Important People in Pennsylvania History

(Robert Morris. - Benjamin Rush. - Benjamin Franklin.  - John Morton. - George Clymer. - James Smith. - George Taylor. - James Wilson. - George Ross.)

Thomas Boyd


William Penn

PENN, William; founder of Pennsylvania, was born in London Oct. 14, 1644. His father, Sir William Penn, who, in 1643, married Margaret Jasper, the daughter of a wealthy merchant of Rotterdam, became rear-admiral and vice-admiral of Ireland, and in 1652 vice-admiral of England, was general in the first Dutch war, and from 1664 until the time of his death, in 1670, was captain-commander under King James II, by whom he was knighted. His mother was a pious woman, and developed in her son a strong religious faith and those estimable qualities of mind and heart which were prominent in him throughout his entire career. William was first sent to a free grammar school at Chigwell, afterward attended a private school in London, and in 1656, when his father removed the family to Ireland he was given the advantage of the best private instruction.

At the age of fifteen he was entered as a student at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he showed unusual mental strength, was a diligent reader of the best books, and soon acquired a vast fund of general information. While pursuing his college course he attended a meeting of the Society of Friends, conducted by Thomas Loe, who previously belonged to Oxford University. The sermon produced a remarkable effect on his mind, and Penn, finding that some of his fellow students were likewise impressed, united with them in holding religious meetings. For absenting himself from the religious services of the university, and, refusing to wear the gown, he was fined, and finally, with others, expelled. When William returned home his father, who was stern in manner and severe in discipline, drove his son from home, but through the intercession of his mother he was recalled and sent, in company with people of rank, to Paris, where be was presented to the king, became a welcome guest at his court, and mingled for a brief time in the fashionable society of the French capital. He then went to Saumur to receive private instruction under the renowned Moses Amyrault, one of the ablest theologians of his day in the Protestant church. After traveling through France and Italy with Robert Spencer, he returned home in 1664, was entered as a law student at Lincoln's Inn and also placed on the staff of his father.

In 1666 he was sent to Ireland to superintend the paternal estates in that country. Taking with him letters of introduction to the Duke of Ormond, the viceroy, he was received with marked attention, and became a welcome guest in that gay circle. While residing there he displayed great valor in aiding the Lord of Arran to quell a mutiny in the garrison at Carrickfergus. In recognition of his services on this occasion an elegant portrait of Penn was painted in military costume. This likeness is the only one known to have been made of him during his lifetime. Being at the city of Cork soon afterward he again went to bear the celebrated Quaker minister, Thomas Loe, who was conducting religious meetings there. He was deeply impressed with the force and eloquence of the sermons, soon thereafter accepted the tenets of the Society of Friends, and attended their meetings regularly. In 1667, together with others of the same faith, he was taken before the mayor of Cork on a charge of riot, and was imprisoned. While in prison he wrote to the lord president of Munster, pleading for liberty of conscience, and urging that persecution for religious faith should cease. This was his first advocacy of universal toleration, and soon brought forth his release. Upon his return to England he was subjected by his stern father to more severe trials than imprisonment, as Adm. Penn again drove him from his house. It was only by the entreaties of a devoted mother that he was again allowed to return home, even to visit his parents.

In 1668 Penn became an influential minister among the Quakers, and began to write numerous tracts and documents in support of their faith, all of which attracted wide attention. When he published "The Sandy Foundation Shaken," it gave great offence to the clergy, especially the bishop of London, who obtained an order for Penn's imprisonment in the Tower for more than eight months. During this period he wrote "No Cross, No Crown," which became very popular among people of his faith, and was the ablest of his theological works. Soon after the appearance of "Innocency with Her Open Face" he was released from prison by the influence of the Duke of York, afterward James II of England, for whom Penn ever had the strongest personal attachment. In 1670, while preaching in London, he was again arrested under the authority of the Conventicle act, which intended to suppress all religious meetings not conducted according to the liturgy and practice of the Church of England. Penn defended himself before the court, and was acquitted, but being fined for keeping on his hat in court he was sent to prison a brief time for its non-payment. His father, who was now on a bed of sickness, sent his son sufficient money to pay the fine and invited him to come home. He died a few days after his arrival, and bequeathed William £1,500 a year. He next wrote "A Seasonable Caveat Against Popery," and in 1671 was confined six months in Newgate prison for preaching at a Friends' meeting in London, and during this time wrote "The Great Cause of Liberty of Conscience Once More Debated and Defined by the Authority of Reason, Scripture and Antiquity," and "An Apology for Quakers."

