William Penn and the Quaker Legacy For many Americans, William Penn is just known as the Quaker leader who founded Pennsylvania and for his ‘Holy Experiment’. Penn’s achievements were far greater than just the founding of a colony. He had devotion and spirit and love for the Quaker sect and in turn spent his whole life trying to get others to see the good in Quakerism and create toleration for the religion. In the biography of William Penn and the Quaker Legacy, John Moretta asserts that William Penn is one of the most significant figures of American History and many of America’s principles were created in his time.
On October 14, 1644 William Penn was born in London, England. His parents were Sir William Penn, an Admiral, and Margaret Penn, the daughter of Anglo-Irish parents. Sir William Penn was an esteemed member of the Royal Navy and just as his career kicked off, his son was born. Sir William Penn found himself having to decide between his family and England.
As most Englishmen did, Sir William Penn chose England. His father believed that his main priority was to provide for the whole family, not help raise his son.
This resulted in him not being present for the first two years of William’s life, a time in which he developed smallpox, permanently losing most of his hair which led him to wearing a wig for the rest of his life. The absence of Sir William in William Penn’s life would prove to be a common trait in both of them where in the future, Penn does the same with his own family.
When Cromwell came into power Sir William Penn’s rank continued to rise and rise and he was recognized as a national hero with is success at sea. At one time Cromwell imprisoned Sir William Penn because he believed that he had disobeyed orders.
Sir William Penn was embarrassed at his questioning of judgment and decided to move the family to Ireland. While his father was off at sea, William Penn attended Chigwell School. William was brought up with a fine education, learning Latin and Greek and receiving both “a classical as well as a practical education” (Pg. 7). Since Penn never bonded with his father he never gained his father’s characteristics of lust, manliness, and power for success. Instead, he was more reserved and quiet. It is believed that since William Penn was rejected from his father, Quakerism seemed so appealing to him.
Penn, even at an early age, had an interest in religion. By the time he was 13 he was convinced that he was “destined to lead a holy life” (Pg. 14). He was introduced to Quakerism when Thomas Loe, a Quaker preacher, came to Ireland to spread the Quaker message. William became very interested in the religion, and when he grew up he left the Anglican Church to become a Quaker, and became the most influential person for that religion in history. Thomas Loe had impacted William Penn’s in a way that would change his life The Quaker religion differed from other religions.
The religion rejected external forms of worship and believed that the way to create a relationship with God was created within you. They believed that getting close to God involved personal and emotional experiences that produced the ultimate bond between God and the Quaker. Quakerism rejected sacraments, liturgies, ministers, and prayers because they thought it interfered with their communication with God. They held silent services, until someone was spoken to by a divine spirit. One of the main characteristics of the Quaker religion was equality.
No one person was more important than the other. Even in church they did not have ministers because they did not believe in church hierarchy. They all talked to each other and others in the same tone, regardless of their social status, and both men and women were thought of as equals. To the Quakers, man was perceived as good and were born to do good rather than evil, and therefore the Quaker’s were very forgiving people. Their main intent was to spread the Quaker faith. The only problem was that practicing their faith was something they did not want to hide. True evangelists, believed God called upon them to spread His word” (Pg. 17). Englishmen were dismayed that the Quakers would not follow the rules, and thus saw them as threats. Many Englishmen were hostile to the Quakers and treated them cruelly, from their bodies being whipped to tongues bored to being put in jail, and in most cases result was death. Although Cromwell had granted religious toleration for the Protestant sects, Quakerism was the most pestered religion out of them all. Cromwell died, and so the Penn family returned to England.
William Penn missed his life back in Ireland, but his father saw the move back as an opportunity for William Penn to become a man. Charles II became king and Sir William Penn was determined to make sure his sons became an interest in the king. Penn later attended Oxford, as most English gentleman did. Sir William Penn believed that Penn attending this college would complete the phase of him becoming a man. Penn, although, did not enjoy it as much as his father did. He referred to his college life as “hellish darkness and debauchery” (Pg. 22). He refused to associate with what he thought were troublemakers.
His father on the other hand believed hanging around those people would make his son more of the kind of person he wanted him to be. His father wanted him to be involved in politics and business and have the lifestyle that he is has now. Sir William Penn discovered early on that his son was not going to grow up to be like him or maintain the family’s status. However, by William’s second year at Oxford, he became more comfortable with his surroundings and engaged in students called the dissenters. The dissenters were a small group who refused to wear the required dress and did not attend chapel service.
