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“Here Is the Beginning of Pennsylvania”: A Settler Commemoration and Entangled Histories of Foundational Sites


In the winter of 1937, Pennsylvania governor George H. Earle traveled to Sweden together with a state delegation, and made a stop in the small town of Bottnaryd—the birthplace of Johan Printz, a governor of the seventeenth century New Sweden colony located on the Delaware River. Reportedly affected by the moment, Earle gave a speech declaring: “Here is the beginning of Pennsylvania.” By using W. J. T. Mitchell’s discussion of “foundational sites” and theories on entangled history as points of departures, the article analyses the project of locating the birthplace of the Keystone State in relation to Sweden. The Pennsylvania tour was part of the state’s 300th Anniversary Celebration—elsewhere called the 1938 New Sweden Tercentenary— staged mutually by commissions from Sweden, Finland, and the US.

I argue that this commemoration, of a magnitude on par with New England tercentenaries, should be understood as thoroughly entangled across regional, ethnic, and national borders. Pennsylvania’s placing of its foundational site in Sweden was the result of trans-Atlantic cooperation and regional competition with Delaware and New Jersey. It was a politicized project that rested on contemporary socio-economic interests connected to Sweden’s Social Democratic welfare state, and Pennsylvania’s “Little New Deal” backed by Governor Earle. The attempt to bypass William Penn by (dis)locating Pennsylvania’s foundational site outside state boundaries went against the grain of American settler mythologies, which generally have purportedly “homegrown” foundational sites on US territory. For Sweden, though, this aspect was less problematic. Eventually, the commemoration arguably had more impact on Sweden than on Pennsylvania.

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