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William Penn papers

Identifier: HC.MC-853

Scope and Contents

A collection of letters and deeds of William Penn (1644-1718), along with biographical and historical material, graphic representations of Penn and photographs of pages from published works.

Notable among these papers are: William Penn's letter to Princess Palatine Elizabeth, 1677, autograph copy, 16pp.; seven letters addressed to Peter Hendricks and other Friends in the Netherlands, 1673?-1687; one of the letters, 1677, has a postscript initialed “G. Ff.” supposed to be the signature of George Fox; letter to Friends in America through Samuel Carpenter, 1697; memorandum of sale of lands to Theodore Skipman. John Streepers and Jacob Isaacs, n.d.; and a deed to Richard Haunds, 1681, in the handwriting of William Penn; five deeds, signed by Penn, as follows: to Morris Llewellyn, 1681; to James Boyden, 1681; to Charles Bathurst, 1681; to Edward Blondman, 1682; to Johan George Straub, 1682; and the commission of John Hoskins as High Sheriff of Chester County, 1701.

Another portion of papers, ca. 1925-1940, is comprised of biographical and historical material on the life of William Penn, copies of his letters, photographs, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and other items.

Two boxes of photographs of text used in William Penn's published writings, 1660-1726 : an interpretive bibliography / Edwin B. Bronner, David Fraser Publisher [Philadelphia] : University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986, which was volume 5 of The papers of William Penn / editors, Mary Maples Dunn, Richard S. Dunn ; associate editors, Richard A. Ryerson, Scott M. Wilds ; assistant editor, Jean R. Soderlund Philadelphia, PA : University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981-.


  • Creation: 1673 - 1987
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1673 - 1925


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17)

Biographical / Historical

William Penn (1644-1718), born in London, was the eldest son of Sir William Penn, an English Admiral, and Margaret Jasper. He was educated at The Free School, Chigwell and Christ Church, Oxford. Judged for his nonconformity, in 1661, his father sent him to Europe, from which he returned in 1664 a “modish person.” He entered Lincoln's Inn to study law in 1665, but soon after went to Ireland where he was convinced by Thomas Loe to Quakerism, and was shortly arrested at a Quaker Meeting in Cork. By 1668, he published The Sandy Foundation Shaken for which he was again arrested. He continued to publish works on Quaker doctrinal issues. In 1671, he travelled to Holland and Germany encouraging Quaker communities, preaching and writing against religious persecution. He used his family influence to help Quaker friends, including George Fox and Isaac Pennington. Penn married Gulielma Springett in 1672 and Hannah Callowhill in 1696.

In 1676, Penn became a trustee of the Quaker colony of West New Jersey on Lenni Lenape land. In 1681, in exchange for a large debt owed by Charles II to his father, he was granted the province of Pennsylvania. William Penn's aim was to create a colony with the greatest possible civil and religious liberty for all Christians. In 1682, Penn sailed to America, but returned to England in 1684. He spent most of the 1690s writing, preaching and trying to resolve the politicial, military, imperial and constitutional problems of his colony. Many of his political writings adressed issues of liberty and conscience. The exception was his utopian idea for securing permanent peace in Europe (Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe). In 1699, he returned to America and then again to England in 1701. In 1707, he spent nine months in debtors' prison, and on his release, he mortgaged his American colonial properties and tried to sell them back to the Crown. He suffered a paralytic stroke in 1712 from which he never recovered.

Penn's philosophy was a combination of religious idealism and political practicalites. His arguments for toleration are grounded in a secular and expansive version of interest theory. He claimed that oppressed subjects were a threat to peace, stability and prosperity and that true religion was a matter for individual conscience, not legislation. There was never a question of tolerating non-Christians or atheists. He never advocated a separation of Church and State, nor for the secularization of civil affairs.

William Penn was an enslaver who held at least 12 people in bondage. These people worked on Penn's Pennsbury estate in Bucks County. Penn made little or no efforts for the antislavery cause, despite early contributions by other Quakers. (Information from Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath by Nash, G.B., and J.R. Soderlund and George Fox's Ambiguous Anti-slavery Legacy by J. William Frost)


1.25 linear ft. (3 boxes)

Language of Materials



A collection of letters and deeds of William Penn (1644-1718), along with biographical and historical material, graphic representations of Penn and photographs of pages from published works.


Arranged in order of appearance in the publication.

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Revision Statements

  • June 2022: by Nathaniel Rehm-Daly, Harmful Language Revision Project

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections Library

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Haverford PA 19041 USA US