Chapter One (Annotated)

Warminghurst, West Sussex, England
June, 1680

William Penn woke early one Sunday in the fangs of a headache.1 He rolled toward the window, seeking relief in the sunrise, but its glare sent a pulse of pain through the back of his eyes. William stretched the puffy skin under his eyelids and grumbled. It was a loud grumble, making a vulgar noise as it bubbled his phlegm and shook his cheeks.2 He grumbled for the spots to leave his sight, and he grumbled for his skull to stop throbbing, and he grumbled to ask God why he had purchased such large windows.3

Across the bed, William’s wife Gulielma yawned. Her name, Goo-lee-EL-ma, was the Latin form of her father’s name, which was also William. This curiosity led strangers to mistake her for the eccentric of the couple.4 Gulielma sat and pulled off her nightcap as William let out another sonorous grumble. He fell back to his pillow with sorrowful eyes. “My dear,” he whined, “I slept poorly again.”

She looked down patiently. “Yes. I was beside thee.”5

“I spent eight months in a frigid cell once6, facing a martyr’s grave, and I was content. Now a featherbed leaves me restless.” William stroked her knee through her chemise.7 He rarely mentioned his stays in prison, but when he did it was usually to prove he was a righteous man.8 “I was a righteous man, Gulielma. Perhaps the Almighty rewards his champions with easy sleep. Does that mean I have lost His favor? Am I not righteous?”9

“T’was many years ago, William. Perhaps thou art simply old.”10

He snorted “Old? Fie on that. My wart of a father conquered Jamaica at thirty-four years, and I am but thirty-five.”11

“And still surpassing handsome.” Gulielma leaned down and kissed his bare head. She rose from bed and rang a bell on her dresser.12 The door opened, and her maid and William’s valet entered the room.13 The servants set to work, the maid helping Gulielma dress while the valet urged William out of bed. William resisted, muttering scripture.14 While he stumbled to his feet, Gulielma peered through the window. She found two footmen setting up benches on the lawn.15 “William,” she warned, “Thy guests will be here soon.”16

William heard her and a new tension creased his face. He waved for the valet to begin their routine. William and Gulielma were leaders of the Religious Society of Friends, a group of Christians whom most called Quakers. In truth, most called them fouler names than that. The Friends were not loved in England. They were seen as heretics, traitors, nudists, and agitators for every sort of villainy, and mobs often drove them from their meeting halls.17 Friends avoided this by meeting when their neighbors were busy, such as during Sunday Mass. The Friends had no Mass and refused to acknowledge Sundays, believing the calendar was pagan, but they still found it a prudent time for worship.18 They also found it prudent to worship on a private estate, so when the Friends of Sussex needed refuge, they met Sunday morning at the Penns.19

When the pressure behind William’s eyes began to diminish, the valet was struggling to pull his tight breeches over his hips. With no means to accelerate the process, William’s attention wandered to the account book on a nearby table. He used any excuse to retreat into his books lately, and he couldn’t resist picking it up now and thumbing a few pages. Soon William was crossing the room while he was dressed, reading bills or scribbling on maps, forcing his valet to chase him with his clothes. By the time this game reached his shoes, William was clutching a quill and paper under his chin, writing a letter to a friend in Parliament.20 He narrated to Gulielma as he wrote, sharing his disdain for certain lords with a wag of his quill.

Gulielma nodded and occasionally offered a hum to sound intrigued. She had long ago mastered the art of half-ignoring her husband’s rants. Lately he only talked about America, and she was sick of America.21 Instead she focused on her posture as her maid tightened her second petticoat.

William was still talking about surveyors or some other trifle when the valet bought out his wig collection. He laid down his letter to inspect them. His wigs weren’t the mountains of curls so fashionable in London, each costing many pounds. The wearers of large wigs committed the sin of vanity. William’s wigs were short, five-shilling things to warm his head, as he had lost all hair to the pox as a boy.22

When her petticoats were finished, Gulielma looked across the lawn again. The footmen had placed several more rows of benches. She asked, “Art thou ready to attend our Friends this morning, William?”

William was deciding between two wigs and didn’t respond. He finally choose a wig, which his valet set on his scalp.

Gulielma cleared her throat and tried again. “Dost thou hear me, William?”

“Yes, love,” he muttered, picking up his letter and quill.

Gulielma sighed. She wanted to release a more powerful, more gratifying sigh, but her maid was now lacing her bodice, and it was unwise to exhale deeply while one’s bodice was being compressed. Gulielma waited until the laces were tied then gestured for her maid to stop. She joined William and laid a hand on his shoulder. “What troublest thee, dear?”

He huffed. “Art my cares so evident?”

“William.” She gestured at his loose papers strewn across the table. She didn’t mention that he spent most waking hours hunched over his papers nowadays. She merely said, “There are more fitting times for these worldly concerns.”

“I know, but I have a thousand irons in the fire. I must work them while the furnace is lit.23 Thou knowest the king has accepted my petition.”24

She knew the king had accepted his petition. He reminded her several times a day.

