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   Chapter 6 THE SETTLEMENT OF PENNSYLVANIA PENN'S FIRST VISIT TO THE PROVINCE

William Penn By George Hodges Characters: 25276

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


That Penn undertook the "holy experiment" without expectation or desire of profit appears not only in his conviction that he was thereby losing sixteen thousand pounds, but in his refusal to make his new estates a means of gain. "He is offered great things," says James Claypole in a letter dated September, 1681, "£6000 for a monopoly in trade, which he refused.... He designs to do things equally between all parties, and I believe truly does aim more at justice and righteousness and spreading of truth than at his own particular gain." "I would not abuse His love," said Penn, "nor act unworthy of His providence, and so defile what came to me clean. No, let the Lord guide me by His wisdom, and preserve me to honour His name, and serve His truth and people, that an example and standard may be set up to the nations."

So far removed was he from all self-seeking, that he was even unwilling to have the colony bear his name. "I chose New Wales," he says, recounting the action of the king's council, "being, as this, a pretty hilly country,-but Penn being Welsh for head, as Pennanmoire in Wales, and Penrith in Cumberland, and Penn in Buckinghamshire, the highest land in England-[the king] called this Pennsylvania, which is the high or head woodlands; for I proposed, when the secretary, a Welshman, 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 past, 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 on as a vanity in me, and not as a respect in the king, as it truly was, to my father, whom he often mentions with praise."

The charter gave the land to Penn as the king's tenant. He had power to make laws; though this power was to be exercised, except in emergencies, "with the advice, assent, and approbation of the freemen of the territory," and subject to the confirmation of the Privy Council. He was to appoint judges and other officers. He had the right to assess custom on goods laden and unladen, for his own benefit; though he was to take care to do it "reasonably," and with the advice of the assembly of freemen. He was, at the same time, to be free from any tax or custom of the king, except by his own consent, or by the consent of his governor or assembly, or by act of Parliament. He was not to maintain correspondence with any king or power at war with England, nor to make war against any king or power in amity with the same. If as many as twenty of his colonists should ask a minister from the Bishop of London, such minister was to be received without denial or molestation.

The next important document to be prepared was the Constitution, or Frame of Government, and to the task of composing it Penn gave a great amount of time and care. It was preceded by two statements of principles,-the Preface and the Great Fundamental.

The Preface declared the political policy of the proprietor. "Government," he said, "seems to me a part of religion itself, a thing sacred in its institution and end." As for the debate between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, "I choose," he said, "to solve the controversy with this small distinction, and it belongs to all three: any government is free to the people under it, whatever be the frame, where the laws rule, and the people are a party to those laws." His purpose, he says, is to establish "the great end of all government, viz., to support power in reverence with the people, and to secure the people from the abuse of power, that they may be free by their just obedience, and the magistrates honourable for their just administration; for liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery."

In a private letter, written about the same time, Penn stated his political position in several concrete sentences which interpret these fine but rather vague pronouncements. "For the matters of liberty and privilege," he wrote, "I propose that which is extraordinary, and to leave myself and successors no power of doing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of an whole country; but to publish these things now and here, as matters stand, would not be wise."

The Great Fundamental set forth the ecclesiastical policy of the founder: "In reverence to God, the father of light and spirits, the author as well as the object of all divine knowledge, faith and workings, I do, for me and mine, declare and establish for the first fundamental of the government of my province, that every person that doth and shall reside there shall have and enjoy the free profession of his or her faith and exercise of worship towards God, in such way and manner as every such person shall in conscience believe is most acceptable to God."

These principles of civil and religious liberty constituted the "holy experiment." They made the difference between Penn's colony and almost every other government then existing. In their influence and continuance, until at last they were incorporated in the Constitution of the United States, they are the chief contribution of William Penn to the progress of our institutions.

"All Europe with amazement saw

The soul's high freedom trammeled by no law."

The Constitution was drawn up in Articles to the number of twenty-four, and these were followed by forty Laws.

The Articles provided for a governor, to be appointed by the proprietor, and for two legislative bodies, a provincial council and a general assembly. The provincial council was to consist of seventy-two members. Of these a third were elected for three years, a third for two, and a third for one; so that by the end of the service of the first third, all would have a three-year term, twenty-four going out and having their places filled each year. The business of the council was to prepare laws, to see that they were executed, and in general to provide for the good conduct of affairs. The general assembly was to consist of two hundred members, to be chosen annually. They had no right to originate legislation, but were to pass upon all bills which had been enacted by the council, accepting or rejecting them by a vote of yea or nay.

