Penn, William by Faye Huntington

The other day I was looking at a map of Philadelphia, and at once my thoughts went back to my schooldays and the primary geography in which occurred the question, "What can you say of Philadelphia?" And the answer, "It is regularly laid out, the streets crossing each other at right angles like the lines on a checker-board." And again, "What is Philadelphia sometimes called?" Answer, "The City of Brotherly Love."

And now I wish I could set before you the calm, sweet, yet strong face of the man who founded and named this city, who truly desired it to be a city of love.

William Penn was a native of London. He was born nearly a quarter of a century after the Pilgrims landed upon Plymouth Rock; he belonged to a good family, his father being Admiral Sir William Penn of the British Navy. It appears that the son was of a religious turn of mind, and when he was a boy of twelve years he believed himself to have been specially called to a life of holiness. He was very carefully educated, but he offended his father by joining the Quakers; indeed, it seems that several times in the course of his life his father became very much displeased with him, but a reconciliation always followed, and at last the Admiral left all his estate to the son who had been such a trial to him. While a student at the University, Penn and his Quaker friends rebelled against the authority of the college and was expelled. The occasion of the rebellion was in the matter of wearing surplices and of uncovering the head in the presence of superiors. You know that the Quakers always keep their hats on, thinking it wrong to show to man the honor which they consider belongs only to God.

I cannot follow with you all the vicissitudes of Penn's life; after leaving the University he travelled upon the Continent. Afterwards he studied law in London; he became a soldier. This strikes us as being somewhat curious when we remember that the sect to which he belonged are opposed to war, and preach the doctrine of love and peace. However, he was not long in service, and meeting a noted Quaker preacher he became firmly fixed in his devotion to the society of Friends, and was ever after a strong advocate of its doctrines; nothing could turn him from the path he had chosen. He was several times imprisoned on account of his religious opinions and suffered persecution and abuse. Through all he adhered to his views, and stood by his Quaker friends in the dark days of persecution. He had inherited from his father a claim against the British Government of several thousand pounds, and in settlement of this claim he received a large tract of land in the then New World. With the title to the land he secured the privilege of founding a colony upon principles in accordance with his religious views. And in 1682 he came to America and laid the foundations not only of the City of Brotherly Love, but of the State of Pennsylvania. His object was to provide a place of refuge for the oppressed of his own sect, but all denominations were welcomed, and many Swedes as well as English people came. While other colonies suffered from the attacks of the Indians, for more than seventy years, so long as the colony was under the control of the Quakers, no Indian ever raised his hatchet against a Pennsylvania settler.

Under a great elm-tree, long known as Penn's elm, he met the Indians in council, soon after his arrival in the territory which had been ceded to him.

He said to them:

"My friends, we have met on the broad pathway of good faith. We are all one flesh and blood. Being brethren, no advantage shall be taken on either side. Between us there shall be nothing but openness and love."

And they replied, "While the rivers run and the sun shines, we will live in peace with the children of William Penn."

It has been said that this is the only treaty never sworn to and never broken.

William Penn lived to see his enterprise achieve a grand success. Philadelphia had grown to be a city of no small dimensions and no little importance. The colony had grown to be a strong, self-supporting State, capable of self-government.

"I will found a free colony for all mankind," said William Penn. Were these the words of a great man?

Unswerving integrity, undaunted courage, adherence to duty, and devotion to the service of God—are these the characteristics of a great man?

Then William Penn may well be placed in our Alphabet of Great Men.