Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

An Unknown Country

By such use of my ears I learned much that seemed to me strange, chief among which was the fact that my father and the other men who had taken passage on the John and Sarah had bought land in a city which was yet to be built, but had already been named Philadelphia.

At the time, however, no one knew in what spot that city would be made, therefore never one could tell where this land was that he had paid for, except that it was to be within the grant made by the king to William Penn.

Not until after we had arrived in America, and had spied out the land, to learn where it was wisest to build this Philadelphia of ours, could we say which were our acres.

Another matter which caused me no little thought was that William Penn had not come with us, nor was it his purpose to come until after the town was well started. I knew full well that he had been imprisoned and fined again and again, because of preaching, or writing down his pious thoughts for others to read, and I failed to understand why he did not flee at the earliest moment from that England whose people and rulers were so cruel.

It was explained by our friends in the old home, that after we had crossed the ocean we would find the mouth of a big river, up which we were to sail until coming to the place best suited for a city; but we were also told that there were many people living on the shores of the river, and I asked myself how we could, in that wild country, say where was William Penn's land which he had sold to us, and where that portion of the country owned by those who had already made homes there.

It is not to be supposed that I, a lad, vexed my father by asking him the questions which came into my mind; but I puzzled over them more than once without coming to any answer, even after we were in the very midst of the country which, it was said, the king himself had named Pennsylvania, meaning "the woods of Penn," or, as some say, the head of the woodlands, for the name Penn in the Welsh language means "head."

I have also heard it said that Penn would have called our country New Wales, but King Charles would have it his way and none other; therefore Pennsylvania it is, and a very good name, I think, if you decide that it means Penn's woods.

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