William Penn Timeline
William Penn, Jr. was born in London to William & Margaret Penn.
Oliver Cromwell soon closed Parliament and became Lord Protector of England. Due to the political climate, Admiral Penn moved his family to their estates at Macroom Castle, Ireland.
The English Civil War
Since King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church and formed the Church of England, the English people had been embroiled in a conflict over religion. The break with Rome had opened a floodgate of religious arguments which would lead to new protestant sects and a struggle for power. At this time, there was NO separation between church and state, which meant that the church in charge would have far-reaching influence over the entire country. After over a century of struggling, it came down to the supporters of Charles I and his Church of England against the elected Parliament, which consisted of mainly Puritan members. In 1642 war broke out, and finally ended in 1646 with the surrender of Charles I. Charles was beheaded three years later and the Puritans took control, declaring England a Commonwealth and controlling the government for the next decade.
Penn heard his first Quaker preacher, Thomas Lee.
Penn entered Christ Church College, Oxford, outside of London. But he refused to follow the Church of England’s strict religious practices, and was expelled after only two years.
Penn studied law at one of London's Inns of Court, Lincoln's Inn. But he left almost immediately to go to sea and observe his father's naval command for three weeks.
During the 1660s, a number of devastating events left an impact on Penn, who was only in his 20s. In 1665, the Great Plague spread through London and killed 68,596 people. A year later, the Great Fire of London burned its way through 373 of 450 acres located within city walls, which included over 13,000 homes. In 1667 the Dutch then sailed up the Thames and set another fire, which burned through the English shipping industry. These disasters influenced the way Penn laid out the City of Philadelphia. For example, he planned for his “country towne” buildings to be made of brick and separated by plenty of open space to prevent fires.
Penn joined the radical religious group the Society of Friends.
A Life-Changing Decision
Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell is a controversial figure in English history, but one policy change we can applaud is his government’s tolerance of other Christian sects in England during their decade of rule. Apart from Catholics, the Commonwealth allowed people to openly promote other biblical interpretations. This included George Fox, a charismatic speaker and founder of a group later called Quakers. Penn’s decision to join Fox shocked his upper class family. Penn risked his social position, political connections, and financial prospects by choosing this path. Family friend Samuel Pepys wrote that Penn had "become a Quaker, or some such melancoly thing." Under Charles II, dissenters were persecuted and jailed, but Penn would defend his faith with all his talent and energy for the rest of his life.
Penn wrote Sandy Foundation Shaken, questioning the doctrine of the trinity. Along with the printer of this pamphlet, he was jailed in the Tower of London and charged with blasphemy.
Penn wrote No Cross, No Crown, rejecting the English class system and promoting a plain lifestyle.
Penn was arrested for “unlawful preaching” but a jury declared him not guilty.
Penn’s father, Admiral William Penn, died. From his deathbed, Admiral Penn petitions King Charles II to favor his son.
Penn and fellow Quaker William Meade were arrested in 1670 for preaching on a London street. The jury found him not guilty on charges of inciting a riot. This was a groundbreaking shift in legal precedent, as the jury refused to bow to pressure from the Lord Chief Justice and Recorder of London to declare them guilty. They even imprisoned the jurors for 3 days without food, water, or chamber pots, but still they would not relent. Parliament soon after passed a law protecting juries from being jailed or punished for their decisions.
Penn married Gulielma Springett, a fellow Quaker, and moved to Basing House. They would have eight children, but only three would reach adulthood: Springett (1675-1696), Letitia (1678-1746), and William Penn Jr. (1681-1720).
Penn mediates a dispute between two of West New Jersey's Quaker proprietors. Then, he becomes a trustee of West New Jersey. This is Penn's first official contact with America. He works with the other trustees to make West New Jersey a haven for Quaker colonists.
King Charles II granted Penn a large tract of land in America to repay debts the king owed to Penn's father. Penn used this land to form a colony in the New World. Hundreds of settlers answered his call to come to America, including many persecuted Quakers who took refuge in the new colony.
Penn sailed for America onboard the Welcome. This was Penn's first trip to America, and he arrived that fall after smallpox killed 31 of his fellow passengers.
On July 5, William Markham, Penn’s cousin and agent, made the first land purchase from the Lenape. This included the future site of Pennsbury.
