The Persecution of William Penn
By Carl Reader
I sailed on the Welcome August 30, 1682.
Before we reached Pennsylvania, thirty-one of the one hundred passengers died of smallpox.
Had Guli come with me, she would most likely have been one of the victims. I had had smallpox when I was three years old, and I survived the outbreak on ship because I was immune.
Our crossing took eight weeks.
We arrived October 27, 1682 with the glorious colors of the Pennsylvania autumn lining the Delaware's many inlets and marshes. What excitement it was to see the virgin land, so ripe with prospects for a new, better life, arraying itself in such bright colors.
My cousin and Deputy Governor, William Markham, had chosen sites for both Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love which would be my capital, and for Pennsybury Manor, my country estate which would be my home.
I had rented only a cabin and a wooden berth on Welcome, so I had to bring our own provisions to begin our lives. I intended on living well with my family at Pennsybury, so I carried huge quantities of food, bedding and clothing, along with three thoroughbred mares, a white riding horse, work animals, furniture and fittings for the mansion, doors and window frames. I had two complete mills, one for grain and the other for lumber. Both were important industries.
Back in England, our new daughter died soon after her birth, and I wrote to Guli to console her. My dear wife, remember thou was the love of my youth and much the joy of my life; the most beloved as well as the most worthy of all my worldly comforts. God knowest, and thou knowest, it was a match of Providence's making.
At the time I was given Pennsylvania, about three thousand Swedes, Dutch, Finns and Quakers from West Jersey inhabited it, along with the peaceful tribes of the Lenni-Lenape, who lived near the Delaware River.
I was anxious to meet all of the diverse population.
All men possess an Inner Light, not as a matter of belief but as a matter of fact, as did these foreigners and natives. It is life itself, this light, so no man can be denied his freedom of conscience while this light burns, not even those who have not yet had their opening of joy. I wanted all of those already in Pennsylvania to understand they would henceforth live under a free government as free men.
We landed in New Castle at dusk, without anyone knowing who we were.
When we let the people know I had come, they devised a welcoming ceremony for me the next day in which they gave me a twig, some soil and a bowl of river water as symbols of my position.
I was astonished to see how readily they welcomed me, and I hoped the seeds of goodness showed in their welcome.
In my speech, I told the people that for now those I had sent to rule them would continue in their positions, but that a popular government would be instituted as soon as possible, with all the freedoms they could ever want.
I would guarantee freedom for all. I was not certain they believed me, being used to empty speeches as well, but I would do my best to make it come true. They seemed at least to listen to what I had to say.
Nearly as soon as I arrived in Pennsylvania, the old difficulties continued in new form. I might have escaped the persecutions in England for the moment, but the methods of repression followed me to the New World.
My good friend Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, contended that my Lower Counties around New Castle were his, saying the line dividing us was much farther north than it truly was.
One of the first things I did was to write to him, saying we should meet to settle our dispute over the Lower Counties.
I held no animosity toward him and wished to deal with him fairly. He put me off until December.
That gave me the opportunity to learn a little about my people and the colony, and to make friends.
I traveled both to New York and New Jersey to create amity with these two colonies, and I was pleased to find my old friend Thomas Rudyard, who had been arrested with me in defiance of The Conventicle Act, had been named Deputy Governor of New Jersey. That assured friendship between the two colonies.
I visited the site of Pennsbury Manor and found William Markham could not have chosen a better spot, one right by the river with plenty of sand and gravel and wood available for building material, a spot so beautiful and calm it could have been the first spot of creation.
There, we would create a fine manor.
When I saw the spot that would be our home, I missed Guli and the children again greatly, but I imagined us in our house there and I envisioned the children running and playing on the great lawns and swimming in the river.
I saw the manor working as a great manor should, with grain from the Brandywine being baked to white bread and the kitchens producing all sorts of foods for us and our guests. For now, my dreams were all Pennsbury Manor could be.
I returned to New Castle and formed a council to approve the laws we had agreed upon in England. After some debate, and even a little animosity, we did so, guaranteeing the rights and freedoms desired to all in Pennsylvania.
