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Book Review: Voices from Colonial America, Pennsylvania
Reading Level

Ages 9–12

Also in This Series

• California
• Delaware
• Georgia
• Louisiana
• Massachusetts
• New Jersey
• New York

Also on This Subject

• The 13 Colonies
• U.S. States
• The Making of the 50 States

Yet another in the fine series of Colonial America books from National Geographic, this one tells the story of William Penn's struggle to live religious freedom and how that struggle brought him to America (along with collecting on an outstanding debt from none other than King Charles himself). The book includes a solid early history of the Pennsylvania area as well, including struggles between Swedish and Dutch settlers (including the explanation of the term "Pennsylvania Dutch," which actually referred to German colonists).

Colonial roles are explained, including the duties and privileges of women, children, and slaves. All are illuminated by historical drawings and other images, giving the entire presentation the feel of a story unfolding and drawing the reader in to a time past.

Philadelphia is given its proper due as well. Much is usually made of the importance of Boston, especially, and New York in the history of colonial America. Philadelphia was no less important. It was, first of all, one of the first planned cities in America, laid out according to Penn's vision of orderly (and fire-resistant) settlement. Philadelphia was also a thriving port city, home to captains of industry and trade. The "City of Brotherly Love" was also home to Benjamin Franklin, one of America's most famous and eccentric personalities.

The book also does an excellent job of detailing the struggles of settlement in western Pennsylvania, where the settlers had to battle not only the elements but also hostile neighbors from Native American tribes and other European countries. Life in Philadelphia and in western Pennsylvania could not have been more different. It was in the west, as well, that some of the important conflicts in the French and Indian War took place. This book, in fact, spends a good deal of time on that important colonial war, again something that is often glossed over in other books.

The Quakers, as Penn's followers termed themselves, were pacifists and struggled long and hard before agreeing to go to war with Great Britain. This struggle of conscience is brought out as well, as are the stories of the Revolutionary War battles that were actually fought in Pennsylvania, Brandywine and Germantown. (Let's not forget the bitter winter at Valley Forge, either.)

Sadly for William Penn and his descendants, the colony of Pennsylvania outgrew his ambitions and eventually took all of his family's lands. It did, however, keep his sense of fairness and religious and political freedom, becoming one of a handful of states that opposed slavery from the beginning.

This is a National Geographic production, of course, and the maps, photos, drawings, and other images are first-rate, as always. The helpful timeline at the back of the book is incredibly detailed and worth several looks.

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