Penn, William (founder of PA)

Born: 1644-10-14 London, United Kingdom

Died: 1718-07-30 England, United Kingdom

Flourished: Pennsylvania

William Penn, prominent English Quaker, was the founder and first proprietor of the colony of Pennsylvania, for which he received a charter from the British crown in 1681. Penn aimed to create a society where all who believed in God would enjoy freedom of conscience. To this end he drafted a constitution for the colony which enshrined freedom of worship for all who believed in one God, but limited political participation to Christians. This constitution was also influenced by Penn’s dedication to political reform, and created a popularly-elected bicameral legislature, which balanced legislative powers between a general assembly and a provincial council that acted in concert with a governor. Penn himself lived in the colony of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1684, and again for a two-year period beginning in 1699. His vision for the colony was marred by boundary disputes with neighboring colonies, financial loses, and insufficient leadership when Penn, as proprietor, was absent from Pennsylvania. Penn himself faced political difficulties due to his alliance with James II of England, who was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and whose successors, Mary II and William III, viewed Penn as a threat. In the final years of his life, due to his poor health, Penn’s second wife, Hannah Callowhill Penn, acted as proprietor of the colony in his place, and Penn’s heirs subsequently remained proprietors of the colony until the American Revolution.

Mary K. Geiter, “Penn, William,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 43:557-66; Jean R. Soderlund, “Penn, William,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 17:291-94.