William Penn

Who was William Penn?

William Penn was the founder of the Pennsylvania colony in North America in the late 17th century. Later Sir William Penn, was also an English nobleman, writer and early Quaker. He played an instrumental role in shaping the colony as well as the future political culture of North America. His ideas and ideals were an inspiration in creating the Constitution of the United States.

Early Life

William Penn was born in 1644 in London. At an early age, he converted to Quakerism. This put him at odds with the British crown and the authorities later in his life. He was disinherited by his father after his conversion and ordered to leave his family house.

Once removed from the house, Penn wandered across Britain and Europe. He traveled to Ireland in 1669 and met with many prominent Quaker individuals of the time. Later, Penn would travel to Germany in 1671. At Germany, he met with many religious minorities who would later be represented in the Pennsylvania colony.

Persecution for Religious Beliefs

In 1968, William Penn published his first pamphlet. This pamphlet was deeply critical of the Catholic Church while also criticizing the English monarch. It enunciated the Quaker beliefs although the tone of the pamphlet was very reactive. The same year, he wrote a follow-up pamphlet in a similar vein. He was then imprisoned in the Tower of London. The religious authorities and the King wanted Penn to recant his writings and express remorse before he could be released. However, Penn refused to do so.

He was also accused of denying fundamental Christian beliefs, such as the Trinity, he Penn defended himself and said that he didn’t deny Trinity. In prison, Penn was presented with ink and paper to write an apology – instead, he penned another pamphlet in his defense. After being imprisoned for nearly 8 months, he was finally released.

The Gift from the King

By the late 1670s, the conditions for the Quakers had grown tough in both Britain and Continental Europe. So Quakers began to explore the idea of migrating to the New World in North America and establish their settlements there.

This idea had already been implemented and some Quaker groups had already migrated to the North America. Penn now wanted King’s permission to extend the Quake settlement. To his surprise, Penn was awarded a land area sized at 45,000 square miles in North America. This generous gift from the king made Penn one of the largest landowners of the time.

Founder of the Pennsylvania Colony

Now an owner of a large tract of land in North America, William Penn traveled to the New World. He explored the land and then called upon Quaker families in Europe to join him in establishing a new settlement with religious freedom.

The settlement gradually took root and flourished. Penn returned to England in 1684 and then came back to Pennsylvania 18 years later. By this time, the American colony had significantly grown. At the same time, Penn’s central authority had also diminished. Nevertheless, Penn is credited with being the true founder of the colony which would ultimately become one of the Thirteen Colonies.

Learn more about William Penn at Wikipedia

Memorials of the Professional Life and Times of Sir William Penn. From 1644 to 1670.: V. 2 Paperback – April 27, 2009