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ART. VII.-The History of Pennsylvania, from its discovery
by Europeans, to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. By Thomas F. Gordon. Philadelphia. Carey, Lea & Carey: 1829. 8vo. pp. 628.
The separate or private history of several of the principal states of the Union has been written with a fulness of detail, that leaves little to be desired on the score of information, however distant most of the annalists may be from the elevated position of a philosophical historian. Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-Hampshire, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana, have no reason to complain of the obscurity of their annals, or the historical insignificancy of their dramatis personæ. Maine, Vermont, New-Jersey, and Maryland, have also found historians, such as they are, for at least a portion of their career. Of New-York and Pennsylvania, however, the most considerable of the United States, in reference to population and resources, the recorded annals are barren and meagre in the extreme. A brief and unsatisfactory sketch, by William Smith, of the early years of the state of New York, was until lately, the only attempt to make known even her provincial history. Mr. Moulton's recent work promises, in a measure, to supply the desideratum; but it is to be feared, from its slow progress,
that a considerable period of time will yet elapse, before a complete history of that great commonwealth can be expected.
It certainly cannot be averred of these principal states, that their annals are deficient in historical interest. Pennsylvania, at least, the scene and subject of what her founder denominated "an holy experiment” upon the capacity of the people for selfgovernment, the theatre of novelties in legislation and jurisprudence, which at one period afforded the singular spectacle of a government administered by a religious sect, who anxiously eschewed the doctrine of the lawfulness of an union between the church and state, and at the same time repudiated some of the principal theories by which governments had been previously maintained, viz. the lawsulness of war and of oaths, and the neeessity of sanguinary punishments for offenders; Pennsylvania, whose almost unbroken prosperity called forth the eulogiums of Voltaire and Burke, and excited the special wonder of political economists in general, cannot with justice be denominated a barren field for the historian. It is a field, however, into which few labourers have entered. The dull, though honest pages of Proud, furnished for a long time the only attempt to give a general view of her history. As far as he goes, he is generally accurate, and certainly impartial, although he gropes too much among minute
events, and his lumbering style is any thing but attractive for the reader. His history, as it is called, comes down only to 1760, and leaves untouched the preliminary movements as well as the proceedings of the Revolution. Within a few years, a work purporting to be a Compendious History of Pennsylvania, has been published in Germany, by Professor Ebeling, who has also given to the European world, a summary of the annals of the other states of the Union. It is understood that a translation of that portion of the labours of the professor which relates to Pennsylvania, has been completed by the learned and venerable Mr. Duponceau, and we believe that some chapters of it have been published in a respectable weekly journal. Whatever may be its merits as an European production, we doubt whether Professor Ebeling possessed sufficient materials for a complete history of the state, and a competent understanding of the genius and character of the primitive settlers.
The history of Pennsylvania has also received partial illustration, at different times, by dissertations on particular passages of her annals, and by the memoirs of some of her distinguished inhabitants. Of the former, one of the most considerable is Dr. Franklin's Historical Review, which, although it exhibits too much of the temper of a partisan, is nevertheless of great value for the historical inquirer, and some interest for the general reader. Great assistance has, within a few years, been given to the development and illustration of our annals, by the labours of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania--an institution which deserves more full and special notice than can be afforded to it on the present occasion. Its memoirs, of which we believe two volumes have been published, contain many articles important not only for Pennsylvania, but for the Union in general. We might particularly specify the correspondence respecting Washington's valedictory address. The Society has done the state some service, too, by exciting public attention to the preservation of the numerous manuscripts illustrative of its history, which exist in private repositories, or public offices, where time and accident are rapidly destroying them. Among these may be mentioned the curious and valuable correspondence of Secretary Logan and Governor Hamilton, some of the most important of which have been communicated to the Society.
A kindred institution, the Society for commemorating the Landing of William Penn, has also done something to rescue the annals of the state from oblivion, by a series of anniversary discourses, in which the character and results of the advent of the founder have been discussed. The most recent of these* has not we think
• “Sketches of the primitive settlements on the River Delaware, a discourse delivered before the Society for the Commemoration of the Landing of William Penn, on the 24th of October 1827. By James N. Barker."
received the attention and commendation it justly deserves. Treating neither of the tariff, nor of the election of a president, steering clear of the coal trade, the penitentiary system, and the currency, and dwelling only on the recollections of an obsolete age and the vestiges of the primitive and scriptural people who made the wilderness to blossom as the rose, and the waste places to be glad, it was perhaps hardly to be expected that its topics would find favour with a community whose attention seems chiefly directed to the present and the future. And yet a work which enlightens the obscure passages of our history, and gives to the localities about us that kind of classic interest which the recollection of memorable events inspires, and throws the charm of a rich poetical imagination over the labours of antiquarian learning, ought not to pass into rapid oblivion with the ephemeral offspring of the day. Such, however, seems to be the destiny of all the orations, discourses, and other occasional addresses of which the age is so prolific. Cito peritura seems to be written on each of them, no matter how felicitously conceived or laboriously concocted. The society, or other public body before which it is delivered, passes a vote of thanks, and requests a copy for the press: the author modestly complies; in due time the publication is announced; some half a dozen copies are purchased by partieular friends, and “the remainder of the impression,” after lying a suitable time on the bookseller's shelves, are gathered to their brethren, and seen of men no more; unless perchance some traveller, while arranging the garments in his trunk, should pause for a moment, as he glances at the pages in the lining, to sigh or smile, as the case may be, over the fleeting existence of the flowers of rhetoric, "frail,” to use Dr. Darwin's idea of the stars, "as their silken sisters of the field.”
