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Historical texts  >  Primitive Christianity Revived, William Penn  >  Brown's Brief Memoir of Penn  >  Chapter 3

A Brief Memoir of Penn.

By James M. Brown.

(Included with his 1857 reprint edition of Primitive Christianity Revived, By William Penn.)


"All deprav'd,
Justice and temperance, truth and faith forgot,
One man except, the only son of light
In a dark age, against example, good;
Against allurement, custom, and the world
Offended; fearless of reproach and scorn,
Or violence, he of their wicked ways
Shall them admonish, and before them set
The paths of righteousness, how much more safe
And full of peace, denouncing wrath to come
On their impenitence; and shall return
Of them derided, but of God observ'd."
*     *     *     *     *
To teach thee that God attributes to place
No sanctity, if none be thither brought,
By men who there frequent or therein dwell.
And now what further shall ensue, behold."—Paradise Lost.

THE history of the transaction in regard to the purchase of Pennsylvania, as recorded in an early "Life of William Penn," is as follows:—"King Charles the Second, in consideration of the services of Sir William Penn, and sundry debts due to him from the crown at the time of his decease, by letters-patent, bearing date the 4th day of March, 1680-81, granted to William Penn and his heirs that province lying on the west side of the river Delaware in North America, formerly belonging to the Dutch, and then called the New Netherlands" The name was now changed by the king, in honor of William Penn, whom, and his heirs, he made absolute proprietors and governors of it. Upon this, he presently published an account of the province of Pennsylvania, with the king's patent, and other papers relating thereto, describing the country and its produce, and proposing an easy purchase of lands, offering 100 acres for 40 shillings, or 5000 acres for £100, and good terms of settlement for such as might incline to transport themselves. Many single persons and some families out of England and Wales went over, and with singular industry and application having cleared their purchased lands, settled and soon improved plantations to good advantage, and began to build the city of Philadelphia in a commodious situation on the aforesaid navigable river Delaware.

And to secure the new planters from the native Indians, (who in some other provinces being injuriously dealt with, had made reprisals to the loss of many lives,) the governor gave orders to treat them with all candour and humanity; and appointed commissioners to confer with them about land, and to confirm a league of peace, by whom he also sent the following letter:—


LONDON, the 18th of the 8th month, 1681.


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 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 one unto 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 neighbours 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 of you, rather than to be examples of justice and goodness unto you, which I hear hath been matters of trouble to 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,


His friendly and pacific manner of teaching the Indians begat in them an extraordinary love and regard to him and his people, so that they have maintained a perfect amity with the English of Pennsylvania ever since. And 'tis observable, that upon renewing the treaty with the present governor, Sir William Keith, Bar., in 1722, they mention the name of William Penn with much gratitude and affection, calling him a good man, and as their highest compliment to Sir William use this expression, "We esteem and love you as if you were William Penn himself. So universally doth a principle of peace, justice, and morality operate on the hearts even of those we call heathens."

He also drew up the fundamental constitution of Pennsylvania in twenty-four articles, consented to and subscribed by the first; adventurers and freeholders of that province, as the ground and rule of all future government: the first of which articles, showing that his principle was to give as well as take liberty of conscience in matters of religion, we shall transcribe.


In reverence to God, the Father of light and spirits, the author as well as object of all divine knowledge, faith, and worship, I do for me and mine declare and establish for the first fundamental of the government of this country, that any person that doth or shall reside therein shall have and enjoy the free profession of his or her faith and exercise of worship toward God in such way and manner as any such person shall in conscience believe is most acceptable to God. And so long as any such person useth not this Christian liberty to licentiousness, or the destruction of others, that is to say, to speak loosely and profanely or contemptuously of God, Christ, the Holy Scriptures, or religion, or commit any moral evil or injury against others in their conversation, he or she shall be protected in the enjoyment of the aforesaid Christian liberty by the civil magistrate.

In the next year, 1682, he published the frame of government of Pennsylvania, containing twenty-four articles somewhat varying from the aforesaid constitutions, together with certain other laws to the number of forty, agreed on in England by the governor and diverse freemen of the said province. Of which laws one was

That all persons living in this province, who confess and acknowledge the one almighty and eternal God to be the Creator and upholder and ruler of the world, and that hold themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly in civil society, shall in nowise be molested or prejudiced for their religious persuasion, or practice in matters of faith and worship; nor shall they be compelled at any time to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.

In the 6th month, (August,) 1682, William Penn with many of his friends sailed for his province; in six weeks they saw the American coast. Sailing up the Delaware, the inhabitants, Swedes, Dutch and English received him with many demonstrations of joy. He landed at New Castle, which was principally inhabited by Dutch, and the next day he summoned the people to the court-house where possession of the country was legally given him. He then sailed for Upland, or Optland, now Chester, where he called an Assembly, and declared his purpose of coming among them, and the ends of his government, giving them assurances of a free enjoyment of liberty of conscience in things spiritual and of civil freedom in temporal, and recommended to them to live in sobriety and peace one with another, and received their thankful acknowledgments, 1681.

Now began that remarkable event, the Exodus of the Quakers, and so extensive was it that William Penn, in a letter to the Marquis of Halifax, written on the 9th of the 12th month, (February,) 1683, says: "I must without vanity say I have led the greatest colony into America that ever any man did upon a private credit, and the most prosperous beginnings that ever were in it are to be found among us." He also added, "Since last summer we have had about sixty sail of great and small shipping."

The emigration was not confined to England, it extended to Germany, Ireland, Holland, and Wales, which must have been very gratifying to the founder, for he came, he said, into the charge of the province "for the Lord's sake. He hoped, under the Divine aid, to have raised up a people who should have been a praise in the earth for conduct, as well as for civil and religious liberty." He said, "I wanted to afford an asylum to the good and oppressed of every nation. I aimed to frame a government which might be an example. I desired to show men as free and happy as they could be."

What a beautiful example he set before our Revolutionary fathers! and to their everlasting credit may it be remembered that they had wisdom and goodness sufficient to act upon it, and did really contribute not only to make the land of Penn an asylum to the good and oppressed of every nation, but extended the noble cognomen over all the territory of the United States, and the identical idea William Penn expressed near two hundred years ago, is now the most glorious name our beloved country is known by throughout the earth, viz.: "The Asylum to the Good and Oppressed of every Nation." Will the beneficiaries have wisdom and goodness sufficient to perpetuate it?

He planned the city of Philadelphia and named it, and in two years it contained 2000 inhabitants. He remained in America about two years, in which time he succeeded in establishing his laws and inculcating a spirit of love and harmony not only among the various sects and denominations that had arrived from Europe, but even with the Indians, and all things being in a prosperous condition he returned, arriving in England on the 12th of the 6th month, (August,) 1684.

[Continued, Memoir of Penn, Chapter 4.]