They instead had their own meetings where they worshipped and attended lectures by a Puritan. Sir William Penn was not too pleased by his son’s new friends. As he became more involved with the dissenters, Penn found himself getting into more and more trouble and in the end was expelled from the school. Sir William Penn saw this as an embarrassment, and as a punishment to Penn, he sent his son off to France to learn how to become a true gentleman. During this trip Penn had an encounter with a Frenchman that demanded a sword duel.
Penn revealed that he did not show force back because he believed that acting back was “worth the life of a man” (Pg. 25). He heard Thomas Loe’s and other Quakers words being repeated in his head and how it was wrong to take the life of someone because of a custom. The duel confirmed his feelings on how he viewed the world. His trip to France appeared as a success to his father. He returned a lot like a Frenchmen and his father believed he was now ready to be the heir and carry on his work. The first step was to attend law school at Lincoln’s Inn. His time there was simply to polish the education Penn already had.
Sir William Penn later removed his son from Lincoln’s Inn and took him aboard the Royal Charles to witness him as the Great Captain Commander of the ship. This opened William Penn’s eyes and made him begin to appreciate what his father had done for his family. After several weeks Sir William Penn sent Penn back to England as a messenger to the King, a trip that served as Penn’s personal introduction to the King. As Penn started to settle in England, his eyes became exposed to the effects of Clarendon Code. Dissenters were being put in the stocks and being pelted with rocks.
The group that was given the hardest time was the Quakers, especially because they refused to meet in secret. Quakers’ worship services were being raided and arrested all that were there. Even with these difficulties, the Quakers still met. Penn became more attracted to the religion because of bravery and the courage the Quakers showed. During the tragedy of the second plague, the Quakers helped people with anything they needed. They brought any relief they could and brought food for anyone in need, even though there was a risk of them getting sick or being attacked for the religion they chose to follow.
The selflessness of the Quaker faith continued to inspire William Penn. In the year 1667, the Quaker religion inducted its newest member, William Penn. He turned his life around, and threw out his rich, extravagant lifestyle and traded it for a simple Quaker life. Penn knew no matter how much he wanted to be like his father, that that lifestyle was not suited for him. He decided to walk on earth unarmed, and gave up his sword. Embracing this religion was like social suicide because Englishmen hated the Quakers. Penn’s father became very displeased with his belief in this religion.
Penn strongly believed it was not only the Quakers’, but his duty to defend their religion. This strong belief in his faith landed him in prison very frequently. While in prison he examined his own faith, and most of his time even under harsh conditions was spent writing the numerous books he published. When he was let out of prison, he left to Ireland. Penn and the Quakers refused to meet secretly, so as a result many Quakers were arrested and Englishmen used the Conventicle Act to harass the Quakers. Penn later went to court, trying to prove that the actions towards Quakers were unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, as Sir William Penn aged, he handed over the responsibility of managing his estates in Ireland to Penn. After traveling through Ireland resolving his father’s property disputes, Penn joined and became the leader of the Society of Friends and fought for their freedom, much to Sir William Penn’s dismay. Penn’s religious choice to join the Quakers threatened his father’s relationship with the King. The King saw Quakerism as a threat to the monarchy. Penn’s dying father learned to accept the differences of his son’s life compared to his and before he died he forgave his son and made sure his son was still on the king’s good side.
Penn travelled throughout Europe preaching Quakerism illegally. On one of his many travels spreading Quakerism, he met Gulielma Springett in the county of Buckinghamshire on his way to Ireland. Springett was the step daughter of Penn’s associate Isaac Penington. After years of having feelings for each other they declared they wanted to get married, and in 1672 finally married. They had eight children, and only three of their children lived to be adults. Penn stood by the Quakers and devoted himself to the religion.
He dreamed of an England where there was no religious persecution. The Quakers actions in acts of civil disobedience had become a stratagem in a war to transform society, assert fundamental English rights to rid England of unjust laws. The Quakers organized meeting of sufferings; “a committee for legal defense of indicted Quakers” (Pg. 82). The meeting encouraged Friends to support election to parliament of pro toleration candidate. After dealing with years of harassment in England, the Quakers sought land where they could practice their religion freely.