The Laws enjoined that "all persons who confessed the one almighty and eternal God to be the Creator, Upholder, and Ruler of the world, and who held themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly in society, were in no ways to be molested for their religious persuasion and practice, nor to be compelled at any time to frequent any religious place or ministry whatever." All children of the age of twelve were to be taught some useful trade. All pleadings, processes, and records in the courts of law were to be as short as possible. The reformation of the offender was to be considered as a great part of the purpose of punishment. At a time when there were in England two hundred offenses punishable by death, Penn reduced these capital crimes to two, murder and treason. All prisons were to be made into workhouses. No oath was to be required. Drinking healths, selling rum to Indians, cursing and lying, fighting duels, playing cards, the pleasures of the theatre, were all put under the ban together.

Penn's provincial council suggested the Senate of the United States. As originally established, however, the disproportion of power between the upper and the lower house was so great as to cause much just dissatisfaction. The council was in effect a body of seventy-two governors; the assembly, which more directly represented the people, could consider no laws save those sent down to them by the council. The Constitution had to be changed.

One of the good qualities of the Constitution was that it was possible to change it. It provided for the process of amendment. That customary article with which all constitutions now end appeared for the first time in Penn's Frame of Government. Another good quality of the Constitution was that it secured an abiding harmony between its fundamental statements and all further legislation. "Penn was the first one to hit upon the foundation or first step in the true principle, now the universal law in the United States, that the unconstitutional law is void."

Whatever help Penn may have had in the framing of this legislation, from Algernon Sidney and other political friends, it is plain that the best part of it was his own, and that he wrote it not as a politician but as a Quaker. It is an application of the Quaker principles of democracy and of religious liberty to the conditions of a commonwealth. From beginning to end it is the work of a man whose supreme interest was religion. It is at the same time singularly free from the narrowness into which men of this earnest mind have often fallen. Religion, as Penn considered it, was not a matter of ordinances or rubrics. It was righteousness, and fraternity, and liberty of conscience.

In this spirit he wrote a letter to the Indian inhabitants of his province. "The great God, who is the power and wisdom that made you and me, incline your hearts to righteousness, love, and peace. This I send to assure you of my love, and to desire you to love my friends; and when the great God brings me among you, I intend to order all things in such a manner that we may all live in love and peace, one with another, which I hope the great God will incline both me and you to do. I seek nothing but the honour of his name, and that we, who are his workmanship, may do that which is well pleasing to him.... So I rest in the love of God that made us."

Now colonists began to seek this land of peace across the sea. A hundred acres were promised for forty shillings, with a quit-rent of one shilling annually to the proprietor forever. In clearing the ground, care was to be taken to leave one acre of trees, for every five acres cleared. All transactions with the Indians were to be held in the public market, and all differences between the white man and the red were to be settled by a jury of six planters and six Indians. Penn also counseled prospective colonists to consider the great inconveniences which they must of necessity endure, and hoped that those who went would have "the permission if not the good liking of their near relations."

There were already in the province some two thousand people, besides Indians,-a peaceable and industrious folk, mostly Swedes and English. They had six meeting-houses; the English settlers being Quakers. They lived along the banks of the Delaware. In the autumn of 1681, the ship Sarah and John brought the first of Penn's emigrants, and in December the ship Bristol Factor added others. In 1682, Penn came himself.

The journey at that time was both long and perilous. If it was accomplished in two months, the voyage was considered prosperous. To the ordinary dangers of the deep was added the terror of the smallpox. Scarcely a ship crossed without this dread passenger. William, accordingly, as one undertaking a desperate adventure, took a tender leave of his family. He wrote a letter whose counsels might guide them in case he never returned. "My dear wife and children," he said, "my love, which neither sea, nor land, nor death itself can extinguish or lessen towards you, most endearedly visits you with eternal embraces, and will abide with you forever; and may the God of my life watch over you, and bless you, and do you good in this world and forever." "Be diligent," he advised his wife, "in meetings for worship and business, ... and let meetings be kept once a day in the family to wait upon the Lord, ... and, my dearest, to make thy family matters easy to thee, divide thy time and be regular; it is easy and sweet.... Cast up thy income, and see what it daily amounts to, ... and I beseech thee to live low and sparingly, till my debts are paid." As for the children, they are to be bred up "in the love of virtue, and that holy plain way of it, which we have lived in, that the world in no part of it get into my family." They are to be carefully taught. "For their learning be liberal, spare no cost." "Agriculture is especially in my eye; let my children be husbandmen and housewives; it is industrious, healthy, honest, and of good example." They are to honor and obey their mother, to love not money nor the world, to be temperate in all things. If they come presently to be concerned in the government of Pennsylvania, "I do charge you," their father wrote, "before the Lord God and the holy angels, that you be lovely, diligent

and tender, fearing God, loving the people, and hating covetousness. Let justice have its impartial course, and the law free passage. Though to your loss, protect no man against it; for you are not above the law, but the law above you. Live the lives yourselves, you would have the people live."