After spending several months preaching in Germany and Holland, he returned to England, and in 1672, at the age of twenty-eight, married Gulielma Maria, daughter of Sir William Springett, who was killed at the siege of Bamber. Penn and his wife first resided at Rickmansworth, but settled at Dormingshurst, in Sussex. In 1676 be was engaged with others in framing a constitution for West Jersey, and, as Arbitrator settled the controversy concerning the proprietary right of Edward Bylliage to that Quaker colony. He decided in favor of Bylliage, who afterward, became involved, surrendered his property to his creditors, and Penn became one of the three trustees of the estate. Under the management of Penn and his associates the colony of West Jersey prospered, and a large numbers of Quakers' settled in it.

The experience gained by William Penn in framing the government of West Jersey, and the information he acquired of the adjacent territory, prepared him for the great enterprise of founding a province on the west bank of the Delaware, He had also inherited from his father a claim on the British government for money advanced and services rendered to the amount of £16,000. For this sum Charles II., on March 4, 1681, granted Penn a charter for a tract of land, "bounded on the east by the Delaware River, on the west limited by the province of Maryland, and to the northward to extend as far as plantable." Under this charter Penn was made absolute proprietor of the province, which the king named Pennsylvania, in honor of the great admiral. William Penn, aided by his personal friend, Algernon Sidney, drew up a liberal plan of government, which was published in May, 1682. It was afterward slightly modified, but its leading features are found in the present state constitution, and have had an influence on the legislation of other states as well as the formation of the general government of the United States.

The principle of religious liberty, one of its leading characteristics, had been embodied in the charters of Rhode Island and Maryland, but it was reserved for Penn to give it a clearer expression and a wider range of application. In the penal code he was far in advance of his age, as he looked upon reformation as the great end of justice, and exempted from the death penalty 200 offences which were capital under the English law. Sir William Markham, a cousin of Penn, was commissioned as the first deputy governor of the province, with authority to establish courts, settle boundaries, sell lands, and exercise every right granted to the proprietor, except that of calling a legislative assembly. He arrived in New York June 21, 1681, and immediately obtained from the acting governor there a letter to the local officials on the Delaware notifying them to transfer their authority to him. He arrived at Upland now Chester), the only town then in Pennsylvania, and on Aug. 3, 1681, organized a council composed of six Quakers and three of the early settlers.

Before the end of the year, with surveyors sent over by Penn '' to lay out a great town of 10,000 acres," he selected the site of Philadelphia, and in July, 1682, he purchased from the Indians the site of Pennsbury Manor and other lands adjoining the Delaware River. In September, 1682, William Penn himself, with about 100 passengers, mostly Friends, set sail from London on the Welcome, and on Oct. 27th landed at New Castle, now in the state of Delaware, where he was joyfully welcomed by the inhabitants. A few days later he proceeded to Upland, which name he changed to Chester. From here he sailed up the river to the site of the capital of his province, at the junction of the Schuylkill with the Delaware River, which he had purchased from the Swedes, who, years before, had formed a small settlement there. It was Penn who gave it the name of Philadelphia. After giving some directions for building he went to New York "to pay his duty to the Duke of York by visiting his province."

