Read CHAPTER VIII of William Penn , free online book, by George Hodges, on


The thoughts with which Penn’s mind was occupied during the years of hiding appear in his book, “Some Fruits of Solitude.” Robert Louis Stevenson found a copy of it in a book-shop in San Francisco, and carried it in his pocket many days, reading it in street-cars and ferry-boats. He found it, he says, “in all places a peaceful and sweet companion;” and he adds, “there is not a man living, no, nor recently dead, that could put, with so lovely a spirit, so much honest, kind wisdom into words.”

“The author blesseth God for his retirement,” so the book begins, “and kisses the gentle hand which led him into it; for though it should prove barren to the world, it can never do so to him. He has now had some time he can call his own; a property he was never so much master of before; in which he has taken a view of himself and the world, and observed wherein he hath hit and missed the mark. And he verily thinks, were he to live his life over again, he could not only, with God’s grace, serve him, but his neighbor and himself, better than he hath done, and have seven years of his life to spare.”

Government and Religion have the longest chapters in this volume of reflections, as being the matters in which William was most interested. “Happy that king,” he says, “who is great by justice, and that people who are free by obedience.” “Where example keeps pace with authority, power hardly fails to be obeyed, and magistrates to be honoured.” “Let the people think they govern, and they will be governed.” “Religion is the fear of God, and its demonstration good works; and faith is the root of both.” “To be like Christ, then, is to be a Christian.” “Some folk think they may scold, rail, hate, rob, and kill too: so it be but for God’s sake. But nothing in us, unlike him, can please him.” So the book goes, page after page, always serious and sensible, full of simplicity and kindliness, cheerful and brotherly and unfailingly religious. It is the work of one who is trying his best to live for his brethren and in Christ’s spirit.

Another significant writing of this period is Penn’s “Plan for the Peace of Europe.” The calamities of the war then in progress on the Continent gave him arguments enough for the desirableness of peace. The means of peace is justice, and the means of justice is government. It is plain to all that a state wherein any private citizen might avenge himself upon his neighbor would be a place of confusion and distress. “For this cause they have sessions, terms, assizes, and parliaments, to overrule men’s passions and resentments, that they may not be judges in their own cause, nor punishers of their own wrongs.” Penn proposes that the same relation between peace and justice which is enforced between citizen and citizen be also enforced between nation and nation. “Now,” he says, “if the sovereign princes of Europe ... for love of peace and order [would] agree to meet by their stated deputies in a general Diet, Estates or Parliament and there establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another; and thus to meet yearly, or once in two or three years at the farthest, or as they shall see cause, and to be stiled, The Sovereign or Imperial Diet, Parliament or State of Europe: before which Sovereign Assembly should be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another that cannot be made up by private embassies before the sessions begin; and that if any of the sovereignties that constitute these imperial states shall refuse to submit their claim or pretensions to them, or to abide and perform the judgment thereof and seek their remedy by arms, or delay their compliance beyond the time prefixt in their resolutions, all the other sovereignties, united as one strength, shall compel the submission and performance of the sentence, with damages to the suffering party, and charges to the sovereignties that obliged their submission; ... peace would be procured and continued in Europe.” The principle of international arbitration, the Conference at the Hague, and all like meetings which shall be held hereafter, are thus foreshadowed.

These two productions of Penn’s season of retirement the “Fruits of Solitude,” and the “Plan for the Peace of Europe” illustrate again the two qualities which make him singularly eminent among the founders of commonwealths. He was at once a philosopher and a statesman; he was interested alike in religion and in politics. There have been many politicians to whom religion has been of no concern. There have been many religious persons in high positions who have been so shut in by church walls that they have been incapable of a wider outlook; they have accordingly been narrow, prejudiced, and often unpractical people; they have been blind to the elemental social fact of difference; they have hated the thought of toleration. Penn was almost alone among the good men of our era of colonization in being at the same time a man of the world and a man of the other world.

Penn came out of his exile in 1693 burdened with misfortune. He had been deprived of his government; he was sadly in debt; he had lost many of his friends. His colonists in Pennsylvania declined to lend him money. His brethren in England drew up a confession of wrong-doing for him to sign: “If in any things during those late revolutions I have concerned myself either by words or writings, in love, pity or good will to any in distress [meaning the king] further than consisted with Truth’s honor or the Church’s peace, I am sorry for it.” But he would not sign. To these troubles was added a greater grief in the death of his wife. “An excellent wife and mother,” he said of her, “an entire and constant friend, of a more than common capacity, and greater modesty and humility; yet most equal and undaunted in danger.” A brave soul, no doubt, as befitted her parentage, and of a devout and consecrated spirit.

