William Penn, Proprietor
William Penn is known, of course, as the founder of Pennsylvania. He is also known as a famous Quaker and for his 'Great Treaty' with the Delaware. What is 'known' however, is often obscured by myth. For example, Penn did not name his colony after himself (as he feared would be assumed), but after his recently departed father. He had wanted to call the colony 'New Wales' or 'Sylvania' but King Charles II intervened, suggesting instead 'Pennsylvania'. It was the father after all, who left Penn his wealth, including the King's debt to him--which Charles II paid in full with a hefty chunk of New World land. Also, Penn only became a Quaker in his twenties, shortly after posing for his only painted portrait--the one with the lad in a full suit of armor. Peace-loving indeed. Yet peace is what he was loved and memorialized for, especially for his treaty with the Leni Lenape (Delaware). "I desire to gain your Love and Friendship by a kind, Just and Peaceable Life" he wrote to them from England. And he followed up with that desire with his "holy experiment."
Penn's holy experiment was firstly his plan, and secondly idealistic to the point of utopianism. He wanted to establish a society that was godly, virtuous and exemplary for all of humanity. This grandiose, visionary thought was not out of place in the history of American colonization, but by the end of the 17th century needed some solid planning to attract the necessary following. Fortunately, Penn was adept at convincing people. By 1681, when he received the charter for the colony, Penn had been an ardent proponent of Quakerism and liberal government, writing numerous political pamphlets, intriguing in the court, and campaigning for favorite candidates. Penn was both idealistic and practical, and generally operated by trying for the best he could conceive while pragmatically retreating from these impossible heights. Which is not to say that he was a hypocrite. Penn seemed a truly fair and just person, especially by the standards of his day.
We must remember that Penn was also a member of the landed gentry, and that despite his true interest in (relative) democracy and religious toleration, he was 'proprietor' of his Pennsylvania manor. As such, he held--and wanted to hold-- much control in how land was gained and dispersed, how the city was plotted and populated, how it's government, laws, public institutions were set up. He did not have quite as much control as the modern Simcity player though, and had to revise plans and bicker with his purchasers constantly. Though that a pacifist Quaker, and religious and political liberal, was given 45,000 acres of land to do with as he pleased says something of his considerable political skills (and well-placed position).
This project explores three facets of William Penn; his position as icon in the U.S. Capitol, his dealings with Native Americans, and his planning of Philadelphia. The three are not, as they may seem, entirely unrelated. Penn appears in the Capitol in the context of his famous 'friendly' relationship with the Indians. Using Vivien Green Fryd as a guide, I take a look at the Penn sculpture in the context of the series it is a part of, and in a context of 19th century attitudes towards the 'Indian'. In the second section, I will try to specify Penn's political dealing with the 'Indians'. Penn realized, unlike many Americans of the 19th century, the complex differences between various tribes-- and the benefits of distininguishing between them. Francis Jennings, whose work provides a rigorous de-mytholigization of Penn's actions and attitudes towards the Delaware and other tribes, is my main source for this section. Finally, I take Penn's passion for conceiving and actualizing his 'holy experiment' and see how this fervor informs his plans for the layout of the city. This investigation relates both to Penn's land transaction with the Delaware, and to the inovations in city planning that he incorporated into Philadelphia. And as these discussions are relatively brief, I conclude with a few sources for further reading.
Penn was born October 14, 1644 to Anglican parents, Admiral Sir William Penn and Margaret Jasper. For much of his young life he knocked about, getting expelled from Oxford, learning law at Lincoln's Inn, studying in the Huguenot Academy at Saumer, and managing his father's estates in Ireland. Soon after hearing the famous apostle Thomas Loe, he converted to Quakerism. Then in his mid twenties, he quickly involved himself in the Quaker cause, landing in prison several times for his 'radical' preaching for personal, property, and religious rights. In 1672 he married Gulielma Maria Springett, and five years later traveled in the company of George Fox to Holland.
That year he also (almost definitely say historians) wrote the "Concessions and Agreements" charter for a group of Quaker colonists who were settling in the newly acquired New Jersey. Among its provisions were the right to trial by jury, the freedom from arbitrary imprisonment for debt, and edict against capital punishment. Penn also strongly argued for religious freedom, writing "no Men. . . hath Power or authority to rule over Men's Consciences in Religious matters." (DNB, 434) This document has been called "the first clear statement in American history of the supremacy of the fundamental law [universal rights] over any statutes that might be enacted" (DNB, 434).
Penn, though wealthy and though a Quaker, lived beyond his means. In order to raise some funds he called in a debt owed his father by Charles II. On March 4, 1681 he obtained the charter for Pennsylvania, [and in August 1682 he gained the rights to Delaware from his friend James, the Duke of York.] Penn planned to make money by selling tracts of land, and although he was able to attract a good number of investors he never realized the profit he imagined. However, he saw this venture as more than a money-making exercise; it was, in his famous words to his friend and land agent for Pennsylvania, James Harrison, a "holy experiment." This experiment would become, as he confidently predicted, "the seed of a nation." (Soderlund,54). Penn imagined a "free. .sober and industrious people" living by their own laws. (54) In 1682 he sought to delineate these laws in the First Frame of government; and though somewhat less liberal than his New Jersey bill, it provided many of the same rights.
Penn first arrived at his new colony in the fall of 1682 and stayed only until August of 1684. It was at this time that he supposedly signed his famous treaty with the Delaware (Leni Lenape) at Shackamaxon. And though no copy of such an agreement exists, we do have a wampum belt allegedly given to Penn by the Indians. The first treaty document in existence is one dated July 15, 1682 in which Penn obtains land from Idquahon and several other Leni Lenape leaders. In the next year Penn would broker at least eight other land transactions with the Delaware. He was busy with man other tasks as well. During his first stay, Penn began building his mansion and attending to numerous details of colony building, including a border dispute with Lord Baltimore, who controlled the territory south of Pennsylvania.
He returned to England to continue his dispute with Baltimore, not to return to Pennsylvania until 1699. The England in the 1690s was a tumultuous place, especially for an outspoken, liberal Quaker. Penn never shirked from the political fray, as did many of his fellow Quakers, though his forthrightness proved dangerous. He supported James II, though in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 William and Mary bested James. Later, under suspicion of treason, Penn briefly lost control of his colony from 1692 to 1694. He received another setback when his wife died in 1694, though he rebounded by remarrying a year and a half later to Hannah Callowhill.
Back in Pennsylvania, political squabbling had set in and various leadership changes took place. In 1691 George Keith led a religious schism, and Pennsylvania and Delaware separated into two provinces. And in 1696, William Markham's (Penn's secretary and then governor of Delaware) charter replaced the earlier 'Frame', though when Penn returned in 1701 he would again revise this version. By the time he left for good in November of that year, the colony's Assembly was elected yearly and enjoyed a more powerful position than the governor, who despite his veto power, was secondary to the legislative body. Though Penn planned to stay in the New World, settling at his manor Pennsbury, (up the Delaware from Philadelphia) but further political troubles in England forced his return, and in 1712 suffered an attack of apoplexy which disabled him. His wife Hannah managed his affairs until Penn died in 1718, and after her death ion 1727 the proprietorship of Pennsylvania passed to their sons, John, Thomas, and Richard.