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William Penn (October 14, 1644 – July 30, 1718) was an English founder and "Absolute Proprietor" of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English North American colony and the future U.S. State of Pennsylvaniamarker. He was known as an early champion of democracy and religious freedom and famous for his good relations and his treaties with the Lenape Indians. Under his direction, Philadelphiamarker was planned and developed.

As one of the earlier supporters of colonial unification, Penn wrote and urged for a Union of all the English colonies in what was to become the United States of America. The democratic principles that he set forth in the Pennsylvania Frame of Government served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution. As a pacifist Quaker, Penn considered the problems of war and peace deeply, and included a plan for a United States of Europe, "European Dyet, Parliament or Estates," in his voluminous writings.


Early years

Penn was born in 1644, the son of William Penn and Margaret Jasper, a captain previously widowed and the daughter of a Rotterdammarker merchant. William Penn, Sr., served in the Commonwealth Navy during the English Civil War and was rewarded by Oliver Cromwell with estates in Ireland. The lands were seized from Irish Catholics, in retaliation for an earlier massacre of Protestants. Admiral Penn took part in the restoration of Charles II and was eventually knighted and served in the Royal Navy. At the time of his son’s birth, Captain Penn was twenty-three and an ambitious naval officer in charge of quelling Irish Catholic unrest and blockading Irish ports.

William Penn grew up during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, who succeeded in leading a Puritan revolt against King Charles I, who was beheaded when Penn was age 5. His father was often at sea. Little William caught the pox, losing all his hair (he wore a wig until he left college), prompting his parents to move to the suburbs to an estate in Essex. The country life made a lasting impression on young Penn, and kindled a love of horticulture. Their neighbour was famed diarist Samuel Pepys, who was friendly at first but later secretly hostile to the Admiral, perhaps embittered in part by his failed seductions of both Penn’s mother and his sister Peggy.

Penn was educated at Chigwell Schoolmarker, by private tutors in Ireland and then at Christ Church, Oxfordmarker. At that time, there were no state schools, and nearly all educational institutions were affiliated with the Anglican Church. Children from poor families had to have a wealthy sponsor to get an education, as did Sir Isaac Newton. Penn’s education heavily leaned on the classical authors and “no novelties, or conceited modern writers’’ were allowed including William Shakespeare. Foot racing was Penn’s favorite sport, and he would often sprint the more than three mile (5 km) distance from his home to the school. The school itself was cast in a Puritan mode—strict, humorless, and somber—and teachers had to be pillars of virtue and provide sterling examples to their charges. Though later opposing the Puritans on religious grounds, Penn absorbed many Puritan behaviors, and was known later for his serious demeanor, strict behavior, and lack of humor.

After a failed mission to the Caribbeanmarker, Admiral Penn and his family were exiled to his lands in Ireland. It was during this period, when Penn was about fifteen, that he met Thomas Loe, a Quaker missionary, who was maligned by both Catholics and Protestants. Loe was admitted to the Penn household and during his discourses on the “Inner Light”, young Penn recalled later that, “the Lord visited me, and gave me divine Impressions of Himself.”

A year later, Cromwell was dead, the royalists resurging, and the Penn family returned to England. The middle class aligned itself with the royalists and Admiral Penn was sent a secret mission to bring back exiled Prince Charles. For his role in restoring the monarchy, Admiral Penn was knighted and gained a powerful position as Commissioner of the Navy.

In 1660, Penn arrived at Oxfordmarker, and enrolled as a gentleman scholar with an assigned servant. The student body was a volatile mix of swashbuckling Cavaliers (aristocratic Protestants), sober Puritans, and nonconforming Quakers. The new government’s discouragement of religious dissent gave the Cavaliers the license to harass the minority groups. Because of his father’s high position and social status, young Penn was firmly a Cavalier but his sympathies lay with the persecuted Quakers. To avoid conflict, he withdrew from the fray and became a reclusive scholar. Also at this time, Penn was developing his individuality and philosophy of life, and found that he was not in sympathy with either his father’s martial view of the world or his mother’s society oriented sensibilities, “I had no relations that inclined to so solitary and spiritual way; I was a child alone. A child given to musing, occasionally feeling the divine presence.”

