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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650–1710

William Penn

WILLIAM PENN, the founder of Pennsylvania, introduces us to a new centre of literary activity, Philadelphia, where the progress of education and culture, though later in its beginning, was more rapid than in New England. It was but a few years after its foundation that it counted among its citizens men of broad culture and of European reputation. Logan, Bartram, Rittenhouse, and Godfrey do not belong directly to our subject; all the more then is it fitting to pay tribute to him whose liberal mind gave their genius scope in the infant colony. Penn was born in London, 1644, and died in Ruscombe, Berks, in 1718. But though he began, ended, and indeed passed a great part of his life in England, he is identified almost entirely with America. The son of an admiral, he was educated first in London, then in Ireland, then at Oxford, where he became conspicuous as a follower of the Quaker Fox, and was expelled from the University. He completed his education in France, travelling, mingling in fashionable society, and then serving on his father’s staff till, in 1665, the London plague revived his religious fervor. While managing the family estates in Ireland in 1667, he openly espoused Quakerism. Recalled to England and estranged from his family, he preached and wrote on religious subjects. Being harassed by the police and once imprisoned, he began to take much interest in colonization, and having inherited a large property, sent several shiploads of immigrants to America, where he finally accepted a patent of land in lieu of money, some eighty thousand dollars, due from the Government to his father. This was in 1681. In September, 1682, Penn took formal possession of his new territory, purchasing from the Swedes the site of Philadelphia, negotiating honorable treaties with the Indians, providing his colonists a liberal scheme of government, and leaving seven thousand of them behind on his return to England in 1684. He again visited America in 1699, and soon restored peace and order to a colony much vexed by the results of the Revolution of 1688. He showed himself a wise reformer, making new treaties with the Indians, and ameliorating the condition of the negroes. He returned to England in 1701. His later years were troubled by imprisonment, for conscience’ sake, by the disgraceful conduct of his son, by business misadventures, and failing health. For the last six years of his life he was a helpless invalid. The simple dignity of his character, and the high ideals that he had for the colony appear in the letters that follow.

Letter to Richard Turner.

DEAR FRIEND: My true love in the Lord salutes thee and dear friends that love Lord’s precious truths in those parts. Thine I have, and for my business here, know, that after many writings, watchings, solicitings, and disputes in Council, this day my country was confirmed to me under the great seal of England, with large powers and privileges, by the name of Pennsylvania: a name the King would give it, in honor to my father. I chose New Wales, being as this a pretty healthy country; but Penn being Welch for a head, as Penmanmore in Wales, Penrith in Cumberland, and Penn in Buckinghamshire, the highest land in England, called this Pennsylvania, which is the high or head wood land; for I proposed, when the Secretary a Welchman, refused to have it called New Wales, Sylvania, and they added Penn to it: and though I much opposed it, and went to the King to have it struck out and altered; he said it was passed, and he would take it upon him—nor could twenty guineas move the under Secretary to vary the name; for I feared, lest it should be looked upon as a vanity in me, and not as a respect to my father, who he often mentioned with praise. Thou mayest communicate my grant to Friends, and expect my proposals: it is a clear and just thing; and my God that has given it me, through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation. I shall have a tender care to the government, that it be well laid at first. No more now, but dear love in the truth.
1st Month 5th. 1681.

Letter to the Indians.

MY FRIENDS, There is a Great God and Power, that hath made the world and all things therein, to whom you and I and all people owe their being and well-being; and to whom you and I must one day give an account for all that we do in the world. This Great God hath written his Law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love and help, and do good to one another, and not to do harm and mischief unto one another. Now this Great God hath been pleased to make me concerned in your part of the world, and the king of the country where I live hath given me a great province therein; but I desire to enjoy it with your love and consent, that we may always live together as neighbors and friends; else what would the Great God do to us? who hath made us not to devour and destroy one another, but to live soberly and kindly together in the world. Now I would have you well observe that I am very sensible of the unkindness and injustice that hath been too much exercised towards you by the people of these parts of the world, who have sought themselves, and to make great advantages by you, rather than to be examples of justice and goodness unto you, which I hear hath been matter of trouble unto you, and caused great grudgings and animosities, sometimes to the shedding of blood, which hath made the Great God angry. But I am not such a man, as is well known in my own country. I have great love and regard towards you, and I desire to win and gain your love and friendship by a kind, just, and peaceable life, and the people I send are of the same mind, and shall in all things behave themselves accordingly; and if in any thing any shall offend you or your people, you shall have a full and speedy satisfaction for the same, by an equal number of just men on both sides, that by no means you may have just occasion of being offended against them.

I shall shortly come to you myself, at what time we may more largely and freely confer and discourse of these matters; in the mean time I have sent my commissioners to treat with you about land, and a firm league of peace.—Let me desire you to be kind to them and the people, and receive these presents and tokens which I have sent you, as a testimony of my good-will to you, and my resolution to live justly, peaceably, and friendly with you.

I am your loving friend,
London, the 18th of the 8th month, 1681.

Letter to Governor Hinckley.

RESPECTED FRIEND, The duty and decency of my station as a Governour, as well as mine own inclination, oblige me to begin and observe a kind and friendly correspondence with persons in the like capacity under the same imperial authority. This single consideration is inducement enough to this Salute, and I have no reason to doubt its acceptance, because such an intercourse is recommended both by the laws of Christianity and those of civil policy; which said, Give me leave to wish thee and the people under thy conduct all true felicity, and to assure thee that with God’s assistance I shall herein endeavour to acquit and behave myself worthy of the title and character of
Thy Real Friend
and Loving Neighbour,
Philadelphia, the 2 of the 5mo 1683.

I take the freedom to present thee with a book.
For my well-respected Friend
the Governour
of Plymouth Colony
New England.