Colonial Pennsylvania History

LATER in the seventeenth century than the period of settlement in Delaware and New Jersey, was the domain called Pennsylvania colonized, chiefly by a sect called Quakers in derision. That sect appeared in England at about the time when Roger Williams was there to procure a charter for Rhode Island. Their founder and preachers were among the boldest and yet the meekest of the non-conformists. Their morality was so strict that the world called them ascetics-persons who devote their lives to religion only. They carried this strictness into all departments of life and personal habits. Fashionable dress, extravagance in expenditure, dancing, attendance at theatres, games of chance and other amusements were forbidden; and music was discouraged as a seductive vanity. Taking part in war, slavery, lawsuits, intemperance and profanity of speech, was a sufficient reason, if persisted in, for the expulsion of a member from the Society; and the whole body was bound to keep a watch upon the actions of each other. Their practices so generally agreed with their principles that society was compelled to admit that the profession of a Quaker or "Friend," as they styled themselves, was a guaranty of a morality above the level of the world.

George Fox, a shoemaker of Leicestershire, England, was the founder of this sect. At the age of nineteen years, conceiving himself to be called by God to preach the gospel of Jesus, he went from place to place exhorting his hearers to repentance and newness of life. He complained of the coldness and spiritual deadness of all the modes and forms of religious worship around him, and thereby he soon excited a persecuting spirit by which his ministerial life of about forty years was marked as a pilgrimage from one prison to another. When, in 1650, he was called before Justice Bennet, of Derby, he admonished that magistrate to repent, and "tremble and quake before the word of the Lord," at the same time his own body was violently agitated by emotion. Then and there the sect received the name of Quakers.

Among the multitude of converts to the moral and religious doctrines of George Fox was young William Penn, a son of the distinguished admiral of that name. He embraced the doctrines and adopted the mode of life of George Fox and his followers, while he was yet in college. Then he had a long and severe struggle with his father, a worldly and ambitious man, for the privilege of following the directions of his conscience. He was beaten and turned out of doors by the angry admiral; he was sent to France to be lured with gayety; and he was dazzled with promises of wealth and distinction. He suffered with his sect. On one occasion he was tried, with another, on a charge of preaching in the streets. The jury, after being kept without fire, food or water two days and nights, brought in a verdict of "not guilty," when they were each heavily fined by the court and committed to Newgate; and Penn and his companion were also fined and imprisoned for contempt of court in wearing their hats in the presence of that body. The young Quaker was then only about twenty-four years of age.

Many "Friends" had emigrated to America, and two had become proprietors of New Jersey. Penn acted as umpire between them, in a dispute that arose and so his particular attention was drawn toward this country. He looked with longing eyes across the Atlantic for a home for himself and his sectarian friends, out of the reach of persecution. From the crown he obtained a charter for a vast territory beyond the Delaware, in payment of a debt of eighty thousand dollars due to his father from the government, with perpetual proprietaryship given to him and his heirs, in the fealty of an annual payment of two beaver skins. Penn proposed to call the domain "New Wales," in honor of the land of his ancestors, but the Welch secretary of state objected. Then he suggested "Sylvania" as appropriate for such a woody country. The secretary who drew up the charter prefixed the name of Penn to Sylvania, in the document. The proprietor offered him a hundred dollars if he would leave it off. On his refusal to do so, Penn complained to the king-the "merrie King Charlie"- who insisted that the province should be called "Pennsylvania," in honor of his dead friend the admiral. And so it was. The domain extended north from New Castle in Delaware three degrees of latitude, and five degrees of longitude west from the Delaware River. To Penn was given power to ordain all laws with the consent of the freemen, subject to the approval of the king. No taxes were to be raised except by the Provincial Assembly; and clergymen of the Anglican Church were to be allowed to reside in the province without molestation.

Penn's charter was granted on the 14th of March, 1681. In May he sent his kinsman, William Markham, to take possession of his province and to act as deputy governor. A large company of emigrants went with him. They were employed by the "Company of Free Traders," who had purchased lands in Pennsylvania of the proprietor. They seated themselves near the Delaware and "builded and planted." With the help of Algernon Sidney, the sturdy republican martyr who perished on the scaffold soon afterward, Penn drew up a code of wise, liberal and benevolent regulations for the government of the colony, and sent them to the settlers the next year for their approval. It was not a formal constitution, but a body of wholesome laws for the benefit of all concerned.