Penn returned home for the extraordinary splendor of the King’s restoration ceremony and was a guest of honor alongside his father, who received a highly unusual royal salute for his services to the Crown. Though undetermined at the time, the Admiral had great hopes for his son’s career under the favor of the King. Back at Oxford, Penn considered a medical career and took some dissecting classes. Rational thought began to spread into science, politics and economics. When Dean Owen was fired for his free-thinking, Penn and other open-minded students rallied to his side and attended seminars at the dean’s house, where intellectual discussions covered the gamut of new thought. Penn learned the valuable skills of forming ideas into theory, discussing theory through reasoned debate, and testing the theories in the real world.

He also faced his first moral dilemma. After Owen was censured again after being fired, students were threatened with punishment for associating with him. However, Penn stood by the dean, thereby gaining a fine and reprimand from the university. The Admiral despaired of the charges, pulled young Penn away from Oxford hoping to give him distractions from the heretical influences of the university. The attempt had no effect and father and son struggled to understand each other. Back at school, the administration imposed stricter religious requirements including daily chapel attendance and required dress. Penn rebelled against enforced worship and was expelled. His father, in a rage, attacked young Penn with a cane and forced him from their home. Penn’s mother made peace in the family which allowed her son to return home but quickly concluded that both her social standing and her husband’s career were being threatened by their son’s behavior. So at age 18, young Penn was sent to Paris to get him out of view, improve his manners, and expose him to another culture.

In Paris, at the court of young Louis XIV, Penn found French manners far more refined than the coarse manners of his countrymen—but the extravagant display of wealth and privilege did not sit well with him. Though impressed by Notre Dame and the Catholic ritual, he felt uncomfortable with it. Instead he sought out spiritual direction from French Protestant theologian Moise Amyraut, who invited Penn to stay with him in Saumurmarker for a year. The undogmatic Christian humanist talked of a tolerant, adapting view of religion which appealed to Penn, who later stated, “I never had any other religion in my life than what I felt.” By adapting his mentor’s belief in free-will, Penn felt unburdened of Puritanical guilt and rigid beliefs, and was inspired to search out his own religious path.

Upon returning to England after two years abroad, he presented to his parents a mature, sophisticated, well-mannered, “modish” gentleman, though Samuel Pepys noted young Penn’s “vanity of the French”. Penn had developed a taste for fine clothes, and for the rest of his life would pay somewhat more attention to his dress than most Quakers. The Admiral had great hopes that his son then had the practical sense and the ambition necessary to succeed as an aristocrat. He had young Penn enroll in law school but soon his studies were interrupted. With warfare with the Dutch imminent, young Penn decided to shadow his father at work and join him at sea. Penn functioned as an emissary between his father and the King, then returned to his law studies. Worrying about his father in battle he wrote, “I never knew what a father was till I had wisdom enough to prize him...I pray God...that you come home secure.” The Admiral returned triumphant but London was in the grip of the plague of 1665. Young Penn reflected on the suffering and the deaths, and the way humans reacted to the epidemic. He wrote that the scourge “gave me a deep sense of the vanity of this World, of the Irreligiousness of the Religions in it.” Further he observed how Quakers on errands of mercy were arrested by the police and demonized by other religions, even accused of causing the plague.

William Penn at 22
With his father laid low by gout, young Penn was sent to Ireland in 1666 to manage the family landholdings. While there he became a soldier and took part in suppressing a local Irish rebellion. Swelling with pride, he had his portrait done in a suit of armor, his most authentic likeness. His first experience of warfare gave him the sudden idea of pursuing a military career, but the fever of battle soon wore off after his father discouraged him, “I can say nothing but advise to sobriety...I wish your youthful desires mayn’t outrun your discretion.” While Penn was abroad, the great fire of 1666marker consumed central London. As with the plague, the Penn family was spared. But after returning to the city, Penn was depressed by the mood of the city and his ailing father, so he went back to the family estate in Ireland to contemplate his future. The reign of King Charles had further tightened restrictions against all religious sects other than the Anglican Church, making the penalty for unauthorized worship imprisonment or deportation. The “Five Mile Act” prohibited dissenting teachers and preachers to come within that distance of any borough. The Quakers were especially targeted and their meetings were deemed as criminal.