Mr. Gordon's historical work is upon the whole very creditable to his industry and research, and goes a great way to supply the deficiency we have suggested in the annals of Pennsylvania. It is generally well written and well arranged; the style, although not particularly attractive, is unpretending, and free from the besetting sin of meretricious ornament. His sentiments are just, liberal, and indicative of good sense and good feelings. He be stows very lofty praise upon the founder and his associates, without concealing their failings or mistakes, or hesitating to express his dissent from their measures when truth requires it. Biographical notices, which serve to add an agreeable variety to history, and relieve the monotony of her march, are occasionally introduced, and we should have been glad to see more of them;although we think Mr. Gordon was right in omitting the reminiscences of Proud, who was as particular as a tombstone in commemorating the dates of the birth and death of the early settlers.
“It would have been a source of pleasure to me,” he remarks in the preface,
“had I been enabled to add considerably to the collections of this kind made by Proud and Smith ; but I had very little that was new to offer: and what can there be interesting to the public in the lives of men, whose chief, and perhaps sole merit, consisted in the due fulfilment of the duties of private life. The names of the first settlers are interesting to us only because they were the first settlers. We have no affecting tale to relate of them; no perils by flood or field ; no privations induced by the crimes of others, or their own imprudence. The most that could be said of them is, that they were moral, religious, prudent, quiet people, who, with adınirable foresight, made the best advantage of their situation, and who lived in comfort, begat children, and died. All this has been said by Mr. Proud, and I have not deemed it necessary to repeat it. Due attention, however, has been paid to those persons who have distinguishell themselves in Pennsylvania History, and such information as I have been able to obtain in relation to public men, has been given in the text, or in the appendix to the work.”
Mr. Gordon's narrative of events is sufficiently full to give a comprehensive view of the course of Pennsylvania history, without descending to unprofitable details. We must except from this latter commendation, however, a great portion of his account of the French and Indian wars in other provinces, which, if it was necessary to mention them for the purpose of illustrating and connecting the operations in Pennsylvania on this subject, might have been despatched with much more brevity. We have surely had quite enough, for instance, of General Wolfe and his capture of Quebec. It is impossible to open a volume of American history without meeting with the most elaborate account of it, generally related in the same terms; and it really seems to us that the public is sufficiently familiar with his obituary declarations without having them detailed for the hundredth time in a history of Pennsylvania. General Wolfe was no doubt a brave man and a good officer, and he died at a period when military skill was not so common as it has been of late years; but he has been quite equalled in patriotic devotion by many whose names have long since been consigned to oblivion, and whose memories ought not to be the less verdant in consequence of having perished in defence of their country.
We shall have occasion presently to point out some few inaccuracies in Mr. Gordon's narrative, which do not, however, materially affect the general correctness and value of his work. With the exceptions we have mentioned, we consider it deserving of liberal commendation, and of what we fear it is not likely to rereive, a large share of pecuniary patronage.
Desirous, as far as we are able to aid in exciting public attention 10 the study of our national annals, and believing that lessons as valuable for moralists, or even politicians, may be drawn from it as can be found in the newspapers and party pamphlets, we shall endeavour to indicate some of the principal features and characteristics of the history of Pennsylvania ; availing ourselves of Mr. Gordon's work, and such other materials as happen to be accessible to us. VOL. 1.---NO. 10,
The shores of the Delaware were visited and perhaps settled by Europeans at a much earlier period than is generally supposed. Mr. Gordon seems to give the credit of the first visit to Mey, the Dutch navigator, who sailed up the bay in 1623, and has bequeathed his name to one of the Capes; but if we may credit the allegations of a bill in chancery, not the best evidence in all cases certainly, a settlement was made by the Swedes, even earlier than 1609.* According to Purchas,t in 1620, a certain John Pory “adventured sixty miles over land,” from the Chesapeake bay, “through a pleasant and fruitful country to the South river," (or Delaware,) "on whose margin he was received with friendly entertainment by the ruling sachem of the land,” &c. However this may be, and it is of little importance now, its green and fertile banks attracted several visits from different European nations, and soon became an article of traffic and a subject of contention. The Indians, who, with all their simplicity, seem to have furnished a model for the race of land speculators of later times, sold the same territory half a dozen times over, to Swedes, and Dutch, and English, and received on each occasion a consideration as Trapbois in the Fortunes of Nigel calls it, doubtless satisfactory for the time to themselves. The diplomatic intercourse between the Dutch and Swedes, respecting this debatable land, and their bloodless battles for its possession, have been recorded with infinite humour by Diedrich Knickerbocker, who has associated the history of “New Sweden” with the more enduring memories of Peter Stuyvesant and Jan Risingh.
In addition to these conflicting titles were the pretensions of Lord Baltimore, who sought to extend the boundaries of Mary. land to the bay of Delaware; and a fourth claim was put in by some of our eastern brethren. So early as 1650, it appears that this adventurous part of our population professed that “they were streightened in their respective plantations, and finding this part of the country (i. e. New-England!) full, did resolve to remove to the Delaware. I” They founded their claim to this territory upon the allegation that “divers years since several marchants and others of New-Haven, with much hazard, charge, and loss, did purchase of the Indian sagamores and their companies, the true propriators, severall large tracts and parcells of land on both sides of Delaware bay and river, and did presently begin to build up factories for trade, and purposed to set up plantations within their own limits, whereby the Gospel alsoe might have been carried and spread among the Indians,” &c.; and among
This is asserted in the bill filed by the Penns, against Lord Baltimore, in the court of chancery of England. See Bozman's History of Maryland, p. 243, note. + Purchas's Pilgrims, vol. iv. page 1784—7.
See a curious collection of documents on this subject in the 2d volume of Hazard's State Papers.