Pennsylvania: Quaker Colony
Freedom of worship was the theme for the creation of yet another non-Puritan colony. The Society of Friends—commonly called Quakers—was founded in 17th-century England by a visionary leader named George Fox. His belief was in the immediacy of Christ’s teaching; that is, divine guidance was not “mediated” by Scripture, ceremony, ritual, or clergy, but came ultimately to each individual from an “inward light.” Accordingly, worship meetings were held in silence, unless some members of the meeting were “moved” or “inspired” to speak. No minister officiated.
By its nature, Quakerism is subversive of authority imposed from the outside, and although a prime tenet of Quakerism is nonviolence and supreme tolerance of all points of view, the religion was quickly perceived as a threat to the dominant order. Quakers were officially and unofficially persecuted. Some immigrated to America, settling in the Middle Atlantic region as well as North Carolina. An early enclave was established in Rhode Island.
The Quakers did have some powerful adherents, one of whom was William Penn, the brilliant young son of a prominent British admiral. On March 14, 1681, Penn obtained from King Charles II a charter granting him proprietorship of the area now encompassed by Pennsylvania. In 1682, Delaware was added to the charter. The region was occupied by some 15,000 Delaware, Shawnee, and Susquehanna Indians, as well as tribes associated with the Iroquois League. During the 17th century, it was claimed by Dutch, Swedish, and English interests. Penn landed at the site of present-day New Castle, Delaware, and performed “livery of seisin,” legally taking possession of his grant by pulling up a tuft of grassy turf in his hand. In 1682, he founded Philadelphia, a name Penn formed from two Greek words signifying “brotherly love.” The name expressed the intent of what Penn planned as a “holy experiment” of living in harmony.
Under Penn, “The Great Law of Pennsylvania” extended male suffrage to those who professed a belief in God and met modest property requirements; imprisonment for debt—one of the great scourges of life in England-was all but eliminated; and the death penalty, liberally applied in the Mother Country, was restricted to cases of treason and murder. In a combination of the best tradition of English common law and a dramatic foreshadow of the United States Bill of Rights, the Great Law specified that no person could be deprived of life, liberty, or “estate” (property) except by due, fair, and impartial trial before a jury of 12.