Photograph of present day Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Photograph of present day Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Randolph Carney - Source
License: CC BY-SA

Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the Capital of the United States for One Day

Lancaster was named after Lancashire, England, and its symbol is the red rose, from the House of Lancaster. In the period from the 1760's through the early 1800's, this was the largest inland town in America, and it was larger than most inland English cities as well.

Lancaster was our nation's capital for one day when the Continental Congress met here in September 1777. The colonial government had withdrawn from the capital in Philadelphia to escape the approaching British troops, and stopped here for a day before moving on to York, Pennsylvania.

The nation's first capital was Philadelphia, then the great metropolis of North America with a population of more than 40,000. In December 1776, however, in the face of advancing British forces, the Continental Congress hurriedly adjourned to Baltimore (capital #2). The delegates were not enthusiastic about Baltimore, a muddy burg of 6,000; one ungraciously described it as an "extravagant hole." They were only too happy to return to Philly in March 1777 when the military situation stabilized.

Matters deteriorated anew in September. With Philadelphia at the point of capture, Congress again bolted, this time heading for Lancaster, Pennsylvania (capital #3). There it met for exactly one day before deciding the Brits were still too close for comfort. The delegates forthwith repaired to York (capital #4), which was safely on the other side of the Susquehanna River.

Originally called Hickory Town, the city was renamed after the English city of Lancaster by native John Wright. Its symbol, the red rose, is from the House of Lancaster. The oldest inland city in America, Lancaster was part of the 1681 Penn's Woods Charter of William Penn, and was laid out by James Hamilton in 1734. It was incorporated as a borough in 1742 and incorporated as a city in 1818. During the American Revolution, it was briefly the capital of the colonies on September 27, 1777, when the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British. After meeting one day, they moved still farther away, to York, Pennsylvania. Lancaster was capital of Pennsylvania from 1799 to 1812, after which the capital was moved to Harrisburg.