Colonial America Royal Proprietor. Born to Admiral William Penn at a particularly turbulent time in British history, he was a brilliant young man, and attended Oxford University, where he studied the classics and prepared for a career in the law. The authority of the Church of England was being questioned by religious groups such as the Puritans. William became friends with a Quaker named Thomas Low and, impressed by the religion's egalitarian views, at the age of 22 joined the Religious Society of Friends (the official name of the Quakers). His conversion (the Quaker term is "convincement") and its accompanying radical political stance greatly distressed his father, who had hoped his son would become a brilliant jurist and a favorite at Court, now that the monarchy had been restored to the throne. Admiral Penn banished his son from his home and disowned him, but William remained steadfast in his beliefs. He formed a close friendship with George Fox, the Founder of the Religious Society of Friends, who became a mentor and surrogate father. William was especially fond of fine clothes and, as an English gentleman, wore a ceremonial sword, in stark contrast to the plain dress of the pacifist Quakers. When Penn confessed to Fox his difficulty in giving up his sword, the older man replied "Wear it as long as thee can." In his youth Penn was often jailed for his beliefs, and he used his time in prison to write. One of those works was the landmark treatise No Cross, No Crown. When Admiral Penn was elderly and dying, he came to respect William's courage and integrity and reconciled with his son, advising him "Let nothing in this world tempt you to wrong your conscience." Upon the Admiral's death, William inherited a considerable fortune. By then he had married his first wife, Gulielma Maria Springett, with whom he had four children. In the late1600s life in England had become increasingly uncomfortable for the Quakers and other non-conformist religious groups. In 1681 King Charles II granted Penn an enormous tract of land in the New World in payment for a debt of 16,000 pounds the Crown owed to Penn's late father. In 1682 Penn, along with other religious dissidents, set sail on the ship Welcome to establish a colony in this forested land, named Pennsylvania, "Penn's Woods," by King Charles in memory of William's father. Penn established the city of Philadelphia, carefully laying it out on a grid and including trees and parks in his "greene country town," making him the first city planner in the New World. A lover of nature, he built a country home, Pennsbury Manor, farther up the Delaware River. His beloved Gulielma died at a relatively young age, and he later married Hannah Margaret Callowhill, a much younger woman with whom he had eight children. A deeply religious man, he spent his life applying his religion not only to personal affairs but also to large-scale human relationships. He founded Pennsylvania on principles of representative government that were later reflected in other state constitutions and in the Constitution of the United States, and was one of the founders of the states of New Jersey and Delaware. Believing that peace is a product of justice and good government, he proposed a plan for the "Present and Future Peace of Europe" whereby disputes between nations would be settled by arbitration instead of war, making him the father of the United Nations (Penn's October 24 birthday is United Nation's Day). He suggested the union of the American colonies as early as 1696, and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson counted him among America's Founding Fathers. He established the right of a jury to decide its verdict without harassment from a judge, had a concern for prison reform and substituted workhouses for dungeons, and provided for schools where all children would receive a practical education. He approached American Indians as fellow human beings and as equals. By treating the Indians fairly and respecting their culture, he won their friendship and lived peacefully among them, called by the Lenape name Onas, "Writing Quill/Pen". William Penn traveled several times between the Colonies and Great Britain, where he was detained by political and financial difficulties. In retirement he gathered his thoughts into a slender but powerful book, Some Fruits of Solitude, which is included in Volume 1 of the Harvard Great Books collection. Penn's later years were marred by a series of strokes which prevented his return to his beloved Pennsylvania. When the Indians received news of William Penn's death at age 73, they sent a fur cloak to his widow with the message that she was to wear it to protect her when she walked through the forest without her guide.
Bio by: Tigress