Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

1 Volumes

Chapter Two: William Penn 1644-1718

Chapter Two: William Penn 1644-1718

The Heirs of William Penn

William Penn

Freedom of religion includes the right to join some other religion than the one your father founded; William Penn's descendants had every right to become members of the Anglican church. It may even have been a wise move for them, in view of their need to maintain good relations with the British Monarch. But religious conversion cost the Penn family the automatic political allegiance of the Quakers dominating their colony. Not much has come down to us showing the Pennsylvania Quakers bitterly resenting their desertion, but it would be remarkable if at least some ardent Quakers did not feel that way. It certainly confuses history students, when they read that the Quakers of Pennsylvania were often rebellious about the rule of the Penn family.

Delaware

Such resentments probably accelerated but do not completely explain the growing restlessness between the tenants and the landlords. The terms of the Charter gave the Penns ownership of the land from the Delaware River to five degrees west of the river -- providing they could maintain order there. King Charles was happy to be freed of the expense of policing this wilderness, and to be paid for it, to be freed of obligation to Admiral Penn who greatly assisted his return to the throne, and to have a place to be rid of a large number of English Dissenters. The Penns were, in effect, vassal kings of a subkingdom larger than England itself. However, they behaved in what would now be considered an entirely businesslike arrangement. They bought their land, fair and square, purchased it a second or even third time from the local Indians, and refused to permit settlement until the Indians were satisfied. They skillfully negotiated border disputes with their neighbors without resorting to armed force, while employing great skill in the English Court on behalf of the settlers on their land. They provided benign oversight of the influx of huge numbers of settlers from various regions and nations, wisely and shrewdly managing a host of petty problems with the demonstration that peace led to prosperity, and that reasonableness could cope with ignorance and violence. When revolution changed the government and all the rules, they coped with the difficulties as well as anyone in history had done, and better than most. In retrospect, most of the violent criticism they engendered at the time, seems pretty unfair.

John Penn

They wanted to sell off their land as fast as they could at a fair price. They did not seek power, and in fact surrendered the right to govern the colony to the purchasers of the first five million acres, in return for being allowed to become private citizens selling off the remaining twenty-five million. Ultimately in 1789, they were forced to accept the sacrifice price of fifteen cents an acre. Aside from a few serious mistakes at the Council of Albany by a rather young John Penn, they treated the settlers honorably and did not deserve the treatment or the epithets they received in return. The main accusation made against them was that they were only interested in selling their land. Their main defense was they were only interested in selling their land.

As time has passed, their reputation has repaired itself, and they bask in the universal gratitude which is directed to their grandfather and father, William Penn. Statues and nameplates abound. Nobody who attacked them at the time appears to have been really serious about it, except one. Except for Benjamin Franklin, who turned from being their close friend to being their bitter enemy. Franklin tried to destroy the Penns, traveled to England to do it, and after twenty years seemed just as bitter as ever. Something really bad happened between them in 1754, and neither the Penns nor Franklin has been open about what it was.

The Origins of Haddonfield

{Haddonfield's Dragon}
Haddonfield's Dragon

Haddonfield, New Jersey is named after Elizabeth Haddon, a teenaged Quaker girl who came alone to the proprietorship of West Jersey in 1701 to look after some land which her father had bought from William Penn. Geographically, the land was on what later came to be called the Cooper River, and it must have been a scary place among the woods and Indians for a single girl to set up housekeeping. It was related in the "Tales of a Wayside Inn" that Elizabeth proposed to another young Quaker named John Estaugh. Because no children resulted, she sent to her sister in Ireland to send one of her kids, a girl who proved unsatisfactory. So the kid was sent back, and Ebenezer Hopkins was sent in her place. Thus we have Hopkins pond, and lots of Hopkins in the neighborhood ever since. Eventually, the first dinosaur skeleton was discovered in the blue clay around Hopkins Pond, and now can be seen in the American Museum of Natural History, so you know for sure that Haddonfield is an old place. Eventually, the Kings Highway was built from Philadelphia to New York (actually Salem to Burlington at first) and it crosses the Cooper Creek near the old firehouse in Haddonfield, which claims to house the oldest volunteer fire company in America, but not without some argument about what was first, what is continuous, and therefore what is oldest. Haddonfield is, in short, where the Kings Highway crosses the Cooper, about seven miles east of City Hall in Philadelphia. The presence of the Delaware River in between makes a powerful difference since at exactly the same distance to the west of City Hall, is the crowded shopping and transportation hub at 69th and Market Street. Fifty years ago, Haddonfield was a little country town surrounded by pastures, and seventy years ago the streets were mostly unpaved. The isolation of Haddonfield was created by the river and was ended by the building of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1926. If you go way back to the Revolutionary War, the river created a military barrier, and many famous patriots like Marquis de Lafayette, Dolley Madison, Anthony Wayne and others met in comparative safety from the British in the Indian King Tavern. In a famous escapade, "Mad" Anthony Wayne drove some cattle from South Jersey around Haddonfield to the falls (rapids) at Trenton, and then over the back roads to Washington's encampment at Valley Forge. In retaliation, the British under Col John Simcoe rode into nearby Salem County and massacred the farmers at Hancock's Bridge who had provided the cattle. At another time, the Hessians were dispatched through Haddonfield to come upon the Delaware River fortifications at Red Bluff from the rear. Unfortunately for them, they encamped in Haddonfield overnight, and a runner took off through the woods to warn the rebels at Red Bank to turn their cannons around to ambush the attackers from the rear, who were therefore repulsed with great losses. These stories are told with great relish, but my mother in law found out some background truths. Seeking to join the Daughters of the Revolution in Haddonfield, she was privately told that the really preferable ladies' the club was the Colonial Dames. Quaker Haddonfield, you see, had been mostly Tory.

