America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

William Penn and the Quakers

[63] AMONG the religious sects which came to England about the time of the settlement of America were the Quakers, or, as they called themselves, "The Society of Friends." They believed that no special honor should be paid to anyone, and that all men should be addressed as "Friend." They even spoke of the King as "Friend James" or "Friend Charles." They would not take off their hats in the presence of anyone, not even the King himself. They always used the words "thee" and "thou," instead of the word "you" in speaking to a person.

Soon after Charles II was crowned King of England, William Penn, who had become a Quaker, was given an audience. When Penn entered the royal room, he found the King standing with his hat on, as was the custom; and all the courtiers were around him uncovered and vying in their efforts to flatter him and do him the most honor.

Penn came up with his hat on. The King at once removed his hat and bowed very low to the approaching Quaker. "Why dost thou remove thy hat, Friend Charles?" asked Penn. "Because it [64] is the custom of this Court for only one man to remain covered," explained the King, to the amazement of the courtiers.

The Quaker men dressed very simply in drab or gray clothes, with broad-brimmed hats. The women wore gray dresses, with simple white cuffs and collars. No matter how rich or poor, the Quakers wore costumes that cost about the same. They believed all men to be equal, and an honest man who tried to do right was entitled to as much respect as the King himself, and more so, if the King was not a good man.

In their meetings the Quakers had no music and no preaching. The people came in and sat silently, until someone was moved by the spirit to speak or pray. Not having any paid preacher, themselves, they believed no one should be paid to preach the Gospel, and so they refused to pay taxes to support the Church of England. Since the Bible said it was wrong to swear, they refused to take an oath in the courts of law, saying that a truthful man did not have to swear to what he said; if he were not a truthful man he did not mind swearing to a lie.

They did not believe in courts of law and quarrels, and they refused to go to law about anything, but settled their differences among themselves. Not [65] believing in quarrels and bloodshed, they disapproved of taking a part in war. They were people of peace, who believed in equality, brotherly love, and simplicity of living.

It was not long before the English Government made laws to prevent the spread of the doctrine of the Quakers. These laws forbade them to hold meetings. Many of the Quakers were thrown into prison and fined, some were publicly flogged, and all were hooted at and sometimes stoned upon the public streets. But the Quakers made no protest, and endured all these persecutions with true Christian spirit.

The Quakers attracted the attention of the young man, William Penn. He was the son of a famous English Admiral, Sir William Penn. When the boy was fifteen years old, he was sent to Oxford University, where he met a Quaker who had great influence over him. At that time the students were required to wear long black gowns. Penn and some of the other younger men refused to wear these gowns, and even went so far as to tear them off of some of their fellow students. For this he and his friends were expelled from College.

His father was very angry, and sent William to Paris to indulge in the gay life of that city, hoping [66] it would divert his mind. After two yeas however, the young man returned to England unchanged in mind, and openly joined the Society of Friends. It was then that he began to preach their doctrines. For this his father disowned him, and the King ordered him thrown into prison.

While in prison he wrote many books and pamphlets on religious subjects, and sternly refused to change his faith. When he was released, he and his father were reconciled, just a short while before the old Admiral died, leaving William Penn his estate.

Penn now found himself a wealthy young man, and resolved to carry out his plan of founding a colony in America for the persecuted Quakers. It seems that the King owed Penn's father a lot of money he had borrowed from him. Penn proposed to the King to cancel the debt by receiving a grant of land in America. This was easy for the King to do, for it cost him nothing, and was a good way to get rid of the debt.

The King said to Penn, "I shall never see you again, William, for the Indians will boil you in their kettle."

"Nay, nay, Friend Charles," replied Penn, "I shall be friends with the savages, and pay them for their lands."

[67] The King was astonished, and asked Penn why he intended to buy lands that were the King's by right of discovery.

"Discovery!" exclaimed Penn. "Suppose a canoe full of savages had landed in England, would they own this kingdom by right of discovery?" To such a question the King made no reply.

Penn wanted his grant named "Sylvania," which means woodland. But the King would add "Penn" to the name in honor of the old Admiral, his friend. And so the future colony of the Quakers came to be called "Pennsylvania."


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