When a dispute over land holdings in West New Jersey between John Fenwick and Edward Billinge arose, the Quakers had Penn settle the dispute in England. After Penn divided the land, they chose him as leader of the colony because of his background and experience managing his father’s estates in Ireland. The Concessions and Agreements written for New Jersey were a model for the laws of that region that foreshadowed the structure Penn would later develop for Pennsylvania and, in many ways, the United States Constitution. The West New Jersey project turned out to be a success.
The colony reported having fertile land and being stocked with goods. However, there wasn’t enough room for everyone. Quakers were coming from all over England, Germany, Scotland and Holland, places where Penn and other Quakers had been spreading Quakerism. In need of more land, Penn used his relationship with the King to petition for the land west of Delaware. Fortunately for Penn, the King had owed his father a debt and in turn granted the land to them. Pennsylvania was created. The Quakers had finally found a safe haven, where they could live freely and practice their religion as they wished.
Penn was now the proprietor and considered the colony a “Holy Experiment”. He wanted to show England “that Quakers were God’s stewards, transforming the wilderness and its heathen into a land of milk and honey, populated with God-fearing Christians” (Pg. 107). With this in mind, Penn created a colony not only for Quakers to flee to, but even non- Quakers fleeing religious prosecution. Although, Pennsylvania was not created for economic reasons they still had the problem of all of their revenue going to England and they could only trade through England and all their most valuable products must be exported to England.
Citizenship included that any Christian, women included, 21 years or older and possessing 100 acres of land could vote. Essentially, this was a big deal because women had few rights back then. This colony of Pennsylvania was so accepting all around and gave more privileges than most would give. Pennsylvania was averse to slavery and believed that one should treat his servants as family members. “Penn insisted that every human being , regardless of skin color or social status, was a creature of God, equal in God’s sight and so entitled to equality among men” (Pg. 28). The Quakers also accepted the Native Americans and often Indian refugees would migrate to Pennsylvania. On October 16, 1684, Penn returned home to his wife and children in England. He was exposed to the Reign of Terror set off by Charles, where he has persecuting all dissenters because his brother was being refused of the throne for being Catholic. However, Charles died shortly after Penn’s return and James became the King. Penn had a close relationship with James, and became his right hand man and with that power he was able to promote religious toleration.
Although, the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the death of James, crushed the hopes of religious toleration and made Penn constantly worry about losing his charter and everything he had worked for. Back in the colony, Penn had more serious problems to worry about. Penn wasn’t receiving any money from the citizens of Pennsylvania as he was facing mounting debt. The people of Pennsylvania were not paying rent, saying they would pay him back. Penn’s source of income was the money he got from the colony and without he had many money problems. He lived the rest of his life in debt.
Another problem appeared when Penn was charged with treason and Jacobitism. In his efforts to clear his name, he got his Pennsylvania Charter taken away from him in 1692. Penn had the option of fleeing to Pennsylvania but decided that would make him look guiltier in the eyes of his enemies and refused to be treated like an exile. He eventually got it back by providing William III with many services. Another example of conflict the Quakers and Penn faced was the rising of the Assembly led by David Lloyd who wished to gain control of the colony and take what little power Penn had left.
As soon as he returned to England he went to London to claim his rights to his colony. While there he encountered several charges against him. However, light shined through when Anne, James II’s last daughter became Queen. Her new monarchy was devoted to toleration and passed the 1689 Toleration Act as well as 1696 Affirmation Act. His close connections also allowed him to keep his colony. Trying to pay his debts off he offered Pennsylvania for 30,000 pounds. Although he did not want to give it up, he eventually gave it to a man named John Evans who turned out to be an arrogant man, wrong for the job.
He soon dismissed Evans from the job and gave it to Ford, later renting it back from him. He had hoped his son would carry on his legacy but turned out to be a disappointment and not being strong willed and determined as his father had been. On July 30, 1718, a true hero had died. William Penn dedicated his life to defending not only the Quakers, but others who were oppressed by England’s laws. The Society of Friends had become his family and he took care of them as fully as possible.
The colonization of Pennsylvania proved to one of his greatest accomplishments, but his will to get others to see the truth is religion was far greater than any colony. William Penn insisted on a degree of freedom of religion that had existed almost nowhere else in the world. Through countless years of fighting and being driven down, William Penn never gave up hope for the life he dreamed of. All of his actions have left marks on American History and the way we live now. The legacy of the diligent, promising man still lives on through his establishment of Pennsylvania and the religion of Quakerism he so fondly cherished.