A visionary and a reformist, William Penn the founder of the State of Pennsylvania, was born in London on October 24. 1644. His father was the famous English Admiral Sir William Penn. William was born in troubled times of war and rebellion in England. He joined the army and was a successful soldier, with a brilliant career ahead of him. However he was extremely pained by the effects of violence and persecution. He dreamt of a society where war had no place and where everyone could worship freely according to individual conscience.
FACT 1.In 1662 Pen was expelled from Oxford University for refusing to conform to the Anglican Church. He was greatly influenced by the famous Quaker preacher, Thomas Loe, and joined the Society of Friends (the Quakers)
FACT 2: He was actively involved in the political battles fought by the pacifist Quakers, for freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and the right to trial by jury. He was fearlessly outspoken and was locked up four times in the Tower of London for stating his beliefs publicly and in print.
FACT 3: When his father died in 1670, King Charles II owed him 16,000 pounds. In 1681, the King settled the debt by granting William a huge tract of land in the then British Colony of America. In memory of Admiral Penn, the King named this land Pennsylvania, meaning Penn’s Woods. The King was hoping that this move would rid England of the Quakers.
FACT 4: Penn left England in 1682, for the ‘New Land of Promise, six hundred miles closer to the sun.’ His ship was named ‘Welcome’ He took with him many farmers, day labourers, masons and carpenters as well as merchants and administrators. He and his fellow Quakers wanted to establish a new society based on wider freedoms than the Old World knew. They believed that men and women would be happier for this new freedom.
FACT 5: Penn believed that good government was part of God’s plan for mankind. He called his venture in Pennsylvania the ‘Holy Experiment.’
FACT 6: A year before he arrived in America, his agents had laid out a new town according to Penn’s directions. Penn named the town Philadelphia, which he interpreted to mean ‘city of brotherly love’. However Lord Baltimore, who held the charter for Maryland, asserted that the city was built on his land. This dispute carried on for many years, until the surveying of the Mason Dixon line in 1763.
FACT 7: Thomas Jefferson called Penn ‘the greatest law giver the world has produced.’ During Penn’s time the death penalty in England was prescribed for minor offences such as housebreaking, highway robbery and robberies of more than 1 shilling. Penn changes this in his state. According to the criminal code adopted by Penn and his Assembly, only murder and treason were punishable by death.
FACT 8: In keeping with his Quaker principles, William established peaceful relationships with the Indians who owned the land that had been bequeathed to him by the King. He was careful to acquire land from them by purchase only. In 1682, soon after he arrived in America, he signed a treaty of friendship with the famous Delaware chief Tamanend. Voltaire described this treaty as ‘never sworn to and never broken’. The painter Benjamin West immortalised the treaty with his painting entitled ‘Penn’s Treaty”
FACT 9: In 1701, Penn signed the Charter of Privileges, a step in the direction of self- government for the state. The Charter had a provision for the ‘liberty of conscience’. This attracted the persecuted form at least a dozen lands, to Pennsylvania. The Liberty Bell was cast in 1751, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Charter, The words ‘proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof ‘ from the Book of Leviticus are engraved on the bell.
FACT 10: The face on the Quaker oats packages does not belong to William Penn, but the bronze statue atop the Philadelphia City Hall is cast by Alexander Hine Calder in his likeness.