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Historic and Archaeological Resources <BACK

History of the Study Area

Lancaster County possesses an extremely rich history. The first recorded inhabitants of the area that would become Lancaster County were Native Americans who remained in the region until the end of the middle of the eighteenth century. European settlers arrived in the area in the late seventeenth century.

In 1681, Charles II granted territory to William Penn as payment on a debt owed to Penn's father, Admiral William Penn. Pennsylvania was a "melting pot of Colonial America." Other colonies such as Virginia and Massachusetts were largely populated with settlers of one race and one religion. However, Pennsylvania was rich in its ethnic and religious diversity. Several ethnic groups settled in Lancaster County during the eighteenth century, each bringing its own religious and social ideas.

The first of the German settlers in this county were Mennonites from Zurich and Berne where they were persecuted for refusing to accept the state church. These Swiss Mennonites eventually left Europe and settled in what is now Lancaster County. They settled along Little Beaver Creek and where Lancaster City now stands. These particular immigrants from Switzerland and the Palatinate were Anabaptists who were calling for a return to the New Testament and believed in an inward personal experience with God. They believed that baptism was voluntary and should be done when an adult. Anabaptists refused to fight in wars and would not participate in routine patrolling of the village.

Other German groups that settled into what would eventually become Lancaster County were the Moravians, the Brethren (also known as "Dunkers"), members of the Reformed and Lutheran Churches, and the Mystics who settled at the Ephrata Community.

Scots-Irish immigrants settled in Lancaster County around 1715 and soon after, English Quaker families settled in the area that would become Salisbury and Sadsbury Townships. In 1717 Welsh Episcopalians settled in the area that became Caernarvon Township. French Huguenots from Alsace and Lorraine settled in the Pequea Valley.

As a part of Chester County, Conestoga Township (formed in 1718) encompassed all of the land that is now Lancaster County. In 1729 Lancaster County was formed from land taken from Chester County. The county is said to have been named by John Wright, the county's first chief magistrate, who was from Lancaster County in England.
Agriculture and its related industries were extremely important to the economy of Lancaster County at the turn of the eighteenth century. The main crop, wheat, made Pennsylvania the richest northern colony; from 1800 to 1840, Pennsylvania was the main wheat-producing state in the nation.

By 1883 Lancaster County was known as the "Garden of Pennsylvania" and possessed 463,000 acres of farmland. The farms of the county ranged from 30 to 100 acres each. Farming continued to support the county well into the twentieth century. In 1976 the county was the leader, in the value of farm products sold or traded, of all non-irrigated counties in the nation. The county was recognized for its tobacco crops and its cattle. Ninety percent of the nation's cigar tobacco came from Lancaster County.


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