William Penn and His Quaker Colony

THE young man himself was for calling his colony New Wales, because it was hilly like old Wales. When he was overruled by a Welshman, who objected to having the name taken in vain by the despised Quakers, he decided to call it Sylvania because it was in a forest. But his own name was inserted in front of it by some one. Fearing to be accused of the sin of vanity by his brethren, he offered to tip an official understrapper twenty guineas for striking out that first syllable. His bribe being refused, he appealed to the King, but Charles I would not change the name.
"We will keep it," said the Merry Monarch, "and not on your account, my dear fellow. Don't flatter yourself. We will keep it to commemorate the name of the Admiral, your noble father."
And that is how the colony came to be christened Pennsylvania. Also how Admiral Penn chanced to be one of only three men, outside of royalty, to have namesakes among the states of the union, the other two being Lord de La Warre and George Washington.
Six royal personages had the ironical honor of giving their names to those destined republics: The Duke of York, afterward James II, in New York; Henrietta Maria, Queen of Charles I, in Maryland; Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, in Virginia and ultimately in West Virginia; Charles II in the two Carolinas; George II in Georgia, and Louis XIV, the Grand Monarch, in Louisiana. And was Maine named for Le Maine as an indirect compliment to Henrietta Maria's French province?

To have christened the Quaker colony for the father of William Penn was a backhanded compliment. For Admiral Sir William Penn was so infuriated when his son at Oxford took up with the outlandish sect that he packed him off to Paris with a full purse in the hope that the coquetry of that siren city might seduce him from his piety. To his delight, the youth returned seemingly a very proper French gallant, well fitted to be a gilded butterfly at the ribald court of the Restoration.
The great plague of 1664 most inopportunely drove the Penn family from London into the country where the young man was infected once more by the plague of Quakerism. The sad tale is sadly told by Samuel Pepys in his diary: "Mr. William Penn . . . is a Quaker again, or some very melancholy thing . . . and his father such a hypocritical rogue!"
Probably the old rogue cared little about his son's religion but he abominated his manners. The Quakers had got it into their stubborn heads that all men were equals before God, and they refused to take off their broadbrim hats to any one, be he judge on the bench or even king on the throne.
The Quakers, too, insisted on "theeing" and "thouing" every one, high and low alike. Although a man in those days might speak to his sweetheart, his closest friend, his servant and even to the Almighty as "thou," he was guilty of an offensive familiarity if he addressed by that same term his mother or father or any of his betters.
The gouty old Admiral slammed the paternal door on the recreant William, cut him off without a shilling of his great wealth . . . and got him out of the Tower, Newgate, and like prisons almost as often as he got in. Finally he left him most of his big estate, with an I. O. U. of the King for £16,000, which the profligate Charles paid off by giving Pennsylvania to William in 1680.

The Quakers had almost, if not quite won, at great price, the right to live in any of the colonies by 1682, when William Penn stepped ashore at Newcastle, Delaware. There he received a sod, a twig and a cup of water from the river, as the feudal symbol of his proprietorship of the forty thousand square miles of Pennsylvania.
History neither confirms nor spoils the familiar story of Penn smoking the pipe of peace with the Indians. There is a legend of his sitting with them on the ground, eating their roasted acorns and hominy, and even of his dancing with the braves. That scene well may have been enacted in his negotiations with the Lanape, a tribe of the Delawares. The parley resulted, Voltaire said, in "the only treaty between savages and Christians that was never sworn to and that never was broken."

In his second and last visit to Pennsylvania, the proprietor finished for himself a residence on the Delaware that hardly was an example of Quaker plainness. It was rated the most pretentious of any between Virginia and New York, and with a capacious wine cellar. There also was a brewhouse on the manorial estate.
Wherever he went in his realm, Penn made a semi-royal progress in his private barge, with six slaves at the oars, or in a state coach drawn by some among the many blooded horses in his stable. At Philadelphia, he had a gilded sedan chair, in which he was borne through the streets of his little metropolis. Item: this most renowned of the Quakers ordered as many as four wigs in one certain year.

Puritans, Catholics, Huguenots, Quakers—the American colonies were largely founded and led by those persecuted minorities. They cannot all have been right in their opinions. But they were all equally right in standing up for them, even to leaving their homes and crossing the ocean rather than surrender them. Possibly not a few of them would be turned back at Ellis Island to-day. Perhaps still more would be dismissed as cranks by some of their descendants, who set more store by the pewter dishes than by the spiritual heirlooms that were left to them by their immigrant ancestors.

James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930