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York: A Key City in the Keystone State

This material courtesy of Sue Chehrenegar

The history of the United States has repeatedly included mention of York, Pennsylvania. Beginning in 1750, as thousands of settlers traveled south from Pennsylvania to the Shenandoah Valley, they passed through York. One of those settlers, Daniel Boone, carried a rifle designed by a gunsmith with a shop in York.

During the Revolutionary War an important dinner took place at a home inhabited by General Horatio Gates. Some of the dinner guests that night were statesmen, men who had had to flee British-occupied Philadelphia. Like Gates, some of those statesmen entertained thoughts of replacing General George Washington with a different officer.

On the night of January 30, 1778, Gates and the disgruntled statesmen dined with Marquise de Lafayette, a close aide to General Washington. They toasted the Continental Congress. They toasted the war efforts and the future of the American government. Lafayette then offered a toast to General Washington.

The men, who had hoped to put a different man in Washington’s position, felt obligated to honor Lafayette’s toast. The French officer’s toast caused the Americans to reconsider their planned and obviously fool-hardy actions.

As Americans moved farther west, the need for a better means of transportation became clear. In 1831 the Baltimore and Ohio Steam Railway sponsored a competition. They invited inventors to develop a coal-burning locomotive. That same year, the B.and O. Railway awarded its $1000 prize money to York resident Phineses Davis. Davis designed the first successful coal-burning engine in the United States.

Thirty years after helping to usher in the age of the locomotive, York residents played a key role in events of the Civil War. The one time that Confederate forces ventured into Union territory, going north from Maryland into Pennsylvania, they marched into York.

Before moving on to Gettysburg, Confederates occupied York. They forced residents to furnish vital supplies. York was the largest city north of the Mason Dixon Line to hear the pounding feet of the Confederate troops.

In February of 1941, as the United States stepped-up efforts to aide the country’s fighting forces, Americans reading an Associated Press release saw mention of a “York Plan.” A number of communities had chosen to mimic the “plan” followed by York. Their industries had pooled their resources, aiding the preparations for World War II battles.

One interesting group of immigrants arrived in York in the early 1990s. The Golden Venture, a ship with smuggled Chinese ran aground off of the New York coast. More than half of the Chinese detained by the government entered the York County jail.

Some Americans formed “People of the Golden Venture,” a group having just one declared aim—achievement of freedom for the detained Chinese. York residents put on display the colorful paper sculptures made by the imprisoned Chinese. The “People” pursued their primary aim for three years.

Once released, the Chinese found that their paper creations had been viewed as a contribution to the cultural history of York, and so too to the cultural history of the United States.