This Week's Story

An extraordinary gift: William Penn becomes the largest landowner in the world and the first governor of Pennsylvania

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

The Cost of Freedom, part three

“William, I understand that you want me to give you land in America.   I am granting you approximately 29 million acres for a new colony.”

Twenty-nine million acres!  William was shocked.  He would be the largest private landowner in the world.  King Charles II of England stated, “The new colony is to be named after your father, Sir William Penn, for his outstanding military service.”

“I am grateful, Your Royal Highness.  What do you wish me to do?”

The king replied, “You can govern the colony as you wish.  Choose the laws. Decide how the land is to be divided. You are not to have a private army.  Each year pay me with two beaver pelts.”

William was jubilant!.  Finally there would be a place for people to worship God in freedom and to live under the protection of law.

That conversation never happened, but the agreement did happen. People asked, “Why is the king giving such a gigantic gift?”  The king gave no answer.

William began planning for the colony.  Since he was eighteen he had been reading and attending discussions with the questions: How can people live in freedom? How can they be protected from rulers?  What is the role of law?   He had worked hard using his legal knowledge and political contacts to defend the rights of religious nonconformists.  He understood people, who wished to worship as they believed God wanted them to do.

William wrote to a friend about the gift.  “It is a clear and just thing, and my God that has given it to me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless it and make it the seed of a nation.  I shall have a tender care to the government, that it be well laid at first.”

He wrote to previous settlers in the new colony, now called Pennsylvania, “You shall be governed by laws of your own making.”  He wrote to native Americans in the colony and explained the king’s gift. He stated, “I desire to enjoy it with your love and consent.”

Proof of his commitment was that twenty years later the English Parliament considered a bill to take the colony away from William and turn it into a colony directly under the king’s control.  Six chiefs of the Susquehannah and Shavannah Indians dictated a letter to Parliament about their relationship with William.  They stated, “…he has been not only just but always very kind to us… he has paid us for our lands, which no Governor ever did before him, and we hope that the Great King of the English will be good and kind to him and his children.  Then we shall have confidence that we and our children and people will be well used and be encouraged to live among the Christians according to the agreement that he and we have solemnly made, for as long as the Sun and the Moon shall endure, One head, one mouth and one heart.”

For thirty-one years William helped the colony to form laws and policies so its people could share in governing, land ownership, fair trade, and freedom of worship.  He wanted free public education so that all residents could read and write and understand how the government worked.  As governor he ordered Quaker schools to accept all children, including native Americans and girls.

Most of his time was spent in England defending Pennsylvania and himself from legal attacks.   His life was hard, but the results in Pennsylvania greatly influenced the development of laws in the United States.  Thomas Jefferson called William Penn “the greatest lawgiver the world has produced.”

This is Barbara Steiner, grateful for the wisdom and passion William Penn gave to building a colony with freedom for all. Please check out:

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