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William Penn

1644-1718. English Quaker; founder of Pennsylvania. Born in London, he early became a Quaker and was expelled from Christ Church, Oxford, for Nonconformist views (1661). He traveled for a time in Europe, served briefly in the British navy, and studied law in London. In 1666 he went to Ireland to manage his father's property. He was imprisoned several times, using the occasions to write defenses of Quakerism. Finally freed in 1670, Penn made a missionary trip in Europe and married in 1672. He engaged in further missionary journeys, and by pen and pulpit advocated religious and political freedoms. He helped to send 800 Quakers to New Jersey (1677-78), and in 1681 secured a charter for Pennsylvania from Charles II because of a debt owed his father by the king. He later acquired the region of Delaware. Penn's finest accomplishment was the founding of Pennsylvania as a refuge for religious dissenters and freedom of expression. It was his “Holy Experiment,” and his four “Frames of Government” (1682, 1683, 1696, 1701) and his fair and just treatment of the Indians set the pattern for Pennsylvania's colonial history. His friendship with James II cost him control of the colony from 1692 to 1694. In later years financial hardship plagued him, and for a time he was in a debtors' prison. In 1712 he almost completed transfer of the colony's control to the Crown when he became ill. His wife managed his affairs until his death in London. Among his writings are The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience (1670), Christian Quaker and His Divine Testimony Vindicated (1673), and An Address to Protestants of All Persuasions (1679).

W.W. Comfort, William Penn 1644-1718: A Tercentenary Estimate (1944); E.B. Bronner, William Penn's Holy Experiment: The Founding of Pennsylvania, 1681-1701 (1962); M.M. Dunn, William Penn: Politics and Conscience (1967).