Penn, William, 1644-1718

Alternative names
Birth 1644-10-14
Death 1718-07-30

Biographical notes:

English Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania.

From the description of Papers, 1660-1982. (Haverford College Library). WorldCat record id: 25898071

Thomas Lloyd was Penn's appointed Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania.

From the description of ALS, [16]91 June 16, England to T[homas] L[loyd] / Wm. Penn. (Haverford College Library). WorldCat record id: 27471458

Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651-1719) was a German settler of Colonial Pennsylvania. As the agent for the Frankfort Land Company, he came to Philadelphia in 1683 to purchase land tracts for German settlers. This land was later known as Germantown. In 1708, John Henry Sprogel attempted to dispossess many of the German settlers. Pastorious settled the legal dispute in favor of the settlers.

From the description of Naturalization document for Francis Daniel Pastorius and other Germans in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1691 May 7. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 49797094

In July of 1681 William Penn began to sell shares of Pennsylvania land to investors who became known as the First Purchasers. He sold a minimum of 500 acres for £10 and required purchasers to pay an annual quitrent of one shilling per one hundred acres. Between July and October, 1681, Penn sold over 300,000 acres to nearly 300 First Purchasers.

From the description of This indenture made the six and twentieth day of October ... between William Penn of Worminghurst ... and William Jenkins of the towne of Tenby ..., 1681 Oct. 26. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 39279191

Proprietor of Pennsylvania.

From the description of Deeds, 1680-1682. (Bucks County Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 70927307

Governor of Pennsylvania (Colony)

From the description of Papers of William Penn, 1681-1706. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79450022

William Penn was a religious and political thinker and founder of Pennsylvania.

From the description of Miscellaneous letters and documents, 1665-1801. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122473802

From the guide to the William Penn miscellaneous letters and documents, 1665-1801, 1665-1801, (American Philosophical Society)

William Penn, founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, arrived in the new colony in 1682, returned occasionally to England on business, and permanently left Pa. in 1701.

James Butler was second Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lt. of Ireland in 1703.

Claude-Louis-Hector, duc de Villars, was French King Louis XIV's commander in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).

From the description of ALS, 1703 May 10 : London [Eng.] to "honored ffriend" [Edward Southwell?] / Wm Penn. (Haverford College Library). WorldCat record id: 56366794

William Penn, founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, arrived in the new colony in 1682, returned occasionally to England on business, and permanently left Pa. in 1701.

James Butler was second Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lt. of Ireland in 1703.

Claude-Louis-Hector, duc de Villars, was French King Louis XIV's commander in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).

From the description of ALS, 1703 May 10 : London [Eng.] to "honored ffriend" [Edward Southwell?] / Wm Penn. (Haverford College Library). WorldCat record id: 56366402

The Quakers suffered religious persecution in England throughout the seventeenth century. The documents in this collection allude to a continuing persecution of Quakers by the State into the eighteenth century as well. Beginning in the late 1650s, there was an increase in violence against Quakers and arrests of members of this sect. In the following decade, thousands of Friends (as the Quakers are known) were jailed under the statutes enacted against dissenters by the Restoration government. At the time, participation in public sectarian worship was illegal. A frequent charge against Quakers included blasphemy, based on a misunderstanding of the Quaker belief that God's spirit dwells within people. Other accusations resulting in the punishment of Quakers included disturbing ministers, non-payment of tithes, plotting against the government, vagrancy, refusal to honor magistrates by removing the hat or addressing them in the second person plural, refusal to perform military service, public indecency, witchcraft, and refusal to take the Oath of Abjuration in which citizens renounced Roman Catholicism and Papal authority. Intolerance of Quakers also hinged on their defiance at proclaiming an Oath of Allegiance to the state. While this was seen as a display of a lack of devotion to the country by anti-Quakers, to the Quakers, such an oath went against their religious tenets. In 1689, Friends were allowed to make a declaration of loyalty which did not invoke the name of God, rather than the Oath of Allegiance, thus allowing Quakers to profess their loyalty to their country without compromising their spiritual beliefs.