He continued unbidden. “I am so close to claiming our promised land. This will be providential for the Friends. Providential for us! Providential for all the suffering of England, of all Europe perhaps.”25

“And will the fruits of thy smithing be needful to save England and all Europe this morning?”


“And do thy Friends need thy spiritual balm this morning?”

“They do.” William’s shoulders fell, and he put the letter down again. “Pray tell, how fare the footmen?”

“Finished, or nearly so.”

He bent to peek out the window. “Truly?”

Gulielma reached up and tipped his wig forward, covering his eyes. “Cursed be she that maketh the blind to wander astray.”26

“Deuteronomy. And it reads ‘cursed be he‘.” William smiled despite himself. His wife was the only soul who would dare tease him with scripture.27

Gulielma returned to her maid to finish her outfit. “Do hurry, dear,” she said over her shoulder. “Thy flock will wander without thee.”

He gave her an agreeable grumble as he fixed his wig.

Gulielma was right: it wouldn’t do for William to be late receiving his guests. He forced himself to ignore the lure of his papers as his valet fetched his coat. Most gentlemen owned coats in several bold colors. William’s coats were all gray. Like large wigs, colorful outfits were a vanity. However, William saw no sin in quality fabric, and the price of this coat surpassed his valet’s annual salary.28

As he shrugged into the coat, Gulielma reviewed her outfit in their mirror. She pulled at a hem and adjusted her sleeves. William stood beside her and checked his reflection as well. As they preened, she gave him another reminder, “Many will seek thee afterward. The Browns have a nephew arrested in Crawley. They will beg thy intercession.”29

“I will offer any service, Gulielma.”

“And Samuel Wentworth is still imprisoned. His wife has asked whether thou hast spoken with the magistrate.”

“Soon, soon.”

“And the widow Granville must raise bail for interfering-”

“I will attend to them, Gulielma. It-”

He was interrupted by a sharp knock at the door.

“Friend William! Friend Gulielma!”30

“Yes?” answered William.

Their butler entered.31 In most houses, a servant who addressed the master and mistress with such insolent familiarity would be dismissed, but the Penns encouraged it.32

“Ye have a visitor. One Lysander Fenwick, representing the banking house of Fenwick and Colbrooke.”33

William was shocked. “What?”

Gulielma scoffed. “The audacity. A money scrivener accosting thee on a Sunday.”34

“Sundays don’t exist, dear.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t know that.”

The butler ignored the debate. “The visitor requests thy presence on a matter of some urgency.”

“Indeed,” said William. “I shall see him presently.”

“As thou wilt.” The butler retreated from the room.

Gulielma pointed at William. “Pray thou mind the time. For tis’-”

“Yes, yes, the meeting. I will mind it.” William beckoned his valet to bring out his hat. It was plain and black, not a memorable hat, but he would not remove it for any man alive, not on pain of death.35

William put on the hat and left the bedroom. Descending the stairs and crossing the hall, he found his young daughter Letitia playing a clapping game with the nanny.36 He kneeled to bid them both good morning. Letitia squealed and ordered him to join their game, but he declined.

William found Lysander Fenwick admiring the chandelier in his withdrawing room. They were physical opposites: William was stout while Lysander loomed like a skeptical crow.37

Willaim stuck out his chin. “Friend Lysander.”

As usual, Lysander Fenwick resented finding himself in the presence of William Penn. Lysander saw himself as a special class of banker, one who lent heaps of money to courtiers of good breeding. He expected étiquette, the French notion of comportment befitting the dignity of one’s company.38 In plainer English, it meant behavior that avoided the appearance of a braying ass, thereby not making asses of one’s interlocutors for humoring said ass. And Lysander knew no greater ass than William Penn. William was of the highest gentry yet behaved like a street preacher.39 His rude instance on forenames was the least of his antics. Lysander had often struggled to hide his contempt, and today he dropped all pretense. He gave a pinched smile, just short of a sneer.

“Good morning, Mr. Penn. You have a marvelous home.” He eyed the wood-paneled walls and the polished chairs, his gaze lingering on the standing clock in the corner.40 “I’ve never seen a clock of that design. It must be new.”

“What may I do for thee?” asked William, a touch briskly. “Thou art early if thou wantest to join our breakfast table.”

“I won’t impose, Mr. Penn.” Lysander relished his words. “I wish to discuss the matter of your loans.”

“My steward in London attends these matters.”41

“Your oldest loan is three months in arrears, and a second has a payment due four days hence with no hint of payment forthcoming.”42

“My steward shall be forthcoming then, I’m sure.”

Lysander let out a dry chuckle. “Doubtful, Mr. Penn. I have spoken with him on diverse occasions, and he steadfastly maintains that he cannot pay. He’s having difficulty recovering rents from your tenants.”43 

“He said that?”

“That and much more after a few pints. He said that upon closing your latest book of accounts in March, your cash balance had been entirely spent. Furthermore, you owe him one hundred and seven pounds, sixteen shillings, and eight pence.”44 

William swallowed the hot bile rising in his throat at this indignity. “And he knows I shall settle with him in time.”

