Where Is William Penn Buried?
William Penn (1644-1718), who gave his name to the state of Pennsylvania in the United States, died in 1718, at his home in Ruscombe, near Twyford in Berkshire, and is buried in a grave next to his first wife in the cemetery of the Jordans Quaker meeting house near Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire in England.
He was the son of Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-70) and became a convert to Quakerism in 1661. These peaceful people were persecuted and despised. William Penn was expelled from Oxford University because he joined the sect, and was later imprisoned in the Tower of London.
In 1681 Charles II granted Penn a domain of some 50,000 square miles of English Crown land in America in payment of a debt owed by the Crown to his father. Persecuted in England, the Quakers were not allowed to enter any of the established American colonies. To found a haven for people of all religions, and in the hope of converting the warlike Red Indians, Penn sent out the first settlers to his newly-acquired colony which he named Pennsylvania (Penn’s forestland). He, too, went out a year later.
He gave the settlers democratic government and made friends with the Delaware Indians who agreed to “live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the sun and moon gave light”. Penn lived at Philadelphia, the capital of his colony, but after two years was called back to England on business and was absent for 15 years.
After a period of trouble he revisited Pennsylvania in 1899 and granted a charter to its 20,000 inhabitants which remained in force for 75 years until the American War of Independence.
In 1701 Penn returned to England to find that his unscrupulous steward had robbed him of his fortune. He was imprisoned for debt and the conditions of the jail affected his health. His friends secured his release, and he lived quietly until his death on May, 30, 1718. The fine old building in whose graveyard he is buried has been preserved and is open to the public.
After Penn’s death, Pennsylvania slowly drifted away from a colony founded by religion to a secular state dominated by commerce. Many of Penn’s legal and political innovations took root; however, as did the Quaker school in Philadelphia for which Penn issued two charters (1689 and 1701). Sometime later, the institution was renamed the William Penn Charter School. “Penn Charter,” a well-known secondary day school, is now the oldest Quaker school in the world. Voltaire praised Pennsylvania as the only government in the world responsible to the people and respectful of minority rights.
Penn’s “Frame of Government” and his other ideas were later studied by Benjamin Franklin as well as the pamphleteer of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, whose father was a Quaker. Among Penn’s legacies was the unwillingness to force a Quaker majority upon Pennsylvania, allowing his state to develop into a successful “melting pot”. In addition, Thomas Jefferson and the founding Fathers adapted Penn’s theory of an amendable constitution and his vision that “all Persons are equal under God” in forming the federal government following the American Revolution. In addition to Penn’s extensive political and religious treatises, he wrote nearly 1,000 maxims, full of wise observations about human nature and morality.
Penn’s Philadelphia continued to thrive, becoming one of the most populous colonial cities in the British Empire, reaching about 30,000 by the American Revolution, and becoming a center of commerce, science, medicine, and politics. New groups of immigrants in the 18th century included German-speaking peoples and Scots-Irish.
Penn’s family retained ownership of the colony of Pennsylvania until the American Revolution. However, William’s son and successor, Thomas Penn, and his brother John, renounced their father’s faith, and fought to restrict religious freedom (particularly for Roman Catholics and later Quakers).
Thomas weakened or eliminated the elected assembly’s power, and ran the colony instead through his appointed governors. He was a bitter opponent of Benjamin Franklin and Franklin’s push for greater democracy in the years leading up to the revolution. Through the infamous Walking Purchase of 1737, the Penns cheated the Lenape out of their lands in the Lehigh Valley.