Chapter I. The Birth Of Pennsylvania

In 1661, the year after Charles II was restored to the throne of
England, William Penn was a seventeen-year-old student at Christ
Church, Oxford. His father, a distinguished admiral in high favor
at Court, had abandoned his erstwhile friends and had aided in
restoring King Charlie to his own again. Young William was
associating with the sons of the aristocracy and was receiving an
education which would fit him to obtain preferment at Court. But
there was a serious vein in him, and while at a high church
Oxford College he was surreptitiously attending the meetings and
listening to the preaching of the despised and outlawed Quakers.
There he first began to hear of the plans of a group of Quakers
to found colonies on the Delaware in America. Forty years
afterwards he wrote, "I had an opening of joy as to these parts
in the year 1661 at Oxford." And with America and the Quakers, in
spite of a brief youthful experience as a soldier and a courtier,
William Penn's life, as well as his fame, is indissolubly linked.

Quakerism was one of the many religious sects born in the
seventeenth century under the influence of Puritan thought. The
foundation principle of the Reformation, the right of private
judgment, the Quakers carried out to its logical conclusion; but
they were people whose minds had so long been suppressed and
terrorized that, once free, they rushed to extremes. They shocked
and horrified even the most advanced Reformation sects by
rejecting Baptism, the doctrine of the Trinity, and all
sacraments, forms, and ceremonies. They represented, on their
best side, the most vigorous effort of the Reformation to return
to the spirituality and the simplicity of the early Christians.
But their intense spirituality, pathetic often in its extreme
manifestations, was not wholly concerned with another world.
Their humane ideas and philanthropic methods, such as the
abolition of slavery, and the reform of prisons and of charitable
institutions, came in time to be accepted as fundamental
practical social principles.

The tendencies of which Quakerism formed only one manifestation
appeared outside of England, in Italy, in France, and especially
in Germany. The fundamental Quaker idea of "quietism," as it was
called, or peaceful, silent contemplation as a spiritual form of
worship and as a development of moral consciousness, was very
widespread at the close of the Reformation and even began to be
practiced in the Roman Catholic Church until it was stopped by
the Jesuits. The most extreme of the English Quakers, however,
gave way to such extravagances of conduct as trembling when they
preached (whence their name), preaching openly in the streets and
fields--a horrible thing at that time--interrupting other
congregations, and appearing naked as a sign and warning. They
gave offense by refusing to remove their hats in public and by
applying to all alike the words "thee" and "thou," a form of
address hitherto used only to servants and inferiors. Worst of
all, the Quakers refused to pay tithes or taxes to support the
Church of England. As a result, the loathsome jails of the day
were soon filled with these objectors, and their property melted
away in fines. This contumacy and their street meetings, regarded
at that time as riotous breaches of the peace, gave the
Government at first a legal excuse to hunt them down; but as they
grew in numbers and influence, laws were enacted to suppress
them. Some of them, though not the wildest extremists, escaped to
the colonies in America. There, however, they were made welcome
to conditions no less severe.

The first law against the Quakers in Massachusetts was passed in
1656, and between that date and 1660 four of the sect were
hanged, one of them a woman, Mary Dyer. Though there were no
other hangings, many Quakers were punished by whipping and
banishment. In other colonies, notably New York, fines and
banishment were not uncommon. Such treatment forced the Quakers,
against the will of many of them, to seek a tract of land and
found a colony of their own. To such a course there appeared no
alternative, unless they were determined to establish their
religion solely by martyrdom.

About the time when the Massachusetts laws were enforced, the
principal Quaker leader and organizer, George Fox (1624-1691),
began to consider the possibility of making a settlement among
the great forests and mountains said to lie north of Maryland in
the region drained by the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers. In
this region lay practically the only good land on the Atlantic
seaboard not already occupied. The Puritans and Dutch were on the
north, and there were Catholic and Church of England colonies on
the south in Maryland and Virginia. The middle ground was
unoccupied because heretofore a difficult coast had prevented
easy access by sea. Fox consulted Josiah Coale, a Quaker who had
traveled in America and had seen a good deal of the Indian
tribes, with the result that on his second visit to America Coale
was commissioned to treat with the Susquehanna Indians, who were
supposed to have rights in the desired land. In November, 1660,
Coale reported to Fox the result of his inquiries: "As concerning
Friends buying a piece of land of the Susquehanna Indians I have
spoken of it to them and told them what thou said concerning it;
but their answer was, that there is no land that is habitable or
fit for situation beyond Baltimore's liberty till they come to or
near the Susquehanna's Fort."* Nothing could be done
immediately, the letter went on to say, because the Indians were
at war with one another, and William Fuller, a Maryland Quaker,
whose cooperation was deemed essential, was absent.

* James Bowden's "History of the Friends in America," vol. I, p.