Religious conversion

Despite the dangers, Penn began to attend Quaker meetings near Cork. A chance re-meeting with Thomas Loe confirmed Penn’s rising attraction to Quakerism. Soon Penn was arrested for attending Quaker meetings. Rather than state that he was not a Quaker and thereby dodge any charges, he publicly declared himself a member and finally joined the Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) at the age of 22. In pleading his case, Penn stated that since the Quakers had no political agenda (unlike the Puritans) they should not be subject to laws that restricted political action by minority religions and other groups. Sprung from jail because of his family’s rank rather than his argument, Penn was immediately recalled to London by his father. The Admiral was severely distressed by his son’s actions and took the conversion as a personal affront. His father’s hopes that Penn's charisma and intelligence would win him favor at the court were crushed. Though enraged, the Admiral tried his best to reason with his son but to no avail. His father not only feared for his own position but that his son seemed bent on a dangerous confrontation with the Crown. In the end, young Penn was more determined than ever and the Admiral felt he had no option but to order his son out of the house and to withhold his inheritance.

Homeless, Penn lived with Quaker families. Quakers were relatively strict Christians in the seventeenth century. They refused to bow or take off their hats to social superiors, believing all men equal under God, a belief antithetical to an absolute monarchy which believed the monarch divinely appointed by God. Therefore, Quakers were treated as heretics because of their principles and their failure to pay tithes. They also refused to swear oaths of loyalty to the King. Quakers followed the command of Jesus not to swear, reported in the Gospel of Matthew, 5:34. The basic ceremony of Quakerism is silent meditation in a meeting house, conducted in a group. There is no ritual and no professional clergy, and Quakers disavow the concept of original sin. God's communication comes to each individual directly, and if so moved, the individual shares their revelations, thoughts, or opinions with the group. Penn found all these tenets to sit well with his conscience and his heart.

Penn became a close friend of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, whose movement started in the 1650s during the tumult of the Cromwellian revolution. The times sprouted many new sects, besides Quakers, including Seekers, Ranters, Antinomians, Soul Sleepers, Adamites, Diggers, Levellers, Antibaptists, Behmenists, Muggletonians, and many others, as the Puritans were more tolerant than the monarchy had been. Following Cromwell's death, however, the Crown was re-established and the King responded with harassment and persecution of all religions and sects other than Anglicanism. Fox risked his life, wandering from town to town, and he attracted followers who likewise believed that the "God who made the world did not dwell in temples made with hands." By abolishing the church’s authority over the congregation, Fox not only extended the Protestant Reformation more radically, but he helped extend the most important principle of modern political history – the rights of the individual – upon which modern democracies were later founded. Penn traveled frequently with Fox, through Europe and England. He also wrote a comprehensive, detailed explanation of Quakerism along with a testimony to the character of George Fox, in his introduction to the autobiographical Journal of George Fox. In effect, Penn became the first theologian, theorist, and legal defender of Quakerism, providing its written doctrine and helping to establish its public standing.


Penn’s first of many pamphlets, "Truth Exalted", was a "short but sure testimony" against all religions except Quakerism. His strident attack on the Trinity and his branding the Catholic Church as "the Whore of Babylon" and Puritans as "hypocrites and revelers in God" brought him attention from the Anglican Church. He also lambasted all "false prophets, tithemongers, and opposers of perfection". Pepys thought it a "ridiculous nonsensical book" that he was "ashamed to read". In 1668, Penn was imprisoned in the Tower of Londonmarker after writing a follow up tract entitled The Sandy Foundation Shaken. The Bishop of London ordered that Penn be held indefinitely until he publicly recanted his written statements. The official charge was publication without a license but the real crime was blasphemy, as signed in a warrant by King Charles II.Penn was placed in solitary confinement in an unheated cell and threatened with a life sentence. He bravely responded, "My prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot: for I owe my conscience to no mortal man."

Given writing materials in the hope that he would put on paper his retraction, Penn instead wrote another inflammatory treatise, No Cross, No Crown, remarkable for its historical analysis and citation of sixty-eight authors whose quotations and commentary he had committed to memory and was able to summon without any reference material at hand. Penn petitioned for an audience with the King, which was denied but which led to negotiations on his behalf by one of the royal chaplains. He was released after 8 months of imprisonment.

