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Philadelphia History

When Europeans arrived, the Delaware River valley was inhabited by the Lenape people, whose territory stretched from what is now northern Delaware through New Jersey and into southern New York. Philadelphia’s history as a key American city began when the city was founded in 1682 by William Penn, the leader of a group of Quaker colonists. They ventured upstream from the expansive Delaware Bay to a well-sheltered natural port on the Delaware River. The industriousness of the Quakers and easy trade up and down the river made Philadelphia boom, and it quickly became both one of the most important colonial cities and a center of opposition to British rule. It became a gathering place for great minds, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who went on to draft the Declaration of Independence, adopted in the Pennsylvania State House at Fifth and Chestnut streets (the building now known as Independence Hall). Eleven years later, the United States Constitution was adopted at the same address. The birthplace of the nation, Philadelphia was America’s capital at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and again after until 1800, when Congress moved to Washington, D.C., permanently. By then, Philadelphia had become the country’s second-largest city, with nearly 42,000 residents. Successive waves of immigrants put their stamp on the food and culture; the Quakers, of course, but also Germans (the “Pennsylvania Dutch”), Irish, Italians and—more recently—Asians. The city continued to thrive until the early-20th century, when crooked politics and Philadelphia's history of violence marred its reputation. It wasn’t until Ed Rendell became mayor in 1992 that Philadelphia picked itself up and dusted itself off. Rendell was able to attract investment and tourism to the city, infusing it with the tools necessary to begin the citywide revitalization that continues today.