But William was ever of a serene and cheerful disposition. Neither loss, nor disappointment, nor bereavement could shut out the sun. His religious faith strengthened him. “We must needs disorder ourselves,” he had written in his “Fruits of Solitude,” “if we only look at our losses. But if we consider how little we deserve what is left, our passions will cool, and our murmurs will turn into thankfulness.” “Though our Saviour’s passion is over, his compassion is not. That never fails his humble, sincere disciples; in him they find more than all that they lose in the world.”

During the six years which followed, this strong confidence was justified. He regained his government and his good name. He also married a second wife, Hannah Callowhill, a strong, sensible, and estimable Quaker lady of some means, living in Bristol.

The only satisfactory information as to the personal appearance of Penn in mature life is that which is given by Sylvanus Bevan. Bevan was a Quaker apothecary in London, who had a remarkable gift for carving portraits in ivory. After Penn’s death, he made such a portrait of him from memory. The men who had known William liked it greatly. Lord Cobham, to whom Bevan sent it, said, “It is William Penn himself.” It represents him in a curled wig, with full cheeks and a double chin a pleasant, masterful, and serious person. Clarkson says that in his attire he was “very neat, though plain.” Penn advised his children to choose clothes “neither unshapely nor fantastical;” and he illustrated to King James the difference between the Roman Catholic and the Quaker religions by the difference between his hat and the king’s. “The only difference,” he said, “lies in the ornaments that have been added to thine.” His dress was probably that which was common to gentlemen in his day, but without extremes of color or adornment. For some time after becoming a Quaker he wore his sword, having consulted Fox, who said, “I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst.” Presently Fox, seeing him without it, said, “William, where is thy sword?” To which Penn replied, “I have taken thy advice: I wore it as long as I could.”

The sober cheerfulness of Penn’s attire comported well with his conversation. It is true that Bishop Burnet, who did not like him, says that “he had a tedious, luscious way of talking, not apt to overcome a man’s reason, though it might tire his patience.” But Dean Swift enjoyed him, and testified that “he talked very agreeably and with great spirit.” The Friends of Reading Meeting even noted that he was “facetious in conversation,” and there is a tradition of a venerable Friend who spoke of him “as having naturally an excess of levity of spirit for a grave minister.” A handsome, graceful, and even a merry gentleman it was who married Hannah Callowhill.

For a time he devoted himself again to the work of the ministry. He went about, as in former days, preaching, sometimes in the market-hall, sometimes in the fields. Once, in Ireland, the bishop sent an officer to disperse the meeting, complaining that Penn had left him “nobody to preach to but the mayor, church-wardens, a few of the constables, and the bare walls.”

His heart, however, was in his province. The affairs of Pennsylvania had been going badly. There had been a hot contention between the council and the assembly, and another between the province and the territory. The officials, too, whom Penn had appointed, had quarreled among themselves. William complained that they were excessively “governmentish;” meaning that they liked authority and that they took details very seriously. The situation, however, was inevitably difficult. In his relation to the king, the governor was a feudal sovereign; in his relation to the people he was, by Penn’s arrangement, the executive of a democracy. Penn himself reconciled the two positions by his own tact and unselfishness, as well as by a certain masterfulness to which those about him instinctively and willingly yielded. He proved the motto of his book-plate, Dum Clavum Teneam; all went well while he with his own hands held the helm. But his deputies were not so competent. The colony fell into two parties, the proprietary and the popular, representing these two ideas. Then the governor whom the king had appointed during Penn’s retirement was a soldier, and his un-Quakerlike notions as to the right conduct of a colony brought a new element of confusion into affairs which were already sufficiently confounded.

At last, in 1699, it became possible for the founder to make another visit to his province. He brought his family with him, evidently intending to stay. Philadelphia was now a city of some seven hundred houses, and had nearly seven thousand inhabitants. The people were at that moment in deep depression, having just been visited with a plague of yellow fever. The pestilence, however, had abated, and Penn was received with sober rejoicings. He took up his residence in the “slate-roof house,” a modest mansion which stood on the corner of Second Street and Norris Alley; it was pulled down in 1867.

Now began a season of good government. The business of piracy had for some time been merrily carried on by various enterprising persons, some of whom lived very respectably in Philadelphia. William put a stop to it. The importing of slaves from Africa was at that time considered by most persons to be a good thing both for the planters and for the slaves. Already, however, at the Pennsylvania yearly meeting of Friends in 1688, some who came from Kriesheim, in Germany, had protested against it,

“Who first of all their testimonial gave
Against the oppressor, for the outcast slave.”