Penn found that the want of a seaboard for his province would be a serious bar to its future prosperity. He coveted Delaware for that purpose, and resolved to have it if possible. It was claimed by Lord Baltimore as a part of Maryland, and had been a matter of dispute between him and the Duke of York. The latter, for the sake of peace, offered to buy the territory of Baltimore. The baron would not sell. Penn then assured the duke that Lord Baltimore's claim was "against law, civil or common." The duke gladly assented to the opinion, and the worldly-wise Quaker obtained from his grace a quit-claim deed for the territory comprising the whole State of Delaware, then, as now, divided into the counties of Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex; also for all of his interest in the soil of Pennsylvania.

When Penn had gained these coveted possessions, he made immediate preparations for going to America; and within a week after the bargain was officially settled, he set sail in the ship Welcome with about one hundred emigrants, many of whom died of small-pox on the voyage. That was at the close of August, 1682. On his arrival at New Castle early in November, he found almost a thousand new emigrants there. These, with the three thousand old settlers-Swedes, Dutch, Huguenots, Germans and English-composed materials for the solid foundation of a state. There, in the presence of the people, he received from the agents of the Duke of York a formal surrender into his hands of that fine domain. The Dutch had, long before, conquered and absorbed the Swedes on the Delaware; and by virtue of his charter, giving him a title to all New Netherland, the duke claimed this territory as his own. By this transfer, Penn inherited for himself and descendants a dispute with the proprietors of Maryland. In honor of the duke, the courteous Quaker called Cape Henlopen Cape James, but the two capes of the Delaware-Henlopen and May-have preserved their original name given to them by the Dutch.

Having secured his domain, Penn went many miles up the Delaware River, to the present Kensington district of Philadelphia, and there, under a wide-spreading elm, just shedding its foliage, he concluded a treaty with Indian chiefs, not for the purchase of lands, but to confirm what Markham had promised them for him, and to make an everlasting covenant of peace and friendship with them. "We meet," Penn said, "in the broad pathway of good faith and good will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. I will not call you children; for parents sometimes chide their children too severely; nor brothers, only; for brothers differ. The friendship between me and you, I will not compare to a chain; for that the rains might rust, or a falling tree might break. We are the same as if one man's body was to be divided into two parts; we are all one flesh and blood." Then he gave them presents, and they in turn handed him a belt of wampum as a pledge of their fidelity. They were delighted with his divine words, and believed in his noble promises. "We will live in love with William Penn and his children," they said, "as long as the sun and moon shall endure." And they did. Not a drop of the blood of a Quaker was ever shed by an Indian.

William Penn had achieved a marvellous victory over the Indian arm and the Indian spirit. While in other colonies the might of the sword and musket, of the arrow and the hatchet, were making fearfully red records of crime; while the Indians were in fierce array, secretly and openly, against the pale-faced intruders, Penn had conquered and subdued those of Pennsylvania by love. There were not even contentions between the races there. "We have done better," said the Friends, in their Plantation Speech, in 1684, "than if, with the proud Spaniards, we had gained the mines of Potosi. We may make the ambitious heroes whom the world admires, blush for their shameful victories. To the poor, dark souls round about us, we teach their rights as MEN." Significant is the question of the historian: "Was there not progress from Melendez to Roger Williams? from Cortez and Pizarro to William Penn?"

There is no written record of that treaty made in the open air on the banks of the Delaware. We have accounts of the personal character of the council. Penn was then a graceful man, strong built and of fair complexion, and thirty-eight years of age. Most of his companions were younger than himself, and all were dressed in the grab of the Quakers-the fashion of the more simple Puritans during the Protectorate of Cromwell. The Indians were clad in the skins of beasts, for it was on the verge of winter-their harvest time was over. Frost and expanding buds were stripping the trees of their foliage, and every aspect of the scene was becoming dreary excepting the bright council-fire under the great elm around which the high contracting parties were gathered. Penn was accompanied by the deputy governor and a few others; and the Indian sachems brought their wives and children, who sat upon the ground modestly back.

From that treaty place, Penn journeyed through New Jersey to New York and Long Island, visiting Friends and preaching with fervor. Then he returned to the Delaware, and on the seventh of November he went to Uplands (now Chester), where he met the first Provincial Assembly of his province. There he made known his benevolent designs toward all men, civilized and Indian, and excited the love and reverence of his hearers. The Assembly tendered their grateful acknowledgements to him, and the Swedes authorized one of their number to say to him in their name that they would "live, serve and obey him with all they had," declaring that it "was the best day they ever saw." He informed the Assembly of the union of the "territories" (as Delaware was called) with his province, and received their congratulations. Then was laid the foundations of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I