William Penn

William Penn

(1644-1718)

William Penn was born in London,England, the son of Admiral Sir William Penn. Young William was educated at Christ Church College in Oxford, but was expelled in 1661 for religious “nonconformity.” By 1666, Penn had completely drawn away from the Anglican faith and become a member of the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers.

Quakers believed in an “Inner Light” that dwelled in all people. They had no ministers or priests, and they believed strongly in the right of the individual to worship as he pleased. This made their faith seem strange to Protestants and Catholics, and both groups persecuted the Quakers.

Both Penn’s father and King Charles II wanted to break his belief, and in 1 669 Penn was imprisoned in the Tower of London. There he wrote No Cross, No Crown, which stands forth as his most remarkable literary work. Over the next several years he was imprisoned four times for writing his thoughts, attending Quaker meetings and preaching the Quaker beliefs.

In 1681, Penn found a great opportunity to be of service to his faith. Wishing to discharge a debt of money he owed to the late admiral, King Charles II made a grant of land in the New World to Penn. The King’s only stipulation was that it be named Pennsylvania, in honor of Admiral Penn.

Penn crossed the Atlantic in 1682, and began to lay out the town of Philadelphia. He drew up a Frame of Government that was more liberal than most of the colonial charters. He also established a pattern for fair dealing with the Native Americans that no other colony equaled.

When he returned to England, Penn wrote advertisements for his colony, and distributed them among the farmers of the Palatinate (in modern-day Germany). Many of them responded to the call, and soon the colony became populated by an interesting mix of English Quakers and German Calvinist farmers.

Meanwhile, Penn worked hard to defend his colony’s charter. When the Glorious Revolution of 1688 replaced King James II with William and Mary, Penn briefly lost his charter rights. He regained them, though not without a struggle.

Penn returned to Pennsylvania in 1699. He remained in the colony for a year and a half, and then had to return to England, both to defend the charter and to see to his own financial situation. He left his personal secretary, James Logan (see no. 69), as his representative in the colony.

In 1712, Penn’s health began to fail, and he spent his last years in genteel poverty. He remained serene, convinced that he had played a major part in assuring the right of religious freedom in the colony he had founded.