Lysander glanced at the chandelier. “I suppose your purse is light from other obligations.”

“So thou hath come to Sussex at dawn to discourse over a bill?”

“I had no choice. You are most elusive, Mr. Penn. My secretary has sent many letters, most unanswered or returned with hollow promises. I can never find you in the city, though I’m told you are seen hither and yon. In desperation, I concluded that I would surely find you home on Sunday, as I heard you are in the habit of inviting company. A thousand pardons for my rascality.”

William rubbed his eyes. “Well, here I stand. What speak thou?”

“I’ve traveled here to warn you that unless we devise a plan that meets my satisfaction, I will recover what I am owed in court.”

“Court? Surely, thou jestest!”

“I do not, Mr. Penn.”

William dropped in a chair, speechless. Finally, he gathered some composure and looked up. “Thy office shall extend me another line of credit, yes? Until my tenants pay?”

Lysander shook his head. “I’m afraid that is no longer possible.”

William held out his hands. “My good man, have some decency. Have I not been a most faithful borrower?”45

“Faithful? No. Begrudging, I could accept. Or indolent. Mercurial, perhaps. But even if you were the most constant of borrowers – and I emphasize that you are not – these tenant defaults plague landowners across the country. Past constancy grants no immunity, and I will not be beggared.”

William frowned. “Then what dost thou propose? There hides a scheme in thine eye.”

“You know the answer. You own several thousand acres of England and Ireland. If you cannot cover your arrears, then sell a parcel and use the proceeds. I have spoken with dealers in the city and, at current prices, two hundred good acres in Cork should suffice.”46

William’s frown turned sour. “No.”

“Why not? You’ve sold before.”47

“And I have no wish to sell further.”

“Then I hope your barrister surpasses your steward.”

William folded his arms. They seemed at an impasse, and after a moment of silence Lysander prepared to excuse himself.

William stood and stepped in his path. “What if the land were further afield?”

“Further than Ireland?”

“Wert thou aware I hold interests in the colonies?”


“I have for several years been a trustee of the Province of West Jersey.”48

“You own properties there?”

“No,” admitted William.

“What of it then?”

“‘Tis but the beginning. Hath thou wondered where I’ve occupied my time of late, to elude thy search?”

“I presume your tailor.”

“The record hall of the Prerogative Office.”49

“Trouble sleeping?”

“My late father loaned King Charles an enormous sum for victualing the Navy in the second Dutch war, and I have proven this loan was never repaid.”50

“A happy story, Mr. Penn. But our dear king is swamped in debts that dwarf your own, and he dismissed many obligations when his coffers were full. What makes you think he’ll honor yours?”

“I would be a fool to ask for coin, so I submitted a proposal to be paid in land.”

“In New Jersey?”

“West of New Jersey. For my own proprietorship across the River Delaware. Tens of thousands of acres of fertile land to dispense as I wish.”

“A more likely reward than gold, I’ll grant, but not by much. The Lords of Trade have turned a stern eye on the colonies. They have lost their taste for pettifogger land schemes.”

“I am no pettifogger.”

“It was a compliment, Mr. Penn. No, the latest governors are all crusty bulldogs from the regiments. The king wants a pugnacious breed to batter the Indian and keep the custom house honest. Why would he offer valuable land to you?”51

“My proposal has many supporters, including the Duke of York.”


“And the Earl of Sunderland.”

“The king’s brother and his pet ambassador.”52 Lysander was a little impressed. “Such illustrious company whispers good tidings, but Charles is willful; he won’t be flattered to act against his favor.”

“My proposal favors him.”


“It will expand English holdings.”53

“He could as well install his horse.”

“Unlike his horse, I have enjoyed great success encouraging settlement in West Jersey. Land brings no profit without settlers.”54

Lysander studied William, looking puzzled. Then he reached some realization and nodded to himself in too smug a manner. “Ah! I spy the shape of it now, Mr. Penn. Clever.”


“Your Friends! You forsaken Quakers, shriveled twig on the Puritan’s tree. Yes, you can rally your band of nonconformists. I daresay your little rite is sore of the lash by now. They’ll be itching to leave. And the king must be itching to prune them off. Yes, that ought to win his favor.”55

William grit his teeth. “See here-”

“Verily, I stand before Moses, girding his loins to lead his people into the wilderness. Ho, yes, this circus may even succeed.” He giggled. “And when, pray tell, do you expect a royal response?”

“He has accepted my petition.56 I need only settle with the proprietors of neighboring settlements and a few offices of the court.”

“Ah. Well, we know how swift our court officers are,” he said, lying. “Tell me, suppose a fair wind favors you in all your engagements. When might you acquire the charter to begin selling this sweet and fertile land?”

William hesitated. “Not longer than a year. If thou wouldst extend me a loan now to cover my present debts, in a year I could repay thee double. Nay, treble.”

