Turmoil & Transitions

tandt trans 65hCulture rarely stands still. New ideas are formed, new cultures arrive, new inventions are adopted. The people that shape and are shaped by culture are in a constant state of reaction and adaptation. The result is a history of turmoil and transition. This is true of Lancaster County and the nation. It is often within the times of greatest turmoil and transitions that we learn the most about what it means to be American. It is then that we learn what lies at the core of our uniquely American worldview. It is during those times of turmoil and transition, while our worldviews seem to be changing dramitcally, that we discover some ideals do, in fact, remain the same. These ideals—liberty & freedom, tolerance & diversity, democracy & the political process—were molded and shaped in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.


Lancaster’s Role in the American Revolution

Because it was a market town, manufacturing center, commerce hub, and located a convenient but safe distance from the fighting, large quantities of supplies for the patriot army were shipped from Lancaster – cannons, ammunitions, rifles, and camp kettles, as well as grain, shoes, and uniforms. Downtown Lancaster also had a military barracks, stables, warehouse, and powder-house to support the needs of the troops.

At the outbreak of the Revolution, Lancaster riflemen were among the first to march to Boston, which was besieged by the British. Lancaster's many influential patriots had great impact on the Revolutionary War and the growth of the nation.

George Ross was a member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence. William Henry was a prominent gunmaker and member of the Continental Congress. Thomas Paine, who wrote the influential pamphlet Common Sense, was a resident-guest in Henry's Lancaster home in 1777 and 1778. A physician from Lancaster, General Edward Hand, led a group of volunteers alongside Washington's army in New York and New Jersey and later became Washington's Adjutant-General. John Hubley was a prominent Lancaster lawyer, delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776, and was appointed Commissary for the Continental army in 1777. Active in the politics of the revolution, Jasper Yeates served as a delegate to the Pennsylvania Convention that approved the United States Constitution in 1787.


Several thousand British prisoners of war were sent to Lancaster where they were put in huge stockades.  Hessian prisoners were sent to Lancaster because of the number of German speaking residents. At least 315 skilled Hessian craftsmen worked for Lancaster craftsmen and many were given work to support the war effort. After the Revolutionary War, many Hessian prisoners elected to stay and settle here in Lancaster.

The Treaty of 1744

Known as the Treaty of 1744, the two-week meeting shaped our nation's history. In exchange for Indian land claims in Maryland and Virginia, the Native Americans bargained for gunpowder, shot, guns, blankets, clothing,and rum. The treaty also created a strong alliance between the settlers and Indians, helping to protect Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War.

The star of the Lancaster Treaty of 1744 was Canassatego, chief of the Iroquoian Onondaga nation and prominent diplomat. He recommended that the colonies adapt a form of government similar to the Iroquois by forming a confederacy. He feared that the colonies lacked a strong coordinated policy to address the military threat of the French. His words were published and read by colonial leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, and would influence the United States Constitution—forty years later.

Hundreds of Indians from the six Iroquois nations set up a large village in Lancaster, a few blocks from the courthouse. Smoke from the cooking-fires, along with the smell of bear grease, filled the summer air. The event was quite entertaining for the colonial people of Lancaster, often hanging out of windows for a closer look at the Indians. Likewise, the Native Americans checked out the town and the townspeople with equal curiosity as they traded in the shops and at the market.

Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868)

web2110405Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) was a fierce advocate of equal opportunities for all Americans, and is most often remembered for his lifelong devotion to the cause of racial equality. As the leader of the Republican Party in Congress during the 1860s, he played an instrumental role in passing the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and upheld African-American civil rights during the Reconstruction. As a young man, he also helped write legislation mandating free public schooling in Pennsylvania. His sharp tongue and progressive views made him a controversial figure; however, he was popular among his supporters and known for his generosity. Recent archeological evidence also indicates that Stevens and his free black housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith, harbored fugitive slaves on Stevens' property.

Stevens wore a wig for most of his adult life because he suffered from alopecia, a condition which causes hair loss and left him entirely bald at the age of thirty-five. Stevens' contemporaries often noted that his wigs fit poorly or were worn askew. He wore the wig in the collection of during his later years, and this unique artifact embodies the values of a man who cared little about his personal appearance but tirelessly championed the rights of others.


Thaddeus Stevens hired Lydia Smith, a smart and personable black woman, as his housekeeper. For over twenty years she served as housekeeper, confidante, and looked after his nephews. Stevens deeded her property behind his house for $500 where he had built a brick home for her. In his will Stevens provided money to Smith to buy his house.

President James Buchanan (1791-1868)

Lancaster's James Buchanan, a Democrat, served as the 15th President of the United States from 1857 to 1861.  Buchanan disapproved of slavery, but did not want to lead the nation into a civil war. His efforts to maintain peace were seen as a sign of weakness by both the North and the South. By the time he left office, the Civil War was unavoidable.

Penn’s 'Holy Experiment'

In 1681 King Charles II granted land in America to William Penn in payment of a debt owed to Penn's father. The English crown was glad to be rid of Penn and his Quakers, who were imprisoned for spreading their "heretical beliefs." Penn wanted his settlement to provide sanctuary to all who were under religious oppression.



& Country

For hundreds of years Lancaster has helped to shape the story of America.


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