Last week I said it sometimes seems as if American history teachers forgot to tell us the “rest of the story.” What did they leave out? A major reason why American colonists were so often angry with England: Most colonies were the private property of absentee landlords who ran them as their personal cash cows.
The “proprietors” of Pennsylvania, for example, refused to pay 1 cent toward the cost of the French and Indian War.
However, there’s another “rest of the story” on that topic. I mentioned William Penn, the original “proprietor” — or owner — of Pennsylvania, and it would not be fair to let you go off thinking bad things about him just because Pennsylvania translates from Latin as “Penn’s Woods.”
So, just to set the record straight ...
Meet a great man who helped found America.
William Penn was the son of Sir Admiral William Penn, a man who remained loyal to his sovereign at a time when sovereigns were not popular in England. Charles I had been beheaded, and the struggle of Charles II to escape the same fate reads like the “Perils of Pauline.” Thanks to those few who remained loyal to their lawful monarch, Charles managed to escape to France, but he seemed unlikely to ever return.
Admiral Penn had the courage to remain loyal to a sovereign he admired and respected, offering to bring the British Navy to his aid even though he knew it would probably cost him his life.
Charles, knowing that Admiral Penn’s offer would only lead to one more loyal head decorating one more London lamppost, told the admiral to support the current government as best he could, guarding England against outsiders who might take advantage of its time of internal strife, but he never forgot the courageous naval officer who stood with him against the Roundheads when it seemed that all was lost. Nor did he forget that Admiral Penn was not only part of the group on the ship that secretly brought him back to England to fight for his throne, but was the one who also handed the impoverished monarch 17,000 pounds, the equivalent today of several million dollars, as a “loan” which the crown was never called upon to repay.
Small wonder is it then that Charles protected William Penn, the son of his loyal admiral, when he not only became a thorn in the side of Parliament with what in his day were reckless demands for freedom of religion, but when he cast aside all accepted religions to became a hated Quaker. The Catholics may have been ready to behead the Protestants, and the Protestants just as ready to return the favor, but neither of them could stomach the Society of Friends, as Quakers called themselves, because Quakers believed so strongly in the equality of all men — in religion and all else — that they would not doff their hats to their “superiors” — not even to the king himself!
For his part in the restoration of the monarchy, Admiral Penn was knighted and gained a powerful position as commissioner of the Navy, but he could do nothing with a son whose head was so filled with ideas of freedom and equality that it seemed unlikely to stay on his shoulders. For his part, young William, now attending Oxford, not only sided with the free-thinking dean who was fired for his beliefs, but attended illegal meetings at the home of the outcast, earning himself a fine and a reprimand from the university.
Young Penn refused to change. The years rolled by, years in which Charles had to intercede at times to save him. His father now gone, his life one close call after another, and the Quakers he fought for now reviled and persecuted, an idea found its way into the head of William Penn — a mass emigration of English Quakers to the New World.
King Charles, happy at last to be able to repay his debt to an old friend now in his grave, granted the charter, making only one change. He changed Penn’s original name “Sylvania,” or “Wooded Lands,” to Pennsylvania in honor of the courageous admiral.
And so, in 1682 William Penn wrote a “Frame of Government.” For the first time in history a colony was founded which guaranteed absolute freedom of worship, free speech, free and fair trial by jury, free elections, freedom from unjust imprisonment, and much more.
Any of that sound familiar, Johnny?
I think it’s an important name for Americans to remember, don’t you?