Unhappily, of Guli's children, seven in number, four died before their mother, and one, the eldest son, Springett, shortly after. Springett inherited the devout spirit of his parents; his father wrote an affecting account of his pious death. Of the two remaining, William fell into ways of dissipation, and Letitia married a man whom her father disliked. Neither of them had any inheritance in Pennsylvania.

Penn's ship, the Welcome, carried a hundred passengers, most of them Quakers from his own neighborhood. A third part died of smallpox on the way. On the 24th of October, he sighted land; on the 27th, he arrived before Newcastle, in Delaware; on the 28th, he landed. Here he formally received turf and twig, water and soil, in token of his ownership. On the 29th, he entered Pennsylvania. Adding ten days to this date, to bring it into accord with our present calendar, we have November 8 as the day of his arrival in the province. The place was Upland, where there was a settlement already; the name was that day changed to Chester.

Penn was greatly pleased with his new possessions. He wrote a description of the country for the Free Society of Traders. The air, he said, was sweet and clear, and the heavens serene. Trees, fruits, and flowers grew in abundance: especially a "great, red grape," and a "white kind of muskadel," out of which he hopes it may be possible to make good wine. The ground was fertile. The Indians he found to be tall, straight, and well built, walking "with a lofty chin." Their language was "like the Hebrew," and he guessed that they were descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel. Light of heart, they seemed to him, with "strong affections, but soon spent; ... the most merry creatures that live." Though they were "under a dark night in things relating to religion," yet were they believers in God and immortality.

"I bless the Lord," he wrote in a letter, "I am very well, and much satisfied with my place and portion. O how sweet is the quiet of these parts, freed from the anxious and troublesome solicitations, hurries, and solicitations of woeful Europe!"

In the midst of these fair regions, beside the "wedded rivers," the Delaware and the Schuylkill, in the convenient neighborhood of quarries of building stone, at a place which the Indians called Coaquannoc, he established his capital city, calling it Philadelphia,-perhaps in token of the spirit of brotherly love in which it was founded, perhaps in remembrance of those seven cities of the Revelation wherein was that primitive Christianity which he wished to reproduce.

Here he had his rowers run his boat ashore at the mouth of Dock Creek, which now runs under Dock Street, where several men were engaged in building a house, which was afterwards called the Blue Anchor Tavern. Penn brought a considerable company with him. In the minutes of a Friends' meeting held on the 8th (18th) of November, 1682, at Shackamaxon, now Kensington, it was recorded that, "at this time, Governor Penn and a multitude of Friends arrived here, and erected a city called Philadelphia, about half a mile from Shackamaxon." Presently, the Indians appeared. They offered Penn of their hominy and roasted acorns, and, after dinner, showed him how they could hop and jump. He is said to have entered heartily into these exercises, and to have jumped farther than any of them.

The governor had already determined the plan of the city. There were to be two large streets,-one fronting the Delaware on the east, the other fronting the Schuylkill on the west; a third avenue, to be called High Street (now Market), was to run from river to river, east and west; and a fourth, called Broad Street, was to cross it at right angles, north and south. Twenty streets were to lie parallel with Broad, and to be named First Street, Second Street, and so on in order, in the plain Quaker fashion which had thus entitled the days of the week and the months of the year. Eight were to lie parallel with High, and to be called after the trees of the forest,-Spruce, Chestnut, Pine. In the midst of the city, at the crossing of High and Broad Streets, was to be a square of ten acres, to contain the public offices; and in each quarter of the city was to be a similar open space for walks. The founder intended to allow no house to be built on the river banks, keeping them open and beautiful. Could he have foreseen the future, he would have made the streets wider. He had in mind, however, only a country town. "Let every house be placed," he directed, "if the person pleases, in the middle of its plot, as to the breadth way of it, that so there may be ground on each side for gardens or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country town, which will never be burnt and always wholesome."

Among those houses was his own, a modest structure made of brick, standing "on Front Street south of the present Market Street," and still preserved in Fairmont Park. He afterwards gave it to his daughter Letitia, and it was called Letitia House, from her ownership.

In the mean time, he was making his famous treaty with the Indians. Penn recognized the Indians as the actual owners of the land. He bought it of them as he needed it. The transfer of property thus made was a natural occasion of mutual promises. As there were several such meetings between the Quakers and the Indians, it is difficult to fix a date to mark the fact. One meeting took place, it is said, under a spreading elm at Shackamaxon. The commonly accepted date is the 23d of June, 1683. The elm was blown down in 1810. There is a persistent tradition to the effect that William was distinguished from his fellow Quakers in this transaction by wearing a sky-blue sash of silk network. But of this, as of most other details of ceremony in connection with the matter, we know nothing.

