William Penn & Quakers Arrive
English Settlement of Pennsylvania
New Religious Sects — At the time when the English colonies in America were being settled many new ideas had risen in Europe on the subject of religion. The common people had begun to think very freely on this subject and a number of new sects were formed. Everywhere there were state religions, kept up by the governments, and by these the members of the new sects were often badly treated, but no treatment was severe enough to make them give up their beliefs. Many of them were put in prison—and the prisons of those times were horrible places, dens of filth and sickness—but despite this the new sects continued to grow. Those who suffered on earth were sure that they would be rewarded in heaven.
George Fox and His Doctrine — Among the new sects was one founded in 1648 by a poor shoemaker named George Fox, and preached by him throughout England at such times as he was out of prison. Great numbers came to hear him and soon there were thousands of converts to his doctrine. He did not believe in fighting, or in taking oaths, or that one man was better than another, or in show and ceremony of any kind, or in paying to support the state religion. His followers would not take off their hats before any man, even before the king, or speak of any man as "you," for they thought this was a sign of pride. With them every man was "thou" or "thee."
The Friends or Quakers — These people called themselves "Friends,"
or "Children of Light," for they held that all truth came to them through the "inner light," not through men's teachings. God spoke to their hearts, they said, and in so doing was their guide. They would tremble or quake when they felt that the inner light had come to them, and from this they were soon spoken of as "Quakers." This title was given them in derision, but it came to be that by which they were everywhere known. They are still Friends among themselves, but Quakers to the world at large.
How the Quakers Were Treated — Of all the sects the Quakers were treated the worst. The prisons were crowded with them and hundreds of them died in these dreadful places. Most of them were poor; they would not resist the officers of the law; if a prison door were thrown open they would not walk out; but they would not obey any law that interfered with their religion, or pay to help support the state religion, and the government found them a difficult people to deal with. It is well that you should know something about the history and opinions of the Quakers, for they are the people to whom we owe the State of Pennsylvania.
William Penn — There were certain persons of importance among the Quakers, and chief among these was a man named William Penn. He was the son of an admiral in the British army, Sir William Penn, who had lent money to the king and had much power at the king's court. The young man was handsome, manly, and well educated, and like his father was a friend of the king; also of his brother, the Duke of York, to whom King Charles had given all the land along the Hudson and the Delaware Rivers, in America. But young Penn was a man of strong mind. He had heard a Quaker preacher named Thomas Lee and was soon full of the new ideas, which he talked about at home and abroad. His father was so angry that he turned his Quaker son out of the house and the law officers soon put him in prison. But nothing could stop him; he preached, he wrote, he was in and out of prison; he taught Quakerism in Germany, and next to George Fox he was the leading Quaker in Europe.
A Refuge in America — There was only one place to which the ill-treated members of the new sects could look for peace and safety. This was in America. Many years before, the Pilgrims and Puritans of England had found homes in New England, where there was no one to disturb them. Later on the Catholics had come for safety to Maryland. And now, William Penn began to look across the sea to find a place of refuge for his friends and fellow sufferers.
Early Quakers in America — Some Quakers had already made their way to New England, but the Puritans would not have them there. Some they hanged and others they banished, and in this cruel way got rid of "the troublesome new-comers." Later on, a number came to New Jersey, where they soon became so numerous that Penn took part with other Quakers in the purchase of that province. Some of these settlers crossed the Delaware to its western side. Thus when Penn reached America he found Quakers in his new province.
The Indian Country — The time was now close at hand for the Quaker settlement of Pennsylvania. Some of the New Jersey settlers wrote to William Penn and told him that "the Indian country on the west side of the Delaware is most beautiful to look upon, and only wanteth a wise people to render it, like ancient Canaan, 'the glory of the earth." Penn wanted a home for his Quaker brethren where they would be quite free to worship God in their own way. Here was the land waiting for him. It had as yet only a few hundred settlers, Swedes, Dutch, and English. It might be made a great Quaker commonwealth.
Penn's Grant of Land — Admiral Penn was now dead and William had become the heir of his estate. The admiral had loaned King Charles II sixteen thousand pounds, a sum which the king, who spent all the money he could get, was not likely soon to pay back. In 1680 William Penn asked King Charles to grant him a tract of land in America in payment of this debt. This he found the king quite willing to do. It was an easy way to get out of debt by giving away land that belonged to the Indians. At the same time it would kelp him to get rid of those obstinate Quakers who kept his law officers so busy. So he readily gave Penn the land asked for, and by the 4th of March, 1681, the charter to the new province was drawn up and ready to be signed. Penn himself wrote much of it, partly copying from the charter by which Maryland was granted to Lord Baltimore.
