into “proprietor” and “antiproprietor” factions. The Proprietor Party tended to be conservative in religious and cultural matters, strongly supportive of the Penn family’s administration of the colony, and drawn from the Quaker merchant elites. The Antiproprietary Party was made of landholders who resented the taxes on the land, were strongly supportive of immigration to the region, and were hostile to the Penns’ control over Pennsylvania. Into this situation, in 1723, stepped Benjamin Franklin, the man who would define Pennsylvania like no other for the next sixty years. Fleeing from both an oppressive brother and a lack of economic opportunity in Boston, Franklin quickly established himself in the printing business in Philadelphia. Over the next ten years, he learned the trade, honed his love of science and invention, traveled to England, and formed numerous well-placed connections on both sides of the Atlantic.
The city of Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania (later a center of steel manufacturing) was founded in 1741 by Moravian exiles from Europe. The Pennsylvania colony, William Penn’s “great experiment” in religious freedom, also attracted other pacifists such as Quakers and Amish. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-43546) By 1732, Franklin began publishing the Poor Richard Almanack, as well as the Pennsylvania Gazette, and these publications made him a well-known and wealthy man. Certainly his invention of the Franklin stove did much to gain him renown as an inventor, but the fact that this device also filled his pocket with money should not be ignored. Franklin was all things: a man of enlightenment, reason, creative ability, and keen awareness of the bottom line. In short, Franklin is best understood as a reflection of his times, during which Pennsylvania saw both continuity and transformation.