In 1667, the King began to press for religious toleration. In 1672, the King secretly converted to Roman Catholicism and issued a proclamation to suspend the penal laws against nonconformity and Roman Catholicism. In 1686, a Royal Pardon released from prison Quakers who had been incarcerated due to their refusal to take the Oath of Allegiance. The following year, the King issued a Declaration of Indulgence which sought to guarantee freedom of conscience. This declaration was not accepted by Parliament. However, in 1689, the Act of Tolerance granted liberty of conscience to all. However, this act granted less freedom than the overturned Declaration of Indulgence in that under the Act of Tolerance, the persecuting laws were not removed from the books, but there were no longer penalties for individuals who broke them. Still, this signaled an end to the widespread persecution of Quakers in England.

From the guide to the Quaker Collection, 1729-1920, 1729-1754, (University of New Mexico. Center for Southwest Research.)

The British colony of Pennsylvania was given to William Penn (1644-1718) in 1681 by Charles II of England in repayment of a debt owed his father, Sir Admiral William Penn (1621-1670). Under Penn's directive, Pennsylvania was settled by Quakers escaping religious torment in England and other European nations. Three generations of Penn descendents held proprietorship of the colony until the American Revolution, when the family was stripped of all but its privately held shares of land.

Sir Admiral William Penn was born in 1621 and started his life-long seafaring career as a young boy on merchant ships. In 1642/3, he married Margaret Jasper Van der Schuren (d. 1682). They had three children: William (1644-1718), Margaret (1645-1718) and Richard (1648-1673). Penn joined the Royal Navy, and rose to the rank of rear admiral by 1645. Admiral Penn was a career navy man and was promoted several times over the next two decades. He served as vice admiral of Ireland, admiral of the Streights, vice admiral of England, and in 1653 was made a general during the first war with the Dutch. He served as captain commander under the King in 1664 and was made admiral of the navy by Charles II during the second war with the Dutch. Admiral Penn's efforts were well regarded by both Oliver Cromwell and, after the Restoration, Charles II. Cromwell rewarded his work in 1654 with significant land in Ireland, and he was knighted by Charles II in 1660. In fact, it was in repayment of a debt of roughly £16,000 owed to Admiral Penn from Charles II that his oldest son William Penn was granted the colony of Pennsylvania in 1681. Admiral Penn retired in 1669 and died a year later in Essex in 1670.

His son William Penn was born in London in 1644. He was raised in England and for some part of his youth lived in Ireland, where he met Thomas Loe, who, it is believed, introduced him to Quakerism in 1657. Penn was educated by private tutors and also attended the Chigwig Grammar School and Christ Church College at Oxford. Between 1662 and 1664, he traveled in France and elsewhere in Europe, and spent a year at the Huguenot Academy of Saumur. In 1665, he briefly attended Lincoln's Inn to study law.

In 1666, Penn returned to Ireland, where he became involved in the Quaker faith, which would become central to his life's work. He wrote extensively on and in defense of Quakerism, and traveled across England and Ireland ministering to Quaker communities and advocating for their cause. Like most Quakers, he suffered persecution for his beliefs and was imprisoned several times throughout his life, serving out sentences at Newgate Prison and the Tower of London, among other locations.

It was for the protection of the Quakers that Penn initially sought land in the British colonies of America. In 1675, he became trustee, along with Gawan Lawrie and Nicholas Lucas, of land in western New Jersey, where they established a Quaker community. Then, sometime before 1680, he petitioned King Charles II for additional land to establish another Quaker settlement, which Penn argued would settle a debt owed his late father, Admiral Penn. Charles II agreed and in 1681, Penn received a charter for what was to become the colony of Pennsylvania, making him the largest private landholder in the world. He set up a Free Society of Traders, solicited first purchasers and sent ahead Colonel William Markham as deputy governor to begin administration of the province. Penn himself arrived in 1682.

William Penn remained in Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1684. There he devised a government, laws and plans for Philadelphia's physical development. He established relationships with the local Indians and settled a group of German Quakers in what was to become Germantown. He also built himself a house north of Philadelphia, which he called Pennsbury. In 1683, Penn met with Lord Baltimore to settle a dispute regarding the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Unable to come to an agreement, Penn returned to England in 1684 to deal with the matter. The border dispute was not resolved until well into the 1700s.