And, in consequence, though slaves were still imported, they were humanely treated. Penn interested himself in the improvement of their condition. He was also concerned in the progress of the prison reforms which he had proposed in the original establishment of the colony. He employed a watchman to cry the news, the weather, and the time of day in the Philadelphia streets. Regarding the Constitution, about which there had been so much contention, he addressed the council and the assembly in terms of characteristic friendliness. “Friends,” he said, “if in the Constitution by charter there be anything that jars, alter it. If you want a law for this or that, prepare it.” He advised them, however, not to trifle with government, and wished there were no need to have any government at all. In general, he said, the fewer laws, the better. The result was a new Constitution. It provided that the council should be appointed by the governor, and that the assembly should have the right to originate laws. It was more simple and workable than the previous legislation, and lasted until the Revolution.

Meanwhile, Penn was journeying about the country in his old way, preaching. At Merion, a small boy of the family where he was entertained, being much impressed with the great man’s looks and speech, peeped through the latchet-hole of his chamber door, and both saw and heard him at his prayers. Near Haverford, a small girl, walking along the country road, was overtaken by the governor, who took her up behind him on his horse, and so carried her on her way, her bare feet dangling by the horse’s side.

Clarkson, the chief of the biographers of Penn, who collected these and other incidents, gives us a glimpse of him as he appeared at this time at Quaker meetings. “He was of such humility that he used generally to sit at the lowest end of the space allotted to ministers, always taking care to place above himself poor ministers, and those who appeared to him to be peculiarly gifted.” He liked to encourage young men to speak. When he himself spoke, it was in the simplest words, easy to be understood, and with many homely illustrations. At the same time, on state occasions, as the proprietor of Pennsylvania and representative of the sovereign, he used some ceremony, marching through the Philadelphia streets to the opening of the assembly with a mace-bearer before him, and having an officer standing at his gate on audience days, with a long staff tipped with silver. Acquainted with affairs, and with a knowledge of the relations between government and human nature drawn from a wide experience, he knew the distinction, at which some of his Quaker brethren stumbled, between personal humility and the proper dignity of official station.

In the intervals left him by the demands of church and state, he busied himself with the improvement of his place at Pennsbury. Here he had a considerable house in the midst of pleasant gardens. He took great pleasure in personal superintendence of the grounds and buildings, planting vines and cutting vistas through the trees. “The country is to be preferred,” he wrote in “Fruits of Solitude.” “The country is both the philosopher’s garden and library, in which he reads and contemplates the power, wisdom, and goodness of God.” “The knowledge and improvement of it,” he declared, is “man’s oldest business and trade, and the best he can be of.”

Within were silver plate and satin curtains, and embroidered chairs and couches. The proprietor’s bed was covered with a “quilt of white Holland quilted in green silk by Letitia,” his daughter. “Send up,” he writes to James Logan, at Philadelphia, “our great stewpan and cover, and little soup dish, and two or three pounds of coffee if sold in town, and three pounds of wicks ready for candles.” Mrs. Penn asks Logan to provide “candlesticks, and great candles, some green ones, and pewter and earthen basins, mops, salts, looking-glass, a piece of dried beef, and a firkin or two of good butter.”

Penn rode a large white horse, and had a coach, with a black man to drive it, and a “rattling leathern conveniency,” probably smaller, and a sedan chair for Mrs. Penn. In the river lay the barge, of which William was so fond that he wrote from England to charge that it be carefully looked after. Somebody expressed surprise one day when Penn went out in it against wind and tide. “I have been sailing all my life against wind and tide,” he said.

Much of the work of the estate was done by slaves. The fact troubled the proprietor’s conscience. He laid it upon his own soul, as he did upon the souls of his brethren in the colony, “to be very careful in discharging a good conscience towards them in all respects, but more especially for the good of their souls, that they might, as frequent as may be, come to meeting on first-days.” A special meeting was appointed for slaves once a month, and their masters were expected to come with them. Finally, Penn liberated all his slaves. In his will of 1701, “I give,” he says, “to my blacks their freedom, as is under my hand already, and to old Sam 100 acres, to be his children’s after he and his wife are dead, forever.”

