King Charles II of England granted aristocrat William Penn the land that would become Pennsylvania in 1681, as payment for a debt the king owed Penn’s father. Penn, a member of the Society of Friends—better known as the Quakers—used the land to create a colony where the persecuted group could worship freely. Over the next century, the colony grew quickly, and by the 1770s its major city, Philadelphia, was the economic and political center of the colonies.
Nicknamed "The Keystone State," Pennsylvania played a vital role in the American Revolution. It was in Pennsylvania’s State House, now known as Independence Hall, that the Continental Congress met, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, George Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, the Founding Fathers agreed on a design for the American flag, and the Constitution was drafted. Independence Hall, restored to its late-18th century appearance, is part of the Independence National Historic Park and open for tours.
Independence National Historical Park covers 20 city blocks in Philadelphia. In addition to Independence Hall and other historic buildings, the park includes Franklin Court, where Benjamin Franklin’s home once stood. The house was torn down 20 years after Franklin died there in 1790, but today a steel frame "ghost structure" marks the place where it was. An underground museum has exhibits about Franklin’s life and times, as well as artifacts from an archeological excavation.
America almost lost the Revolutionary War, and the situation appeared dire when George Washington’s army camped at Valley Forge, outside Philadelphia, in the winter of 1777-78. The site where the Continental Army starved, shivered and suffered—but persevered—is now Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Another important site in the nation’s military history is Gettysburg National Military Park, where 51,000 Americans died and where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech. Exhibits at the Visitors’ Center explain the battle and life during the war, while a new museum is under construction and slated to open in 2008.