Gods of Pennsylvania: William Penn

“His work keeps pace with his life, and so leaves nothing to be done when he dies.”
-William Penn {Maxim #497}

I have come to think of William Penn, not just as the founder of Pennsylvania, but as a man worthy of admiration and honor. Here are a handful of reasons why I am convinced this is true:

He rejected his father’s faith, but gained his father’s respect.
Sir William Penn (William Penn’s father) was a well-respected Admiral in the Royal Navy under Oliver Cromwell, and was a strong supporter of the Church of England. When his son converted to Quakerism, it became a recurring point of strife between the two for most of their lives. But before Sir William Penn died, he told his son, "Let nothing in this world tempt you to wrong your conscience” and laid out an agreement with the King and the Duke of York (the King’s successor) to protect his son even after he’d be gone (as he knew his Quaker beliefs would cause many problems down the road). It’s difficult going against one’s family, but it’s almost impossible to go against one’s own conscience as it will never leave you.

He was imprisoned...a lot.
Granted, it was a different time back in the 17th and 18th century, but William Penn was thrown into prison three times for blasphemy, street preaching, and conspiracy against the Crown. He stood up for what he believed in and would not be silenced, even behind bars. On one occasion, he was found “not guilty” by a jury, but the decision was overturned by the magistrate who disagreed with their judgement, and then threw the jury into jail for finding Penn “not guilty”.

He was kicked out of college.
Even before Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, and Steve Jobs became famous for being super wealthy college dropouts, William Penn was expelled from Oxford for standing up against forced religious services. Then, when he went home, it was reported that his father attacked him with a cane, and shipped him off to Paris to learn some manners. Still, Penn was fluent in multiple languages, wrote volumes upon volumes of hailed works, became the largest private landholder in the world, had many successful entrepreneurial enterprises, and was a respected leader.

He dealt fairly with the natives.
My utmost respect for Penn comes from his dealings with the Lenape tribe as he treated them with fairness and equality. William Penn’s treatment of the original inhabitants led to a prolonged period of peaceful relations between the settlers and the tribe. His idea of equality wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start and was the basis for many of the founding Fathers’ belief in “all men are created equal”.

In sum, William Penn was a progressive rebel, expelled from the leading university, and carried a criminal record, but whose legacy still continues today with his ideas of equality, fair treatment, and liberty for all.

{If you’re ever in the Philadelphia area, I highly recommend you check out Pennsbury Manor.}


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