Frustrated with the proprietary politics in the New Jersey colony, William Penn founded Pennsylvania in 1681. Designed by Penn as a “holy experiment” in religious toleration, it became the most ethnically diverse of the thirteen colonies and a haven for persecuted Quakers and other Christian dissenters.
Penn had been a proprietor of the West Jersey colony in the 1670s and had begun to encourage Quakers to settle in the Delaware River Valley at that time. As early as 1677, he sold Pennsylvania lands to German Rhinelanders, who finally arrived in 1783. It is still unclear exactly why Charles II granted Penn the generous charter for the lands beyond the Delaware River. It may have been because of a debt to Penn’s father or because he wanted to rid England of the unsettling Quaker population. In 1682, Penn published his Frame of Government, a document that proved unworkable but that established the principles of liberty of conscience, freedom from persecution, and due process of law. In the same year, he purchased the Three Lower Counties (future Delaware colony) from James, Duke of York, in order to guarantee access to the sea. Penn advertised widely in England, Ireland, and Germany, lauding the rich soil of Pennsylvania and the colony’s high degree of personal freedom. In 1685 alone, 8,000 immigrants arrived, most from the British Isles. Within a few years, however, Penn could boast that the people of Pennsylvania were “a collection of divers nations in Europe,” including “French, Dutch, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Scotch, Irish, and English.” By 1760, there were 18 German communities, most in western Pennsylvania, and Germans accounted for more than onethird of the entire population of the colony. Most were Lutherans or members of Reformed churches, though there were substantial numbers of Moravians, Mennonites (see Mennonite immigration), Amish (see Amish immigration), Dunkers, and Schwenkfelders. German farmers prospered, and most kept to themselves, sparking fears among the English of a dangerous element within their community. Diversity and toleration together produced an unruly political process, with the Quaker-dominated urban areas—especially Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—frequently at odds with the country, especially the Three Lower Counties, which were inhabited principally by Dutch, Swede, and Finn settlers who had little connection with Penn. In 1701, Penn’s Charter of Liberties granted political control to a unicameral (one-house) assembly, free from proprietary influence. By 1725, most of the 25,000 Quakers who had migrated to the Delaware Valley lived in Pennsylvania. After 1760, German and Scots-Irish settlers rapidly filled the trans-Appalachian west, far from Quaker influence and English control. By 1790, about 65 percent of Pennsylvania’s population was non-English.