Soon after his return, in November, Penn is supposed to have made the celebrated treaty of peace and friendship with the Indians, under a large elm-tree on the Delaware, now in the northern part of the city. This is the only treaty with the Indians never sworn to, and the only one never broken. It is an important event in history that not a drop of Quaker blood was ever shed by a red man in Pennsylvania. Penn was now in the prime of life, being only thirty-eight years old; he was graceful and pleasing in his manners, and by kindness and good judgment exercised a remarkable influence over the Indians, and the settlers were now rapidly coming to his province. He made treaties with other tribes, and as long as any of the aborigines remained in Pennsylvania their traditions bore testimony to his justice and benevolence. The first general assembly, which convened at Chester Dec. 4, 1682, passed a code of laws, comprising sixty-nine sections, which long formed the basis of jurisprudence in Pennsylvania. The next spring the provincial council and the assembly met in Philadelphia.

Entrusting the government to the provincial council, of which Thomas Lloyd was president, Penn, in June, 1684, embarked for England. The next year the Duke of York, his personal friend, succeeded to the throne as James II and at once set at liberty 1,400 Quakers who had been imprisoned for their religious belief. Through him Penn secured a settlement of the boundary question between Maryland and Pennsylvania. On his return to England he took up his residence at Kensington. Having a strong influence with the king he became a regular visitor at his court, where he pleaded the cause of innocent sufferers of all religious denominations, and persuaded the king to introduce into parliament a general act that would permit freedom of religious opinion in every part of his dominions.

In April, 1687, largely through his influence, the king issued a proclamation declaring liberty of conscience to all, and removing tests and penalties. He was sent by King Jameson a mission to William of Orange, and, after visiting Holland, traveled through part of Germany, circulating favorable reports of his province. This visit was the origin of the remarkable tide of German immigration to Pennsylvania during the first half of the eighteenth century. After King James went into exile, owing to malicious and unfounded reports against Penn, the latter was deprived of his government, and his province, in 1692, was temporarily annexed to the colony of New York.

On Feb. 23, 1694, his first wife died, and in January, 1696, he married Hannah Callowhill, of Bristol. By an order in council, August, 1694, his province was again restored to him, and on Sept. 9, 1699, with his wife and daughter Letitia, he sailed for Pennsylvania, and soon after his arrival in Philadelphia took up his residence on Second Street between Chestnut and Walnut, where his son John, known as "the American," was born. In the government of the province, while in Philadelphia, he gave special attention to the amelioration of the condition of the Indians and Negroes.

In 1700 he settled on Pennsbury Manor, on the Delaware, near Bristol, Pa., and the next year made a treaty with the Potomac Indians, and one with the Five Nations. He returned to England toward the close of 1701, and soon afterward sent his son William to Philadelphia to represent him, but the latter so disgraced his father that he was called home. A series of troubles followed Penn now, and he became so reduced in his finances that he offered to sell his province to Queen Anne for £20,000, but failed to succeed.

In 1712 he was stricken with paralysis, which deprived him of his memory and power of motion, and so lingered for six years. In the meantime his wife managed his business affairs for him. A colossal bronze statue of him thirty-six feet high, weighing thirty tons, designed by Alexander Caulder, has been completed, and will soon surmount the public building in Philadelphia. After Penn's death his wife, Hannah, during the minority of her children, as sole executrix, administered the affairs of the province from 1718 to 1727, with Sir William Keith as her deputy governor. William Penn had one son, William, by his first wife, and three sons, John, Thomas and Richard, by his second wife. He died at Ruscombe, Berkshire, July 30, 1718.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

Hannah Callowhill Penn

PENN, Hannah Callowhill; second wife of the founder of Pennsylvania, was born about 1670, probably at Bristol, where her father was a merchant. She married Penn in January, 1696, crossed the sea with him in 1699, and kept some state in his houses at Philadelphia and in Bucks county. After his death, in July, 1718, her three sons, John, Thomas and Richard, being under age, she managed the business of the province with much ability, having Sir W. Keith as her agent on the spot, 1718-27. She died in 1733.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

William Penn (the son)

PENN, William; oldest son of the founder of Pennsylvania, was born in England about 1676. He crossed the sea in the winter of 1703-4, and, as a member of the Pennsylvania council, argued to nullify one of his father's instructions. Becoming involved in trouble with the local authorities by his riotous conduct, he soon left the colony, which he never revisited. He incurred heavy debts, and his American rights passed to other members of the family. He died at Liege, Belgium, in 1720.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

