William Penn

The result of the trial was, that Penn was committed to Newgate for six months. In prison he composed and published several new works, all connected with the subject of religious toleration, especially as it concerned his own sect. On his release, he made a tour through Holland and Germany, apparently for the purpose of disseminating the doctrines of Quakerism but few particulars are known respecting this tour. On his return to England in 1673, being now in the twenty-eighth year of his age, he contracted a marriage with Gulielma Maria, daughter of Sir William Springett, of Darling, in Sussex, and a lady of great beauty and accomplishments. After their marriage, they took up their residence at Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, where his wealth would have enabled Penn, had he so chosen, to lead the life of an influential country gentleman. Nothing, however, could cool the enthusiasm of Penn in behalf of what he esteemed a great and glorious cause and for three or four years after his marriage, he was incessantly occupied in the composition of controversial pamphlets, defending the Quakers against the attacks and misrepresentations of other sects, and in traveling from place to place for the purpose either of preaching, or of conducting a debate with an antagonist. Early in 1677, he removed his residence from Rickmansworth, in Herts, to Worminghurst, in Sussex. In the same year, in company with the celebrated George Fox and Robert Barclay, he made a second religious tour through Holland and Germany, visiting, among others, the Princess Elizabeth of the Rhine, daughter of the king of Bohemia, and granddaughter of James I of England, who had shown considerable interest in the doctrines of the Quakers, and who received him very graciously. On his return to England, we find him engaged in a remonstrance to parliament in behalf of the Quakers, which deserves some notice. At that time, as the readers of history well know, a strong feeling prevailed throughout the nation against the Roman Catholics, who were suspected of innumerable plots and conspiracies against the church and state, which, for the most part, had no existence except in the fancies of the most bigoted portion of the Protestants. The feelings against the Catholics became so high, that all the existing laws against them were rigorously put in force, and much persecution was the consequence - twenty pounds a-month being the penalty of absence from the established worship of the country.

In order, however, to distinguish between the Roman Catholics and other dissenters, so that the former alone might suffer, it was proposed in parliament that a test should be offered, whereby, on taking a particular oath, a suspected party might escape. This of course was quite a sufficient method for dissenters in general, who had no objection to take the required oath; but for Quakers, who objected to oaths altogether, the plan was of no advantage. On refusing to take the oath, they would be liable to be treated as Jesuits, or Roman Catholics in disguise. On this point William Penn presented a petition to the House of Commons, in which he prayed that, with regard to the clause for discriminating between Roman Catholics and others, the mere word of a Quaker should be deemed equivalent to an oath; with this addition, however, that if any Quaker should be found uttering a falsehood on the occasion, he should be subject to exactly the same punishment as if he had sworn falsely. Being admitted to a hearing before a committee of the House of Commons, he spoke in support of his petition, insisting that it was hard that the Quakers must bear the stripes of another interest, and be their proxy in punishment.' But mark,' he continued, in words which did him and his sect much honor, when contrasted with the general intolerance of those times, I would not be mistaken. I am far from thinking it fit, because I exclaim against the injustice of whipping Quakers for Papists, that Papists should be whipped for their consciences. No: for though the hand pretended to be lifted up against them bath lighted heavily upon us, yet we do not mean that any should take a fresh aim at them, or that they should come in our room; for we must give the liberty we ask, and cannot be false to our principles, though it were to relieve ourselves; for we have good will to all men, and would have none suffer for a truly sober and conscientious dissent on any. hand. And I humbly take leave to add, that those methods against persons so qualified do not seem to me to be convincing, or indeed adequate, to the reason of mankind; but this I submit to your consideration.' The effect of Penn's representations was such, that a clause for the relief of Quakers was actually introduced into the bill then before the House: the prorogation of parliament, however, put a stop to the progress of the bill.

Passing over Penn's further exertions, both by speech and writing, in the cause of Quakerism and of religious toleration in England, as an account of these would not possess much interest now, we come to the most important event in his life - namely the foundation of the North American colony of Pennsylvania.