Colonial Pennsylvania

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Colonial English Research

This article is part of a series.

Overview of Colonial English Research
Colonial New Hampshire
Colonial Massachusetts
Colonial Rhode Island
Colonial Connecticut
Colonial New York
Colonial New Jersey
Colonial Pennsylvania
Colonial Delaware
Colonial Maryland
Colonial Virginia
Colonial North Carolina
Colonial South Carolina
Colonial Georgia
List of Useful Colonial English Resources

This article originally appeared in "Colonial English Research" by Robert Charles Anderson, MA, FASG in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Jurisdictional History

The earliest settlements within the region that became Pennsylvania were made by the Dutch and then, more significantly, the Swedes; however, this period belongs more properly to the history of Delaware. The history of Pennsylvania proper begins with the 1681 charter to William Penn, which was very quickly followed by heavy colonization directed by Penn, with an emphasis on Quaker and German immigrants. Early in the eighteenth century, the Scotch-Irish began to arrive in large numbers, for the most part settling on the western frontier.

Pennsylvania experienced a very brief period of direct royal rule from 1692 to 1694. However, control over both government and land was returned to Penn, and Pennsylvania remained a proprietary colony until the Revolution.

Counties were founded very early, with Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia being erected in 1682, thus providing the basis for all succeeding counties. Chester replaced and succeeded Upland County, which had been the northernmost of the three lower counties on the Delaware prior to the 1681 charter.

In the 1750s, the colony of Connecticut and the Susquehanna Company, on the basis of a territorial claim of any land to the west of Connecticut along the same parallels, began a number of settlements in northeastern Pennsylvania, in the area of present-day Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. After lengthy disputes, Connecticut relinquished its claims in 1782.


As is the case with most other colonies, a series of colonial and state papers has been published for Pennsylvania, in this instance one of the largest such series, with 138 volumes. In 1997, Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer published a detailed description of and guide to these volumes in Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine.<ref>Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 40 (1997): 101'19; reprinted in 1999 as a separate pamphlet.</ref> This monograph contains excellent guidance on searching and interpreting the information in these volumes, and also suggests a 'plan of attack,' a sensible sequence in which to search the volumes. The author includes a bibliography of other publications that also describe this series and related records.

The set of 138 volumes is divided into ten different subseries, the first called Colonial Records and the rest designated Pennsylvania Archives, First Series through Ninth Series. Records from the colonial period are not limited to the subseries entitled Colonial Records but are found throughout the entire set. As one might expect, the Colonial Records series contains official documents of the provincial government, mostly the minutes of the Provincial Council.

Almost all of the later series include some material from the period before the Revolution. For example, the Second Series and the Sixth Series include, along with much other material, church records from several different denominations, some as early as the seventeenth century. The Third Series contains some colonial tax records.

Looking more closely at some of the volumes, researchers can see that the eighteenth volume of the Second Series is entitled Documents Relating to the Connecticut Settlement in the Wyoming Valley. This volume includes such items as 'Minutes of the Susquehanna Company' and 'Miscellaneous Papers Relating to the Wyoming Controversy.' The nineteenth volume of the same series, originally published in 1893, is entitled Minutes of the Board of Property of the Province of Pennsylvania and includes records of land granted by the Pennsylvania government from 1687 to 1732.

Case Studies

Stewart Baldwin, 'The English Ancestry of George Pownall of Bucks County, Pennsylvania: With Notes on Thomas Pownall, Governor of Massachusetts Bay and South Carolina,' American Genealogist 76 (2001): 81'93, 217'26. This account of a typical Quaker immigrant relies heavily, as one might expect, on Quaker meeting records, both in England and in Pennsylvania. However, there is also frequent use of will books from Pennsylvania counties and from neighboring areas of New Jersey. The interpretation of the records benefits from very careful analysis of Quaker marriage certificates.

David L. Greene, 'Christian Gottlieb Dornbläser of Northampton Co., Pa., His Wife Maria Magdalena Frantz, and Their Dornblaser-Dunblazier Descendants,' American Genealogist 65 (1990): 1'12, 74'86, 167'75, 219'27. This comprehensive account of a Pennsylvania German family relies heavily on church records from several congregations and on probate and deed records from Northampton County and vicinity. Surviving family records also contributed greatly to the finished account of this family.