“Even with a royal charter and a thousand settlers at your back, there are endless misfortunes that can ruin such a venture.”

“I know my business, Friend Lysander.”

“We fain dream all the world’s gold in an empty map.”

William took a deep breath and closed his eyes, relieving a pressure that had returned. “It is a sound proposal. Wilt thou extend my credit?”

Lysander hummed, as if considering the matter. “I’m afraid your dream colony is too uncertain for us to entertain, Mr. Penn.”

“At least takest time to consider. ‘Tis a peerless opportunity.”

“You have no more time, Mr. Penn. Will you do the sensible thing or will I see you before a judge?”

William leaned heavily against the fireplace, resting his fists on the mantle. “I shall sell a parcel in Ireland.”57

“Excellent. I’ll expect you in the city soon to sign the papers.”

The butler appeared at the door. “Friend William?”

William and Lysander turned to him.

“Breakfast is prepared. Wilt our guest be joining the meal?”

“Nay,” said Lysander. “I’ll take my leave, and a good Sunday to you.” As he left the room, he said, “If other gentlemen in your flock are in need of a bank, Mr. Penn, do refer them to us.” He laughed. “No doubt they need all the Friends they can get.”


1  There is no record that William Penn (hereafter, WP) had a problem with headaches or poor sleep. I invented these to hint at long-term changes in WP’s personality as much as present frustrations. WP was always overly-serious, but in his youth this manifested as the nothing-to-lose defiance of a holy warrior. By the time he arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682, this defiance had morphed into arrogance and a habit of self-pity. I picture WP’s mood in bed as an early expression of his grumpy future (Dunn Personality 320; Hirsch 445).

2  WP has no record of this sort of behavior.

3  WP’s mansion was called Warminghurst Place. He purchased it in 1676 from fellow Quaker John Fenwick, who would later lead the first English settlement in West Jersey. It was a brick manor house with eighteen hearths and mullioned windows throughout, impressive in an era when windows had only recently become common in middle class homes. Warminghurst Place was built in an “irregular plan, apparently consisting of three parallel east-west ranges of two storeys with attics, though perhaps with a courtyard towards the west end. There was a polygonal three-storeyed entrance porch surmounted by a cupola.” It had enough space to accommodate indoor meetings with hundreds of Quakers. I can’t say much about its interior decoration, but WP spent lavishly on his family’s luxury and comfort, so I trust he had all the latest aristocratic furnishings. After several mortgages, WP sold the property in 1707, and the new owner promptly demolished the house. (Hayes; Baggs 52-54; Dunn Personality 320).

4  Gulielma Penn (hereafter GP) was born Gulielma Maria Posthuma Springett. Her first two names are Latin spellings of her parents’ names, William and Mary (Hirsch 431). The name Posthuma commemorated her father’s death before her birth (Murphy 92). The idea here that strangers found her first name odd is my joke for modern readers. Latin was popular in the 17th century, and the name Gulielma echoes the French form of William, Guillaume, which would have been unremarkable.

5  English pronouns once expressed separate levels of respect. “You” was formal, while “thou” and its forms “thee”, “thy”, and “thine” were familiar or casual, similar to “ustedes” and “vosotros” in Spanish. GP’s use of “thee” would have been the normal choice when talking to her husband, but it was also how Quakers like GP addressed everyone. Quakers practiced “plain speech”, a set of rules designed to treat everyone as spiritual equals, and it exclusively used “thou” forms (Murphy 45, 52; Merriam-Webster).

6  WP had several stays in prison for defiance of religious laws. His longest confinement by this time was eight months, from 1668 to 1669, for writing a heretical pamphlet. The Bishop of London threatened that WP would die if he refused to recant. WP answered, “the prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot, for I owe my conscience to no mortal man.” However, his father, with whom he had a rocky relationship (see endnote 11), used his ties with the royal family to arrange WP’s release. WP was initially against this, as he was enthusiastic about dying for his faith (Murphy 60, 62, 108; Frost).

7  Like most couples, the private life of the Penns is largely undocumented. However, sources who knew the family and surviving personal letters suggest WP and GP had a strong, loving marriage (Hirsch 430; Murphy 153). In the 17th century, a chemise was the name for a knee-length linen undergarment like a smock, usually for women.

8  WP occasionally mentioned his prison stays in his writing, but I don’t know whether he raised the topic in private conversation. Despite his defiant personality, I assume the memories weren’t pleasant. WP certainly enjoyed reminding people of his righteousness, so if he mentioned his incarceration, it was probably as a boast.

9  WP wouldn’t express spiritual doubts like this. He had great confidence in his holiness – at least after becoming a Quaker – and gave little evidence of self-examination (Frost). Let’s blame it on the headache.

