Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Today in Church History: Death of William Penn

penn-statue.jpgWilliam Penn (1644-1718), founder of Pennsylvania (“Penn’s Woods”) as a colony where Quakers and other Dissenters could enjoy religious freedom, died on 30 July 1718. He made peace with the Native Americans by the simple practice of treating them like equal human beings and dealing fairly with them–something few European colonizers were willing to try.  As long as Quakers dominated the Pennsylvania colonial legislature, it stayed out of wars and had no slavery (Correction–I am reminded that Penn owned slaves and that although Quakers abandoned slave-holding prior to the U.S. Revolution, they did not begin “without sin” in this area. Thanks to Friend Kirk for catching my inadvertant anachronism.)–but all that changed once Quakers were outnumbered (and then went into their “Quiet in the Land” apolitical phase). But in Colonial America only Catholic-founded Maryland and Baptist-founded Rhode Island rivaled Pennsylvania for religious liberty.  Much of that is the legacy of Friend William Penn.


July 30, 2007 - Posted by | church history


  1. Pennsylvania had slavery. Penn himself owned slaves.

    It’s true that many Friends avoided holding slaves, that a Quaker-affiliated meeting in Germantown denounced slavery in 1688, that in the early 1700s (when Friends still dominated the Pennsylvania legislature) many of the most vocal opponents of slavery came out of Quaker circles, and that before the American Revolution Friends had basically agreed to disown those among them who still held slaves.

    So Friends were ahead of the curve, but it’s not like they (we, actually) started out without sin in this respect.

    Comment by Kirk | July 31, 2007

  2. Quakers have John Woolman to thank for convincing them to become anti-slavery. Woolman is one of the most impressive individuals who has every lived, and he was a true saint.

    Comment by Mystical Seeker | July 31, 2007

  3. Yes, Mystical Seeker, and I plan on blogging about Woolman on a date that is associated with him. I have read Woolman’s journal several times in my personal devotions.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 31, 2007

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