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Swedish, Dutch colonized southwestern Pennsylvania in early 1600s

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By Robert B. Van Atta
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2002
 

Many of the earlier settlers in southwestern Pennsylvania were Lutherans and Presbyterians, and there is some basis in history for this, among many reasons.

During an intriguing but brief era in Pennsylvania history, it was a Swedish and Dutch colony in the 1600s before the English and the Penns took over in the 1680s.

New Sweden was formed in parts of what became Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, as early as 1638. Following them were the Dutch from New Netherlands in 1655.

In fact, the first settlement of any permanence in this state came from an expedition of Swedes (and Finns, whose homeland was part of Sweden at that time) in 1643, nearly 360 years ago.

Although Dutch explorers had visited the Delaware River area early, the colony of New Sweden was organized in Sweden in 1637 as part of a colonial spirit engendered by King Gustavus Adolphus, who died in battle in 1632.

Peter Minuit, who a few years earlier had purchased Manhattan from the Indians for a value of about $24, had returned to the Netherlands and gone to Sweden. He commanded two ships, which in 1638 reached the Delaware River. Minuit bought land, again, from the Indians and established the capital of the colony at Wilmington, Del. Minuit, first director general of New Netherlands, was lost at sea in a West Indies hurricane later that year.

It wasn't until 1643 that John Printz, third governor of New Sweden, moved up the Delaware River to the then Tinicum Island in the Philadelphia area and established the capital there at the mouth of the Schuylkill, where it joins the Delaware.

That became the first settlement in what became Pennsylvania, and the seat of Swedish authority in America for the next 12 years. About half of the colonists were Finnish.

Printz, who was the first man to govern in Pennsylvania, was quite influential with the Indians, although a rather arbitrary ruler. He erected a fort, a log building to house the government and himself, a Lutheran church and a storehouse.

The pro-colonial atmosphere in Sweden declined in the 1650s, causing Printz's resignation and return to Sweden, where he died in 1663.

By 1655, New Netherlands and its director general, Peter Stuyvesant, had grown much stronger, and the Dutch conquered the Swedish colony, which disappeared. Many of the Swedes, however, remained in the area.

While all this was going on, and during the next period of years, England was growing stronger and the Netherlands weaker, because of the latter's war with France.

The English were expanding their colonies, particularly in Massachusetts and Virginia, competing with the Dutch in New York and the Hudson River Valley, between the English centers.

In 1664, English forces seized the Dutch posts along the Delaware, and soon the William Penns got involved in Quaker affairs and in establishing a colony in America.

Aside from an occasional French Indian trader from the northwest, southwestern Pennsylvania was a quiet forest and water land until 1750. That year, the fledgling Ohio Company dispatched George Washington and Christopher Gist to survey the possibilities.

The story is well known from this point, but the earlier Swedish and Dutch colonization is lesser known. Former state historian Sylvester K. Stevens wrote: "The Swedish influence in early Pennsylvania was an important and pioneer one. It deserves more recognition than it usually receives."

In addition to Swedes and Dutch remaining in the area, so did the Lutherans and some Presbyterians. Many Calvinists came with the English, and later the Roman Catholics arrived from Maryland.

Many early southwestern Pennsylvanians were descendants of those early Swedish, Dutch and English settlers who moved westward.

THIS DATE IN HISTORY

Perhaps the most eventful Dec. 8 in history was the day after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor (on a Sunday that year), with the mass of frenzied activity that followed the weekend. Monday was probably the biggest day in the history of the armed forces enlistment and recruiting offices of all time.

On a sadder note, on that Dec. 8, the death of the first Pennsylvanian at Pearl Harbor, Pvt. George C. Leslie, of Arnold, was announced.

Earlier, in 1888, the birth of the first baby in the new town of Jeannette was marked.

Vandergrift Heights was incorporated as a borough in 1897.

A bank merger in Greensburg in 1930 was Safe Deposit & Trust into Barclay-Westmoreland Trust.

One of the largest fires in Mt. Pleasant history gutted a number of apartments and businesses in 1942.

WHO WAS STEWART?

When Connellsville history is related, the most common reference is to Col. William Crawford and, later, Zachariah Connell.

But the location was called Stewart's Crossing!

William Stewart was a member of the eight-man party sent by Virginia Gov. Dinwiddie in 1753 to check on the French occupation at what became Fort Pitt and elsewhere in southwestern Pennsylvania. Virginia then claimed the area.

George Washington was in charge of that party, and several members of it decided to settle here.

