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November 29, 2017

Was it really ever acceptable to spell Pennsylvania with one 'n'?

One of the most common story pitches online journalists receive is some variation of, "Here's the favorite X in your state." Usually, these come from some retailer that has surveyed its customers in each U.S. state about their favorite things in a certain category — i.e. Christmas movies, bars, etc.

They can be fun posts on a slow news day or straight-up bleh. "Top Christmas Candy by State" falls somewhere in between. A recent survey of customers found that Pennsylvania's favorite Christmas candy is the candy cane. Cool.

The real treat of this survey is the accompanying blog post that includes little quips about each states' history and culture. Here's Pennsylvania's:


If the Liberty Bell only used one N, then that’s good enough for me. Crazy right? There’s even a place in the Constitution where it’s spelled without the double n. Luckily for historical re-enactors and grammar nerds, the top candy in this state presents no such dilemma. Only one way to spell candy canes. Pez comes in second. Reese cups third.

If you're thinking that a survey about candy preferences is a weird place to mention that Pennsylvania was once sometimes spelled with a single "n," then I would have to agree with you. But interesting nonetheless!

And is right. Pennsylvania is spelled incorrectly at the end of the U.S. Constitution. Per the National Archives:

Yet another error appears on the engrossed copy of the Constitution. It was committed not by Jacob Shallus but by Alexander Hamilton. As the members of the Convention prepared to sign the document, Hamilton took up a position beside the last of the four sheets, laid out for signing, and appears to have taken charge of the process as the delegates from each state came forward to sign. In this capacity, he wrote the name of each state at the left of the growing column of signatures. When he came to the largest state delegation, headed by Benjamin Franklin, he wrote "Pensylvania." And thus the parchment reads today.

As the candy website noted, the state's name also is spelled "Pensylvania" on the Liberty Bell. However, according to the National Science Foundation, it may not have been a mistake, as it was "one of several acceptable spellings of the name at that time."

Usage of different spellings of Pennsylvania don't stop there. According to a biography of Benjamin Franklin, the founding father would mix up the spelling on bank notes to prevent counterfeiting.

So, there you have it: Instead of a mundane survey using a likely unrepresentative sample size about each state's favorite Christmas candy, you got an interesting little historical factoid, all thanks to a website that probably wanted the opposite when it sent out its pitch email.

Now go buy yourself a candy cane and visit the Liberty Bell on your lunch break.