Updated: May 18
Today in 1681, King Charles II handed over a large piece of his North American land holdings to William Penn in order to pay off debts to his family. The land included the present-day states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. It made Penn the world's largest private (that is non-royal) landowner, with over 45,000 square miles, As well as the land he gained sovereign rule of the territory with all rights and privileges (except the power to declare war).
William Penn was an early member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and a
staunch advocate of democracy and religious freedom. His deep religious conviction had put him in prison several times in the Tower of London, where he wrote a book No Cross, No Crown. He had a dream of setting up an area sympathetic to Quakers and thereby facilitating a mass emigration of English Quakers to North America.
Penn's life now had taken a practical turn, no longer dreaming of an ideal colony he had to make it happen. He became a real estate promoter, city planner, and governor for what he referred to as his "Holy Experiment" He named the province Pennsylvania
meaning Penn's Woods. Under his direction, the city of Philadelphia was planned and developed and became Americas largest city until New York overtook it in 1810. Philadelphia was also arranged to be grid-like with its streets and be very easy to navigate, unlike London where Penn was from, which had evolved organically in narrow, cobbled, winding roads. The streets in Philadelphia are named with numbers and tree names (a nod to the Sylan in Pennsylvania).
It attracted many radical thinkers like early abolitionist Benjamin Lay who became a thorn in the side of the Quaker elite (see pod Feb 8). Penn became well known for his
good relations and successful treaties with the Lenape Native Americans. The peace between the Lenape Turtle Clan and Penn's successors would endure for over 70 years, and the success of this treaty made international renown and was remarked upon by Voltaire, who called it "... the only treaty never sworn to and never broken. The Quaker Oats cereal brand standing "Quaker man" logo, dating back to 1877, was identified in their advertising after 1909 as William Penn, but in 1946 the logo was changed into a head-and-shoulders portrait of the smiling Quaker Man.