William Penn’s Province of Pennsylvania


The following recitation of how William Penn came to be the “Proprietor” of the Province of Pennsylvania is taken from Morton L. Montgomery’s History of Berks County, published in Philadelphia in 1886 by Everts, Peck & Richards:


“His father, Admiral William Penn, had distinguished himself by meritorious services under the English government, whereby he became entitled to a claim of sixteen thousand pounds. This claim he bequeathed to his son, and the son, in satisfaction thereof, made application for a large grant of territory west of the Delaware. King Charles II readily consented, for he was in great need of money, and he regarded the payment of so large a claim against him in this manner as a most desirable performance. He accordingly granted to him by patent, dated the 4th of March, 1681, the land applied for and named it "Pennsylvania."


William Penn was a devoutly religious man, a Quaker, and he did not view the receipt of this vast amount of land in the new world like most powerful and wealthy men of his day would have.  Most people would have viewed the position that Penn found himself in as a lofty perch from which to wrest by “right of discovery” and sovereign authority whatever he desired from the aboriginal inhabitants of the land.  Most men in his position would have viewed the “Indians” in Pennsylvania as sub-human savages which were merely an obstacle to be removed toward achieving their personal enrichment.


Penn viewed the aboriginal inhabitants of his new province as human beings with eternal souls.  He saw them as his equals in the eyes of God, the supreme creator of all humanity including the American Indian.  A few quotations from some of his correspondence directed to the leaders of the many groups of “Indians” help us to appreciate the sincerity and nobility of Penn’s viewpoint.  These excerpts are taken from Montgomery’s History of Berks County cited above:


“On the 2d of April, 1681, the royal proclamation announced to all the inhabitants of the province that William Penn was their absolute proprietary, with all the powers necessary for its government, and Penn himself also issued a proclamation on the 8th of April. It was in the following remarkable language:


"My friends :— I wish you all happiness here and hereafter. These are to let you know that it hath pleased God in his Providence to cast you within my Lot and Care. It is a business that though I never undertook before, yet God has given me an understanding of my duty and an honest mind to do it uprightly. I hope you will not be troubled at your change and the king’s choice, for you are now fixed at the mercy of no Governor that comes to make his fortune great. You shall be governed by laws of your own making, and live a free and, if you will, a sober and industrious people. I shall not usurp the right of any or oppress his person. God has furnished me with a better resolution and has given me his grace to keep it. In short, whatever sober and free men can reasonably desire for the security and improvement of their own happiness I shall heartily comply with. I beseech God to direct you in the way of righteousness, and therein prosper you and your children after you. I am your true friend,



In the fall of 1681 certain commissioners from Penn arrived, having been sent by him to treat with the Indians, purchase lands from them and lay out a great city. In his letter to the Indians he addressed them as follows:


"There is a great God and power that hath made the world, and all things therein, to whom you and I and all people owe their being and well-being, and to whom you and I must one day give an account for all that we do in the world. This great God hath written his law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love and help and do good to one another. Now this great God hath been pleased to make me concerned in your part of the world; and the king of the country where I live hath given me a great province therein; but I desire to enjoy it with your love and consent that we may always live together as neighbors and friends; else what would the great God do to us who hath made us, not to devour and destroy one another, but to live soberly and kindly in the world?"


On the basis of Penn’s Christian disposition toward the inhabitants of his newly acquired province of Pennsylvania, he viewed it as imperative to approach the “Indians” in a fair and just way regarding their land.  The following excerpt is taken from Montgomery’s History of Berks County on this issue:


Immediately after Penn had obtained his charter for the province, and had begun his administration of its various affairs, he negotiated with the Indians for the purchase of their lands. He regarded them as the rightful owners of the territory by virtue of their possession. King Charles disagreed with him, and claimed the territory by right of discovery. Penn wondered then whether the King would admit title to England in the Indians if they should chance to discover it in the King’s possession.


Many purchases were made by him. He gave in consideration for the land mostly articles which the Indians regarded as useful, such as blankets, coats, guns, powder, lead, etc. Comparatively little money was paid to them. Rum was occasionally given.


Penn was particularly successful in his treaty with the natives. He won their unqualified confidence. In the following kind and remarkable language he expressed his ideas and intentions to them:

     "We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good-will; no advantage shall be taken on either side; but all shall be openness and love. I will not call you children, for parents sometimes chide their children too severely; nor brothers only, for brothers differ. The friendship between me and you I will not compare to a chain, for that the rains might rust or the falling tree might break. We are the same as if one man’s body were to be divided into two parts; we are one flesh and blood."


These words made a deep impression upon the Indians, and they replied, "We will live in love with you and your children as long as the moon and the sun shall endure."



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