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How a king-size debt created Pennsylvania

Plus, spice things up a little on this fish fry-day.

March 4, 2022
Inside this week's edition: Birthday state, weekend happenings, Amazon alternative, sing off, a New Castle haunting, and truth in roadside advertising. 

If you like what you read today, forward this edition to a friend, or show us a little love and make a gift to keep the good times rolling.
Think you know Pennsylvania? Let's find out: There have been nine capitals of the United States. One-third were in Pennsylvania. What are they?  

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.) 
The seal and signature of William Penn. (Laura Blanchard / Flickr)

On this date 341 years ago, King Charles II gave the land now known as Pennsylvania to a British scion and Oxford University outcast named William Penn.

In no time, Penn’s powers were rankling the colony’s early government, and Penn was openly telling legislators to, you know, relax a little

They didn’t, and by 1710, Penn was ready to put England in charge. 

But before he could, Penn was sidelined by a stroke and his wife, Hannah, took the reins, followed by their sons and grandsons, followed by a revolution that ushered in a new form of government and, for all intents and purposes, Pennsylvania as we know it. Here's a quick Penn primer: 

  • King Charles II gave Pennsylvania to William Penn to settle a £16,000 debt owed to Penn’s father. That’s more than £3 million today.
  • Penn didn’t like the name “Pennsylvania,” a mashup of his name and the Latin word for woods, because he thought it made him look like a narcissist. He tried unsuccessfully to change it, implying in a letter that he wasn’t above bribery.
  • Penn's descendants were hard hit by the illnesses of that era, so much so that anyone claiming family ties today is probably wrong. "You may be related in a 15th-cousin-three-times-removed situation," historian Todd Galle told the news site Billy Penn, "but you’re not inheriting Pennsylvania."
  • If you live in the top third of Pennsylvania, you’re on land that Connecticut once claimed. The Mason-Dixon Line was created during a similar dispute with Maryland.
  • As a Quaker and pacifist, Penn maintained relatively good relations with Pennsylvania's indigenous people and paid them for land he later sold to colonists. Penn's sons were a different story and oversaw a swindle that led to an unsuccessful lawsuit 267 years later.
  • Penn's legacy was more complicated than some accounts suggest: Even as his fellow Quakers protested against slavery, Penn kept at least 12 enslaved people at his Pennsbury Manor estate.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

"If I wanted to go to jail, I certainly wouldn’t pick one in Pennsylvania." 

— Al Capone insisting he didn't intentionally get arrested in Philadelphia to avoid potential retribution back home in Chicago
» Friday, March 4: Get a bag of books for $5 and help the Pittsburgh Prison Book Project raise some money at the same time. 

» Friday, March 4: Admission is free at Lancaster's Science Factory from 5 to 7 tonight for the city's First Fridays festivities. Learn more here.

» Saturday, March 5: The ice-carving festival season is rapidly coming to a close, but Harrisburg's free Ice & Fire Festival is still a go.

» Sunday, March 6: Indulge in your love of double bass at the Pittsburgh Double Bass Symposium, which is free with in-person and virtual options.

» Wednesday, March 9: Hear Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates talk about foreign policy goals and, undoubtedly, the crisis in Ukraine.
Tell us about a Pennsylvania business that deserves a turn in the spotlight and we'll share your suggestion here.

This week's shoutout comes via Philly Mag, which wrote about The Rounds, a Philly-founded, zero-waste company that uses electric bikes to deliver household staples and aims to be your Amazon alternative.
Harrisburg's last sunrise of February, via @yatsko. Send us your Pa. pics by email here, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.

» One thing we learned this week: Pennsylvania has an official state song that somehow led to rock band The Bloodhound Gang trying to countermand an act of the General Assembly in 2005.

» One thing worth reading: A deep dive about a down-on-his-luck doctor who bought a supposedly haunted New Castle mansion, opened it to the public, and regretted it almost immediately, via Truly*Adventurous.

» One thing worth watching: A series about the real-life theft of $50,000 worth of bugs from Philly's insectarium. "Bug Out" is streaming now.

» One thing to know: Long-sought service additions could finally be coming to Amtrak's Pennsylvanian line, TribLIVE reports.

» One thing that made us smile: This honest Pennsylvania road sign that's all set to announce some tourist attractions but can't think of any.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

» Will the pandemic alter Pa.'s public health landscape?

» Pa. State Police push back on independent trooper probes

» How to track a slew of proposed changes to Pa.'s Constitution

» Election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you

» Watch a free virtual panel on the future of Pa.’s mail voting law
Fry-day plans. (Jenn Ladd / Philadelphia Inquirer)

Normally, we'd share a fish fry recipe here ('tis the season), but instead, here's one for a spicy tartar sauce that few churches or fire stations — or even restaurants, frankly — will carry. 

For the lightest lift, add a little sriracha to your favorite tartar sauce. If you're feeling more ambitious, try this, via Away From The Box.


  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped finely 
  • 3 sweet petite pickles, roughly chopped
  • 1 large lemon's worth of zest and juice
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha (or more/less to suit your taste)


  • Combine the mayonnaise, shallot, parsley, pickles, lemon, and sriracha in a small bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving, to let the flavors meld. Season with salt as needed.
  • Store in the fridge for up to three days.
Let us know how yours turn out. Photographic evidence is welcome here.
Lancaster was the nation’s capital for one day in 1777; York was the nation’s first capital (or fourth, depending on who you ask); and Philly was the nation’s capital for 10 years.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret recipes!
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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