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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

William Penn

William Penn was born on October 14, 1644 at at Tower Hill, London. He was the son of English Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-1670).

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 the failed Irish Rebellion of 1641.

When Penn was in his early teens, he met Thomas Loe, a Quaker missionary, who was maligned by both Catholics and Protestants. Penn started attending Quaker meetings in Cork, Ireland to his aristocratic father's dismay.

By the late 1650s, Admiral William Penn had lost faith in the republican experiment and helped restore the dead king’s exiled son, Charles II, to the throne in 1660. The admiral became a trusted adviser of Charles’s brother, James, who served as the Duke of York and ran the English navy. He was knighted for his services and gained a powerful position as Commissioner of the Navy.

Penn enrolled at Oxford’s Christ Church College in 1660. However he continued to follow the Quaker leader George Fox's teachings there, and refused to attend the university's mandatory Sunday Anglican service. He also rebelled against Oxford’s dress code, which required pupils to wear surplices, a type of religious garment. Instead, Penn wore simple clothes, drawing the ire of school officials.

William Penn at 22

Fed up with his rebellious behavior, Oxford expelled Penn in 1662. His father, in a rage, attacked his rebellious son with a cane and forced him from their home. Penn's mother made peace in the family, which allowed him to return home.

Penn wrote and distributed a revolutionary pamphlet titled The Sandy Foundation Shaken in 1668, which attacked the doctrine of the Trinity. Since this was a crime at the time, Penn was jailed inside the Tower of London, where he remained for eight months.

In 1670, Penn conducted a Quaker meeting in London and was charged with violating the Conventicle Act. He and one of his associates were jailed for two weeks before a jury acquitted them. However, the jurors refused to convict him of preaching an illegal religion (Quakerism) to an unlawful assembly, his congregation. The case is credited with the modern concept of an independent jury. It also provided the bases for the U.S. Constitution's first amendment rights of freedom of speech, religion, and peaceable assembly.

Frederick S. Lamb's painting of William Penn at the Brooklyn Museum

Throughout his life, Admiral Penn loaned a large sum of money to the crown. Though he'd passed away in 1670, the interest on this small fortune had accumulated. By 1680 King Charles II found himself £16,000 in debt to the Penn family. In May 1680, William Penn petitioned the King for a grant of land in the New World in settlement of the monarch’s debts.

Charles II took up the offer and on March 4, 1681 he granted William Penn a large area between Maryland and present-day western New York together with the right to govern it. The new colony where he carried out his "Holy Experiment in Religious Toleration" was named Pennsylvania and Penn supervised the building of Philadelphia, which means "brotherly love" as its capital.

The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King's breakfast chamber at Whitehall.

Penn first married Gulielma Maria Posthuma Springett (1644–1696), daughter of William S. Springett. They had three sons and five daughters. Two years after Gulielma's death he married Hannah Margaret Callowhill (1671–1726), daughter of Thomas Callowhill and Anna (Hannah) Hollister. William Penn married Hannah when she was 25 and he was 52. They had another eight children.

Penn returned to England in 1701 and immediately became embroiled in financial and family troubles. His eldest son William, Jr. was leading a dissolute life, and running up gambling debts. Penn's own finances were also in turmoil. He had sunk over £30,000 in America and received little back except some bartered goods. the Pennsylvania founder had made many generous loans which he failed to press. In addition,  Philip Ford, his financial adviser, had cheated Penn out of thousands of pounds by concealing and diverting rents from Penn's Irish lands.

Lely William Penn

Penn’s ability to govern his colony from abroad was compromised by three paralytic strokes he suffered in 1712. As her husband’s health deteriorated, his second wife Hannah stepped up. Over the next six years, she oversaw Pennsylvania’s affairs from an ocean away, mailing instructions off to governor Charles Gookin and collaborating extensively with her husband's secretary James Logan.

William Penn died penniless in 1718, at his home in Ruscombe, near Twyford in Berkshire, and is buried in a grave next to his first wife in the cemetery of the Jordans Quaker meeting house near Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire in England. His wife as sole executor continued to run Pennsylvania for another eight years after his passing until her death in 1726.

Friends' Meeting House at Jordans where Penn is buried

Penn and his second wife Hannah were made honorary United States citizens in 1984 by US President Ronald Reagan.


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