10  GP was several months older than WP, so this would be a wry comment coming from her (Hirsch 431).

11  WP’s father Sir William Penn (hereafter SW) was a rich war hero and politician. He was furious when WP became a Quaker, a sect that was scandalous and illegal. WP claimed SW reacted with violence, whipping and beating him, and possibly kicked him out of the house (Murphy 51, 54). Their relationship remained bitter until SW was near death and his son faced life in prison (see endnote 6). SW used his ties with the royal family to arrange WP’s release, and they reconciled (Dunn Personality 317). I suspect WP had mixed feelings about his late father. He built SW a monument and at times mentioned him reverently (Dunn Personality 317,320). However, WP also wrote about SW’s abuse. In this scene, I’ve written WP insulting his father out of habit more than passion. After all, the funeral was a decade ago. SW did capture Jamaica in 1655; he was punished upon his return to England because his fleet had failed its mission to capture the more valuable island of Hispaniola (Sir William Penn).

12  A source from the 1700s mentions servants summoned by bell (Domestic 17). I don’t know whether a husband and wife dressed together. The English of this time went many mornings without showering, so that omission is accurate (Ward Ch. 1).

13  WP’s home certainly had servants (A Letter From William Penn to His Wife and Children). I don’t know every kind of servant he employed, so I’ve given WP a full staff for an English country manor. The valet or manservant was the master’s personal attendant, and one of his responsibilities was helping to dress his employer. The maid was a generalist in small homes, performing domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning. But a large staff would have a dedicated lady’s maid who directly attended to the lady of the house, including helping her dress.

14  More than anything, WP was deeply spiritual (Dunn Personality 320). He studied the Bible from a young age and became a famous preacher and theological debater (Dunn PWP2 21-22). Unsurprisingly, he had an excellent grasp of scripture and alluded to it frequently.

15  Footmen were low-ranking servants in larger homes. They performed menial tasks like serving dinner, filling lamps, delivering messages, and answering the door. In this chapter we can assume they were all busy on the lawn, so the last two tasks fell to the butler. See endnote 13 for general remarks on servants.

16  WP hosted regular Quaker meetings at his home, both indoors and outdoors (Bacon 43; Hayes; Dunn Personality 320). I’m certain the Penns took their responsibilities as hosts very seriously, so the fact that WP is even briefly distracted by paperwork says much about the paperwork.

17  The Religious Society of Friends is a Protestant Christian movement founded in England in the mid-17th century, one of many operating outside the sanctioned Church of England. Religion was a social and political activity, and the authorities viewed the Friends as deviants at best and traitors at worst. They were persecuted for refusing oaths, avoiding military service, rejecting taxes and tithes, interrupting other religious services, and other offenses (and some early Friends practiced nudism) (Murphy 45, 49). The term Quaker began as an insult from a court official who mocked founder George Fox for his command to “tremble at the word of the Lord”. Many Quakers soon adopted the label (Quaker; Dunn PWP1 263).

18  Quakers rejected mainstream English calendars (first Julian, later Gregorian) as these used days and months named after Roman gods and other “heathen” ideas (e.g., June, Junius in Latin, was named for Juno). The Quakers week used a numbering system: Sunday was First Day, Monday was Second Day, etc. Months were numbered as well: during the Julian calendar, the English year began in March, so March was First Month; this changed to January after England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 (Mortimer xxxiv). Quakers rejected many Catholic and Anglican practices, including Mass. However, English Quakers often did meet on Sundays. This was probably more for scheduling convenience than self-defense.

19  WP did experience anti-Quaker persecution in Sussex (Dunn PWP1 512). However, I found no mention of trespass or damage to his home despite hosting regular meetings (see endnote 16), so I assume it was considered a comparatively safe location for worship. 

20  I invented this gimmick that WP might try to do paperwork while getting dressed. However, he did have an exceptional work ethic (Dunn PWP2 21-22). And his newly-approved Pennsylvania petition represented perhaps the greatest opportunity and greatest challenge of his career (Murphy 139-140).

21  I assume anyone who lived with WP must have learned to tune him out as a defense mechanism. I have no evidence GP disapproved of her husband’s projects in America. WP claimed GP was “sweetly consenting and satisfied” to follow his wishes to join him or stay behind (Hirsch 447). However, WP could be self-centered. GP had frail health and young children, so she must have suspected she would stay behind when he inevitably left, which happened in 1862. He traveled often, but a voyage across the Atlantic would be his longest and most dangerous trip by far (Hirsch 432). I imagine GP despaired at their impending multi-year separation and didn’t enjoy his reminders about it.

22  Delightfully, details of WP’s wigs can be found in a letter written by George Fox, founder of Quakerism, which defended WP against criticisms that his wigs were sinful. WP had smallpox as a child which caused him to lose his hair, and he wore small, allegedly-virtuous wigs for warmth. The English elite favored giant powdered wigs decked with curls called periwigs (Fox; Colonial Clothing).

23  WP is riffing on an old saying, “Too many irons in the fire”, meaning pursuing so many goals that all are endangered. It comes from blacksmithing where putting too much metal in a forge might dampen the flame and prevent the metal from getting hot.

