In 1681 King Charles II granted William Penn a province in America. The following year the city of Philadelphia was officially laid out on land between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers in the southeastern portion of Penn's charter. Surveyor Thomas Holme designed the city in the shape of a symmetrical gridiron radiating from a center square and bordered by four parks in each quadrant of the city.

Philadelphia was home to the Continental Congress during the Revolution and there the Declaration of Independence was written and adopted. On September 26, 1777, Philadelphia was captured by British troops and Congress was forced to flee, first to Lancaster and then to York. Philadelphia was occupied until June 18, 1778. In 1787, delegates again met in Philadelphia, this time to revise the Articles of Confederation and produce the U.S. Constitution. The city served as the capital of the United States from 1790 to 1800 during the planning and construction of Washington, D.C. George Washington served his two terms as president in the city.

By the time of the Revolution, an estimated 24,000 people resided in and around Philadelphia, many of whom were non-Quaker European immigrants who hoped to improve their lives by sharing in Philadelphia’s prosperity. By the time the first census was conducted in 1790, Philadelphia proper (28,500) was the second most populous U.S. city after New York (33,000). However the total population of the Philadelphia area, including neighboring Southwark and the Northern Liberties, both annexed by the city in the mid-nineteenth century, exceeded 44,000. Benjamin Franklin, arguably Philadelphia’s most famous resident, led the development of many civic institutions, including a lending library, a hospital, a fire insurance company, a local militia, the American Philosophical Society, and the Pennsylvania Academy.

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