Penn Returns to England

His Later Years

Penn Returns to England — Though William Penn had founded a prosperous colony, it did not bring him either happiness or riches. While he enjoyed the years spent by him in America, he had many troubles and sufferings to bear in his later life. In August, 1684, he took ship back for England, where there were business matters for him to attend to. He did not expect to be long gone, but fifteen years passed before he again set foot on American soil.

Penn is Persecuted — Penn had severe persecutions to contend with. The Duke of York, the king's brother, who had given him the province of Delaware, became king himself, as James II, in 1684. He acted so much like a tyrant that in 1688 he was driven from the throne, and now all his friends were looked upon as enemies of the new king, William III. William Penn was one of these. He wanted to return to Pennsylvania and in 1690 laid plans to do so, expecting to take with him a colony of about five hundred families. But he had enemies in court and was several times arrested on the charge of trying to help the banished king. In the end, in 1692, the government of his province was taken away from him and was not restored until 1694.

Penn's Return to His Province — It was not until 1699 that Penn was able to revisit his beloved colony. Colonel Markham, his cousin, was governor at that time, but there were pirates in the Delaware and the governor was accused of helping them. Penn was therefore told that he must dismiss Markham and appoint a new governor. Instead of doing this he set sail himself for Pennsylvania, where he became once more his own governor. This time he had no intention of returning to England but hoped to spend the rest of his life among his people in America. Markham had built for him a fine mansion called Pennsbury, at a place above Bristol, and here he proposed to live in the style his position called for and to govern his province in the just and peaceful way suited to the principles of the Friends.

The Pennsbury Mansion — A large tract of land had been laid aside for Penn's country estate, running far back from the banks of the Delaware. The Pennsbury country-house was ready for him on his arrival, being built on a piece of rising ground facing the river. It was sixty feet long, and forty feet deep with wings, and was built of brick, two stories high, with a tile roof. In front was a broad porch with stone steps leading to the lawn. Inside it was handsomely fitted up and furnished, with plenty of plate and other household needs. Of this fine house not a trace now remains. The garden of Pennsbury was large and so beautiful that it became in time the wonder of the province. A coach was kept for traveling, but the roads were so bad that it was little used. Penn preferred to ride on horseback in his journeys through the country around and to go in a boat when he wanted to visit the city.

Penn's Last Two Years in America — When Penn reached his new city [Philadelphia], in this visit, he looked on it with surprise and delight. He had heard of its growth but could not help wondering at its fine appearance. From a small town it had grown into a city of more than two thousand houses, and was so full of new faces that he felt almost like a stranger. The Quakers welcomed him warmly, but there were many who were not glad to see him in their midst, since plots and plans were afoot of which they feared Governor Penn might not approve. Of all those in his province the Indians gave him the warmest welcome, for they knew that in William Penn they had their best friend. Two years he stayed and in that time gave the province a new and very liberal set of laws and brought the colony into much better order. Then business matters required his presence in London. He hoped to return to America in a short time, but he never saw his colony again.

In The Debtor's Prison — Troubles grew thick around the great colonizer during the years that followed. A steward of his named Philip Ford had in some way brought Penn greatly in debt to him and got from him a large tract of land as security for the debt. He kept asking for more until in the end Penn made over to him the whole province of Pennsylvania as security [collateral]. After his return to London in 1701 this Ford claim came before the courts. Penn's friends would not let him pay it; as it was not a just claim, and in 1707 he went to the debtor's prison. Here he stayed for about nine months, when the heirs of Ford were forced to lower their claim. In the end they accepted about one-half of it, some of Penn's friends paying the money and setting him free. Very little money came to Penn from Pennsylvania, though he had sold hundreds of thousands of acres. In fact, he became so poor that he offered to sell his rights to the Crown, but before the papers were ready to sign he was stricken with paralysis. This was in 1712. He lived, a sick and feeble man, six years longer, dying in 1718. When the news of his death reached his province it was received with deep sorrow by whites and Indians alike. All honest men felt that in him they had lost a true and noble friend.

— History Of Pennsylvania by Charles Morris (1913)


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