This seems to have been the first definite movement towards a
Quaker colony. Reports of it reached the ears of young Penn at
Oxford and set his imagination aflame. He never forgot the
project, for seventeen is an age when grand thoughts strike home.
The adventurousness of the plan was irresistible--a home for the
new faith in the primeval forest, far from imprisonment, tithes,
and persecution, and to be won by effort worthy of a man. It was,
however, a dream destined not to be realized for many a long
year. More was needed than the mere consent of the Indians. In
the meantime, however, a temporary refuge for the sect was found
in the province of West Jersey on the Delaware, which two Quakers
had bought from Lord Berkeley for the comparatively small sum of
1000 pounds. Of this grant William Penn became one of the
trustees and thus gained his first experience in the business of
colonizing the region of his youthful dreams. But there was never
a sufficient governmental control of West Jersey to make it an
ideal Quaker colony. What little control the Quakers exercised
disappeared after 1702; and the land and situation were not all
that could be desired. Penn, though also one of the owners of
East Jersey, made no attempt to turn that region into a Quaker

Besides West Jersey the Quakers found a temporary asylum in
Aquidneck, now Rhode Island.* For many years the governors and
magistrates were Quakers, and the affairs of this island colony
were largely in their hands. Quakers were also prominent in the
politics of North Carolina, and John Archdale, a Quaker, was
Governor for several years. They formed a considerable element of
the population in the towns of Long Island and Westchester County
but they could not hope to convert these communities into real
Quaker commonwealths.

* This Rhode Island colony should be distinguished from the
settlement at Providence founded by Roger Williams with which it
was later united. See Jones, "The Quakers in the American
Colonies," p. 21, note.

The experience in the Jerseys and elsewhere very soon proved that
if there was to be a real Quaker colony, the British Crown must
give not only a title to the land but a strong charter
guaranteeing self-government and protection of the Quaker faith
from outside interference. But that the British Government would
grant such valued privileges to a sect of schismatics which it
was hunting down in England seemed a most unlikely event. Nothing
but unusual influence at Court could bring it about, and in that
quarter the Quakers had no influence.

Penn never forgot the boyhood ideal which he had developed at
college. For twenty years he led a varied life--driven from home
and whipped by his father for consorting with the schismatic;
sometimes in deference to his father's wishes taking his place in
the gay world at Court; even, for a time, becoming a soldier, and
again traveling in France with some of the people of the Court.
In the end, as he grew older, religious feeling completely
absorbed him. He became one of the leading Quaker theologians,
and his very earnest religious writings fill several volumes. He
became a preacher at the meetings and went to prison for his
heretical doctrines and pamphlets. At last he found himself at
the age of thirty-six with his father dead, and a debt due from
the Crown of 16,000 pounds for services which his distinguished
father, the admiral, had rendered the Government.

Here was the accident that brought into being the great Quaker
colony, by a combination of circumstances which could hardly have
happened twice. Young Penn was popular at Court. He had inherited
a valuable friendship with Charles II and his heir, the Duke of
York. This friendship rested on the solid fact that Penn's
father, the admiral, had rendered such signal assistance in
restoring Charles and the whole Stuart line to the throne. But
still 16,000 pounds or $80,000, the accumulation of many deferred
payments, was a goodly sum in those days, and that the Crown
would pay it in money, of which it had none too much, was
unlikely. Why not therefore suggest paying it instead in wild
land in America, of which the Crown had abundance? That was the
fruitful thought which visited Penn. Lord Berkeley and Lord
Carteret had been given New Jersey because they had signally
helped to restore the Strait family to the throne. All the more
therefore should the Stuart family give a tract of land, and even
a larger tract, to Penn, whose father had not only assisted the
family to the throne but had refrained so long from pressing his
just claim for money due.

So the Crown, knowing little of the value of it, granted him the
most magnificent domain of mountains; lakes, rivers, and forests,
fertile soil, coal, petroleum, and iron that ever was given to a
single proprietor. In addition to giving Penn the control of
Delaware and, with certain other Quakers, that of New Jersey as
well, the Crown placed at the disposal of the Quakers 55,000
square miles of most valuable, fertile territory, lacking only
about three thousand square miles of being as large as England
and Wales. Even when cut down to 45,000 square miles by a
boundary dispute with Maryland, it was larger than Ireland. Kings
themselves have possessed such dominions, but never before a
private citizen who scorned all titles and belonged to a hunted
sect that exalted peace and spiritual contemplation above all the
wealth and power of the world. Whether the obtaining of this
enormous tract of the best land in America was due to what may be
called the eternal thriftiness of the Quaker mind or to the
intense desire of the British Government to get rid of these
people--at any cost might be hard to determine.

Penn received his charter in 1681, and in it he was very careful
to avoid all the mistakes of the Jersey proprietary grants.
Instead of numerous proprietors, Penn was to be the sole
proprietor. Instead of giving title to the land and remaining
silent about the political government, Penn's charter not only
gave him title to the land but a clearly defined position as its
political head, and described the principles of the government so
clearly that there was little room for doubt or dispute.