Back in England, Penn continued to write and speak out in defense of Quakerism. As a result, he continued to suffer persecution, particularly after William and Mary came to power in 1688. In 1690, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two weeks, and from 1692 to 1693, Pennsylvania was temporarily taken away from him. He also suffered financially, as his lands in Pennsylvania and elsewhere did not earn enough money to cover his expenses.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania continued to grow in population and develop after Penn's departure, though not without issue or conflict. By the 1690s, colonists already resented British authority, and religious differences caused considerable discord. Penn helped govern the colony from afar through correspondence with local officials until 1699, when he returned to Pennsylvania. He brought with him his secretary, James Logan, who would prove invaluable in the development, growth and governance of Pennsylvania. While there he visited other colonies to learn about development and expansion, and he traveled and ministered to Quakers. In 1701, he agreed to grant the City of Philadelphia a charter, the Charter of Privileges, thereby establishing a municipal government. That year, he set sail to England in an effort to better protect his interests in Pennsylvania, which were threatened due to a potential government takeover of privately owned colonies.

William Penn never again returned to his colony, though he was not uninvolved. Politics and religion continued to cause strife among the colonists, and Penn's personal interest in Pennsylvania was endangered more than once. Due to financial troubles and claims made against Penn by Philip Ford, who managed his estate in England, he briefly considered selling the colony in order to pay his creditors. The plan never materialized, however, because Penn fell ill before arrangements could be made, and Pennsylvania was thus governed by the 1701 Charter of Privileges until the American Revolution.

For the rest of his life, Penn continued his work writing and ministering to and about Quakers. In 1712, he suffered the first of several strokes, which ultimately led to his death in 1718.

William Penn was married twice. With his first wife, Gulielma Maria Springett (1643/4-1693/4), he had eight children, three of whom survived childhood: Springett Penn (1675/6-1696), Letitia Penn (1678-1746) and William Penn, Jr. (1680/1-1720). In 1695, Penn married Hannah Callowhill. They also had eight children, five of whom survived childhood: John Penn (1699/1700-1746), Thomas Penn (1701/2-1775), Margaret Penn (1704-1750/51), Richard Penn (1705/6-1771) and Dennis Penn (1706/7-1722/23).

Though contested in court by William Penn, Jr. and his descendants, it was William Penn's four younger sons, with Hannah Callowhill, John, Thomas, Richard and Dennis, who inherited Pennsylvania in 1718. The four brothers shared the proprietorship of Pennsylvania until their own deaths. Thomas Penn and John Penn, who was actually born in Philadelphia in 1699/1700, traveled to Pennsylvania in 1732 and 1734, respectively. John stayed only briefly, returning to England in 1735 to deal with the ongoing legal dispute over the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. Thomas remained in America for roughly nine years, and became the principal proprietor of the province in 1746, when his brother John died. The youngest surviving brother, Richard Penn never visited Pennsylvania; however, his sons, John (1729-1795) and Richard (1736-1811) traveled to and lived in Pennsylvania, and both served, at different times, as lieutenant governor of the colony. Together with their cousin John (1760-1834), Thomas' sons, John and Richard helped protect the family's interests in the colony during and after the American Revolution.

In 1778, though John Penn (1729-1795) swore allegiance to the American cause, the Penn family was stripped of all but its privately held lands in Pennsylvania. He and his brother Richard and cousin John secured £130,000 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania "in remembrance of the enterprising spirit of the founder, and of the expectations and dependence of his descendants" (Shepherd, 92). Later, after the American Revolution, the English government granted the Penn family an additional £4,000 per year in recognition of its lost sources of revenue.

Even after they were stripped of their proprietorship, members of the Penn family retained several thousand acres of privately held lands in Pennsylvania, which were passed down to the next generation. Peter Gaskell (1764-1831), William Penn, Jr.'s grandson, and William Stuart (1798-1874), Thomas Penn's grandson, eventually inherited or made claim to the remaining privately held Penn family lands in America.


"Biographical Sketch [of William Penn]." Unattributed article, see collection file.

"The Family of William Penn, A Collated Record." The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine . 25, no. 2, 1967.

Shepherd, William Robert. History of Proprietary Government in Pennsylvania . New York: Columbia University Press, 1896.

Wainwright, Nicholas B. "The Penn Collection." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography . 87, no. 4 (October 1963): 393-419.

From the guide to the Penn family papers, Bulk, 1629-1834, 1592-1960, (The Historical Society of Pennsylvania)


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