William Penn founded the American colony of Pennsylvania. He had a special reason. He wanted a safe place for Quakers to live.
Penn was born in London, England, on October 14, 1644. While studying at Oxford University, Penn converted to Quakerism.
WHO WERE THE QUAKERS?
Quakers, who also are known as the Society of Friends, believe every person carries an ability to communicate directly with God. They saw no need for formal church services or clergy.
England’s government and church leaders thought Quakers defied authority. They punished Quakers and members of other religions that disagreed with the Church of England. Such people were called dissenters. They faced imprisonment, whipping, and even hanging for practicing their religion.
HOW DID PENN’S BELIEFS BRING TROUBLE?
While at Oxford, Penn refused to declare allegiance (loyalty) to the king or attend religious services. He was expelled from the university for this reason.
Penn’s writings on religion also landed him in trouble—especially when he published them without government permission. For this, Penn was sent to prison. Penn kept writing while in prison. He defended himself by writing about religion, government, and freedom of belief.
THE COLONY OF PENNSYLVANIA
In 1681, the king paid a debt to Penn’s father with a grant of land in North America. After Penn was freed from prison, he sailed to America. In autumn 1682, he met with the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Native Americans who lived on the land. Penn paid the Native Americans for their land—something few white colonists bothered to do.
Penn’s new colony was called Pennsylvania, meaning “Penn’s woods.” Penn’s colony welcomed Quakers and other religious dissenters. By 1684, nearly 7,000 Quakers had settled in Pennsylvania. Penn also created plans for a town he named Philadelphia, from Greek words meaning “city of brotherly love.”
A VOICE FOR FREEDOM OF BELIEF
Penn returned to England in 1684. He continued to preach on religious freedom and Quakerism. In 1699 he returned to Pennsylvania. Penn wanted to make sure Pennsylvania offered freedom of thought in politics and religion. He issued a Charter of Privileges to guarantee these freedoms, a rare act for the time.
Penn returned to England in 1701. He lost most of his money. In 1712, Penn suffered a stroke that left him crippled. He died on July 30, 1718. The state of Pennsylvania still carries his name.