Awakening of Europe - M. B. Synge

The Founder of Pennsylvania

"And they whose firm endurance gained

The freedom of the souls of men,

Whose hands, unstained with blood, maintained

The swordless commonwealth of Penn."


Now, as in the reign of James I. of England the Pilgrim Fathers had sailed to America to escape persecution, so now under Charles II. another persecuted band of men turned their eyes towards a home beyond the Atlantic. These men were known as Friends or Quakers. They were very strict, and thought it wrong to serve as soldiers. The king wanted men to fight in his Dutch wars, but these men refused: so they were fined, imprisoned, and whipped. At last one of the Quaker leaders, William Penn, asked the king to give him some land in America, where he might take his band of Quakers, that they might live in peace on the far side of the great Atlantic. The king consented, and gave him a large tract of country in the neighbourhood of New York, which had just been taken from the Dutch.

"Let us call the new land Sylvania," said Penn, "on account of the woods abounding there."

"We will add the honoured name of Penn," said the king. So the country became Pennsylvania, by which name it is known to-day as one of the United States of America.

For this land Penn was to pay the king two beaver-skins a-year, as well as a fifth of all the gold and silver found in the country. An expedition was at once sent out to take formal possession of the new country, while Penn himself prepared to follow.

"You are our brothers," said the new settlers when the Indians appeared, "and we will live like brothers with you. There shall be one broad path for you and us to walk in."

William Penn left England on the last day of August 1682, with a hundred Quakers in the ship Welcome. Like the little Mayflower, sixty years before, the Welcome had a terrible time on the sea. Smallpox broke out and raged so fiercely that thirty emigrants died before the ship reached America. After a two months' voyage—a fast passage for those days—the Welcome arrived, and Penn landed on the banks of the Delaware river with his sadly thinned band. About 100 miles up the great river the beginnings of an infant city had already been marked out. In an open boat Penn started up the river. The scenery was wholly enchanting. The thickly wooded shores shone with the red and golden tints of autumn, wildfowl abounded, and the charm of the new country must have impressed its owner not a little. Penn was received joyfully by the Quaker party who had arrived before him, while the old Dutch and Swedish settlers were anxious to catch a glimpse of their new governor.

The building of the great city went gaily forward, while Penn arranged a great meeting with the Indians at a given spot on the shores of the Delaware river. The natives arrived in great numbers, fully armed, and sat down in a circle under a spreading elm-tree, round a great fire. In the front were the chiefs and aged men, while behind were the young men, women, and children. It was November now, and the autumn leaves had fallen to the ground. As Penn drew near, unarmed, the Indians laid down their weapons of war and prepared to listen to him. A sky-blue sash distinguished the leader from his friends. He began solemnly:

"The great God who made you and me, who rules the heavens and the earth, knows that I and my friends have a hearty desire to live in peace and friendship with you, and serve you to the uttermost of our power. It is not our custom to use hostile weapons against our fellow-creatures, so we have come unarmed. We wish not to do harm, but to do good."

Penn then unrolled the document he carried in his hands, and read aloud the treaty to which he wanted them to agree.

All William Penn's Christians and all Indians should be brothers, as the children of one Father, joined together in head and heart. All paths should be open and free to both Christians and Indians. All Indians should teach their children of this firm chain of friendship, that it might become stronger and stronger and be kept bright and clean, without rust or spot. And the Indians declared, "while the rivers and creeks should run, while the sun, moon, and stars should endure," they would live in peace with the English.

In token of this Penn called the new city Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. It grew very rapidly. Hardly a month passed that did not bring shiploads of emigrants, attracted thither by Penn's great humanity and his peaceful relations with the Indians.

Having made a success of his colony, Penn returned to England, where he died some time later. And the Indians of Pennsylvania, who had loved him as a brother, sent some beautiful skins to make a cloak for his widow, as they said, "to protect her while passing through the thorny wilderness without her guide."

Philadelphia to-day is one of the largest cities in the United States. The New City Hall, which rises from her midst, is one of the highest buildings in the world, and it is surmounted by a colossal figure of the founder of the great city of brotherly love.