William Penn (the grandson)

PENN, William; second son and heir of the preceding, was born in 1703. He executed, in September, 1731, a release of all or any hereditary rights in the colony, in favor of his relatives, John, Thomas and Richard Penn. He returned, temporarily at least, to the Society of Friends, which his father had left, was twice married, and died in Ireland Feb. 6, 1746. This branch of the family became extinct in the person of his only son.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

John Penn

PENN, John; oldest son of the founder of Pennsylvania, by his second wife, Hannah Callowhill, was born in Philadelphia Feb. 29, 1700. He was brought up in England, remained true to his father's faith, spent part of the years 1734-35 in the province, and inherited half the proprietorship, which, on his death in October, 1746, passed to his brother Thomas.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

Thomas Penn

PENN, Thomas; second son of the founder of Pennsylvania by his second wife, was born in England March 8, 1702. He was in the province from 1732 to 1741, representing his brothers, John and Richard; in 1746 he inherited the rights of the former. About 1752 he married a daughter of the Earl of Pomfret. He seems not to have again visited his American estates, but to have been a benefactor, if not a founder, of the College of Philadelphia (afterward merged in the University of Pennsylvania), as well as of the hospital and library there. These gifts were well within his power, as he was the chief proprietor of one of the largest feudal estates in the world, with more than 200,000 inhabitants. He died in London March 21, 1775.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

Richard Penn

PENN, Richard; third son of the founder of Pennsylvania by his second wife, was born about 1710. He managed his American affairs by deputy, and died in 1773, leaving two sons.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

Richard Penn (the grandson)

PENN, Richard; second son of the preceding, was born in England in 1735. He was educated at Cambridge, crossed the sea with his brother John in 1763, spent six years in the colony, and returned to it as lieutenant-governor in 1771. He was the best and most popular of his family, gave careful attention to the public interests during the year and a half of his rule, showed hearty sympathy with the cause of freedom, and was on cordial terms with Washington and other leaders. In 1775 he took to London the second petition of congress, and, being examined by the House of Lords, frankly revealed the condition of affairs in the colony, and was rebuked by the ministry for his liberal ideas. He remained in England, was in parliament 1796-1806, and brought his eldest son to America in 1808. His wife, Mary Masters Penn (1756-1829), was a Philadelphia lady. He died at Richmond, Surrey May 27, 1811.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

John Penn (the grandson)
Governor of Pennsylvania

PENN, John; governor of Pennsylvania, was born in London, July 14, 1729, the oldest son of Richard Penn, and grandson of the founder of the colony. He was sent thither in early life, sat in the council as its first member (1753-55), and after eight years in England came back in 1763 as lieutenant governor. The first months of his rule were harassed by lawlessness on the border, and a petition of the assembly to the king to set aside the proprietary government. The running of Mason and Dixon s line in 1767-68 and the treaty at Fort Stanwix with the Indians in 1768 removed difficulties and seemed to assure the possessions of his family. He went to England on his father's death in 1771, and returned two years later as governor. When the war broke out he halted between two opinions, half sympathizing with the colonists, yet afraid to act. He was soon disregarded and superseded, the power being taken by the committee of safety in July, 1775, and by the executive council a year later. He was even confined from August, 1777, to May, 1778 for fear the British might make use of him. His proprietary rights were formally set aside by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1779, leaving his family only their manors and private property, but voting them £130,000 in compensation, to be paid three years after a declaration of peace. They afterward received from England an annuity of £4,000; one fourth of these allowances came to the Governor, John. His later years were spent in peace in his mansions in or near Philadelphia. He was rather a negative, neutral character, well-meaning but not forcible, and neither loved nor hated by his neighbors. The Penn family were the heaviest losers by the revolution. He died in Bucks County. Pa., Feb. 9, 1795.

{Source: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2; Publ. 1906, by James T. White, George Derby; Pgs. 275-277; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.}

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