William Penn arrived on American soil in 1682 to take possession of lands which had been turned over to him by the King of England. The king owed a large sum of money to Penn’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn. To settle up the debt the king offered lands in the American colony to the Penn family.
Penn travelled to the new world to see the lands for himself. The lands consisted of all of the present day States of Pennsylvania and Delaware. They were not named by those names because Pennsylvania got its name from Penn.
Penn’s father was a famous English admiral who was financially well off. He had apparently become wealthy through his exploits as an English Admiral. The senior Penn was married to Margriet Jaspers, a Dutch-born widow of a Dutch sea captain. As a result William Penn, the younger one, was clearly a Dutch American.
William Penn the younger was asked by the father to travel to the English colony in North America to view the lands. Penn landed in New Castle, Delaware and was welcomed by the colonists who recognized him as the owner of the lands the King had bestowed on him and his family. Shortly thereafter Penn travelled up the Delaware River and founded the City of Philadelphia.
Penn was the first to suggest that the colonies should work together to form a unified colonial area. His idea became the foundation of the later unification of the colonies into the United States of America. The government of the Pennsylvania colony installed under Penn’s leadership also became the foundation of the United States Constitution.
In 1684 Penn returned to England to see his family and resolve a territorial dispute. While there he became involved in the problems the Quakers had with the English government. Penn was a Quaker himself, but was able to deflect any personal government actions against him because of the influence of his family.
A more serious problem arose with his lands in the American colony. While away in England he had turned over the management of his lands to a trusted aide, a fellow Quaker, he felt he could trust. Unfortunately, the trusted aide was able to take away [steal] the official title to the lands from Penn. Fortunately, Penn was able to reverse the land grab by his former aide, but it took until 1708 to accomplish it.
Penn returned to his colony in 1699. He was accompanied by his wife Hannah and daughter Letitia. Much had changed since he had left. The population of Pennsylvania had increased to 18,000 and the population of the city he had founded, Philadelphia, had reached 3,000.
While in the Pennsylvania colony the Penn family lived at Pennsbury Manor, and they intended to live out their life there. They also had an American-born son named John.
Penn would commute to Philadelphia on a six-man barge. While there he took care of his governor responsibilities. Apparently threats by France jeopardized his charter for the lands he had control over. His wife also yearned to go back home to England. So in 1701 the Penn Family returned to England after a brief two-year stay.
Based on the above William Penn, the Governor of Pennsylvania and Delaware only spent a total of four years in the American colonies. During that time he was an early champion of democracy and religious freedom. The latter was clearly due to his own experience of discrimination for being part of a religion, Quakerism, which did not have approval in his native England. Penn also had good relations and made successful treaties with the Lenape Indians.
Penn is viewed as one of the founders of North America because of his ownership and governing of the lands comprising Pennsylvania and Delaware. He is viewed as an American and rightfully so, although he lived only for a total of four years in his adopted land. With this biographical profile, he will also be considered a Prominent Dutch American.
There is an interesting story about Penn and Tsar Peter the Great [1672-1725]. Penn apparently became thoroughly familiar with the Dutch language, learned from his mother. Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia for 42 years had spent about four months in Holland during his younger years learning about shipbuilding among other activities. Penn and the Tsar happened to meet in England during the Tsar’s visit in 1698, and were able to converse together in the Dutch language. Apparently the Tsar’s Dutch was better than his English.
William Penn had eight children from multiple marriages. They were: William Penn, Jr. [1681-1720], John Penn [1700-1746], the American-born son, Thomas Penn [1702-1775], Richard Penn, Sr. [1706-1771], Letitia Penn, Margaret Penn, Dennis Penn and Hannah Penn. Three of the five sons, and their descendants, ended up owning the lands in the American colony until 1776 when all the lands deeded by the crown were taken away from their former owners. The three sons were John, Thomas and Richard.
William Penn was born in London, England on October 14, 1644. He passed away in Berkshire, England on July 30, 1718, at the age of 73. During his life he has had an enormous influence on the colonies of Pennsylvania and Delaware. His greatest fame is probably the founding of the City of Philadelphia and the naming of the State of Pennsylvania.
Various web sites were consulted including: Famousamericans.com, history.com, answers.com and wikipedia.org.
Soderlund, Jean R. et al., editors, “William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania, 1680-1684: A Documentary History”, 1983.
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