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The Settlement of Western Pennsylvania

At the time of the Treaty of William Penn in 1683, Pennsylvania was frontier land. Occupied by the Native Americans and the French, it was also supposedly held by a number of European colonizers. Penn’s agreement meant that the tribes in the area would live in peace with him and those he brought to this new land. The treaty was referred to in years to come by both sides in various disputes.

Western Pennsylvania up to the 1700s

There were fears among the American settlers that there would be a breaking of ties with those in the East. In their minds, the frontier was a place where order needed to be established or the Spanish and British powers would court the frontiersmen and win them over to their side. At this point in time, Western Pennsylvania stood on the brink of change. The area’s potential for commercial development was a prime motivator for those fighting to determine the area’s character.

Peace of Paris 1783

The American Revolutionary War was fought and ended with the Peace of Paris in 1783. New boundaries were drawn, but it was not so easy for the Americans to secure them. There were battles fought by the native peoples as white settlers advanced. From 1785 onwards, the state of Pennsylvania gave 600,000 acres to veterans as a reward for their service in the revolution. A number of European immigrants, as well as poor descendants of farmers, poured into Western Pennsylvania. Due to the area’s right to religious freedom, different faiths were also attracted to the area, such as the Catholic community in Loretto.

The unique geography of this area, which was bounded by the Allegheny Mountains, was a great determiner in its fate. There was a high freight cost attached to transporting goods across this rugged terrain.

Western Pennsylvania began to have its own system of agriculture that included dairying and animal husbandry, and grain. However, it could not sustain vegetables for export. It is most likely due to its failure in the agriculture market that there was a rise of industry in the area. Famous brands like Heinz started there, its first location being Sharpsburg.

The new American government was not sympathetic to the problems in the West. Specifically, the marketing of goods they made, such as whiskey, was very difficult for companies in the region. This led to the Whiskey Rebellion from 1791 to 1794. Western Pennsylvania was one of the regions, along with Kentucky, that objected to a new excise tax on whiskey. They saw the tax as unfair, as it was being used to pay off a national debt that would benefit the wealthier easterners and foreigners.

In the end, President George Washington quelled the rebellion and put the ringleaders on trial. Though two were sentenced to death due to the crime of treason, they would later be pardoned. Due to the rebellion, the area has gone down in history as one of the most crucial regions at the beginning of the new American nation.