Extent and Name of the New Province — The king proposed to give Penn a tract of land between Maryland on the south and New York on the north; extending northward from the 40th to the 43rd degree of latitude, and five degrees in longitude from the Delaware westward. But what was then thought to be the 40th parallel of latitude did not prove to be so, and this mistake made much trouble in later years, since disputes arose as to the border line between Pennsylvania and Maryland. This trouble began at once, but its story must be told later on. As for the name of the new colony, Penn proposed to call it New Wales. When this name was rejected he proposed Sylvania, or "Woodland." To this "Penn" was added by those who drew up the charter. The new proprietor did not like this; it was too much like worldly pride for his Quaker ideas; but the king would not strike it out, and so the name stood as Pennsylvania, or "Penn's Woodland."
Markham Takes Possession — As may be imagined, the Quakers of England were greatly pleased by this transaction. The charter was barely signed before numbers of them prepared to cross the ocean to this new land of refuge. Penn at once sent out his cousin, Colonel William Markham, to take possession and act as his deputy. He reached the Delaware about July 1, 1681, landing at the Swedish village of Upland. There he visited some of the Indian chiefs and purchased from them a considerable tract of land, being part of what is now Bucks County. For this he gave the Indians a large variety of goods, such as wampum, guns, blankets, pipes, and many other things. The Indians were quite satisfied with this sale. They had plenty of land but little of these goods, and they were very willing to exchange part of their land for these useful articles.
Philadelphia Laid Out — During that year three ships loaded with settlers came up the Delaware. Commissioners were also sent over to select a suitable place for the large town which Penn proposed to build. They were told to examine Upland, but they chose for the new town a place farther north, where the Delaware ran close to a high bank, and another river, called Schuylkill by the Dutch, ran into it. Here was to be the city named by Penn [as] Philadelphia, a word which means 'Brotherly Love.' As laid out, it was two miles long, from the Delaware to the Schuylkill, and one mile wide, from Vine Street to Cedar (now South) Street. As is well known, the city many years ago extended beyond these narrow limits.
The Good Ship Welcome — On the 27th of October, 1682, the good ship Welcome, with William Penn and about seventy emigrants on board, came to anchor in front of New Castle, a settlement of the Dutch and Swedes in what is now Delaware. About one hundred passengers had set sail, but thirty had died of smallpox on the voyage and been buried at sea. Two days later Upland was reached. Penn is said to have changed the name of this place to Chester at the suggestion of his friend Pearson, who had come from Chester, England.
Penn Goes to Philadelphia — William Penn was very anxious to see the place where his new city had been laid out, and the story is told that he went up the river from Upland in an open boat in early November. Many settlers were there already, and as he passed up by the city front he could see the cave dwellings which had been dug in the river bank. Here [temporary] excavations were made and over them were built roofs of split trees, branches, and twigs, the whole usually covered with sods. The chimneys were made of stones, clay, and river grass. In these cave dwellings lived many of the settlers in some small degree of comfort while their houses were being built, and in one of them, at the foot of Sassafras (now Race) Street, was born John Key, the first English child born in Pennsylvania. Penn made the child a present of a city lot. Penn inspected the site of his new town, still covered with woodland, with much pleasure. Its streets were so far laid out only on paper, but he could see how well nature had fitted the site for a great city. His plan was to have every house built in the middle of a large plot, "so that there may be grounds on either side for gardens or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country town that will never be burned and always wholesome."’ There is little trace of this fine plan in the city today. Most of the early houses were of wood, but some were built of stone and had balconies and porches. The scene was a very busy one as the new town grew in size, the women helping the men in their building work, even sawing wood and carrying mortar.
Arrival of Settlers — During 1682 more than two thousand settlers arrived, most of them landing at Chester and Philadelphia. They had suffered on the long voyage, but they had brought much property with them from England—furniture, tools, building materials, and provisions—and were ready to begin housekeeping at once. There was plenty to eat, for fish, deer, turkeys, ducks and other wild fowl were supplied at low rates by the Indians, who got along very well with these quiet, peace-loving people.
Penn and the Indians — As for the Indians, we may be sure they were eager to see the great William Penn, of whom much had been told them. He was quite as glad to see them, with their alert forms and dignified faces. He walked about with them, sat in their wigwams and ate of their roasted hominy. And when they began to show how they could jump, it is said that he surprised them by out-jumping the best of them. Penn was then less than forty years of age and no doubt very active and agile.
The Treaty with the Indians — Not much can be said of the famous treaty with the Indians, though a picture of this has been made, with Penn in the centre and the Indians sitting all around. Very likely there was such a treaty, and it may have taken place under the elm tree at Kensington, where a treaty monument now stands. The elm tree blew down long ago and only the monument marks the spot. No record was kept of this famous treaty and we do not know just what took place. But many years afterwards some of the Indians said: "We shall never forget the counsel that William Penn gave us; though we cannot write, like the English, yet we can keep in memory what was said in our councils." Not while Penn lived was a drop of Quaker blood shed by an Indian, and when he died his [Indian] admirers showed great grief at the loss of the great and good Onas," their best friend among the [English].
