Laws & Customs

Colonial Pennsylvania

A Happy Colony — The people who came to William Penn's province had reason to be happy. In the other colonies there had been much hardship and many had died from sickness or famine, but here all went well from the start. The soil was fertile, the climate pleasant, the Indians peaceful, food plentiful, the laws under which they lived mild and just. Nearly all the early settlers were persons who did not believe in war or strife and wished to dwell in peace and goodwill with all men. In the new city of Philadelphia the sounds of hammer and saw were everywhere heard, houses rose as if they had grown out of the ground, ships came in a steady stream loaded with new colonists, and Penn, their wise leader, was with them to see that all were justly treated.

Thomas Lloyd — One of the early comers was Thomas Lloyd, a native of Wales, and a man of wisdom and education. He had joined the Friends in England and brought his wife and nine children to seek a home of freedom beyond the sea. When Penn went back to England in 1684 he left this man to take his place as president of the [Provincial] Council and keeper of the great seal of the province. After William Penn, the Quakers looked upon Thomas Lloyd as the chief man among them and his possession of the great seal, with which all laws had to be stamped, made him the real head of the government, whether in or out of office, until his death in 1694.

Troubles to Deal With – Lloyd had troubles to deal with, as every man in authority has. There was a Council chosen by Penn and an Assembly chosen by the people, and these two did not work well together. And the people in the cave dwellings along the banks of the Delaware were soon another source of trouble. These caves had been dug in the bank by the early comers, who lived in them till their houses were built. After they left them some riotous fellows, who in various ways had got into the colony, began to live in them, and by drunkenness and bad behavior made them such a nuisance that the good people were greatly disturbed. In the end, in 1685, the caves were destroyed and the rioters were driven off.

Printing and Education — The Friends who came to Philadelphia were an intelligent people and it was not long before they had the printing press in use. Within seven years after Penn's landing there was one at work in the new city, an almanac being one of the first things issued. William Bradford had brought this press from England, with type, paper and ink, to print books for the Friends. The first newspaper made its appearance in 1719, and by that time there were postal routes from Philadelphia to Virginia and Boston. Penn had set up a post-office as early as 1683. Education was also attended to. We have spoken of Enoch Flower's little school. One of higher grade was soon opened, the Friends' Public Grammar School, chartered in 1689. It is of interest to be able to say that Philadelphia still has this school, now known as the William Penn Charter School. There were soon schools in Germantown, Darby, and other places, in which the young people of that day could get an education.

Governor Fletcher — There were quarrels in the new colony, some of them due to the acts of John Blackwell, an old soldier, who had been made deputy governor in 1688. News of these troubles was among the reasons which caused the king in 1692 to take away the office of governor from Penn and give it to Benjamin Fletcher, governor of New York. Fletcher reached Philadelphia early in 1693. He was a headstrong man who soon showed that he cared nothing for the charter or the laws of William Penn. He tried to make the Assembly vote money to support a war then going on between New York and Canada, but they refused to vote it unless he would restore the old laws of William Penn. For two years he ruled, and then some of Penn's friends got the king to give back the government of the province to its rightful owner.

Colonel Markham Deputy Governor — As Penn was not yet able to come to America, he made his cousin, Colonel Markham, deputy governor. The chief thing Markham did was to have a law passed which was more liberal in some ways than Penn's “Great Law.” New rights were given to the Assembly, and the peace that afterward ruled in the colony showed the changes to be wise ones.

Pirates in the Delaware — A new source of trouble came from the pirates, sea robbers who were then so numerous along tlie American coasts that all honest trade was in danger. Many of these sought lurking places along Delaware Bay. They found the Delaware a safe place, for the Quaker settlers were so opposed to strife of any kind that nothing was done against the freebooters, even when they robbed the people along the bay and river. As Markham made no effort to drive them away he was accused of helping them, and it was this, as we have already said, that caused Penn to come back to his province in 1699 and act as his own governor.

Penn in Philadelphia — Penn brought with him a wife whom he had recently married, Hannah Callowhill, whose name persists in one of the city streets. He also brought Letitia, the daughter of his first wife, after whom he had named the Letitia House. James Logan, who was afterward a very important man in the colony, came as his secretary. And he was not long in Philadelphia before his son, John Penn, was born. He was the only one of Penn's children born in America, and therefore was called "The American."

A New Constitution — Penn soon had laws passed to drive away the pirates and the Delaware was cleared of this tribe of plunderers. But the most important thing done was to give the people of his province a new constitution [1701]. He did not approve of what Colonel Markham had done in this direction, yet he wanted a code of laws that would satisfy all the reasonable demands of the people. The new constitution was much broader than the “Great Law” of 1682. The Council was now made the adviser of the Governor, its former lawmaking power being taken from it and left in the hands of the Assembly and the Governor. This is what the Assembly had demanded for nearly twenty years, and it now became a regular legislative body. Before this time all laws had to be proposed and prepared by the Council. Penn's charter gave him the sole power of establishing courts of justice, but he now gave the Assembly the right to join him in this, while the Council selected the judges.

Philadelphia a City — A charter was given by Penn in 1701 by which Philadelphia was made a city, Edward Shippen being appointed its first mayor. The first alderman and members of the common council were also appointed. A new mayor was to be elected every year. In November, 1701, Penn set sail for England, after selecting Andrew Hamilton, former governor of East Jersey, for his deputy and making James Logan secretary of the province, clerk of the Council, and his personal agent, with charge of all his private affairs.

How Matters Went On — Matters were proceeding in a way Penn did not much like. The Quakers begun to find themselves opposed by a strong party who held other opinions. The people of the Delaware counties were hostile to the union with Pennsylvania. Governor Hamilton acted against the Quaker doctrines by organizing a company of militia in Philadelphia and proposing others elsewhere. There were many who held that the Quakers, with their doctrine of non-resistance, were unfit to rule a colony.

How Crimes Were Dealt With — While the Quakers were an honest and quiet people, there were many in the province of different character, and these made plenty of work for the courts. Among the common offenses were stealing, swearing, working on Sunday, assault and battery, selling rum to the Indians, and various others. These were usually punished by fines. A liar was fined half a crown. The fine for playing cards and gambling in any way was five shillings and imprisonment at hard labor for five days. For drinking healths the fine was also five shillings. Anyone who smoked tobacco in the streets of Philadelphia or New Castle was fined twelve pence, the money thus obtained being used to buy fire buckets and other fire apparatus. Ten days in prison and twenty shillings fine was the punishment for taking part in plays, revels, bull-baiting, cockfights, and the like popular sports of the times.

Substitutes for Money — The scarcity of money made it at times not easy to pay a fine or settle an account, and other things often took the place of cash. Thus we read of one account being settled in court by two bushels of wheat and 172 pounds of pork, and another by three bottles of rum and one thousand six-penny nails. In another case 150 pounds of pork were paid for a shirt. Immigrants who could not pay their passage money could be sold as servants for a term of years, yet the courts guarded their rights. In one case the court ordered a master, who had turned off his servant without keeping his word with him, "to pay him" a hat, coat, waistcoat, breeches, drawers, stockings and shoes, all new, also ten bushels of wheat or fourteen bushels of corn, two hoes and one axe. Such was the currency of the country in those early days.

— History Of Pennsylvania by Charles Morris (1913)


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