The History of America: New York and Pennsylvania
If you’re reading this in chronological order, you can check out my History of America Archive here. To refresh yourself on the last post, in which we discussed the New England Puritans, you can click here. Today, however, we reach the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania.
A majority of English colonies, if you look past their misjudgment of the weather based on latitude, had excellent geographic locations in the minds of explorers. Perhaps the nonexistent Northwest Passage would be right around the next mountain range or Indian tribe! Well, as we know today, it wasn’t, and European explorers would continue to look haphazardly for this passage to the Pacific until the 1850s when a major British exploration led by John Franklin (1786 – 1847) vanished in the Arctic, never to be seen alive again.
Although it was an English man, Henry Hudson, who explored the Hudson River back in 1609, he was in fact hired by Dutch citizens, who first claimed the Hudson River valley as their own. The Dutch established borders, but showed little to no interest in expanding them. Neither the Dutch nor English seemed to notice or care about the Delaware River or Delaware Bay, which had the same advantages as the Hudson (Dutch) and Chesapeake (English), but with less Indians and a better climate.
In fact, it wasn’t the English nor the Dutch that settled in the Delaware River first, but the Swedish. During the protestant reformation, Sweden embraced the religion, entering the religious “wars” circulating between Protestants and Catholics during this era. Sweden eventually emerged as a world power due to a boost in the iron industry during the 1620s. Sweden’s daring and charismatic king Gustavus Adolphus (1594 – 1632) turned the Baltic Sea into a Swedish lake.
Swedish shipping industries eventually entered the Atlantic, and they would settle in America soon afterwards — by the Delaware River. Up went Sweden’s flag in America, and New Sweden was born.
The Swedish wished to cut into fur trading between the Dutch and local Indian Tribes, in what could be seen as just a way to cut into profit while irritating the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The Dutch settlers became very upset and angry with this, and very easily took over New Sweden soon afterwards, without scarcely even firing a weapon. Down went the Swedish flag, up went the Dutch flag.
Dutch traders dealt with heavy conflict with the Algonquin Indian tribe, and in 1642 the settlers barely survived a skirmish triggered by the Dutch General Willem Kieft (1597 – 1647), who had attempted to place taxes upon the Indians living within the borders of New Netherland.
English colonies began to employ Dutch ships to carry goods from England to the colonies, and even between coastal colonies themselves. As one can expect, this led to complaints from English ship owners complaining. The English Crown decided to step in, and attempted to cut out the middle man — Dutch ships. England’s King Charles II embarked in a series of wars to put the Dutch in their place.
In August 1664, a small British fleet demanded that New Amsterdam, the quote unquote capital of New Netherland , be surrendered to England. Down went the Dutch flag, up went the English flag. The sponsor of this conquest was the king’s very own brother, James Duke of York (1633 – 1701), who took personal title to the former dutch colonies.
James Duke of York had been labeled as a chicken brained aristocrat, as he sent a tremor of unease through Britain by converting to Roman Catholicism publicly. However, the only change he really made to his new colony had nothing to do with religion, but with the name. New Netherland became New York and New Amsterdam became New York City.
Outside of New York City, the civilians still spoke Dutch. The conquered Dutch settlers did not wish to submit to the new British governing officials. In 1672, a renewed war between Britain and the Netherlands occurred, and a Dutch ship made it into the New York Harbor, taking the city back. They did almost nothing with the land they had taken from the Swedish years before, and nothing with the land they had just taken back.
Backing up a bit, in 1642 King Charles I provoked the Parliament into overthrowing him, as we mentioned in the last post. The Monarchy crumbled and was replaced with a temporary Republic. This republic had puritan allies — the puritans who had not yet moved to America.
In 1649, King Charles I was a prisoner of Parliament, and his head was eventually cut off after a very awkward and unsteady trial against him. England, for the next few years, will remain a republic. The Parliament Army, which was commanded by a Puritan by the name of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) turned against Parliament, naming Cromwell as “Lord Protector” of England. However, very soon afterwards, these puritan thinkers and enlightened civilians wanted the land to be not led by a King, nor a Parliament, nor a “Lord Protector”, but Lord Jesus himself. Let religion rule over the people!
George Fox (1624 – 1691) provoked this even further. Fox wanted to get rid of church professionals and preaches all together. He wished for the British civilians to set aside the bible and listen for direct messages from God. He created a “Society of Friends”, who gathered to worship not by preaching, nor prayer or literature, but by silence. Silence as they listened for God’s word. Public prophets who staged demonstrations began to denounce cities that went against them. And another odd thing about these members of this Society of Friends was that they wouldn’t remove their hats to authorities, showing that they only feared and respected Gods.
These people would be nicknamed Quakers.
In 1658, Cromwell died and the Parliament asked Charles II, son of Charles I, to rule. The Church of England became the official church again and all radical groups were basically destroyed. Except for the Quakers. The Quakers had adopted something called Complete Pacifism, where all violence is unacceptable. The Crown saw them as harmless, and so long as the Quakers would stay out of the way the were allowed to do as they wished.
In 1667, Quakers made their most unusual conversion. William Penn’s (1644 – 1718) father had been an admiral in the English Navy. Because of this, Penn had contacts within the government. Unlike most Quakers, he saw persecution as an outrage, and pushed every button he could up to the king, pushing for the official legalization of Quaker beliefs. He did not succeed, and in the 1670s his mind began to wonder towards America. He secured a charter from James Duke of York to go to New Jersey. He gained the land, but not political control, meaning religious freedom was unheard of. Penn cashed in the IOU’s he had inherited from his father, and pushed for a charter for land along the Delaware River.
He gained the privileges of this colony, however there was a catch. The colony would have to be named after his father. Pennsylvania was born. However, William Penn was horrified when hearing this, and tried to change the name. How could his glorious colony made for God be named after a mere mortal? However, the name stuck, and he was unable to change the name.
Pennsylvania eventually fell away from expectations. Like Winthrop, Penn wished to create this massive religious community. However, only 10% of the people living in the colony were Quakers like Penn. The rest defied Quaker meetings and ideals. However, as a pacifist, Penn couldn’t stop anything — whether it be uprisings or collecting overdue rent. Penn’s immigrants did not listen to him, and wanted a written constitution. Eventually, the Quakers themselves began to quarrel, and split into factions within Pennsylvania. Even William Penn’s own two sons abandoned Quakerism, becoming members of the Church of England.
Pennsylvania’s population skyrocketed, and eventually became the house to several religions and ethnicity. Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia would become the largest city besides London in the British Empire. William Penn would die broken hearted, unable to fulfill his dream of creating an ideal Quaker colony. His failure was success to others.