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Historical Notes

William Penn

Born: 1644 ~ London
Died: 1718
Note: Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania

His father was a naval officer and a wealthy landowner. The young Penn was educated at Essex and then at Oxford, where he was expelled for minor rebellious activities. His father sent him to law school and then to manage family estates in Ireland. It was here that he met a Quaker preacher named Thomas Loe who introduced him to Quaker beliefs, and succeeded in converting him at a time when Quakers were severely persecuted and imprisoned. On the first of several imprisonments for Quaker activities, in 1668 he wrote "No Cross, No Crown," a treatise of beliefs and practices of Quakerism. He was much aware of the longing by Quaker's to worship in freedom, and later on the continent of Europe it was further heightened by other Quakers. In 1680 he asked King Charles II to repay a long outstanding, interest accruing debt to his deceased father with land in the New World, and was granted a charter on March 4, 1681 that granted him territory west of the Delaware River between New York and Maryland with almost unlimited power to rule. The next year, he sailed to America to see his land which was already being called Penn's Woods and made a treaty with the local indians. His dream was to establish a Christian State where people may worship without fear of governmental intervention.

William Penn spent much of the rest of his life in Britain and Europe trying to acquire Christians from various persecuted groups to guarantee that his New World experiment would remain Christian. He targeted his own native Quakers, German Pietists, Mennonites, and especially industrious Germans who were still hurting from the aftermath of the Thirty Years War. He later died in London.

Philadelphia quickly became the most prominent city in the region, and the nations largest city until 1830, right ahead of New York, Baltimore, and Boston. It still holds several notable distinctions of being first in the nation: a brick house (1682), paper mill (1690), public school (1698), botanical garden (1719), and first public library (1731) to name only a few.

In 1683, Franz Pastorius arrived with thirteen German Mennonite families seeking religious freedom. They purchased 43,000 acres of land and founded Germantown, just six miles northwest of Philadelphia. In later years, German Baptist Brethren would also find this same area to be a haven from religious persecution, arriving first in 1719 with the Peter Becker party.

Additional Resources

Written by Ronald J. Gordon as extended information for other major articles

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