IT was not till the year 1682 that the uneventful but
quietly prosperous career of Pennsylvania began. The Stuarts were again upon
the throne of England. They had learned nothing from their exile; and now,
with the hour of their final rejection at hand, they were as wickedly
despotic as ever.
William Penn was the son of an admiral who had gained
victories for England, and enjoyed the favour of the royal family as well as
of the eminent statesmen of his time. The highest honours of the State would
in due time have come within the young man's reach, and the brightest hopes
of his future were reasonably entertained by his friends. To the dismay of
all, Penn became a Quaker. It was an unspeakable humiliation to the
well-connected admiral. lie turned his son out of doors, trusting that
hunger would subdue his intractable spirit. After a time, however, he
relented, and time youthful heretic was restored to favour. his father's
influence could not shield him from persecution. Penn had suffered fine, and
had lain in the Tower for his opinions.
Ere long the admiral died, and Penn succeeded to his
possessions. It deeply grieved him that his brethren in the faith should
endure such wrongs as were continually inflicted upon them. lie could do
nothing at home to mitigate the seventies under which they groaned.
Therefore lie formed the great design of leading them forth to a new world.
King Charles owed to the admiral a sum of £16,000, and this doubtful
investment had descended from the father to the son. Penn offered to take
payment in land, and the King readily bestowed upon him a vast region
stretching westward from the river Delaware. Here Penn proposed to found a
State free and self- governing. It was his noble ambition "to show men as
free and as happy as they can be." He proclaimed to the people already
settled in his new dominions that they should be governed by laws of their
own making. "Whatever sober and free men can reasonably desire," he told
them, "for the security and improvement of their own happiness, I shall
heartily comply with." He was as good as his word. The people appointed
representatives, by whom a Constitution was framed. Penn confirmed the
arrangements which the people chose to adopt.
Penn dealt justly and kindly with the Indians, and they
requited him with a reverential love such as they evinced to no other
Englishman. The neighbouring colonies waged bloody wars with the Indians who
lived around them—now inflicting defeats which were almost exterminating—now
sustaining hideous massacres. Penn's Indians were his children and most
loyal subjects. No drop of Quaker blood was ever shed by Indian hand in the
Pennsylvanian territory. Soon after Penn's arrival, he invited the chief men
of the Indian tribes to a conference. The meeting took place beneath a huge
elm-tree. The pathless forest has long given way to the houses and streets
of Philadelphia, but a marble monument points out to strangers the scene of
this memorable interview. Penn, with a few companions, unarmed, and dressed
according to the simple fashion of their sect, met the crowd of formidable
savages. They met, lie assured them, as brothers "on the broad pathway of
good faith and good will." No advantage was to be taken on either side. All
was to be "openness and love;" and Penn meant what he said. Strong in the
power of truth and kindness, he bent the fierce savages of the Delaware to
his will. They vowed "to live in love with William Penn and his children as
long as the moon and the sun shall endure." They kept their vow. Long years
after, they were known to recount to strangers, with deep emotion, the words
which Penn had spoken to them under the old elm-tree of Shakamaxon.
The fame of Penn's settlement went abroad in all lands.
Men wearied with the vulgar tyranny of Kings heard gladly that the reign of
freedom and tranquillity was established on the banks of the Delaware. An
asylum was opened "for the good and oppressed of every nation." Of these
there was no lack. Pennsylvania had nothing to attract such "dissolute
persons" as had laid the foundations of Virginia. But grave and God-fearing
men from all the Protestant countries sought a home where they might live as
conscience taught them. The new colony grew apace. Its natural advantages
were tempting. Penn reported it as "a good land, with plentiful springs, the
air clear and fresh, and an innumerable quantity of wild-fowl and fish; what
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be well-contented with." During the first
year, twenty-two vessels arrived, bringing two thousand persons. In three
years, Philadelphia was a town of six hundred houses. It was half a century
from its foundation before New York attained equal dimensions.
When Penn, after a few years, revisited England, he was
able truly to relate that "things went on sweetly with Friends in
Pennsylvania; that they increased finely in outward things and in wisdom."