WHEN William Penn, with the help of Thomas Holme, the surveyor, laid out the city of Philadelphia at the close of 1682, he caused the boundaries of the streets to be marked on the trunks of the chestnut, walnut, locust, spruce, pine and other forest trees that covered the land. Several streets of that city yet bear the names of those trees, then given to them. The growth of the new town was rapid. Within a year after the surveyor had finished his task, almost a hundred houses were erected there, and the Indians came daily with the spoils of the forest as presents for "Father Penn," as they delighted to call the proprietor.
In March following, the new city was honored by the gathering there of the second Assembly of the province, when Penn offered to the people, through their representatives, a new charter. It was so liberal in all its provisions that when the question, "Shall we accept the new constitution or adhere to the old one?" came up in that body, there was a solid vote in favor of the new one. It constituted a representative republican government, with free religious toleration and having justice for its foundation; and the proprietor, unlike those of other provinces, surrendered to the people his chartered rights in the appointment of officers. From the beginning, the happiness and prosperity of his people appeared to be upper-most in the heart and mind of William Penn. It was this happy relation between the proprietor and the people, and security against Indian raids, that made Pennsylvania far outstrip her sister colonies in rapidity of settlement and permanent prosperity.
Late in 1682, a small house was erected on the site of Philadelphia for the use of Penn. It survived until our day, occupying a place in Letitia Court, between Front and Second streets. There he assisted in fashioning those excellent laws which gave a high character to Pennsylvania from the beginning. Among other wise enactments, it was decreed that, to prevent lawsuits, three arbitrators, to be called peace-makers, should be appointed by the county courts, to hear and determine small differences between man and man; that children should be taught some useful trade; that factors wronging their employees should make satisfaction, and one-third over; that all causes for irreligion and vulgarity should be repressed; and that no man should be molested for his religious opinions. They also decreed that the days of the week and the months of the year "shall be called as in Scripture, and not by heathen names (as are vulgarly used), as ye First, Second and Third dais of ye week, and First, Second and Third months of ye year, beginning with ye day called Sunday, and ye month called March," so beginning the year, as of old, with the first spring month. At about the same time Pennsylvania was divided into three counties-Bucks, Chester and Philadelphia; and the annexed territory was also divided into three counties-New Castle, Kent and Sussex-known for a long time afterward as the "Three Lower Counties on the Delaware."
In the summer of 1684, Penn returned to England. He left the government of the province, during his absence, in the care of five members of the council and Thomas Lloyd as president, who held the Great Seal. His mission in America had been one of solid triumph over the hoary prejudices of feudalism and the selfish instincts of man. His wise and beneficent conduct had given wings to a report that William Penn had opened, in a beautiful land beyond the ocean, an asylum to the good and oppressed of every nation and creed. These and others came from Scandinavia, the borders of the Rhine, and from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, to plant quiet homes in the dominions of the "Quaker King." His "City of Brotherly Love" had, in the course of two years, grown more rapidly than had the city of New York in almost half a century. At the close of the year following his departure for England, it contained six hundred houses; schools were established, and William Bradford, who had landed where Philadelphia was afterward laid out, had set up a printing-press there. His "Almanack for the Year of the Christian's Account, 1687," was printed there on a broadside or single sheet, with twelve compartments, the year beginning with March. Looking upon the result of his work, Penn, with righteous exultation, wrote to Lord Halifax: "I must, without vanity, say I have led the greatest colony into America that ever any man did upon private credit, and the most prosperous beginnings that ever were in it are to be found among us." Penn bade the colonists farewell, with the most cheering forebodings for the future, saying: "My love and my life are to and with you, and no water can quench it, nor distance bring it to an end. I have been with you, cared over you, and served you with unfeigned love; and you are beloved of me and dear to me beyond utterance. I bless you in the name and power of the Lord, and may God bless you with his righteousness, peace and plenty all the land over.".... "And thou. Philadelphia, the virgin settlement of this province, my soul prays to God for thee, that thou mayest stand in the day of trial, and that thy children may be blessed." The blessings of the whole people rested upon the good man, when, on a bright day in August, the vessel that bore him to England weighed anchoy at near the foot of Chestnut street.
Four months after Penn's return to England, Charles the Second died, and his brother James ascended the throne. Then began a period of great theological and political excitement in England, in the perils of which Penn became involved. He and the new king had long been personal friends; and through Penn's influence, twelve hundred persecuted Friends were released from prison, in 1686. When it was seen that James was under the powerful influence of the Jesuits, his Quaker friend was suspected of being one of them; and after the revolution that drove James from the throne, he was arrested three times, on a false charge of treason, and as often acquitted. The last time was in 1690. Meanwhile there had been great political and theological commotions in Pennsylvania, and in April, 1691, the Three Lower Counties on the Delaware, offended at the action of the council at Philadelphia, withdrew from the Union, and Penn yielded to the secessionists so far as to appoint a separate deputy governor over them.
In consequence of representations which came from Pennsylvania, the monarchs William and Mary deprived Penn of his rights as governor of his province, in 1692, and the control of the domain was placed in the hands of Governor Fletcher, of New York, who, in the spring of 1693, reunited the Delaware counties to the parent province. Fletcher appeared at the head of the council at Philadelphia on Monday, the 15th of May, with William Markham, Penn's deputy, as lieutenant-governor.
Powerful friends interceded with King William for the restoration of Penn's rights. He was called before the Privy Council to answer certain accusations, when his innocence was proven. A few months afterward his rights were all restored. That was in the summer of 1694. His fortune had been wasted, and he lingered in England, under the pressure of comparative poverty, until 1699, when, with his daughter, and his second wife, Hannah Callowhill, he sailed to Philadelphia. Meanwhile his colony under his old deputy, William Markham, had asserted their right to self-government, and made laws for themselves. Penn found them prosperous, but clamorous for political privileges guaranteed to them by law. Regarding their demands as reasonable, he gave them a new constitution or frame of government, in November, 1701, more liberal in its concessions than former ones, and perfectly satisfactory to all. Finding the people of the "Territories," or Three Lower Counties, restive under the forced union with Pennsylvania, he made provision for their permanent separation in legislation, in 1702; and the first independent legislature in Delaware was assembled at New Castle in 1703.Although Pennsylvania and Delaware ever afterward continued to have separate legislatures, they were under the same governor until the Revolution in 1776.
While Penn was in America, tidings came that measures were pending before the Privy Council, for bringing all of the proprietary governments under the crown. Penn had come to Philadelphia to live and die there; and had built a fine brick house to reside in, which stood on the corner of Second street and Norris alley, until a few years ago. But the news from England determined him to return to his native country to defend his rights. He did so late in 1701, and succeeded. He never returned to America. Harassed and wearied by business connected with his province, he was making arrangements in 1712 to sell it for sixty thousand dollars, when he was prostrated by paralysis. He survived the first shock six years, when he died, leaving his estates in America to his three sons. His family governed Pennsylvania, as proprietors, until the Revolution made it an independent State in 1776. Meanwhile the province had sustained its share of the burden of mutual defence with its sister colonies during the troubles with the French and Indians.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I