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William Penn

William Penn was one of the few prisoners held in the Tower of London who were lucky to have had their sentences quashed. Although virtually given a life sentence for his so called crimes against the Crown and Christianity he was released after serving just a few months from 12th December 1668 to the end of July 1669.

Born on 14th October 1644 in his father's town house in St Olave's Street Within the Liberty of the Tower of London and near the ancient London Wall William Penn was christened nine days later at All Hallows. His father was an Admiral who was also, in 1653, made a General in the Army (the only seaman ever to be honoured with that title) after his victory over the Dutch Fleet. A year or two later he led an expedition to Jamaica and added that island to the British Crown.

He was committed to the Tower on 12th December 1668 for publishing a tract entitled Sandy Foundation Shaken and was closely confined in the southernmost attic in the West wing of Queen's House. While there he wrote No Cross No Crown a learned dissertation upon the Christian duty of self-sacrifice. He was told he must recant or remain a prisoner for life. He remained inflexible. The Tower he said is to me the worst argument in the world. My prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot. Towards the end of July 1669 his father obtained his release through the mediation of the Duke of York (later King James II)

When his father died in 1670 Penn aged 26 became a rich man. He took a principal share in the liquidation of the affairs of Edward Byllinge and thereby became one of the Trustees of West New Jersey which he settled with Quakers. He Subsequently purchased the neighbouring settlement of East New Jersey and was granted an extensive tract of country to the West of Delaware in discharge of a crown debt of nearly £16000 due to him as representative of his father. This was named the province of Pensilvania (so the word is spelt in the charter). Penn wrote the following letter on the subject to his friend Robert Turner, a merchant of Dublin on 5th January 1681: -

Dear Friend,
After many waitings, watchings, solicitings and disputes in Council, this day my country was confirmed tome under the great seal of England, with large powers and privileges by the name of Pennsylvania; a name the King would give it in honour of my father. I proposed New Wales Sylvania. Then, instead of Wales they added Penn to it. Though I much opposed it, and went to the King to have it struck out and altered, he said it was past, and he would take it upon him; nor could twenty guineas move the Under-Secretary to vary the name. I feared lest it should be looked upon as a vanity in me, and not respect, as it truly was, in the King to my father, whom he often mentions with praise.

Sailing for America in September 1682 returning to England in 1684 and leaving for Pennsylvania again in 1699, William Penn, then aged 55, had the intention of settling there for the rest of his life. Unfortunately things did not go well and he came back to London in December 1701 to oppose the bill converting the province and territories (which had gone bust) into Crown Colonies.

He remained in England where his declining years were embittered by interminable disputes between the province and the territories, the misconduct of his son and chicanery of his steward.

His financial problems resulted in his residing for nine months in 1707 within the rules of the Fleet prison and compelled him to mortgage his American proprietary rights and eventually to make overtures for their sale to the Crown. These negotiations ended when he became ill in 1712. He died on 30 July 1718 and is buried near Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire.

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