Chapter One

Warminghurst, Sussex, England
June, 1680

William Penn lived on a country lane in a splendid mansion he couldn’t afford. One morning, as his valet buckled his shoes, he squinted through his window at the orange sunrise. He hoped to enjoy the warmth, but the glare only hurt his eyes. William had slept poorly. What an embarrassment. He had spent frigid months in prison not so long ago, but now his featherbed left him restless. Was it the weariness of age? His wart of a father had conquered Jamaica at thirty-four, and William was but thirty-five. He rubbed his eyes and grumbled.

Across the room, William’s wife Gulielma stood upright as her maid tightened her second petticoat. She ignored her husband’s grumbling.

William looked across his lawn and saw two footmen setting up benches. This woke him completely. It was Sunday across most of England but not the Penn household. Sundays were pagan. Still, it was a convenient day for worship, and William and Gulielma hosted services here for their fellows in the Religious Society of Friends, whom most called Quakers. The name Quaker began as an insult, though many Friends had adopted it. Some traditionalists resisted, but William was merely astonished their faith had survived to have traditionalists. Quakers preached peace and fellowship and were hated everywhere. They had faced slander, lashes, and irons for thirty years. The Penn mansion was a refuge, and Quakers came to their services from across the county, often driven by sheriffs’ mobs.

William continued to grumble as his valet brought out his wig collection. He could not be exhausted by pestilent thoughts of coin and criticism. He needed a clear mind to lead his brethren to the Inner Light. Gulielma had heard enough grumbling and asked, “What is it, William?”

William was too distracted by wigs to hear her. His collection was nothing like the voluminous piles so fashionable in London, each costing many pounds. Large wigs were a vanity. But William had lost his hair to smallpox as a boy, and he kept a few short, civil wigs to keep his head warm, just five shillings apiece.

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

William chose a wig and replied in her general direction. “Yes dear.” 

His valet positioned the wig on William’s head and prepared to dust it with sweet-smelling white powder. William covered his face with a powder mask. Gulielma heard more grumbling behind the mask. She rolled her eyes. She wanted to sigh as well, but her maid was now lacing her bodice, and one shouldn’t exhale too deeply while one’s bodice was being squeezed.

When William unmasked, she asked, “Art thou ready to attend thy responsibilities this morning, William?”

William gave her an insincere smile through his mirror while inspecting his wig. “Of course.”

Gulielma gestured for her maid to wait and joined William. She laid her hand on his shoulder. “What troublest thee, love?”

William huffed. “Art my cares so evident?”

Gulielma chose not to answer.

He gestured to loose papers and account books strewn across his dresser. “Behold the subject of my next sermon. It begs for my pen.”

Gulielma tried to act surprised. “More loans?”

“Loans! Fruit of Mammon, the Devil’s most insidious prince! Seest how he sows cruelty in the hearts of creditors, seducing them to harm godly men whose only fault is misfortune in the vicissitudes of commerce. How else mayest one account for such debtor mischiefs as oaths and trials? Dear wife, I shall study the Gospel to seek how I may protect His faithful from the scourge of Mammon, lest decent souls be waylaid from their primitive integrity.”

Gulielma reflected on her fortune to marry a man with the wit to complain in paragraphs. This was not the first time William had connected creditors to the Devil. Lately, he had taken to carrying financial papers from his study to read in other rooms of the house, as if new surroundings made the figures more palatable.

Gulielma tried to sound sympathetic. “That’s commendable, William. I’m sure it will be well-taken at thy next men’s meeting.” She squeezed his shoulder. “But before thou startest, forget not thy duties today. Many will seek thee afterward.”

“Of course.”

“Thou knowest the Browns have a nephew arrested in Crawley. They will beg thy intercession.”

“I will offer any service, Gulielma.”

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

“Soon.” 

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

“I will attend to them, Gulielma.” William looked at his valet. “Coat.”

Gulielma stepped aside as his valet brought a gray coat from the closet. Colorful outfits were a vanity. However, William saw no sin in quality fabric: the coat cost more than his valet’s annual salary. As he put it on, there was a sharp knock at the door.

