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By the 1750s, Philadelphia had surpassed Boston to become the largest city and busiest port in British America, and second in the British Empire after London. The free black community also established many schools for its children, with the help of Quakers.

The state capital was moved to Lancaster in 1799, then Harrisburg in 1812, while the federal government was moved to Washington, D. New York City surpassed Philadelphia in population by 1790.

The Dutch considered the entire Delaware River valley to be part of their New Netherland colony.

In 1638, Swedish settlers led by renegade Dutch established the colony of New Sweden at Fort Christina (present-day Wilmington, Delaware) and quickly spread out in the valley.

These immigrants were largely responsible for the first general strike in North America in 1835, in which workers in the city won the ten-hour workday.In 1644, New Sweden supported the Susquehannocks in their military defeat of the English colony of Maryland.In 1648, the Dutch built Fort Beversreede on the west bank of the Delaware, south of the Schuylkill near the present-day Eastwick neighborhood, to reassert their dominion over the area.Large-scale construction projects for new roads, canals, and railroads made Philadelphia the first major industrial city in the United States.Throughout the 19th century, Philadelphia hosted a variety of industries and businesses, the largest being textiles. Centennial, was celebrated in 1876 with the Centennial Exposition, the first official World's Fair in the United States.

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This tolerance, far more than afforded by most other colonies, led to better relations with the local native tribes and fostered Philadelphia's rapid growth into America's most important city.