Erie was named after the Eriez tribe, which was destroyed by a combination of pestilence and the Seneca nation under Chief Cornplanter in the mid-seventeenth century. The first European settlers in the area were the French, who built Fort Presque Isle on the city's site in 1753. The French abandoned the fort to the English, who lost it in 1763 at the start of Pontiac's Rebellion. When General "Mad" Anthony Wayne induced the native tribes to make peace in 1794, the area was opened to settlement. The city was laid out in 1795 and became a port, engaged principally in the salt trade, in 1801.
The city's history throughout the nineteenth century was dominated by harbor activity. In 1813, in what is often referred to as Erie's proudest historical moment, Commodore Oliver Perry defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. Most of Commodore Perry's ships were built in Erie.
The importance of the city and its port gradually diminished throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the development of automobiles, the railroad, and airplanes eroded the lake trade. The 1980s saw Erie's residents engaged in heated debates over the question of how they saw their city's future: Should Erie remain a "provincial" town devoted to waterfront activity, or should it reform its image into that of a "progressive" town? The debate continues today. Whatever the answer, Erie is respectful of its reputation as a rising entrepreneurial hotspot determined to maintain quality of life while making room for mindful progress. As the twenty-first century is well underway, Erie continues to improve economically; the city has seen new jobs and new business startups, as well as a reversal of urban sprawl and a reinvestment in city living.
Historical Information: Erie County Historical Society, 419 State Street, Erie, PA 16501; telephone (814)454-1813