The Lenni Lenape
William Penn was committed to peace in the colony, and began developing friendly relations with the Native Americans before arriving in Pennsylvania. Because of his fair trade practices and willingness to learn their culture, Penn immediately established a reputation for dealing fairly with the Lenni Lenape. Of course, peace could not have been possible had the natives been hostile to Penn’s overtures. Part of his success was due to fortuitous circumstances. The natives to the west (the Susquahannocks, in the Susquehanna Valley) had left their land, so the Delaware Valley Indians (later known as Lenni Lenape) were able to give their lands up to the flood of Europeans and move to western territory without hindrance. Otherwise rapport between Penn and the Lenape would probably not have been so cordial.
"When I was at William Penn's Country House…Part of the Time I spent in seeing... William Penn and many of the Indians…in Council and Consultation ...all which was done in much Calmness of Temper and in an amicable way."
John Richardson, 1701
After only two years in America, Penn followed Maryland’s Governor, Lord Baltimore, back to England. Both claimed rights to the land that would later be known as Delaware. It was ultimately decided to be part of Penn’s colony.
Witchcraft in Pennsylvania
Before leaving in 1684, Penn oversaw Pennsylvania’s only witchcraft trial. He urged restraint, and Margaret Mattson was found guilty of the common fame of being a witch, but was not guilty of actually being a witch. Later witch trials in the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts would result in the hanging of nineteen people
The Glorious Revolution
When Charles II died, the throne of England passed to his brother, James. This worried those loyal to the Church of England, as James was Catholic. But as long as his protestant daughters Mary and Anne were heirs to the throne, they tolerated him. When his queen gave birth to a son (who would definitely be raised Catholic), the English people rebelled. James fled to France where he lived in exile, and his daughter Mary and her husband Prince William of the Netherlands are crowned.
Penn's fortunes changed dramatically after James II is overthrown. Penn was accused of treason for his loyalty to deposed King James II. In 1690 he was placed in the Tower of London for several weeks, but was cleared of all charges. However, in 1691 the government issued yet another arrest warrant, but does not actually arrest Penn.
The Crown took control of Pennsylvania away from Penn for two years. England and France were fighting in the American colonies. By revoking proprietorships, the crown hoped to build revenue for English wars. The King took control of Pennsylvania and appointed a new governor, Benjamin Fletcher, who would also force the antiwar Quaker Assembly to provide military support.
Penn agreed to provide some troops to the king, and is given back the proprietorship of Pennsylvania.
Soon after Penn returned home, his wife Guilielma died.
1700 Penn's son John is born in Philadelphia in January, only a month after they arrived. The family spent the winter living in the Slate Roof House in the city. When the Delaware River thawed they moved out to Pennsbury Manor.
Penn’s family spent their second summer at Pennsbury. In the fall, they sailed back to England to ensure Penn retained control of the colony. Though they planned to return, this would be the last time they saw Pennsylvania.
Penn drafted the Charter of Privileges before leaving the colony.
Charter of Privileges
Penn initially did not want to pass such a charter, relented in response to complaints from colonial leadership prior to his second (and what would become his final) departure for England. Over the course of his 15 years absence between 1684 and 1699, his colony had been left to fend for itself without the ability to govern itself effectively. The Charter would give unprecedented controls to the people of Pennsylvania. 50 years later, in 1751 Philadelphia’s residents celebrated the anniversary of this document by ordering a bell to be made for the State House tower. It was not made well, and had to be recast, but it rang out for many public announcements during the next few decades, including an important declaration of independence from England in 1776. It was later named the Liberty Bell.
Delaware separated from Pennsylvania to become an independent colony. Penn remained Delaware’s Proprietor.
Penn offered to turn Pennsylvania back over to the Crown.
Penn's poor management of his Irish estates landed him in debtor's prison for several months. This followed a six-year court battle with the heirs of Philip Ford, his former steward in Ireland.
Penn suffered several strokes. Hannah managed Penn's affairs while he was ill. Penn's cousin, Rebecca Blackfan, oversaw Pennsbury Manor after Penn's stewards, John and Mary Sotcher, decided to leave.
Penn died at the age of 74 and was buried at Jordan’s Meetinghouse in Buckinghamshire. In 1726, Hannah died and was buried next to him.