{Alfred Driscoll}
Alfred Driscoll

A local boy named Alfred Driscoll became Governor of New Jersey, but before he did that he was mayor of Haddonfield. He had gone to Princeton and wanted to know why Haddonfield couldn't look like Princeton. All it seemed to take was a few zoning ordinances, and today it might fairly be claimed that Haddonfield is at least as charming and beautiful as Princeton, maybe nicer. At the very least, it has less auto traffic. Al Driscoll went on to be CEO of a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical corporation, and everyone agrees he was the world's nicest guy. The other necessary component of beautiful colonial Haddonfield was a fierce old lady who was married to a lawyer. Any infraction of Al's zoning ordinances was met with an instant attack, legal, verbal, and physical. A street-side hot dog vendor set up his cart on Kings Highway at one time, and the lady came out and kicked it over. If you didn't think she meant business, there was always her lawyer husband to explain things to you. She probably carried things a little too far, and one resident was driven to the point of painting his whole house a brilliant lavender, just to demonstrate the concept of freedom. Now that she and her husband are gone, the town continues to be authentic and pretty, probably because dozens of other citizens stand quietly ready to employ some of her techniques if the need arises.

The Proprietorships of William Penn

William Penn became first interested in the Colonies when he acquired New Jersey as an investor in what started out as the bankruptcy proceedings of a client. Unlike his spoiled children and grandchildren, he was sincerely interested in helping the persecuted members of his new religion, and those who later totaled up his lifetime finances found that overall he lost money on his real estate ventures. His descendants, however, were mainly concerned with selling real estate, and soon reverted to Anglican church membership. When William Penn later received Pennsylvania and Delaware from the King of England (Charles II, the Stuart King restored with the help of his Admiral father), he not only owned these territories but for practical administrative reasons was offered the right to rule them. By then Penn's main future intention was to found a refuge for Quakers and other religious dissenters, so becoming a vassal King was graciously declined. Instead, he became a real estate Proprietor, after satisfying himself about the government and other arrangements in only a general way. At least half the original 13 colonies were also proprietorships, although the terms of their grants had great variation. Penn's intention for the proprietorship was to sell off as much of the property as possible, sort of benignly watching the process unfold in the parts he had sold.

There were two unforeseen flaws in this benevolent idea; the first was that his sons and heirs would abandon the Quaker faith and have little interest in his holy experiment except for the revenue it returned. The second flaw was to fail to see that vigorous religious toleration might eventually lead to the Quakers becoming outnumbered in their own refuge. Eventually, there does come a time in the real estate sell-off process when you have sold more than you retain. After that point, you may no longer dominate the politics, and in fact, that happened far sooner than half-way, because of Penn's unwillingness to employ force .

{Privateers}
William Penn

In land value, although perhaps not in land area, that point of loss of control had been reached by the middle of the eighteenth century, and it led to a famous battle between the Penn descendants and Benjamin Franklin. The Penn family saw no justice in paying taxes on the land they hadn't yet sold, or obeying laws created by their customers which extended beyond the land they owned; if they wanted to rule it all, they should buy it all. Franklin took the part of the settlers and immigrants, who resented paying taxes and fighting Indians on behalf of someone who still owned vast stretches of the land "within" the colony. A significant factor in this peculiar argument is that Thomas Penn, the dominant chief of the family descendants, had a deep and abiding suspicion of Franklin, dating back to that episode related in Franklin's Autobiography where Franklin raised a militia in King George's War when the pacifist Quakers refused to do so. Both sides had some justice in their positions, both sides appealed to the King. The Penns knew the King better, so Franklin lost. That was mostly what Franklin was doing in London in the years before the Revolution, and eventually, it took a Revolutionary war to resolve the issue. Some have said the episode showed Franklin was not as shrewd a politician as history books would portray him. In fact, it more likely emphasizes that Franklin was a loyal British subject right up to 1775. His position was that all parties were and forever would be, inhabitants of the British Empire, so they had equality under British rule. The Penns felt they had a right to consider Pennsylvania their own sovereign property, under which the colonists had no rights until they paid for them. It is easy to see how the notion of independence could take hold in this curious reversal of roles. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania did resolve the issue with the appearance of lawfulness, although with restrained generosity. To quote Sydney G. Fisher, writing in The Quaker Colonies, "When the people could have confiscated everything in Pennsylvania belonging to the proprietary family, they not only left them in possession of a large part of their land but paid them handsomely for the part that was taken." The matter is generally considered to have been finally settled by the Confirming Act of 1787, although few would now contend that fifteen pennies per acre is or was a handsome price.

