- Penn, William
- ( 164 4-1718 )Quaker leader and advocate of religious freedomWilliam Penn was born in London, England, on October 14, 1644. He was raised as a member of the Church of England. His early life showed little direction, but after hearing Thomas Loe preach, he became a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers). This landed him in prison on several occasions as he began to speak out for personal and religious liberties. He quickly rose in the small movement and in 1677 traveled with founder George Fox to Holland.About this time, Penn wrote a charter for some British Quakers hoping to settle in New Jersey. The "Concessions and Agreements" document included provisions for the right to a jury trial and freedom from imprisonment for debt, and it forbade capital punishment. More than 800 Quakers migrated to New Jersey.In 1681, he called in a debt owed his father by the king. The king granted him a charter to what became Pennsylvania (and Delaware). Penn hoped to recoup his finances by selling tracts of land. He also hoped to make of Pennsylvania an experiment in self-governance. He attracted enough investors to keep him afloat, but his "holy experiment" made a decisive mark on history. Penn constructed a legal framework that included many of the same rights previously written into the document for the New Jersey colonists. He arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682 and made treaties with various native peoples.Penn spent most of the rest of his life in England, mired in the ups and down of royal politics. He lost control of Pennsylvania for a while, but he managed to reinstitute provisions of his initial charter in 1699, placing essential powers in the hands of the legislative assembly.Penn died in 1718, leaving his sons in control of Pennsylvania for the next generation.Though Penn was unable to enjoy most of the fruits of his labors, he created one of the most religiously liberal governments of his time. The success of the colony's pluralistic life helped inspire the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and its groundbreaking experiment with religious liberty.Further reading:■ Genevieve Foster, The World of William Penn (New York: Scribner, 1973)■ Jean R. Soderlund and Richard S. Dunn, eds., William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania: 1680-1684 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999)■ William Penn, No Cross No Crown (1669; reprint, Shippensburg, Pa.: Destiny Image, 2001); , The Political Writings of William Penn, ed. by Andrew R. Murphy (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2002)■ ----,William Penn on Religion and Ethics: The Emergence of Liberal Quakerism, 2 vols., ed. by Hugh S. Barbour (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.