It was a decidedly feudal charter, very much like the one granted
to Lord Baltimore fifty years before, and yet at the same time it
secured civil liberty and representative government to the
people. Penn owned all the land and the colonists were to be his
tenants. He was compelled, however, to give his people free
government. The laws were to be made by him with the assent of
the people or their delegates. In practice this of course meant
that the people were to elect a legislature and Penn would have a
veto, as we now call it, on such acts as the legislature should
pass. He had power to appoint magistrates, judges, and some other
officers, and to grant pardons. Though, by the charter,
of the province, he usually remained in England and appointed a
deputy governor to exercise authority in the colony. In modern
phrase, he controlled the executive part of the government and
his people controlled the legislative part.

Pennsylvania, besides being the largest in area of the
proprietary colonies, was also the most successful, not only from
the proprietor's point of view but also from the point of view of
the inhabitants. The proprietorships in Maine, New Hampshire, New
Jersey, and the Carolinas were largely failures. Maryland was
only partially successful; it was not particularly remunerative
to its owner, and the Crown deprived him of his control of it for
twenty years. Penn, too, was deprived of the control of
Pennsylvania by William III but for only about two years. Except
for this brief interval (1692-1694), Penn and his sons after him
held their province down to the time of the American Revolution
in 1776, a period of ninety-four years.

A feudal proprietorship, collecting rents from all the people,
seems to modern minds grievously wrong in theory, and yet it
would be very difficult to show that it proved onerous in
practice. Under it the people of Pennsylvania flourished in
wealth, peace, and happiness. Penn won undying fame for the
liberal principles of his feudal enterprise. His expenses in
England were so great and his quitrents always so much in arrears
that he was seldom out of debt. But his children grew rich from
the province. As in other provinces that were not feudal there
were disputes between the people and the proprietors; but there
was not so much general dissatisfaction as might have been
expected. The proprietors were on the whole not altogether
disliked. In the American Revolution, when the people could have
confiscated everything in Pennsylvania belonging to the
proprietary family, they not only left them in possession of a
large part of their land, but paid them handsomely for the part
that was taken.

After Penn had secured his charter in 1681, he obtained from the
Duke of York the land now included in the State of Delaware. He
advertised for colonists, and began selling land at 100 pounds
for five thousand acres and annually thereafter a shilling
quitrent for every hundred acres. He drew up a constitution or
frame of government, as he called it, after wide and earnest
consultation with many, including the famous Algernon Sydney.
Among the Penn papers in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
is a collection of about twenty preliminary drafts. Beginning
with one which erected a government by a landed aristocracy, they
became more and more liberal, until in the end his frame was very
much like the most liberal government of the other English
colonies in America. He had a council and an assembly, both
elected by the people. The council, however, was very large, had
seventy-two members, and was more like an upper house of the
Legislature than the usual colonial governor's council. The
council also had the sole right of proposing legislation, and the
assembly could merely accept or reject its proposals. This was a
new idea, and it worked so badly in practice that in the end the
province went to the opposite extreme and had no council or upper
house of the Legislature at all.

Penn's frame of government contained, however, a provision for
its own amendment. This was a new idea and proved to be so happy
that it is now found in all American constitutions. His method of
impeachment by which the lower house was to bring in the charge
and the upper house was to try it has also been universally
adopted. His view that an unconstitutional law is void was a step
towards our modern system. The next step, giving the courts power
to declare a law unconstitutional, was not taken until one
hundred years after his time. With the advice and assistance of
some of those who were going out to his colony he prepared a code
of laws which contained many of the advanced ideas of the
Quakers. Capital punishment was to be confined to murder and
treason, instead of being applied as in England to a host of
minor offenses. The property of murderers, instead of being
forfeited to the State, was to be divided among the next of kin
of the victim and of the criminal. Religious liberty was
established as it had been in Rhode Island and the Jerseys. All
children were to be taught a useful trade. Oaths in judicial
proceedings were not required. All prisons were to be workhouses
and places of reformation instead of dungeons of dirt, idleness,
and disease. This attempt to improve the prisons inaugurated a
movement of great importance in the modern world in which the
part played by the Quakers is too often forgotten.

Penn had now started his "Holy Experiment," as he called his
enterprise in Pennsylvania, by which he intended to prove that
religious liberty was not only right, but that agriculture,
commerce, and all arts and refinements of life would flourish
under it. He would break the delusion that prosperity and morals
were possible only under some one particular faith established by
law. He, would prove that government could be carried on without
war and without oaths, and that primitive Christianity could be
maintained without a hireling ministry, without persecution,
without ridiculous dogmas or ritual, sustained only by its own
innate power and the inward light.