24  King Charles II approved WP’s petition for a colony either in May or June, 1680, so it would be fresh on WP’s mind. The petition merely allowed WP to start the enormous process of seeking approval from various officials (Soderlund 3; Staff; Dunn PWP1 577; Dunn PWP2 22-23, 30-31; Murphy 137-138; Mood 8-9). The king finally signed the Pennsylvania charter on March 4, 1681 (Staff; Bacon 53).

25  WP’s motivations for seeking an American colony are unclear. Today the most well-known justification is that WP wanted a haven from religious persecution. He had spent over a decade lobbying against Quaker persecution in England with few results. However, Quakers had a rule against fleeing oppression, so WP could not use this justification, at least not openly. In this passage, WP suggests a related but more palatable reason: he wanted a colony to promote his philosophy of religious liberty, that all Christian faiths could coexist and prosper. Prospering was critical. WP was badly in debt, and some of his motivation was almost certainly for his own profit (Murphy 139-140; Dunn PWP2 21-22; Staff). His choice of the word “suffering” is significant. “Sufferings” is the Quaker term for their carefully-recorded history of abuse (Murphy 108; Hirsch 444; Mortimer xxv). Regarding his remark about Europe, WP was the first English colonial founder to advertise internationally when seeking initial settlers for his colony. He was remarkably cosmopolitan: one of his proposals in 1693 resembled a European Union three centuries early.

26  GP is quoting Deuteronomy 27:18, though her phrasing is from a modern bible. English Quakers of the time used several English bibles. The most popular was likely the 1638 edition of the King James Bible. There the verse reads, “Cursed by he that removeth his neighbours land-mark; and all the people shall say, Amen” (THE HOLY BIBLE, Deuteronomy 27.18).

27  WP was a religious debater and a grump, so he could be confrontational when scripture was used against him. I trust GP had a wifely exemption from this prickly habit (see endnote 6).

28  Quakers at the time had the same outfits as the rest of society, but they dressed plainly, avoiding braids, ornate buttons, ribbons, plumes, laces, and, famously, bright colors. However, later generations of Quakers grew wealthy and developed a reputation for demanding the finest fabrics for their bland outfits (Colonial Clothing; Bacon 46). It’s easy to imagine WP as an early adopter of this trend. I haven’t confirmed whether the most expensive coats could cost more than the salary of a valet, but it seems plausible.

29  WP had some legal education and was well-known as an advocate for England’s Quakers, appearing before magistrates countless times to plead on behalf of those arrested for religious crimes (Bacon 51).

30  Another rule of Quaker plain speech (see endnote 5) was a refusal to use ranks and titles, instead addressing everyone as “Friend” followed by their first name. Not all Friends practiced this all the time – even WP addressed his non-Quaker allies by title in some letters – but it was one of their most notorious practices. Here I’m assuming the domestic staff are either Quakers or have adopted the plain speech of their employer.

31  The butler was highest-ranking member of a staff, responsible for supervising male servants and safeguarding valuables. He occasionally performed menial tasks such as answering the door when the footmen were unavailable. See endnote 13 for general remarks on servants.

32  WP’s opinions on social class were complicated and perhaps hypocritical. He held upper-class presumptions that he was superior to his servants (he purchased enslaved workers in Pennsylvania). However, he did write on the importance of treating one’s employees kindly, and here I imagine that using plain speech with his staff might have been an easy concession to his more egalitarian ideals.

33  Lysander Fenwick and his bank are fictional. WP had many creditors, but these appear to have been individuals, not institutions (Dunn PWP1 646). Private banking was still evolving from predecessor professions like scriveners and goldsmiths (Capie xxv-xxvi). The oldest surviving English bank, Hoares, was founded in 1672 by a goldsmith. That said, banks explicitly catering to the wealthy did appear early. These were located in London’s West End and specialized in mortgages, so it’s reasonable for WP’s fictional banker to have a thorough knowledge of real estate (Capie xxvi).

34  I doubt an actual banker would have interrupted a gentleman debtor at home on Sunday morning.

35  English men observed “hat honor”: removing one’s headgear for social superiors. Quakers rejected acts of social deference and would not remove their hats for anyone. This was one of their most infamous practices, and the English elite reacted with scorn (Apetrei).

36  WP had two living children in June of 1680: his son Springett, aged five, and his daughter Letitia, aged two (Murphy 153). Nannies cared for young children of the master’s family. See endnote 13 for general remarks on servants.

37  There are few contemporary paintings or descriptions of WP. It seems he was trim as a young man but grew portly by middle age. Thirty-five is nearing middle age, so I imagine him here as heavyset.

38  “Etiquette” wasn’t yet a word in English, but the upper class knew French.

39  One of the paradoxes of WP’s life is that he was a firebrand for a movement that criticized the English class system while fully enjoying his inherited wealth and privilege (Murphy 104). Both of his social circles, common Quakers and court aristocrats found this suspicious.

40  The first freestanding clock with an encased pendulum, also called a longcase clock and later a grandfather clock, was invented in England shortly before 1680 (Moore 205). WP spared no expense on home furnishings, so I imagine him as an early adopter of the new technology.

