William Penn and the Quakers
The Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends was religious group that founded Pennsylvania. William Penn, one of the leaders, worked with the Quakers, Indians and the other population to make an ideal world for him, his followers, and the other people in his environment. With his efforts, and the help of others, the Quakers left a huge impact on Pennsylvania and the entire nation.
The Quakers are a religion that originated in England in protest of the Anglican Church's practices. The man in charge of this religious revolution was George Fox.1 He believed that God didn't live in churches as much as he lived in
people's hearts.2 In that state of mind, he went out into the world in search of his true religion. He argued with priests, slept in fields, and spent days and nights trying
to find followers. His first followers were mostly young people and women.
Besides freedom of religion, they wanted freedom of speech, worship and assembly,
refusal to go to war or take oath, and equality of the sexes and social classes.3
In England, between the years of 1650 and 1700, more than 15,000 Quakers
were fined and/or imprisoned; 366 were killed.4 The reason why the Quakers were
put through such torture was because their beliefs and culture was different from the
Anglican Church. At that time, any religion that was practiced in England other than
the Anglican Church would be persecuted. They believed that religion shouldn't be
practiced in a church as much as in your heart. The differences that were between the
Quakers and the Anglican Christians was that the Anglicans practiced strict discipline
in their prayers. They would go to prayer every morning, and ask for forgiveness of
their sins. They believed that the sacred authority was the Bible, the only way to
make your way to heaven was to go to sermon; they should glorify God in the world;
and pay no attention to the irrationality of God. They didn't believe men could
achieve anything for themselves; only God could do that. The Quakers, on the other
hand, believed that God should be in your spirit, not in sermon, and that your sacred
authority shouldn't be a book, it should be your inner light, the force that drives you
through you life. They believed you shouldn't be servants of God, but to be friends of
God. They believed violence was an unnecessary part of life, and things could be
worked out in other ways.5 The Quakers thought the authority of God was absolute,
but didn't need to be preached at a formal meeting as much as the Anglican Church
believed that should happen.
In 1661, William Penn was introduced to Quakerism. He had been studying at
Christ Church in Oxford. He started to notice that he didn't believe in some of the
things that he was studying in his religion. So, he started to go to Quaker meetings,
and believe in that religion instead.6 In England, he was expelled from Oxford in
1662 for refusing to conform to the Anglican Church, so he moved on to
Pennsylvania in the "New World." In this new colony that he established, he set up a
freedom of worship. It became a retreat for many religious groups coming from
Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, and Great Britain.7 He decided to go to the New
World, but first he made a trip with Quaker leader George Fox. When they got there,
the construction from the plans of Penn's was already in progress. 8
In 1682, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn. He came upon his own
personal ship, Welcome, along with William Bradford, Nicholas Waln, and Thomas
Wynne and other less known men.9 Now they had many established colonies in
Pennsylvania and a strong belief system with which build a state.
One of the things William Penn is known well for is his attitude toward the
Native Americans. He created a friendly environment with his colonies and the
Native Americans. He believed that treating the Native Americans fairly, not harshly,
would prevent any tension between the two groups, which could cause wars
otherwise. He knew that they were different than himself and his followers, but they
should be given much respect for they were in the New World centuries before
England even knew about it. He included them in jury and everyday actions. He
considered them to be equal to him.10
"The Natives I shall consider in their Person, Language, Manners, Religion and Government, with my sence of their Original. For their Persons, they are generally tall, streight, well-built, and of singular Proportion; they tread strong and clever, and mostly walk with Bears-fat clarified, and using no defence against the Sun or Weather, their skins must needs be swarthy; Their Eye is little and black, not unlike a straight-look't Jew. The thick Lip and flat Nose, so frequently with the East-Indians and Blacks, are
not common to them; for I have seen as comely European-like faces among them of both, as on your side of the Sea; and truly an Italian Complexion hath not much more of the White, and the Noses of several of them have as much of the Roman.11
He had great respect for the Indians, and understood their culture, so he, from
then on, would have an excellent relationship with the Indians. On of the most
famous things he had ever done was to have a treaty with the Indians under the Treaty
Elm at Shackamaxon in 1682. Although it has been said it actually happened, there are no written records of the occurrence.12 He left the New World to go back to England in August of 1684, knowing he left behind economic wealth, and increasing political and social strengths.13
William Penn suffered from a crippling stroke in 1712, and managed to stay alive in a vegetable state until 1718 when he died.14 He was seventy-four.15 After his death, the Delaware Indians sent his widow a cloak sewn from the skins of wild animals "to protect her whilst passing through the thorny wilderness without her
guide."16 The rest of his family knew they could not let Penn's work go to waste, so they stepped in and worked to their fullest to keep his ideas alive. His wife became the Proprietor of Pennsylvania. Her goals had succeeded, and she ruled for eight years after his death, until she died in 1726.17 Thomas Penn, his middle child, was named the managing proprietor. He lived in the colony for forty years after his mother's death. He ruled for almost as long as his father, but like the rest of his family, he left the Quakers and joined the Church of England.
The French and Indian War broke up the friendly relationship of the Quakers and the Indians. Although a majority of the Indians stayed on the Englishss side, the others went to the French side. After the war, the Native Americans didn't agree with the Quakers, causing tension. They no longer got along. This caused violence on the part of the Indians. One tribe, on a visit to Philadelphia, killed cattle and robbed orchards as they passed. Another tribe on their way back from Philadelphia destroyed the property of the interpreter and Indian agent, Conrad Weiser.18
The Quakers had an enormous effect on Pennsylvania. They created the foundations of what is now Pennsylvania. William Penn will be remembered for his kindness and his hard efforts to help the Quakers and to be a great leader, which he was. That is why it is reasonable to call the colony that started so many great things
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Elgin, Kathleen. The Quakers. New York: David McKay Company Inc., 1968.
Fisher, Sidney G. The Quaker Colonies. New York: United States Publishers
Janson, Donald. New York Times. "Burlington Awaits Quakers." September 1981. pp.
Morgan, Ted. Wilderness at Dawn. New York: Simon and Schmister, 1993.
Myers, Albert Cook. William Penn's Own Account of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware
Indians. New Jersey: The Middle Atlantic Press, 1970
Today in History: William Penn. November 23, 1999. pp. 1-3
Wright, Louis B. The Cultural Life of the American Colonies. London: Harper &