“Friend William! Friend Gulielma!” 

It was their butler. In most houses, a servant who addressed the master and mistress with such insolent familiarity would be dismissed, but the Penns encouraged it.

“Yes?” answered William.

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

William’s back straightened. His frown turned thoughtful.

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

“Sundays don’t exist, dear.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t know that.”

The butler added, “He requests thy presence on a matter of some urgency.”

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

“As thou wilt.” They heard the butler return down the stairs.

Gulielma turned and walked back to her wardrobe. “Pray thou mind the time, William. For tis’-”

“Yes, yes, the meeting. I will mind it.” William pointed for 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.

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. 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.

Willaim stuck out his chin. “Friend Lysander.”

As usual, Lysander Fenwick was slightly bitter to find himself in William Penn’s company. He saw himself as a special class of banker, one who lent heaps of money to nobles and courtiers of good breeding. He expected etiquette. The infamous William Penn was a son of the highest gentry yet acted like a street preacher. His rude instance on forenames was the least of his antics. Lysander had often struggled to hide his contempt for William, and today he dropped all pretense. He gave a pinched smile, just short of a sneer.

“Good morning, Mr. William. You have a surpassing handsome home.” His eyes crossed the wood-paneled walls and the polished chairs, lingering on the standing clock in the corner. “I’ve never seen a clock so grand. 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. William.” Lysander relished his words. “I wish to discuss the matter of your loans.”

“My steward in London attends these matters.”

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

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

Lysander let out a dry chuckle. “I remain doubtful, Mr. William. I have spoken with him on diverse occasions, and he always regrets that he cannot pay. He mentioned having difficulty recovering rents from your tenants.” Lysander gazed at the luxuries around the room. “Perhaps his purse is light from other obligations as well.”

William rubbed his eyes. “So thou hath come to Sussex at dawn to discourse over a bill?”

“I had no choice. You are most elusive, Mr. William. My secretary has sent many letters, most unanswered, the rest returned with empty diversions. I can never find you in the city, though I’m told you are seen hither and yon. Why, I’ve even sought you here before, but to my misfortune you were traveling. In desperation, I concluded that I would surely find you home on Sunday, as I heard you are in the habit of inviting company over. A thousand pardons for my rascality.”

“Well, here I stand. What speak thou?”

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

“Court? Surely, thou jestest!”

“I do not, Mr. William.”

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 paid my loans faithfully for nigh a decade?”

“You have, Mr. William. But I cannot see how you shall continue. Tenant defaults plague landowners across the country. It is a pity, but your past constancy grants you no immunity.”

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

“You know the answer. You are the proprietor of 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, one hundred good acres of your Irish holdings should suffice.”

William’s frown turned sour. “No.”

“Why not? You sold several parcels last year alone.”

“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 made a decision and stood. “What if the land were further afield?”

“Further than Ireland?”

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

“Faintly.”

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

“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 halls of the Exchequer.”

“Ah. Trouble sleeping?”

“Years ago, my late father loaned King Charles an enormous sum for victualing the Navy in the recent Dutch war, and I have records to prove this loan was never repaid.”

“A happy story, Mr. William. 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 last month I submitted a proposal to be paid in land.”

“In New Jersey?”

“West of New Jersey. For my own proprietorship across the Delaware River. 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 no taste for the games of land sharkers.”

“I am no cheat.”

“It was a compliment, Mr. William. 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?”

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

“Oh?”

“And the Earl of Sunderland.”

“The king’s brother and his favorite ambassador.” 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.”

“How?”

“It will expand English holdings.”

Lysander rolled his eyes. “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.”

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. William. Clever.”

“What?”

“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 see them gone. Yes, that ought to win his favor.”

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?”

William hesitated then answered in a small voice. “A few months. By the end of autumn, certainly.”

“Ah.”

“There are many officers to consult.”

“Suppose King Charles approves your proposal. When might you acquire the charter to begin selling this sweet and fertile land?”

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

William took a deep breath and closed his eyes, relieving their pressure. “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. William.”

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

“You have no more time, Mr. William. 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 of my Irish estates.”

“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 served. Wilt our guest be joining the meal?”

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

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