December 28: When Eastern Pennsylvania Belonged to Connecticut


While Connecticut stands today as one of the smallest states in the Union in terms of land area, in the 17th and 18th centuries, ambitious Connecticans dreamed of expanding the colony’s control over vast swaths of territory located far to the west.   Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662, issued by King Charles II, had originally extended the state’s western boundary all the way to the Pacific Ocean (then referred to as the “Southern Sea”).  Nineteen years later, King Charles II granted the colony of Pennsylvania its own royal charter which granted Pennsylvanians control over a large chunk of territory (essentially the northernmost third of what is now the modern-day state of Pennsylvania) originally assigned to Connecticut.

Western land claims by the colony (and later state) of Connecticut in the 17th and 18th centuries. (Wikimedia Commons)

These overlapping colonial land claims mattered little to the American colonists in the 17th and early 18th centuries, since Native American resistance to the presence of virtually any European settlers in the area was fierce enough to keep speculators away.  However, after the British-American victory in the French and Indian War in 1763 reduced the chances of Indian attacks in the area, land-hungry settlers from both Connecticut and Pennsylvania set their sights on the fertile Wyoming and Susquehanna river valleys, located about 150 miles west of Danbury, Connecticut.

On December 28, 1768, the Susquehanna Company — a private corporation of Connecticans who sought to develop Connecticut’s western land claims — formally voted to send a group of 240 people to establish the first permanent settlement under Connecticut’s control in what is now northeastern Pennsylvania.  When the Connecticut settlers arrived in early 1769, they repeatedly clashed with the scattered groups of Pennsylvanians who lived in the area and saw them as illegal invaders.  These clashes, which on several occasions turned violent and even lethal, continued for decades and are collectively known as the Yankee-Pennamite Wars.  Even a formal declaration from England in 1773 reinforcing Connecticut’s claims to the region wasn’t enough to quell the infighting between the Connectican and Pennsylvanian settlers, nor was the Revolutionary War against Britain that raged around them in the 1770s and 1780s.

The land disputes throughout the region weren’t settled until well after the thirteen colonies had become the thirteen United States.  With bloody conflicts still breaking out among fellow Americans in the Wyoming and Susquehanna valleys, the Continental Congress was called to authoritatively settle the matter of ownership and jurisdiction.  In 1782, Congress unanimously decided that Pennsylvania was the rightful owner of the Wyoming valley settlements — but settlers from Connecticut denounced the ruling as politically motivated and refused to surrender their land claims.  It was not until 1799 that the two states came to a final agreement: Connecticut-based parties would finally give up all remaining claims to the Wyoming and Susquehanna Valleys and the Yankee settlers already present would be able to keep the land they had originally claimed — as long as they became law-abiding citizens of Pennsylvania.   The Yankee-Pennamite conflict over westward expansion in the 18th century would serve as a portent for greater conflicts to come under the banner of “manifest destiny” in the 19th century — and it all began with a bold decision made on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

The Susquehanna Settlers,”

1769: The Pennamite Wars,” The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut