Colonial Pennsylvania: A History

By Joseph E. Illick | Go to book overview

1
PLANNING: WILLIAM PENN, THE QUAKERS, AND THE "HOLY EXPERIMENT"

On March 4, 1681, thirty-six-year-old William Penn was granted a charter by Charles II appointing him and his heirs "true and absolute Proprietaries" of a sparsely populated tract of land lying north of Maryland (whose charter was already a half-century old), south of New York (a recent English acquisition from the Dutch), and extending five longitudinal degrees westward from the Delaware River (on the east bank of which were the Jersies, a haven for persecuted Quakers). Stated another way, the conjunction of English politics, Quaker persecution, and prior seventeenth-century colonization with the aims of a middle-aged religious leader and social activist explain the founding of Pennsylvania.

When Charles II ascended to the throne in 1660, Englishmen were looking back on two decades of tumult. Armies had clashed in the field of civil war, Parliament had been purged, and a king, Charles II's father, had been executed. There followed Oliver Cromwell's flawed experiment in republican government, which was insufficiently radical for vociferous political and religious sectarians. Judging by the prophecies and preachments of men wandering through the English countryside, and considering the vigor of Cromwell's partisans, the monarchy and the church were obsolete.

Yet in 1660 both were restored. The Stuart family reigned once more, while an Act of Uniformity again made Anglicanism

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