The Pennsbury house had a great hall in the midst, where the governor in an oak armchair received his neighbors, the Indians. Here they came, in paint and feathers, “Connoondaghtoh, king of the Susquehannah Indians; Wopaththa, king of the Shawanese; Weewinjough, chief of the Ganawese; and Ahookassong, brother of the emperor of the five nations;” and many other humbler braves. John Richardson, a Yorkshire Quaker, visited Penn at Pennsbury and saw them. William gave them match-coats, he says, and “some other things,” including a reasonable supply of rum, which the chiefs dispensed to the warriors severally in small portions: “So they came quietly, and in a solid manner, and took their draws.” He did not smoke, a fact which the Indians must have noted as a curious eccentricity. Then they made a small fire out of doors, and the men sat about it in a ring, singing “a very melodious hymn,” beating the ground between the verses with short sticks, and, after a circling dance, departed. Penn got on most happily with the Indians. The peaceful Quakers went about unarmed and were never in danger. The only disorderly folk thereabout were white men.

In the midst of these rural joys, news came that a movement was on foot to put an end to proprietary governments, thereby bringing all colonies under the immediate control of the crown. Penn felt that it was necessary for him to return to England to block this inconvenient legislation. On the 28th of October, he assembled the citizens of Philadelphia, and presented them with a charter for their city. In the Friends’ meeting, he said that he “looked over all infirmities and outwards, and had an eye to the regions of the spirit, wherein was our sweetest tie.” Then, says Norris, “in true love he took his leave of us.” Thus, after two years wherein peace and quietness prevailed over all misunderstanding and opposition, he set sail in 1701, and never saw Pennsylvania again.

His house at Pennsbury fell into ruins, due in large part to the leakage of a leaden reservoir on the roof, and was taken down before the Revolution. The furniture was gradually dispersed. For some years it was “deemed a kind of pious stealth,” among those who were most loyal to the proprietor, to carry away something out of the house when they chanced to visit its empty halls. One gentleman rejoiced in the possession of the mantelpiece; another had a pair of Penn’s plush breeches.

William Penn’s four years of actual residence gave him all the satisfaction which he ever got from his colonial possessions. All else was worry, labor, and expense. The province was a sore financial burden. As proprietor he was charged with the payment, in large part, of the expenses of government. The returns from rents and sales were slow and uncertain. The taxes on imports and exports, to which he had a charter right, he had generously declined. When he asked the assembly, in remembrance of that liberality, to send him money in his financial straits, they were not minded to respond. Penn belonged to that high fraternity of noble souls who do not know how to make bargains. His impulses were generous to a fault, and he had an invincible confidence that his neighbors would deal with him in the same spirit. The consequence was that year by year the expenses grew, and there was but a slender income. “O Pennsylvania,” he cries, “what hast thou cost me? Above thirty thousand pounds more than I ever got by it; two hazardous and most fatiguing voyages, my straits and slavery here, and my child’s soul, almost.”

The last allusion is to Guli’s son, William, whose dissipation Penn always attributed to a lack of fatherly care during his first visit to the province. Penn finally sent the boy to Pennsbury, hoping that the quiet, the absence of temptation, and the wholesome joys of a country life, might amend him. But William went from bad to worse, was arrested in Philadelphia in a tavern brawl, was formally excommunicated by the Quakers, and came home to England to give his father further pain.

To the financial burdens of the province were added the difficulties of government. Penn succeeded very well in keeping his colony, he defended his boundaries against Lord Baltimore, and he defeated those who would have taken away his rule and given it to the king; but the governing of the colony across three thousand miles of sea was another matter. The moment he withdrew the restraining influence of his personal presence, all manner of contentions came into the light of day.

The question of the prudence of bearing arms was vigorously debated. James Logan, secretary of the province, and Penn’s ablest counselor, urged the need of military defenses. Conservative Friends opposed it.

Churchmen had been settling in the province. One of William’s oldest friends, George Keith, who had accompanied him on his religious mission to Holland, had gone into the Episcopal ministry. Logan says, in a letter to Penn, that “not suffering them to be superior” was accounted by the churchmen as the equivalent of persecution.

Colonel Quarry, a judge of the admiralty, appointed by the British government to enforce the navigation laws in the colony, was responsible to the Board of Trade in London, and independent of the governor and of the assembly. He exercised his office of critic and censor to the annoyance of Penn.

To these various sources of trouble was added an unending strife between the governor’s deputy and the people. Penn’s habit of looking always on the best side made him a bad judge of men, and the deputies whom he sent were few of them competent; some were not even respectable. Penn, with his characteristic invincible blindness, took their part.