Calvert, as a Lord of government, used the usual means of thrusting himself forward while demeaning others. He pushed his claim so hard that he took up arms against some of my citizens, invading the lands of common farmers and forcing them to swear allegiance to him at gun point.
Under Colonel George Talbert, the Marylanders took up arms.
They and bravely evicted a widow from her home in the Lower Counties when she refused to pledge loyalty to Lord Baltimore. With three armed men and fifteen woodsmen, they attacked the woman's home and drove her out in a magnificent display of military power, but even against such a small force, as a pacifist I was nearly helpless to do anything.
I would not allow my colony to take up arms.
With another show of great bravado, these same men then went after Joseph Bowle and nearly rode him down on his own property, driving him away because he would not pledge loyalty to Baltimore.
Pennsylvania was a pacifist, Quaker colony, so I could not respond in kind.
I would not bring the means of repression to Pennsylvania.
I wrote a letter to James, Duke of York, complaining of Baltimore's actions. They insulted the Duke, as well as me.
Once I wrote, George Talbert withdrew his men from the Lower Counties in haste.
Again, my connections at court saved me, for Lord Baltimore feared quo warranto proceedings as much as any Governor, most likely because he deserved them, and such behavior against another chartered English colony could be cause for such action.
Baltimore wished to strangle my colony by closing off its sea access through the Delaware Bay, thereby making his colony all the greater through exclusive trade and Pennsylvania a weak sister, a place not worth living.
I met with him and offered to buy the land I already owned, but he proved utterly unwilling to give up his claim.
"I have no desire to infringe upon your rights," I told him. "I hope you have none to infringe on mine. You will have what you want and more, and I hope you will give me what I want."
"I am in the right, Mr. Penn," he said. "I will not allow you to diminish the greatness of Maryland by false claims."
"They are not false, but proven through deed of the King."
"That is simply not so."
He pushed to make a false thing so by repeating it over and over as true, the usual method of liars.
I worked hard to establish the colony despite his schemes.
Next, I was anxious to meet with the Indians.
They would be citizens as well and deserved my attention.
With a sight of the new land, open to all possibilities, I realized those who lived there were children of that land, natural reflections of its purity and goodness. It is hard for an Englishman to understand a Frenchman or a German, but to understand a child of nature is easy, since there has been no corruption from decadent institutions and at heart we are all children of nature.
William Markham had purchased Pennsybury Manor's forty-five hundred acres for me from them, giving the Indians twenty-one hundred feet of wampum, twenty guns, forty pounds of shot, two barrels of powder, two hundred knives, forty axes, forty scissors, liquor and cloth.
They knew I would treat them fairly after this generosity.
Most of all, I wanted to understand them and befriend them to avoid conflict with them, so I studied their language.
I met Chief Tamenend at Shackamaxon outside of Philadelphia.
It was a spot used for their councils, a flat land near the river with tall, majestic trees for shade and protection and a few English country homes.
I was much impressed with Tamenend and his people. He sat on the ground alone, with the first men of his tribe arrayed in a half-moon behind him and another half-moon of the lesser men behind that. He had all the authority and grace of a king, and his people were generally tall, straight and well-built, of singularly fine proportion.
I went unarmed to the Indians, explaining Quakers were men of peace and friendship and wanting to prove it and gain their trust.
With a peaceful heart, there is no need for weapons.
"We will not fight you even if you fight us," I told Tamenend. "God will not allow it, and we will die before we shed another's blood."
"It's best to live in peace," Tamenend agreed. "If you mean it, we can be as true as you are."
"I have given up fighting with weapons forever," I said.
I made him a pledge that Quakers and Indians would live side-by-side in peace, with promises of kindness and good neighborhood.
I said the Indians and English were to live in love, as long as the sun gave light.
I presented them with many gifts, of the like they received for Pennsybury Manor, and I was most struck that they were similar to Quakers in their dealings, quiet and grave, hesitant to use words, and honest and plain and open. These were people I could deal with.
Chief Tamenend I especially respected for his grave manner and obvious wisdom.