41  WP performed some responsibilities as a landlord, but he also frequently delegated (a necessity given his far-flung properties). His main business manager or steward was Philip Ford (hereafter PF), based in London (Dunn PWP2 324; Murphy 147).

42  WP was chronically in debt, but these loans are fictional.

43  English and Irish landlords struggled with tenant defaults. This was exacerbated by inflation: rent income was fixed by custom, while the cost of living was rising (Dunn PWP2 22; Murphy 95, 120; PHMC).

44  PF didn’t disclose WP’s finances to a banker, but these details are correct: WP’s account with PF was out of cash in March, and WP owed him over a hundred pounds. Butt this minor debt was considered routine, not a cause for alarm. I made PF sound spiteful to foreshadow that he and WP later had an infamous falling-out. WP’s debt to PF expanded with further loans and compound interest. When PF died in 1702, his widow and children sued WP for £20,000. The case lasted years and sent WP to debtors’ prison (Dunn PWP1 575). I should mention that many WP biographies cast PF as a con artist and WP as a victim, but exploring that drama is beyond the scope of this endnote (Bacon 57).

45  Here is a quote from the editors of The Papers of William Penn, summarizing a few of WP’s financial decisions: “In 1672-1674, WP was paying six percent interest on £2,000 borrowed from six creditors, including his mother and sister. By 1677-1680, three of these six loans were repaid, but WP had contracted fifteen new loans totaling £3,200. In 1676-1678, WP sold over a thousand acres of [GP]’s land in Sussex for £5,800, reducing future rental income. As of 1678, he had not paid back any of the money he had borrowed in 1676 to buy Warminghurst. Thus the evidence suggests that WP was under considerable financial pressure in the late 1670s, and that he was badly in need of fresh sources of income when he decided to petition the king for land in America” (Dunn PWP1 575-576).

46  WP’s inherited many properties in County Cork, Ireland (Dunn PWP1 571). Ireland had a substantial impact on WP’s life. He visited several times and experienced both his introduction and convincement to Quakerism there (convincement is the Quaker term for religious conversion) (Murphy 45, 48-49).

47  WP often sold property to pay off debts (Murphy 94-95, 323; Dunn PWP1 512). For example, WP’s principal creditor in the 1670s was Sir James Rushout, a fellow landowner. Among their deals, Rushout facilitated WP’s purchase of his Warminghurst mansion both by providing a loan and helping him sell some land GP had inherited (Dunn PWP1 648).

48  In the mid-1670s, New Jersey was purchased by Quakers who disagreed about the details of their arrangement. Quakers avoided settling disputes in courts of law, believing that public conflict shamed their community. They preferred to settle their affairs through voluntary arbitration. WP was a respected Quaker with business experience, so the interested parties asked him to arbitrate. The complicated dispute ended with WP becoming a trustee of the colony (Murphy 115-119). He did not speculate in lands in Jersey to any large extent at this time (Pomfret 137).

49  WP is exaggerating. He only visited the Prerogative Office, a legal court that handled the crown’s obligations, for a few days in February. He was researching the inventory of his father’s estate, probably to prepare his petition that the king owed his family money (Dunn PWP1 577).

50  There is little surviving evidence about the king’s famous debt which turned into Pennsylvania. According to WP, his father lent the English Navy a considerable sum for food supplies in 1667 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In 1672, the king decided to stop repaying state debts in order to fund the Third Anglo-Dutch War. This was called the Stop of the Exchequer. At the time, the crown still owed SW’s estate at least £11,000 for his Navy loan. Somehow, the loan remained stuck in the Exchequer, and payment did not resume even after the Stop of the Exchequer ended. Years later, WP used this outstanding debt to justify his colonial petition. He claimed the amount had grown to £16,000 due to interest. This story is plausible but unconfirmed (Dunn PWP2 30-31).

51  Lysander’s criticism is accurate. The previous generation of English colonial projects were granted great autonomy. However, the crown was tightening its leash on these colonies. This included installing military officers as governors. WP was a pacifist radical asking for the same freedom as earlier proprietors. (Dunn PWP2 22; Soderlund 6-7; PHMC). His request was bold to say the least.

52  James Stuart, the Duke of York (later King James II), was the king’s brother and heir. He commanded SW in the Navy, starting a long friendship with the Penn Family (Murphy 129; Jordan 410). He owned large tracts in America, including land sought by WP (Murphy 114). Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, was a leading diplomat and statesman. He and WP were close friends at Oxford and toured Europe together (Murphy 29; Staff). By 1680, Robert had become Secretary of State. James and Robert were key allies in WP’s quest for his Pennsylvania charter (Mood 8-9). I’m not certain when either ally first publicly expressed support (in June, James was peeved for WP’s behavior during a recent political crisis) (Murphy 138). However, given WP’s considerable preparations and the fact that James and Robert joined his side early in the charter negotiations, I wouldn’t be surprised if WP secured at least a wink of approval from both men ahead of his petition.