The Grant of Delaware — Penn was wise enough to see that it would be best to have his province extend to the ocean, and for this purpose the Duke of York gave him the territory now forming the State of Delaware. He had laid out three counties—Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester—and there were three counties in Delaware which for twenty years formed part of Pennsylvania. Afterwards Delaware got a legislature of its own, but it remained under the governor of Pennsylvania until the Revolution. Over all his grand domain William Penn had almost princely control, his charter giving him much more power than King Charles had kept for himself.
For this royal domain all he had to pay the king, aside from the sixteen thousand pounds of debt, was two beaver skins a year and one-fifth of all the gold and silver he should find. As these metals were not found, the beaver skins covered the whole rent. Penn, however, bought from the Indians all the land he used, and he gave the Swedes who had farms on the site of Philadelphia. As much good land elsewhere, for he was too honest to think that the King had any right to give away what did not belong to him, its true owners being the Indians.
The First Assembly — Penn had called a meeting of representatives of the people, to assemble at Chester on December 6. They did not all come, for many of them were too busy building and farming, but about forty came together on the day fixed. To this Assembly Penn offered a code of laws which he had drawn up before leaving England. There was to be complete religious liberty, though non-believers in Christ could not vote or hold office. Only property holders could vote; but this excluded only servants and vagrants, since all others had property. All persons were forbidden to sell strong liquors to the Indians. The death penalty was limited to those guilty of murder and treason. Dueling was prohibited and the drunkard could be fined. Such was the "Great Law." It had much else in it, but these were its leading features. It formed the basis of the government of Pennsylvania during the colonial period. It was great in giving the people full religious liberty, which did not then exist in Europe. It also cut down the penalty of death to murder and treason. At that time there were many small crimes in England for which people could be hanged, and the laws everywhere were very severe. In this way William Penn proved himself a liberal and far-seeing man.
The Plan of Philadelphia — William Penn did much more than to make laws for his new province. He wished to have a fine and handsome city and laid out Philadelphia with streets crossing each other at right angles and much wider than the streets of the cities of England. Those that ran east and west were given the names of trees in the forest around, as Chestnut, Walnut, Pine, etc. Those running north and south were known by numbers. There were to be a High Street passing through the center from river to river, and a Broad Street through the center north and south. Each of these was to be one hundred feet wide. In the centre of the city, where these streets crossed, was to be a square of ten acres, and in each quarter of the city squares of eight acres. These squares still exist, except the central one, on which now stands Philadelphia's great City Hall.
Growth of the City — As has been said, not many settlers had come to the Delaware in the fifty years before Penn's arrival. Afterwards they came in large numbers. In 1683 nearly one hundred houses were built in Philadelphia, and two years afterwards there were six hundred houses with about three thousand people. Many others settled in the country between the Falls of Trenton and Chester and Marcus Hook. In the latter place the first Friends’ meeting-house was built. Most of the country dwellers planted Indian corn the first spring and had good crops in the autumn. Penn was proud of the promising growth of his colony, which increased more rapidly than any other in America. Before he returned to England, in 1684, there were about five thousand persons in the new province.
New Land Bought from the Indians — Immigration was so rapid that Penn soon saw the need of more land than that purchased by Markham, and he bought another large tract from the Indians. They were quite willing to dispose of part of their forest in exchange for the goods of the [Europeans], though they would have had no use for money. The story told about this purchase is a tradition and we cannot be sure of its truth. It is stated that in this (or perhaps some other) purchase the land bought was to go as far back as a man could walk in three days. Penn and his friends, with a number of Indians, set out from the mouth of Neshaminv Creek to make the walk, going along in an easy fashion, now and then sitting down to rest and eat their crackers and cheese, and for the Indians to smoke. At the end of a day and a half they had reached a large spruce tree near Baker Creek. The party by this time were tired, so Penn said he had land enough and would leave the remainder for a future day. It was a sad time for the poor Indians when that day came, as will be seen further on.
The Letitia House — In the summer of 1683 Penn built a house to which he gave the name of his daughter Letitia, also giving her name to the street on which it stood. This house has been moved to a beautiful location in Fairmount Park, where it has hosts of visitors. He lived in this humble mansion part of the time and here held the sessions of his Council, which was both a lawmaking body and a court. Here, in February, 1684, the Council tried a woman on the charge of witchcraft, William Penn sitting as judge. The jury of eight Friends brought in the verdict: "Guilty of having the common fame of a witch, but not guilty in form and manner as she stands indicted." That was the only trial for witchcraft ever held in Pennsylvania.
Education and Immigration — An important action of Penn and his Council was to establish a school in which the young people of the city might gain some degree of education, the master chosen being Enoch Flower, who for twenty years had been a teacher in England. New settlers were now coming rapidly, about fifty ships arriving in 1683. And these were by no means all Englishmen. Many Welsh came, most of them Friends, who settled through the country around. And there were many Germans also, some of whom founded the village of Germantown. Some of these were Friends, others belonged to German sects, though these were like the Friends in some of their religious views.
— History Of Pennsylvania by Charles Morris (1913)