Biography of William Penn


WILLIAM PENN., a celebrated English Quaker and Philanthropist, the founder of the colony of Pennsylvania, the son of Sir William Penn, an eminent English admiral, was born at London, October 14th, 1644. His early years were spent partly in Essex and partly in Ireland, where his father had several estates. He studied at Christ church, Oxford, and while there was converted to Quakerism by the preaching of a disciple of George Fox, named Thomas Loc. His enthusiasm for his new faith assumed an aggressive form, for not only did he object to attending the services of the Church of England, and wearing the surplice of a student, both of which he considered eminently papistical, but, along with some companions who had also become Quakers, he attacked several of his fellow-students, and tore the obnoxious robes from their backs. For this unseemly procedure he was expelled from the university. His father was so annoyed at his conduct, that he gave him a beating and turned him out of doors; but he was soon afterwards appeased, and sent him on his travels, in the hope that new scenes and the gaiety of French life would change the bent of his mind. They failed, however; of their purpose, though the youth certainly acquired a grace and sauvity of address he did not before possesss. In 1666 the admiral sent him to Ireland to look after his estates in the county of Cork, which Penn did to his father's complete satisfaction; for in matters of business he was as practical an Englishman as in religion he was spiritually minded.

On his return to England, Penn and his father again quarreled, because the conscience of the former would not allow him to take off his hat to anybody - not even to the King, the Duke of York, or the admiral himself. Penn was again turned out of doors by his disappointed and provoked parent. The mother, however, now interposed, and pleaded for her boy so far that he was allowed to return home, and the admiral even exerted his influence with the government to induce it to wink at his son's attendance at the illegal conventicles of the Quakers, which he would not give up. In 1668, however, he was thrown into the Tower, on account of a publication entitled. The Sandy Foundation Shaken, in which he attacked the ordinary doctrine of the Trinity, and justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. While in prison, he wrote the most famous and popular of his books, No Cross No Crown, and Innocency with her Open Face, a vindiction of himself, which contributed to his liberation, obtained through the interference of the Duke of York. In September, 1670, Admiral Penn died, leaving his son an estate of 1,500 a year, together with claims upon the government for 16,000. In 1671, the upright and incorrigible sectary was again committed to the Tower for preaching, and as he would not take an oath at his trial, he was sent to Newgate for six months. After regaining his liberty, he visited Holland and Germany, for the advancement of Quakerism, along with Fox and Barclay. On his return, he married, in the beginning of 1672, Gulielma Maria Springett, daughter of Sir William Springett, and for some years thereafter, continued to disseminate, by preaching and writing, the doctrines of his sect. Having become a proprietor of part of New Jersey, and interested in its colonization, he was induced, in 1681, to obtain from the Crown, in lieu of his monetary claim upon it, a grant of the territory now forming the state of Pennsylvania. He proposed to call it Sylvania, on account of its forests, but the King (Charles II) good-humoredly insisted on the prefix Penn. His comprehensive design was not only to afford an asylum for his religious brethren, but to establish a government adapted to his views and principles - "a civil society of men enjoying the highest possible degree of freedom and happiness." With several friends, he sailed for the Delaware in August, 1682, was well received by the settlers, and on the 30th of November held his famous interview with the Indian tribes, under a large elm tree at Shackamaxon. He next planned and named the city of Philadelphia, and for two years governed the colony in the wisest, most benevolent, and liberal manner. In his "concessions" to the settlers of New Jersey, a portion of which was colonized by the leading Quakers of that period, the same attachment to the principles of civil and religious liberty was displayed, which he now exhibited on a more extended scale in Pennsylvania, where his benevolence, genuine Christianity and love of his people found open expression and practical enforcement. The charter of liberties followed, and the province of Pennsylvania set an example to sister states.

His colony became an asylum for the persecuted members of other sects beside the Quakers. Towards the end of the reign of Charles II, Penn returned to England to exert himself in favor of his persecuted brethren at home. His influence with James II - an old friend of his father's - was so great, that in 1686 a proclamation was issued to release all persons imprisoned on account of their religious opinions, and more than 1200 Quakers were set free. After the accession of the Prince of Orange, as William III, Penn was twice accused of treason, and of corresponding with the exiled monarch, but was acquitted. In 1690, he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy, but was again acquitted. Nevertheless, in the following year the charge was renewed. Nothing appears to have been done for some time, but Penn, at last, through the kindly offices of his friends, Locke, Tillotson, and others, had the matter thoroughly investigated, and was finally and honorably acquitted, November 1698. In 1699, he paid a second visit to the New World, and found Pennsylvania in a prosperous condition. His stay, which lasted two years, was marked by many useful measures, and by efforts to ameliorate the condition of the Indians. Towards the end of the year 170l, Penn sailed for England, and found himself on his return, virtually ruined by the villainy of his agent, Ford, with whom he had left the management of his affairs. When the rogue died, he left to his widow and son false claims against his master, and these were so ruthlessly pressed, that Penn allowed himself to be thrown into prison in 1708, to avoid extortion. His friends afterwards procured his release, but not till his constitution was fatally impaired. Penn died at Ruscombe, in Berkshire, July 30th, 1718. The character of William Penn, and his code of laws, have been the the theme of eulogy. "In the early constitutions of Pennsylvania, are to be found the distinct annunciation of every great principle; the germ, if not the development, of every valuable improvement in government or legislation which has been introduced into the political systems of modern epochs." - T.J. Wharton, Discourse before the Penn Society, 1826. "To William Penn belongs the distinction of establishing the Law of Love as a rule of conduct in the intercourse of nations." - Charles Sumner, True Grandeur of Nations.