William Penn’s Philadelphia

Philadelphia was founded on this day 27 October, 1682 by English Quaker William Penn. Penn had been given the land first by King Charles II and then supported by Charles’s brother, the Catholic King James II of England.

William Penn himself had been born on the 14th of October, 1644 in Tower Hill, London, and later baptised at All Hallows-by-the-Tower, just adjacent to the Tower of London. (If you go across the street from this, there is an excellent pub, The Liberty Bounds). Penn dismayed his Anglican parents by becoming a Quaker, which was a sect of Christianity not very welcome in England at that time.

So, in most humble fashion (sarcasm) he called this land, Pennsylvania, aka Penn’s Woods. Philly was then the capitol of this colony of Pennsylvania, which was to be a land free from religious persecution which had plagued religious minorities back in Europe.

In the course of my research, I’ve found that Penn – though greatly admired in the USA -was quite an annoying bloke in person, so everyone was like, “Hey! There’s free land for you over there- yes, that’s great, bye-bye!” In fact, William Penn had been sent to the court of William & Mary in the Dutch Republic and William III apparently found him irritating. Yes, William found a lot of people irritating, but he was probably right about this guy. Eventually, when William became King William III of England (after he had ousted James II) he had Penn tried for treason (I told you he found him irritating!).

Whatever Penn’s character, Philadelphia became a prosperous city. It is known as the “City of Brotherly Love,” due to its meaning in Greek and it would become a major city in the years to come, most notably during the American War of Independence in the late 1700s, as it was one of the original thirteen colonies. From the Betsy Ross House to Ben Franklin’s House (what’s left of it) to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and much more, Philadelphia is still a remarkable place to visit if you love the Early Modern era.  Places like these sparked my life-long passion for history. I have a special connection with this city, as I was born there in 1985, and lived there until I was ten. I remember how much my history teachers idolised Penn, when my own opinion of him has changed quite dramatically since becoming a historian myself.

Great place for history and a Philly cheesesteak sandwich! 🙂

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