Gateway to the Classics: A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston
A First Book in American History by  Edward Eggleston

William Penn

William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, was born in London, England, in 1644. He was the only son of Admiral William Penn. Admiral Penn had become a captain before he was twenty, and had distinguished himself in naval battles. He was a rich man, lived fashionably, and was received at court. He wanted to make his son William a man of importance in the world like himself. So William Penn was carefully educated. When he was at Oxford he heard a man named Thomas Loe preach against such things as the wearing of gowns by students. It had been the custom for the students in the colleges at Oxford to wear gowns; but the Puritans, who ruled England after Charles I was beheaded, forbade this, having a notion that it was wicked. When King Charles II was restored to the throne, the students were again required to put on gowns. Under the influence of Loe's preaching, Penn and some other young men refused to dress in this way, and they even went so far as to tear off the gowns of other students. For this Penn was expelled from the university.


Tearing off a Students Gown

William Penn's father was very angry with his son when he came home expelled. He was afraid that his son would join the Friends, or Quakers, who not only refused to take part in the ceremonies of the English Church, but also refused to serve the king as soldiers, believing war to be wicked. They would not make oath in court, nor would they take off their hats to anybody. Admiral Penn did not like to see his son adopt the opinions and ways of a people so much despised and persecuted.

Hoping that William would forget these impressions, he sent him to France. Here young Penn was presented at the court of Louis XIV, and here he finished his education. He then traveled in Italy, and returned to England when he was twenty years old. His father was well pleased to see that he had improved in manners, and seemed to have forgotten his Quaker ideas.

He was presented at the court of Charles II, and became a law student. He also carried dispatches from his father's fleet to the king. In 1665 the plague broke out in London, and in these sad times William Penn's religious feelings began to return.


William Penn as a Young Man

His father, hoping to give him something else to think about, sent him to Ireland to attend to some land which belonged to the admiral. Here he was presented at the court of the viceroy, the Duke or Ormond. He served as a soldier for a little while during an insurrection. You will see that his portrait was painted in armor, after the fashion of fine gentlemen of that time. But while Penn was in Ireland, he heard that Thomas Loe, whose preaching had affected him so much when he was a student, was to preach in Cork. Penn went to hear him; all his old feelings revived, and he became a Friend. He now attended the meetings of the Friends, or Quakers, for which he was at length arrested and thrown into prison with the rest of the congregation. He was afterwards set free. His father, hearing of what his son had been doing, sent for him.

Admiral Penn was very angry with William, but he told him that he would forgive him everything else if he would take off his hat to his father, to the king, and to the king's brother, the Duke of York. William took some time to think of it, and then told his father that he could not promise even this. The admiral then turned his son out of doors. But his mother sent him money, and after a time he was allowed to come home, but not to see his father.


Penn Thinks in Wrong to Take Off his Hat to his Father

William Penn presently began to preach and write in favor of the doctrines of the Friends. He soon got into trouble, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for eight months. The duke of York was a great friend of William Penn's father, and he finally got Penn released from the Tower. The father now gave up opposing his son's religion. William Penn was arrested again in about a year for preaching in the street. He was tried, and spoke for himself very boldly in court. The jury, after listening to him, would not bring in any verdict but that he was guilty of speaking in the street.


Tower of London

The judges were very angry with the jury, but the jurymen would not change their verdict. The judges of that day were very tyrannical. The jurymen in this case were fined, and sent to prison along with William Penn, who was imprisoned for wearing his hat in court. Soon after Penn was released, his father died. The admiral asked the Duke of York to befriend his son, who, he feared, would always be in trouble.


Penn Appeals to the Jury

Penn now traveled in England, Wales, Ireland, Holland, and Germany, on his preaching journeys. He used all the influence he had at court with the king and the king's brother, the Duke of York, to get Quakers and other persecuted people out of prison.

The American colonies had come to be a place for people of all religions to flee to when they were troubled in England. Some members of the Society of Friends—Penn among others—began to be interested in West Jersey, a part of what is now the State of New Jersey, as a place of refuge for Quakers.

The English Government owed Penn's father a large sum of money. Charles II was in debt, and found it hard to pay what he owed, so at length Penn persuaded the king to grant him a tract of land on the west side of the Delaware River. The king named this Pennsylvania, in honor of Admiral Penn. William Penn made the laws of his colony such that nobody in it would be troubled because of his religion. He sent some colonists there in 1681. Some of the people dug holes in the river bank to live in when they first reached Pennsylvania. Penn himself came the next year, and laid out a city, naming it Philadelphia, which means "Brotherly Love."


The site of Philadelphia is marked on this map by the letter "P"

William Penn managed the Indians well, and for many years after his death Pennsylvania had no wars. Penn made a treaty with the Indians under a large elm, in 1682. The woods were filled with savages, all armed and painted. The Quakers were but a handful. They wore neither weapons nor ornaments, except that Penn had a sky-blue sash around his waist. The Indians seated themselves on the ground around their various chiefs in the form of half-moons.


Penn and the Indians

When Penn was a young man he had been famous for his skill in jumping and other exercises. Finding the Indians engaged in a jumping match one day, he took part with them, and they were much pleased to have the great governor share in their sport. Pennsylvania grew much faster than any of the other colonies. The government established by Penn was free, the Indians were friendly, and the land was sold in small farms, so that poor men could own their farms. People, therefore, liked to settle in Penn's colony.

After two years William Penn went back to England. King Charles II died soon after. William Penn's friend, the Duke of York, now became king as James II, and Penn was seen a great deal in the palace. He got the Friends relieved from all their troubles, but he came to be hated a great deal by those who disliked King James. When this king was driven from England, and King William and Queen Mary were set up in his stead, Penn was very much suspected of wishing to bring James back. He was arrested several times, but nothing could be proved against him. The control of Pennsylvania was taken from him also, but this was afterwards restored.

Penn returned to Pennsylvania in 1699. He was once taking a journey through his province when he met a little girl named Rebecca Wood going to "meeting" on foot. He took the little girl up behind him on his horse, and the great proprietor of Pennsylvania was seen riding gravely along with the bare legs and feet of a poor little girl dangling at his horse's side.

Penn returned again to England, and, after many years, died in 1718. His descendants appointed the governors of Pennsylvania until the Revolution.


Wampum Belt Given by the Indians to William Penn

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