And so, the Pennsylvania proprietorship was dissolved. In New Jersey, on the other hand, the proprietorship still exists. The land between the North River (Hudson) and the South River (Delaware) was divided into two proprietorships by a line drawn between the Delaware Water Gap, and Beach Haven on Long Beach Island. The southern segment was called the Proprietorship of West Jersey, informally peopled by English Quakers, and a northern half, the Proprietorship of East Jersey, informally ceded to Scots Quakers who proved to be more Scottish than Quaker. Temperamental differences might well have eventually led the two segments to take opposite sides of the 1860 Civil War except that it was the northern half that sympathized with slavery and the Southern Confederacy, while the Proprietorship of West Jersey was mostly where the anti-slavery movement began, with a Quaker named John Woolman. As matters turned out, neither slavery nor taxing unsold land became irreconcilable issues in the Jerseys. Unsold land of the Proprietorship was already fairly minor in New Jersey at the time of the Revolution, but the issue hadn't been forgotten by the Proprietors, either. A couple of the stockholders of the proprietorship were members of the Constitutional Convention. When the time came that other delegates urgently needed New Jersey's vote to ratify the new constitution, the Proprietor problem was "explained" to the other states. The outcome was that the proprietorship tacitly agreed to be taxed and regulated like any other property owner, while their own rights were respected as persisting under the new Constitution. Such a sensible outcome was probably not possible in Pennsylvania because there was so much more unsold land to fight about. The peacefully accepted consequence in New Jersey, even today, is that when the ocean creates a new strip of beach or a farmer abandons some land on the other side of a turnpike, it reverts to the Proprietorship as undeeded and untitled land. As such, it legally belongs to a little group of stockholders who meet once a year in Burlington or Salem, under a tree, and who can actually pay themselves annual dividends. It is however only true in half the state; the Proprietorship of East Jersey surrendered its rights to the State in 1998.

In Delaware, things are a little fuzzier. Delaware was once part of Pennsylvania, as its lower three counties. John Dickinson was once Governor of both states, but they had two legislatures from 1700 to 1776. The last time the proprietorship matter came up, so far as real estate lawyers can remember, was in the shifting sandy beaches of Cape Henlopen; things were smoothed out by making the disputed land into a state park.


REFERENCES


Encyclopedia of New Jersey Google Books
The Problem of West Jersey JSTOR
The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Origins of the Empire Google Books
A Map of East and West New Jarsey JPG
Council of Proprietors of West Jersey westjersey.org
Magna Charta: Part I: The Romance of the Great Charter; Part II: Pedigrees of the Barons: John S. Wurts: SIN: AB0006D91C4 Abe Books
West New Jersey: The Peculiar Province: ASIN: B00072HGTE Amazon
Why the Private School?: Allan V. Heely: ASIN: B000GR1QS2 Amazon

William Penn Conducts a Witchcraft Trial

{Salem Witch Trials}
Salem Witch Trials

When trials for witchcraft are mentioned, most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, where 19 people were hanged as witches and hundreds were imprisoned, in 1692. The Salem trials were apparently provoked by a minister from Barbados, and it is thought the uproar about witches in America was in part related to encountering the spiritualism of the Indian tribes. Whatever its origins, the issue has been in the background for a long time, and occasionally even surfaces today in accusations of "Satanic rituals."

There were trials for witchcraft in New York in 1664, in West Chester in 1672, and in Princess Ann county of Virginia. But the trial of central interest to Pennsylvania occurred in 1683, when Governor Penn presided over it, himself. Pennsylvania had adopted British laws, including one from James I concerning the crime of witchcraft, so Penn probably had little choice but to hold the trial. His fellow judges were his Council; there is little doubt the outcome reflects his opinion.

The accused were two Swedish women, Margaret Mattson and Yeshro Hendrickson, who pleaded not guilty. Numerous witnesses told vague stories, and Mattson's daughter expressed her conviction of her mother being a witch. Governor Penn finally charged the jury, which brought in a memorable verdict. The defendants were found guilty of "having the common fame of a witch" but not guilty in the manner and form.