Though freed, Penn demonstrated no remorse for his aggressive stance and vowed to keep fighting against the wrongs of the Church and the King. For its part, the Crown continued to confiscate Quaker property and put thousands of Quakers in jail. From then on, Penn's religious views effectively exiled him from English society; he was sent down (expelled) from Christ Church, Oxford for being a Quaker, and was arrested several times. Among the most famous of these was the trial following his 1670 arrest with William Meade. Penn was accused of preaching before a gathering in the street, which Penn had deliberately provoked in order to test the validity of the new law against assembly. Penn pleaded for his right to see a copy of the charges laid against him and the laws he had supposedly broken, but the judge (the Lord Mayor of London) refused – even though this right was guaranteed by the law. Furthermore, the judge directed the jury to come to a verdict without hearing the defense.

Despite heavy pressure from the Lord Mayor to convict Penn, the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty". When invited by the judge to reconsider their verdict and to select a new foreman, they refused and were sent to a cell over several nights to mull over their decision. The Lord Mayor then told the jury, "You shall go together and bring in another verdict, or you shall starve", and not only had Penn sent to jail in loathsome Newgate Prisonmarker (on a charge of contempt of court), but the full jury followed him, and they were additionally fined the equivalent of a year’s wages each. The members of the jury, fighting their case from prison in what became known as Bushel's Case, managed to win the right for all English juries to be free from the control of judges. This case was one of the more important trials that shaped the future concept of American freedom (see jury nullification) and was a victory for the use of the writ of habeas corpus as a means of freeing those unlawfully detained.

With his father dying, Penn wanted to see him one more time and patch up their differences. But he urged his father not to pay his fine and free him, "I intreat thee not to purchase my liberty." But the Admiral refused to let the opportunity pass and he paid the fine, releasing his son.The old man had gained respect for his son's integrity and courage and told him, "Let nothing in this world tempt you to wrong your conscience." The Admiral also knew that after his death, young Penn would become more vulnerable in his pursuit of justice. In an act which would not only secure his son’s protection but also set the conditions for the founding of Pennsylvania, the Admiral wrote to the Duke of York, the successor to the throne.The Duke and the King, in return for the Admiral's lifetime service to the Crown, promised to protect young Penn and make him a royal counselor.

Penn was not disinherited and he came into a large fortune, but found himself in jail again for six months as he continued to agitate. After gaining his freedom, he finally married Gulielma Springett in April 1672, after a four year engagement filled with frequent separations. Penn stayed close to home but continued writing his tracts, espousing religious tolerance and railing against discriminatory laws. A minor split developed in the Quaker community between those who favored Penn’s analytical formulations and those that preferred Fox’s simple precepts. But overriding the differences was the fact that the persecution of Quakers had accelerated and Penn again resumed missionary work in Holland and Germany.

Founding of Pennsylvania

Seeing conditions deteriorating, Penn decided to appeal directly to the King and the Duke. Penn proposed a solution which would solve the dilemma—a mass emigration of English Quakers. Some Quakers had already moved to North America, but the New Englandmarker Puritans, especially, were as hostile towards Quakers as Anglicans in England were, and some of the Quakers had been banished to the Caribbeanmarker. In 1677, a group of prominent Quakers that included Penn purchased the colonial province of West New Jersey (half of the current state of New Jerseymarker). That same year, two hundred settlers from the towns of Chorleywoodmarker and Rickmansworthmarker in Hertfordshiremarker and other towns in nearby Buckinghamshire arrived, and founded the town of Burlingtonmarker. George Fox himself had made a journey to America to verify the potential of further expansion of the early Quaker settlements. In 1682, East New Jersey was also purchased by Quakers.

With the New Jersey foothold in place, Penn pressed his case to extend the Quaker region. Whether from personal sympathy or political expediency, to Penn’s surprise, the King granted an extraordinarily generous charter which made Penn the world’s largest private landowner, with over . Penn became the sole proprietor of a huge tract of land south of New Jersey and north of Maryland (which belonged to Lord Baltimore), and gained sovereign rule of the territory with all rights and privileges (except the power to declare war). The land of Pennsylvania had belonged to the Duke of York, who acquiesced, but he retained New York and the area around New Castle and the Eastern portion of the Delaware peninsula. In return, one-fifth of all gold and silver mined in the province (which had virtually none) was to be remitted to the King and the Crown was freed of a debt to the Admiral of £16,000.

