William Penn and the Quakers Background



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William Penn and the Quakers

Background

England’s first six colonies were founded before 1640; the next six were founded or became English possessions during the Restoration era (1660-1688) when the Stuart monarchy was restored after the English Revolution. Georgia, the last of the thirteen colonies, was settled in the 1730s. All of the Restoration colonies were proprietary colonies where Crown favorites or “proprietors” were rewarded with large tracts of land to develop. Most of the proprietors had large visions but limited resources. William Penn was the exception. He had grown up in privilege and knew King James II well.

Penn had converted to the Society of Friends or Quakers, a religious group who rejected worldly and spiritual hierarchies, believing that all men and women share an “inner light... He turned an old debt (from the king due to his father) into a charter for the proprietary colony called “Pennsylvania” (all the land between New Jersey and Maryland) his “holy experiment” in brotherly love, a contrast to the Puritan concept of a “City on a Hill”. Penn took great pains in setting up his colony; twenty drafts survive of his First Frame of Government, the colony’s 1682 constitution. Penn was determined to deal fairly and maintain friendly relations with the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. He carefully planned the city of Philadelphia as well as organized other settlements and established the Free Society of Traders to control commerce with England. He sent back glowing accounts of the colony to his English friends and patrons. This Letter to the Free Society of Traders (found on EDSITEment reviewed History Matters), published in 1683, has been recognized as the most effective of his promotional tracts. And it proved successful.

Penn organized the speediest and most efficient of the seventeenth-century efforts at English colonization. In 1682 twenty three ships from England reached the Delaware River with about two thousand colonists and their possessions. By 1700 Pennsylvania’s population reached 21,000. Pennsylvania’s fertile soils, temperate climate, and policy of religious freedom attracted many migrants beyond England. Germans from the Rhine Valley increasingly left their homelands because of its limited rural economy and religious intolerance; also, good news from Pennsylvania drew many discontented Germans across the Atlantic. Francis Daniel Pastorius arrived in Pennsylvania in 1683, commissioned by the Frankfort Land Company and a group of German merchants to obtain 15,000 acres of land for a settlement in the new colony of Pennsylvania. Pastorius, well educated in European universities, reported back to his friends in Germany. After he negotiated with Penn, Pastorius became a Quaker. His report was later published as Positive Information From America, concerning the Country of Pennsylvania by a German who Traveled There (1684), a promotional tract to encourage other Germans to immigrate. Pastorius found the journey to be difficult but the prospects attractive. He remarked notably upon the ethnic and religious complexity of the colony. Pastorius went on to lead settlement at Germantown of Mennonites and Quakers from the Rhineland.

Both primary sources used in the second part of this lesson were written as promotional tracts. While Penn wrote his with an audience of prospective settlers in mind, Pastorius wrote his to friends back in Germany, hoping to convince them to emigrate. While Penn’s letter overall has more detail, Pastorius' report includes a frank account of the journey and the struggle to survive. Both accounts, however, resound with a glowing endorsement of the life that awaits those who dare to venture to the new colony, despite the risks.

Answer the following questions for each excerpt:

For excerpt 1: What elements does William Penn see as necessary for good government?

Excerpt 1—From William Penn’s Preface to The Frame of the Government of the Province of Pennsylvania in America, 1682.

Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men, than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But, if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

I know some say, let us have good laws, and no matter for the men that execute them: but let them consider, that though good laws do well, good men do better: for good laws may want good men, and be abolished or evaded by ill men; but good men will never want good laws nor suffer ill ones …

For excerpt 2: Who does William Penn want in his colony? How does he entice new settlers?



Excerpt 2—Law Thirty-five from Laws Agreed Upon in England in William Penn’s The Frame of the Government of the Province of Pennsylvania in America, 1682.

XXXV. That all persons living in this province, who confess and acknowledge the one Almighty and eternal God, to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the world; and that hold themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly in civil society, shall, in no ways, 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 whatever.



Answer Excerpt #1:

Answer Excerpt #2:

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