Penn gives a general description of his various conferences upon this business. "Their order," he says, "is thus: the king sits in the middle of a half-moon, and has his council, the old and wise, on each hand. Behind them, or at a little distance, sit the younger fry in the same figure." Then one speaks in their king's name, and Penn answers. "When the purchase was agreed great promises passed between us of kindness and good neighbourhood, and that the English and the Indians must live in love as long as the sun gave light, ... at every sentence of which they shouted, and said Amen, in their way." Some earnestness may have been added to these assuring responses by the Indians' consciousness of the fact that the advantages of the bargain were not all on one side. The Pennsylvania tribes had been thoroughly conquered by the Five Nations. There was little heart left in them. But their condition detracts nothing from Penn's Christian brotherliness.

In some such manner the great business was enacted. "This," said Voltaire, "was the only treaty between these people and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never broken." That it was never broken was the capital fact. Herein it differed from a thousand other treaties made before or since. In the midst of the long story of the misdealings of the white men with the red, which begins with Cortez and Pizarro, and is still continued in the daily newspapers, this justice and honesty of William Penn is a point of light. That Penn treated the Indians as neighbors and brothers; that he paid them fairly for every acre of their land; that the promises which he made were ever after unfailingly kept is perhaps his best warrant of abiding fame. Like his constitutional establishment of civil and religious liberty, it was a direct result of his Quaker principles. It was a manifestation of that righteousness which he was continually preaching and practicing.

The kindness and courtly generosity which Penn showed in his bargains with the Indians is happily illustrated in one of his purchases of land. The land was to extend "as far back as a man could walk in three days." William walked out a day and a half of it, taking several chiefs with him, "leisurely, after the Indian manner, sitting down sometimes to smoke their pipes, to eat biscuit and cheese, and drink a bottle of wine." Thus they covered less than thirty miles. In 1733, the then governor employed the fastest walker he could find, who in the second day and a half marked eighty-six miles.

The treaty gave the new colony a substantial advantage. The Lenni Lenape, the Mingoes, the Shawnees accounted Penn's settlers as their friends. The word went out among the tribes that what Penn said he meant, and that what he promised he would fulfill faithfully. Thus the planters were freed from the terror of the forest which haunted their neighbors, north and south. They could found cities in the wilderness and till their scattered farms without fear of tomahawk or firebrand. Penn himself went twenty miles from Philadelphia, near the present Bristol, to lay out his country place of Pennsbury.

Ships were now arriving with sober and industrious emigrants; trees were coming down, houses were going up. In July, 1683, Penn wrote to Henry Sidney, in England, reminding him that he had promised to send some fruit-trees, and describing the condition of the colony. "We have laid out a town a mile long and two miles deep.... I think we have near about eighty houses built, and about three hundred farms settled round the town.... We have had fifty sail of ships and small vessels, since the last summer, in our river, which shows a good beginning." "I am mightily taken with this part of the world," he wrote to Lord Culpeper, who had come to be governor of Virginia, "I like it so well, that a plentiful estate, and a great acquaintance on the other side, have no charms to remove; my family being once fixed with me, and if no other thing occur, I am likely to be an adopted American." "Our heads are dull," he added, "but our hearts are good and our hands strong."

In the midst of this peace and prosperity, however, there was a serious trouble. This was a dispute with Lord Baltimore over the dividing line between Pennsylvania and Maryland. By the inaccuracy of surveyors, the confusion of maps, and the indefiniteness of charters, Baltimore believed himself entitled to a considerable part of the territory which was claimed by Penn, including even Philadelphia. The two proprietors had already discussed the question without settlement; indeed, it remained a cause of contention for some seventy years. As finally settled, in 1732, between the heirs of Penn and of Baltimore, a line was established from Cape Henlopen west to a point half way between Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay; thence north to twelve miles west of Newcastle, and so on to fifteen miles south of Philadelphia; thence due west. The surveyors were Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, and the line was thus called Mason and Dixon's Line. This boundary afterwards parted the free States from the slave States. South of it was "Dixie."

Penn now learned that Lord Baltimore was on his way to England to lay the question before the Privy Council. The situation demanded William's presence. "I am following him as fast as I can," he wrote to the Duke of York, praying "that a perfect stop be put to all his proceedings till I come." He therefore took leave of his friends in the province, commissioned the provincial council to act in his stead, and in August, 1684, having been two years in America, he embarked for home.

On board the Endeavour, on the eve of sailing, he wrote a farewell letter. "And thou, Philadelphia," he said, "the virgin settlement of this province, named before thou wert born, what love, what care, what service and what travail has there been to bring thee forth and preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee! O that thou mayest be kept from the evil that would overwhelm thee; that faithful to the God of mercies in the life of righteousness, thou mayest be preserved to the end. My soul prays to God for thee that thou mayest stand in the day of trial, that thy children may be blessed of the Lord, and thy people saved by thy power. My love to thee has been great, and the remembrance of thee affects mine heart and mine eye. The God of eternal strength keep and preserve thee to his glory and peace."

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