Penn first called the area “New Wales”, then "Sylvania" (Latin for "forests or woods'"), which Charles changed to "Pennsylvania" in honor of the elder Penn. On March 4, 1681, the King signed the charter and the following day Penn jubilantly wrote, “It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.” 1682 in England, he drew up a Frame of Government for the Pennsylvania colony. Freedom of worship in the colony was to be absolute, and all the traditional rights of Englishmen were carefully safeguarded. Penn drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement creating a political utopia guaranteeing free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.

Having proved himself an influential scholar and theoretician, Penn now had to demonstrate the practical skills of a real estate promoter, city planner, and governor for his “Holy Experiment”, the province of Pennsylvania.

Besides achieving his religious goals, Penn had hoped that Pennsylvania would be a profitable venture for himself and his family. But he proclaimed that he would not exploit either the natives or the immigrants, “I would not abuse His love, nor act unworthy of His providence, and so defile what came to me clean.” Though thoroughly oppressed, getting Quakers to leave England and make the dangerous journey to the New World was his first commercial challenge. Some Quaker families had already arrived in Maryland and New Jersey but the numbers were small. To attract settlers in large numbers, he wrote a glowing prospectus, considered honest and well-researched for the time, promising religious freedom as well as material advantage, which he marketed throughout Europe in various languages. Within six months he had parceled out to over 250 prospective settlers, mostly rich London Quakers. Eventually he attracted other persecuted minorities including Huguenots, Mennonites, Amish, Catholics, Lutherans, and Jews from England, France, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, and Wales.

Next, he set out to lay the legal framework for an ethical society where power was derived from the people, from “open discourse”, in much the same way as a Quaker Meeting was run. Notably, as the sovereign, Penn thought it important to limit his own power as well. The new government would have two houses, safeguard the rights of private property and free enterprise, and impose taxes fairly. It would call for death for only two crimes, treason and murder, rather than the two hundred crimes under English law, and all cases were to be tried before a jury. Prisons would be progressive, attempting to correct through “workshops” rather than through hellish confinement. The laws of behavior he laid out were rather Puritanical: swearing, lying, and drunkenness were forbidden as well as “idle amusements” such as stage plays, gambling, revels, masques, cock-fighting, and bear-baiting.

All this was a radical departure from the laws and the lawmaking of European monarchs and elites. Over twenty drafts, Penn labored to create his “Framework of Government.” He borrowed liberally from John Locke who later had a similar influence on Thomas Jefferson, but added his own revolutionary idea—the use of amendments—to enable a written framework that could evolve with the changing times. He stated, “Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them.” Penn hoped that an amendable constitution would accommodate dissent and new ideas and also allow meaningful societal change without resorting to violent uprisings or revolution. Remarkably, though the Crown reserved the right to override any law it wished, Penn’s skillful stewardship did not provoke any government reaction while Penn remained in his province. Despite criticism by some Quaker friends that Penn was setting himself above them by taking on this powerful position, and by his enemies who thought he was a fraud and “falsest villain upon earth”, Penn was ready to begin the “Holy Experiment”. Bidding goodbye to his wife and children, he reminded them to “avoid pride, avarice, and luxury”.

Back to England

In 1684, Penn returned to England to see his family and to try to resolve a territorial dispute with Lord Baltimore. Political conditions at home had stiffened since he left. To his dismay, England had taken on the absolutism of France and Bridewell and Newgate prisons were filled with Quakers. Book-burning was encouraged and written dissent was squashed. Internal political conflicts even threatened to undo the Pennsylvania charter. Penn withheld his political writings from publication as “The times are too rough for print.”In 1685, King Charles died and the Duke of York was crowned James II. The new king resolved the border dispute in Penn’s favor. But King James, a Catholic with a largely Protestant parliament, proved a poor ruler, stubborn and inflexible. The King drew Penn closer, appeased him with pardons, but stayed on his own course of harsh rule, especially against the Quakers.

Return to America

After agreeing to let Ford keep all his Irish rents in exchange for keeping quiet about Ford’s legal ownership of Pennsylvania, Penn felt his situation sufficiently improved to return to Pennsylvania with the intention of staying. Accompanied by his wife Hannah, daughter Letitia and secretary James Logan, Penn sailed from the Isle of Wightmarker on the Canterbury, reaching Philadelphia in December 1699.

