By the early 1600s, Dutch, English and Swedish merchants had established trading posts in the Delaware Valley area, and in 1681, Charles II of England granted a charter to William Penn for what would become the Pennsylvania colony.
Penn arrived in the new city of Philadelphia in 1682. A Quaker pacifist, Penn signed a peace treaty with Lenape chief Tamanend, establishing a tradition of tolerance and human rights.
But in 1684, the ship Isabella landed in Philadelphia carrying hundreds of enslaved Africans. Tensions over slavery, especially among local Quakers, resulted in the 1688 Germantown Petition Against Slavery, the first organized protest against slavery in the New World.
Penn’s colony thrived, and soon Philadelphia was the biggest shipbuilding center in the colonies. Among those attracted to the city was Benjamin Franklin, who in 1729, became the publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette.
The Pennsylvania State House—later known as Independence Hall—held its first Assembly meeting there in 1735. State representatives ordered a large bell for the building in 1751 with a Biblical inscription: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
British Parliament passed a series of tax acts on the colonies in the 1760s, including the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, sparking colonial outrage. In response, the Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in 1774.
After Philadelphia resident Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense met with widespread acclaim, the stage was set to formally declare independence, which the Founding Fathers did on July 4, 1776. Philadelphians were the first to hear the Declaration of Independence read aloud in the State House yard.
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In 1790, after the Revolutionary War (during which the city witnessed the Battle of Germantown), Philadelphia served as capital of the United States. By that time, it was the new nation’s biggest city, with 44,096 residents. The First Bank of the United States and the first U.S. Mint were founded in Philadelphia, and the U.S. Constitution was written there in 1787.
With the city’s history of civil rights—the Pennsylvania Abolition Society met there in 1775— Philadelphia was an ideal spot for William Lloyd Garrison to establish the American Anti-Slavery Society, which grew to nearly 250,000 members by 1838. Local abolitionists adopted the old State House bell as a symbol, renaming it the “Liberty Bell.”
Philadelphia rallied to the Union cause during the Civil War, and local industries profited by supplying weapons, uniforms and warships. In 1876, suffragette Susan B. Anthony delivered the Declaration of the Rights of Women outside Independence Hall.
The city grew in size and prestige during the Gilded Age, as wealthy suburbs sprouted along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. During the 1870s, the first U.S. zoo and the Centennial Exhibition fair opened in Philadelphia.
After World War II, new highways allowed workers to easily reach bedroom communities outside the city. With suburbanization and industrial decline, Philadelphia lost population and jobs, and soon many of the city’s famed shipyards were shuttered.
Poverty and racial tensions soon followed, and in 1985 a police confrontation with the radical group MOVE ended with the bombing of a predominantly black neighborhood—11 people in the MOVE compound were killed.
New developments, such as the Philadelphia Navy Yard and Center City, have helped to revitalize the area, which is now home to more than 1.5 million residents. The city rejoiced when the Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl. For visitors, a perennially popular destination is the statue of Rocky Balboa, depicting the fictional boxer, arms outstretched, at the top of the steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Rocky, played by Sylvester Stallone, famously runs up the 72 steps to train for a fight in the 1976 movie, "Rocky" (and in sequels). Now the stairs to the museum are simply known as the "Rocky Steps."