William Penn

Religious Figure

Born: 14 October 1644
Died: 30 July 1718
Birthplace: London, England
Best known as: The Quaker who founded Philadelphia
William Penn was an influential English Quaker and founder of the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682. He was the son of Admiral Sir William Penn and joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) in the 1660s. Outspoken and eloquent, he preached religious tolerance and advanced Quakerism in Europe. He obtained a grant of territory in North America from King Charles II in 1681 (the area was dubbed Pennsylvania in honor of his well-connected father). By the next year he had reached an agreement with the native inhabitants to found a settlement -- Philadelphia -- with his co-religionists. For two years Penn governed the colony, which soon grew to include non-Quakers in search of religious freedom. From 1684 to 1699 Penn was in England again, where he used his close relationship with King James II and VII to secure the release of religious prisoners (including 1,200 Quakers). After William III took the throne (1689), Penn's association with James brought him a charge of treason, but he was acquitted (1693). Penn returned to Pennsylvania in 1699 to make alterations on his constitution, which had proved unworkable. His last years in England, from 1701 until a debilitating stroke in 1712, were occupied with legal disputes (in 1708 he spent nine months in debtors' prison). His most famous works include No Cross, No Crown and Innocency with Her Open Face, written while he was in prison for his religious views (1668-70).

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