Penn received a hearty welcome upon his arrival and found his province much changed in the intervening 18 years. Pennsylvania was growing rapidly and now had nearly 18,000 inhabitants and Philadelphia over 3,000. His tree plantings were providing the green urban spaces he had envisioned. Shops were full of imported merchandise, satisfying the wealthier citizens and proving America to a be viable market for English goods. Most importantly, religious diversity was succeeding. Despite the protests of Fundamentalists and farmers, Penn’s insistence that Quaker grammar schools be open to all citizens was producing a relatively educated work force. High literacy and open intellectual discourse led to Philadelphia becoming a leader in science and medicine. Quakers were especially modern in their treatment of mental illness, decriminalizing insanity and turning away from punishment and confinement.

Ironically, the tolerant Penn transformed himself almost into a Puritan, in an attempt to control the fractiousness that had developed in his absence, tightening up some laws. Another change was found in Penn’s writings, which had mostly lost their boldness and vision. In those years, he did put forward a plan to make a federation of all English colonies in America. There have been claims that he also fought slavery, but that seems unlikely, as he owned and even traded slaves himself and his writings don’t support that idea. However, he did promote good treatment for slaves, including marriage among slaves (though rejected by the Council). Other Pennsylvania Quakers were more outspoken and proactive, being among the earliest fighters against slavery in America, led by Daniel Pastorius, founder of Germantown, Pennsylvaniamarker. Many Quakers pledged to release their slaves upon their death, including Penn, and some sold their slaves to non-Quakers.

The Penns lived comfortably at Pennsbury Manormarker and had all intentions of living out their life there. They also had a residence in Philadelphia. Their only American child, John, had been born and was thriving. Penn was commuting to Philadelphia on a six-man barge, which he admitted he prized above “all dead things”. Most times James Logan, his secretary, corresponded all the news. Penn had plenty of time to spend with his family and still attend to affairs of state, though delegations and official visitors were frequent. His wife, however, did not enjoy life as a governor’s wife and hostess, and preferred the simple life she led in England. When new threats by France again put Penn’s charter in jeopardy, Penn decided to return to England with his family, in 1701.

Later years

Penn returned to England and immediately became embroiled in financial and family troubles. His eldest son William, Jr. was leading a dissolute life, neglecting his wife and two children, and running up gambling debts. Penn had hoped to have William succeed him in America. Now he could not even pay his son’s debts. His own finances were in turmoil. He had sunk over £30,000 in America and received little back except some bartered goods. He had made many generous loans which he failed to press.

While he was away, Pennsylvanians were exercising their independence from their “father”, replacing Penn’s constitution with their own, the “Charter of Privileges”, which governed them until the American Revolution. They gave voters more power than Penn had by eliminating the Upper House representing the wealthy class but Jews and non-believers were barred from office.

Making matters worse from Penn’s perspective, Philip Ford, his financial advisor, had cheated Penn out of thousands of pounds by concealing and diverting rents from Penn’s Irish lands, claiming losses, then extracting loans from Penn to cover the shortfall. When Ford died in 1702, his widow Bridget threatened to sell Pennsylvania, to which she could prove title. Penn sent William to America to manage affairs, but he proved just as unreliable as he had been in England. There were considerable discussions about scrapping his constitution. In desperation, Penn tried to sell Pennsylvania to the Crown before Bridget Ford got wind of his plan, but by insisting that the Crown uphold the civil liberties that had been achieved, he could not strike a deal. Mrs. Ford took her case to court. At age 62, Penn landed in debtors’ prison, however a rush of sympathy reduced Penn’s punishment to house arrest and Ford was finally denied her claim to Pennsylvania. A group of Quakers arranged for Ford to receive a payment for back rents and Penn was released. Penn had grown weary of the politicking back in Pennsylvania and the restlessness with his governance, but Logan implored him not to forsake his colony, for fear that Pennsylvania might fall into the hands of an opportunist who would undo all the good that had been accomplished. During his second attempt to sell Pennsylvania back to the Crown in 1712, Penn suffered a stroke. A second stroke several months later left him unable to speak or take care of himself. He slowly lost his memory.

Penn died penniless in 1718, at his home in Ruscombemarker, near Twyfordmarker in Berkshire, and was buried next to his first wife in the cemetery of the Jordansmarker Quaker meeting house near Chalfont St Gilesmarker in Buckinghamshire in England. His wife as sole executor became the de facto governor until she died in 1726.