There are times, and this was one of them, when it is not useful to be overly precise in your meaning.

William Penn: Visionary with Persuasiveness

{Privateers}
William Penn

It was a signal and blessed providence which first induced so rare a genius, so excellent and qualified a man as Penn, to obtain and settle such a great tract as Pennsylvania, say 40,000 square miles, as his proper domains. It was a bold conception; and the courage was strong which led him to propose such a grant to himself, in lieu of payments due to his father. He besides manifested the energy and influence of his character in court negotiations, although so unlikely to be a successful courtier by his profession as a Friend, in that he succeeded to attain the grant even against the will and influence of the Duke of York himself who, as he owned New York, desired also to possess the region of Pennsylvania as the right and appendage of his province.

"This memorable event in history, this momentous concern to us, the founding of Pennsylvania, was confirmed to William Penn the Great Seal on the 5th of January, 1681."

-John F. Watson,
Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time

Carpenters Hall

{Carpenters Hall}
Carpenters Hall

The birthplace of our nation is both smaller than you would expect and larger. The fire marshall now says no more than 83 people may rent it for a sit-down affair, or 103 for a stand-up gathering. However, the internal partitions have been removed from what was once a center-hall building with a meeting room on either side; it now is a large open room in the form of a Greek cross. At the time of the revolution, Benjamin Franklin's Library Company occupied the second floor, so the First Continental Congress had to find a way to do its work in the side rooms of the first floor, to the side of the center hall. There were 53 delegates, and presumably some staff and visitors.

That sounds rather crowded, but it was nevertheless the largest rentable public space in the city. John Adams arrived early for the convention, conniving with several other early arrivals at the City Tavern. Adams made the following notation in his diary: Monday. At ten the delegates all met at the City Tavern and walked to the Carpenters' Hall, where they took a view of the room, and of the chamber where is an excellent library; there is also a long entry where gentlemen may walk, and a convenient chamber opposite to the library. The general cry was, that this was a good room, and the question was put, whether we were satisfied with this room? and it passed in the affirmative." Alternative places to meet would have been in churches, which presented awkwardness, or in the State House (Independence Hall) which was then under the control of Tories.

{Continental Congress}
Continental Congress

France and the rebellious colonies was a complicated one, with intrigue and mistrust at every turn. One interesting episode had to do with Franklin's library on the second floor. The French ministry had sent over a spy, to size up the colonists before the French risked too much on them. So, the spy was led up to the library and allowed to overhear some bellicose conversations going on downstairs -- thoroughly stage-managed for the benefit of the "hidden" French visitor.

The Carpenters Company was a guild of what we would now call builders and architects, and architects continue to use it. The first floor usually displays a few Windsor chairs dating to the Continental Congress, covered with a rich black patina that really lets you know what a patina was. Upstairs, the staff quarters are now, well, a little on the elegant side so you can't visit. The guild was formed in 1724, and fifty years later had just completed its building, in time for its historic role in 1774.

{Elfreth's Alley}
Elfreth's Alley

With the whole continent available for building, it is still not entirely clear why Colonial Philadelphia crowded itself into half a square mile, with crowded little row houses on crowded little alleys. But that's the way it was, now visible in the location of Carpenters' Hall down a little cobbled alley, in the center of a block. Elfreth's Alley gives you the same feeling, and perhaps Camac, Mole, and Latimer Streets. Carpenters' is a lovely little place, with lots of interesting features, but the main interest lies in what took place there. For that, you have to read a few books.

 

6 Blogs

The Heirs of William Penn
The death of William Penn left his heirs the largest land holdings in America. Although they managed it fairly well, it proved to be more than a single family could cope with.

The Origins of Haddonfield
Haddonfield was founded by a 19-year-old Quaker girl in 1701 when it was still a fairly dangerous place to walk around. She has over 140 direct descendants, and forty of them still live in the town. Some famous scenes from the Revolutionary War took place here.

The Proprietorships of William Penn
William Penn owned Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware; as the proprietor, he was the largest private American landowner, ever. Although the Revolutionary War mostly ended that, one of his proprietorships still owns all unclaimed land in southern New Jersey.

William Penn Conducts a Witchcraft Trial
A public official has to obey the law, and conform to the traditions of his office, even if it is obvious that he thinks the whole thing is silly and unfair.

William Penn: Visionary with Persuasiveness
Even when we know how it eventually turned out, it is hard to imagine how William Penn would dare to suppose the King might give him Pennsylvania, and even harder to understand how he managed to negotiate the agreement.

Carpenters Hall
Carpenter's Hall now seems a little place, and it was chopped up into still smaller rooms at the time of the Continental CongressBut nevertheless it was the biggest rentable place in the largest town in the colonies, so 53 delegates crowded in and did their work.