53  King Charles II’s actual motivations for granting Pennsylvania remain a mystery (see endnote 51). The original petition was ostensibly to settle the crown’s debt to SW for feeding sailors (see endnote 50), and that was surely a factor (Murphy 140). The king listed several more justifications in the colony’s charter, such as expanding English holdings and civilizing the natives, though, as Lysander notes, these goals don’t demand WP in particular. The royal brothers were fond of WP, James especially, and monarchs have been known to grant great favors for their favorites (Staff; Jordan 409; PHMC). Some historians have suggested that the king intended Pennsylvania as a pressure valve for religious dissent. Restoration London was a “boisterous religious marketplace” (Murphy 57). The sectarian disputes were a constant source of unrest, so convincing the agitators to leave must have seemed a convenient solution (Jordan 412; PHMC). A few historians have taken this a step further and argued that the charter was a tactic to secure the upper hand in a domestic power struggle. England in 1680-81 was in the midst of the Exclusion Crisis, a succession dispute that threatened civil war. Religious dissenters were feared as potential rebel supporters, so the crown may have seen Pennsylvania as a way to preemptively remove them (Dunn PWP2 22; Mood 4, 8-15).

54  WP was successful in administering West Jersey and encouraging settlement. Under his trusteeship, it was among the most peaceful and prosperous English colonies (Murphy 119; Bacon 50).

55  One likely reason WP wanted Pennsylvania was as a religious refuge (see endnote 25). Lysander refers to the Quakers as a branch of the Puritans because Puritan was sometimes used as an umbrella term for all dissenting Protestants in England. The actual Puritans considered themselves very different from Quakers, and they were hostile to Quakers who visited their colonies. 

56  See endnote 24.

57  This particular land sale is fictitious, but WP often sold land to cover debts (see endnote 47).


A Letter From William Penn, to His Wife and Children, Written a Short Time Before His First Voyage to America.;view=fulltext.

Apetrei, Sarah. “Why Quakers Were the Burqa Wearers of the 17th Century.” The Guardian, 25 Sept. 2011,

Bacon, Margaret. The Quiet Rebels: The Story of Quakers in America. Basic Books Inc., 1969.

Baggs, A P, C R J Currie, C R Elrington, S M Keeling, and A M Rowland. A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 2, Bramber Rape (North-Western Part) Including Horsham. Ed. T P Hudson. London: Victoria County History, 1986.

Capie, F. H. The History of Banking I, 1650-1850, Vol I: Money. William Pickering, 1993.

Colonial Clothing – PENNSYLVANIA TO THE REVOLUTION 1681-1775.

Domestic Management or the Art of Conducting a Family; with Instructions to Servants in General. Addressed to Young Housekeepers. Printed, for H. D. Symonds, 1800.

Dunn, Mary Maples. “The Personality of William Penn.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 127, no. 5, Oct. 1983, pp. 316–21.

Dunn, Mary Maples, et al., editors. The Papers of William Penn, Volume 1: 1644-1679. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Dunn, Richard S., et al., editors. The Papers of William Penn, Volume 2: 1680-1684. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Fox, George. Letter to Sarah Harris. William Penn’s Defense of His Wig. 25 May 1677.

Frost, J. William. “The Enigmatic Mr. William Penn.” Swarthmore Friends Historical Library.

Hayes, Martin. “William Penn in West Sussex.” West Sussex Record Office, 12 Sept. 2019,

Hirsch, Alison Duncan. “A Tale of Two Wives: Mythmaking and the Lives of Gulielma and Hannah Penn.” Pennsylvania History, vol. 61, no. 4, Penn State UP, Jan. 1994, pp. 429–56.

Merriam-Webster. Why Did We Stop Using ‘Thou’? 13 Apr. 2022,,the%20subject%20of%20a%20verb.

Mood, Fulmer. “William Penn and English Politics in 1680-81.” The Journal of the Friends Historical Society, vol. 32, 1935.

Moore, N. Hudson. The Old Furniture Book. Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1903.

Mortimer, Russell. “Minute Book of the Men’s Meeting of the Society of Friends in Bristol 1667-1686.” Bristol Record Society, Jan. 1971,

Murphy, Andrew R. William Penn: A Life. Oxford University Press, 2019.

“PHMC Pennsylvania Charter.” Pennsylvania Charter – Our Documentary Heritage, 26 Aug. 2015,

Pomfret, John E. “The Proprietors of the Province of West New Jersey, 1674-1702.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 75, Apr. 1951, pp. 117–146.

“Quaker.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

“Sir William Penn.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

Staff, Pa Heritage. “Tercentenary Begins – Pennsylvania Born With Charter Signing: March 1681.” Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, 9 May 2017,

Soderlund, Jean R. William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania: A Documentary History. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

THE HOLY BIBLE CONTAINING THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE NEW: Newly translated out of the originall Tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by his Majesties Speciall command, University of Cambridge, 1637.

Ward, W. Peter. The Clean Body: A Modern History. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019.

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close