William Penn

In the American Colonies

Penn became involved in the affairs of the American colonies when in 1675 he was appointed a trustee for Edward Byllynge, one of the two Quaker proprietors of West Jersey. He helped draw up Concessions and Agreements, a liberal charter of government for the Quakers settling there. In 1681, Penn and 11 others purchased East Jersey (see New Jersey). In the same year, in payment of a debt owed his father, Penn obtained from King Charles II a charter for Pennsylvania (named by the king for Penn's father) for the establishment of his "holy experiment," a colony where religious and political freedom could flourish. Shortly afterward he received a grant of the Three Lower Counties-on-the-Delaware (present Delaware) from the duke of York (later James II).

In 1682, Penn went to his province, where the earliest settlers were already laying out the city of Philadelphia in accordance with his plans. He drew up a liberal Frame of Government for the colony. He also established the friendly relations with the Native Americans that were to distinguish the early history of Pennsylvania. Returning to England (1684), he asserted his boundary claims against Charles Calvert, 3d Lord Baltimore.

Penn's friendship with James II led to his being accused of treason after that king's deposition (1688), and his colony was briefly (1692–94) annexed to New York. Penn continued writing religious and political tracts and preached extensively. Difficulties in Pennsylvania caused his return there for a short time (1699–1701), and he issued a new constitution, the Charter of Privileges (1701), granting more power to the provincial assembly.

Penn's last years were troubled ones. His own steward swindled him to such an extent that he was imprisoned (1707–8) for debt, and the continued difficulties of his colony and troubles concerning his eldest son caused him much grief. A stroke in 1712 removed him from active life.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. History: Biographies