One of them was Stewart, who, in addition to being an early settler, was an Indian trader. He is reported to have drowned in or near the fording of the Youghiogheny River named for him.

Crawford, who was a member of the Forbes army in 1758, decided to locate here in 1766. A boyhood friend of George Washington, Crawford was a surveyor and man of influence who supported Virginia in the border dispute with Pennsylvania.

He was said to be the first person to locate at Stewart's Crossing.

Connell, also a surveyor, was a governous benefactor and teetotaler who founded Connellsville.

ACHIEVED OBJECTIVE

When Dr. John Bowman came to the University of Pittsburgh in 1921, it was part of an effort to get a new start for the school, then in poor fiscal condition, with a somewhat disorganized array of physical plant facilities.

The campus had been moved to Oakland nearly 15 years before from Pittsburgh's North Side, but the war and other problems had disrupted development.

Earlier, Dr. Bowman had served as president of Iowa State. Also, an earlier effort to acquire Frick Acres, the block where the Cathedral of Learning stands, was unsuccessful.

After the Mellons provided the Cathedral site, it was built and ultimately gave the university a needed identity and the campus a real center.

FATHERLY DISTINCTION

William Freame Johnston, born in Greensburg in 1808, practiced law in Armstrong County. As speaker of the state Senate, he became governor of Pennsylvania on the resignation of Gov. Shunk in 1848.

He left the state without a governor for 17 days until he showed up in Harrisburg.

During the Civil War, he supervised construction of Pittsburgh defenses, and engaged in iron manufacture and oil development before his death in Pittsburgh in 1872.

His father, Alexander, died that same year at 100 years of age, and was at that time the oldest Freemason in the United States. He was a member for 77 years.

DUNG FROLICS

Manure was a problem for southwestern Pennsylvania farmers before its advantages for aiding soil fertility were realized shortly after 1800. Accumulated for long periods in barn and pasture areas, it was a nuisance.

Faced with these manure accumulations, farmers often invited neighbors to a "dung frolic." Many hands made light work of removing the objectionable commodity under the stimulus of good cheer, liquid and solid.

German farmers, at an early date, recognized its value to their soil, and the situation gradually changed.

FAMOUS FRIENDS OF LOCAL MEN

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) visited Mt. Pleasant on occasion to visit with an old friend, John Shields.

The two of them had worked together on the Mississippi River, as Clemens showed in his authorship of "Tom Sawyer."

Shields became editor and publisher of the Mt. Pleasant Journal, the weekly paper there, after his youthful experience.

A man from Clymer in Indiana County befriended Arthur Godfrey, a radio and television personality of a few decades ago, at a World War II base.

This unknown "friend" persuaded Godfrey that coal mining was "the most profitable and pleasant occupation in the world."

Godfrey came to Indiana County as a result, and worked as a miner. But after his experience, he soon left for other career efforts.

SPORTS HISTORY

More high school football histories:

  • California High School's start was auspicious, with its first four teams beginning in 1922 compiling a 28-3-3 record, with two losses to Charleroi and one to Uniontown. After absorbing East Pike Run in 1948, the school did well in 1949-51 with a 30-3-3 record. In 1949, California had all wins. East Pike Run football dated back to 1926.

  • Derry borough began football intermittently in 1900, and Derry Township High in 1925. Early borough high games were with Johnstown, Latrobe and Shadyside Academy. Best winning records were 7-1-1 in 1951 and 1956. Township high had seven straight winning records from 1928 to '34, and many thereafter. The schools became Derry Area in 1956.

  • Perry (Pittsburgh) was formerly a standard high school, and began the gridiron sport in 1927, defeating Allegheny Vocational, Arnold Prep and Ralston Industrial, tying Millvale, and losing to Oliver. First city championship came in 1932 with a victory over Westinghouse. For a long time, Perry was the smallest of the city's football schools.

  • Mars High School's first known score was in 1912, a 12-0 victory over Harrisville. The school played Ben Avon and Evans City in 1913. Mars had an undefeated record in 1926 with a tie with New Castle and a win over Butler. One of the early high schools in the north suburban area, Mars attracted pupils from a wide region.

  • Connellsville was a Fayette pioneer, playing Uniontown three times in 1904. After a 10-game win streak in 1912, the then Cokers were successful from 1938 to '44, with 52-14-3. Records from the 1940s to the 1980s were not particularly outstanding. Dunbar Township, since 1966 a part of Connellsville High, had a team from 1913 on, with North Union believed to be its first victory.

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