I had attempted to learn their language, and now was given further instruction. I was told "Sepassing Land" was their name for that part of Bucks County I had purchased for Pennsbury Manor. They greeted each other with the word "Itah," and in their lives they were the most merry creatures that live, feasting and dancing almost perpetually.
We played games at the council, with great contests for jumping, jumping, jumping, almost endlessly, and then running, running, running.
I think I surprised and pleased them that I was proficient at both.
The Indians were in a natural state, far from the corruption of Europe, living with the woods as their larder. It was obvious they had separated from civilization at some time, or had been forced from it.
We sweat and toil to live; their pleasure feeds them, I mean, their hunting, fishing and fowling.
Freedom, as my old professor and philosopher John Locke said, was the natural condition of mankind, and I found it their natural condition and very easily fit myself and the feelings in my heart in with them. I had come upon the very proof of John Locke's doctrine.
I could not admire these people more, for they had the freedom I wished to establish in Pennsylvania. The Dutch, Swedes and English had taught them drunkenness, which was contrary to their natural state, and I wished to let them know not all white men were harmful as those they had encountered so far.
Tamenend, who was a realist, worked with me, although he said he did not wish to sell any land to anyone. He confided that he wanted all white men to go away, but I believe I convinced him I was his friend, and a good man to know, and I think I saw friendly amusement in his eyes when he looked at me.
"You are like no white man I ever knew," he said to me. "Maybe I should pinch you to see if you are real."
"All is real, except my hair," I said, lifting off my hat and wig to show my bald head.
The demonstration brought peals of laughter from the Indians, and we parted on good terms.
From what I had seen of Pennsylvania so far, I was much pleased with it. I could say, without vanity, I led the greatest colony in America, with people of all types and dispositions, even the lowest, slaves.
The Germans who came were shocked to find we English tolerated slavery, although the Quakers were moving against it. The German began a movement to abolish it.
Great manors, like mine at Pennsbury, used slaves, but it was a wrong I knew we must right.
I thought long and hard about how we could change the laws without offending the great Lords who held sway over me.
It was a project that would take much time.
We had in our first year professional men, tradesmen, artisans of all race and type, every human kind on earth. I encouraged all to come by offering land cheaply and by deeming there would be no quitrents paid until 1684.
It put me further in financial straits not to collect my taxes.
I had to borrow yet more money, but I believed it was better to have Pennsylvania settled and working industriously than to have it empty and idle.
Lord Baltimore made trouble over this immediately. He encouraged the Lower Counties not to pay my taxes at all, since he disputed my claim to the area and wished to inflame the settlers against me.
My promise of a popular government had come true March 12, 1683 when the first elected Assembly and Provincial Council organized themselves into governing bodies.
I had thought Quakers would dominate the bodies, but the Assembly elected its first speaker a Quaker by just one vote.
I believed these were good men elected to these bodies, intent on furthering my Holy Experiment, and it was then they made their fine offer of payment to me of an excise tax on liquor and custom tax on molasses, which I declined out of concern for the health of the colony. They relieved me of the duty of paying for the government of Pennsylvania out of my own pocket by empowering the collection of taxes for government needs, although they did not collect taxes at once, and we enacted an improved Frame of Government that gave more power to the governing bodies and less to me as Governor.
Although we had these hard-won successes in standing Pennsylvania on its own two feet, we still had problems with Baltimore in the south. At one point, he sent Talbert into Philadelphia itself to demand the city swear allegiance to Maryland, but he left without obtaining it.
Lord Baltimore returned to England, and through his connections at court was pressing his claim to deny me access to the sea. Should he succeed, it would destroy all I had worked for, barely before it had begun.
I was alarmed that Quakers were still jailed, tortured and hanged in England, and my loneliness with Guli's absence was so great it was nearly unbearable.
I left Pennsylvania after just under two years there, too soon, my work not yet done.
There was no other choice for me.
If Baltimore succeeded back in England, Pennsylvania would be snatched from me. If the Quakers were imprisoned or killed, the intent of my colony would die with them.
As I looked to the east, I could smell the stench of Newgate.
I had to return to that stench after my short stay, my work in Pennsylvania now in the hands of others.