William Penn and the city of Love at the Philadelphia History Museum

January 28, 2017

While in Philadelphia for my wife’s swearing in as an Italian citizen we visited the Philadelphia History Museum.  They show a good video about the city’s founding.  See link at bottom, first in a series.

Penn was not born a Quaker.  In fact the earliest image we have of him is this painting, done during his service fighting a rebellion in Ireland.  He is dressed in armor.  He became a Quaker during his college years, a period of intense religious conflict.

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His father was a close associate of King Charles II.  When his father died, Charles still owed substantial sums to Penn’s father, which he settled by granting huge areas of land which Penn wanted to call Sylvania, the latin for ‘forest.’  The King insisted on adding “Penn” and thus came into being the name of the present day state. The grant included the area today known as Delaware.  

The new proprietor, then probably the world’s largest individual landowner, first landed in America in 1682, afterwards traveling up the Delaware river to found Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  To attract Quakers he wrote a prospectus that brought in some 250 well to do Quakers.  He eventually distributed it in Europe, attracting Hugenots, Mennonites, Amish, Lutherans, and Jews.  He limited his own power as leader, a notable innovation, as was open discourse, akin to a Quaker meeting.  Prisons were workshops designed to teach rather than punish.  Swearing, lying, and drunkenness were forbidden as well as “idle amusements” such as stage plays, gambling, revels, masques, cock fighting and bear baiting.

He began advocating for a union of the colonies and his Frame for a Government contained many of the principles later to inspire the US Constitution.  However, his attempts to establish a true City of Brotherly Love failed within two years.  He had returned to England, never to return, and soon city leaders had reneged on the agreement Penn had forged with the Lagniappe.  


George Washington's watch
George Washington’s watch at Philadelphia History Museum

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