Penn first married Gulielma Maria Springett (1644–1694), daughter of William S. Springett and Lady Mary Proude Penington. They had three sons and four daughters.

Two years after Gulielma's death he married Hannah Margaret Callowhill (1671–1727), daughter of Thomas Callowhill and Anna (Hannah) Hollister. William Penn married Hannah when she was 24 and he was 52. They had eight children in twelve years. The first two children had died in infancy. The other children were:

  • John Penn (1699–1746), never married.
  • Thomas Penn (1702–1775), married Lady Juliana Fermore, fourth daughter of Thomas, first Earl of Pomfret.
  • Margaret Penn (b. 1704)
  • Richard Penn, Sr. (1706–1771)
  • Dennis Penn (b. 1707, d. before 1727)
  • Hannah Penn (b. 1708)

Penn's family line resides in England, America, Peru, Australia and Canada.


Penn in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans
Although after Penn’s death Pennsylvania slowly drifted away from a colony founded by religion to a secular state dominated by commerce, many of Penn’s legal and political innovations took root. Voltaire praised Pennsylvania as the only government in the world responsible to the people and respectful of minority rights. Penn’s "Frame of Government" and his other ideas were later studied by Benjamin Franklin as well as the pamphleteer of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, whose father was a Quaker. Among Penn's legacies was the unwillingness to force a Quaker majority upon Pennsylvania, allowing his state to evolve into a successful “melting pot”. In addition, Thomas Jefferson and the founding Fathers adapted Penn’s theory of an amendable constitution and his vision that “all men are equal under God” in forming the federal government following the American Revolution. In addition to Penn’s extensive political and religious treatises, he wrote nearly 1000 maxims, full of wise observation about human nature and morality.

Penn’s Philadelphia continued to thrive becoming one of the most populous colonial cities in the British Empire, reaching about 30,000 by the American Revolution, and becoming a center of commerce, science, medicine, and politics. New groups of immigrants in the 18th century included German-speaking peoples and Scots-Irish.

Penn’s family retained ownership of the colony of Pennsylvania until the American Revolution. However, William's son and successor, Thomas Penn, and his brother John, renounced their father’s faith, and fought to restrict religious freedom (particularly for Roman Catholics and later Quakers). Thomas weakened or eliminated the elected assembly's power, and ran the colony instead through his appointed governors. He was a bitter opponent of Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's push for greater democracy in the years leading up to the revolution. Through the infamous Walking Purchase of 1737, the Penns cheated the Lenape out of their lands in the Lehigh Valley.

Posthumous honors

On November 28, 1984 Ronald Reagan, upon an Act of Congress by Presidential Proclamation 5284 declared William Penn and his second wife, Hannah Callowhill Penn, each to be an Honorary Citizen of the United States.A lesser-known statue of Penn is located at Penn Treaty Parkmarker, on the site where Penn entered into his treaty with the Lenape. In 1893, Hajoca Corporation, the nation's largest privately held wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating and industrial supplies, adopted the statue as its trademark symbol.

A common misconception is that the smiling Quaker logo shown on boxes of Quaker Oats is a depiction of William Penn, but the Quaker Oats Company has stated that this is not true. It is simply a Quaker man who slightly resembles William Penn.

The Curse

Atop Philadelphia City Hallmarker there is a statue of William Penn, sculpted by Alexander Milne Calder, which is tall. At one time, there was a gentlemen's agreement that no building should be higher than Penn's statue (i.e., “Penn’s Hat”). One Liberty Placemarker was the first of several buildings in the late 1980s to be built higher than the statue. The statue is referenced by the so-called Curse of Billy Penn.

During the "topping off" ceremony of The Comcast Center Building on June 18, 2007, Bill Hankowsky of Liberty Property Trust placed a small statue of William Penn on the topping beam. "We don't believe in the myth, but to be safe we've added the statue of Billy Penn," said Hankowsky. The following year the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series, the first major championship for the city since the breaking of the "gentlemen's agreement."



  • William Penn, Mary Maples Dunn, Richard S. Dunn, Edwin B. Bronner, David Fraser (1981–1987), The papers of William Penn, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 14 editions

External links

Penn's works online

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