Finally, the disputations, protests, and complaints, with direct attacks upon Penn’s interests, and even upon his character, got to such a pass that he addressed a letter of expostulation to the people. “When it pleased God to open a way for me to settle that colony,” he wrote, “I had reason to expect a solid comfort from the services done to many hundreds of people.... But, alas! as to my part, instead of reaping the like advantages, some of the greatest of my troubles have sprung from thence. The many combats I have engaged in, the great pains and incredible expense for your welfare and ease, to the decay of my former estate ... with the undeserved opposition I have met with from thence, sink into me with sorrow, that, if not supported by a superior hand, might have overwhelmed me long ago. And I cannot but think it hard measure, that, while it has proved a land of freedom and flourishing, it should become to me, by whose means it was principally made a country, the cause of grief, trouble, and poverty.”

So heavy was the financial burden, and so vexatious and disheartening the bickering and ingratitude, that Penn thought seriously of selling his governorship; and it was in the market for several years awaiting a purchaser. Indeed, in 1712, he had so far perfected a bargain to transfer his proprietary rights to the crown for L12,000, that nothing remained to be done save the affixing of his signature. Before his name was signed, he fell suddenly ill, and the transaction went no farther.

In the midst of these many troubles, in themselves serious enough, there came another. Penn’s business manager for his estates in England and Ireland was Philip Ford. For a long time, Ford’s payments had been less and less; Penn was continually complaining that he got so little from his property. Still, Ford’s accounts went without examination, and some of his financial reports were not so much as opened. William had his customary confidence in his agent’s honesty. At last, when things got so bad that something had to be done, it appeared by Ford’s books that, instead of Ford’s being in debt to Penn, Penn was in debt to him for more than ten thousand pounds. This was the result of long, ingenious, and unmolested bookkeeping. And Penn had made himself liable by his careless silence. Then Ford died, and his widow and children claimed everything which stood in Penn’s name. Penn, it appeared, had borrowed money of Ford, and had given him a mortgage on his Pennsylvania estates as security. When the loan was paid, the mortgage had not been returned. Not only did Mrs. Ford retain it, but she sued Penn for three thousand pounds rent, which was due, she said, from the property of which William was once owner, but which he now held as tenant of the Fords. So far was this iniquitous business pursued, that Penn was arrested as he was at a religious meeting in Gracechurch Street, and was imprisoned for debt in the Fleet, or its precincts.

This was the turn in the tide. Everybody disapproved of treatment so unjust and extortionate. William’s friends raised money, and made a compromise with the Fords, and got him free. In Pennsylvania, too, the contentions were quieted by a good governor. And as the wars came to an end, trade so increased that the province presently yielded a substantial income.

Penn retired to Ruscombe, in Berkshire, in the pleasant country. Here he had his family about him. He was now a grandfather, his son William having a son and a daughter. “So that now we are major, minor, and minimus. I bless the Lord mine are pretty well, Johnny lively; Tommy a lovely, large child; and my grandson, Springett, a mere Saracen; his sister, a beauty.” Of his second marriage there were six children, four of whom John, Thomas, Margaret, and Richard became proprietors of Pennsylvania. Thomas had two sons, John and Granville; Richard had two, John and Richard. When the proprietary government ended, in 1776, it was in the hands of the heirs of William Penn.

In 1711, Penn wrote a preface to John Banks’s Journal, dictating it, as his custom was, walking to and fro with his cane in his hand, thumping the floor to mark the emphasis. “Now reader,” he concludes, “before I take leave of thee, let me advise thee to hold thy religion in the spirit, whether thou prayest, praisest or ministerest to others, ... which, that all God’s people may do, is, and hath long been the earnest desire and fervent supplication of theirs and thy faithful friend in the Lord Jesus Christ, W. Penn.” This is the last word of his writing which remains.

The next year he had a paralytic stroke, and another, and another. This impaired his memory and his mind. Thus he continued for six years, as happily as was possible under the circumstances. He went often to meeting, where he frequently spoke, briefly, but with “sound and savory expressions.” He walked about his gardens, saw his friends, and delighted in the company of his wife and children. Each year left him weaker than the year before; but his days were filled with serenity. He was surrounded with all the comforts which a generous income, an affectionate family, the respect of his neighbors, and the approval of God, could give him.

“He that lives to live forever,” he had written in his “Fruits of Solitude,” “never fears dying. Nor can the means be terrible to him, that heartily believes the end. For though death be a dark passage, it leads to immortality; and that is recompense enough for suffering of it.... And this is the comfort of the good, that the grave cannot hold them, and that they live as soon as they die.”

Into the fullness of this life he entered on the 30th of July, 1718, being seventy-four years old.