Pennsylvania Founder William Penn - A Biography and Timeline

William Penn, the 17th-century historical figure, who created the colony of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia, was a man centuries ahead of his time. There are many places to visit in Philadelphia that are deeply connected to Penn’s legacy. On this page, we’ll offer a basic William Penn biography and timeline, so that you can read more about Penn, and better enjoy your visit to Philadelphia.

This page is still under construction. Please be patient, and check back for more content.

A William Penn Timeline

1644 - William Penn is born in England.

October 1660 - Enrolls at Christ Church, Oxford University.

In that same year, the Restoration of the Monarchy takes place, and Charles II becomes King of England. (His father, Charles I, had been executed by the Puritan Roundheads, led by Oliver Cromwell, as a result of the English Civil War.)

April 1661 - Penn is present for the coronation of Charles II, officially restoring the Stuart dynasty to the thrones of both England and Scotland.

Fall 1661 - Penn is expelled from Oxford, due to his embrace of the new Quaker faith.

July 1662 - As was customary for young, wealthy European noblemen, Penn embarks - at age 18 - for his Grand Tour of Europe. Among other experiences, he is received at the most glittering court of Europe, Versailles, the seat of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. His tour guide is the Earl of Crawford.

Fall 1662 - Penn enrolls at the Huguenot Academy in Anjou, where he stays for one year.

1664 - Penn resumes his Tour, this time with Robert Spencer. He visits a political exile in Turin, Italy.

August 1664 - Penn is now back in London, while Admiral Penn - his father - is faced with the threat of a naval conflict with the Dutch, a leading seafaring power.

February 1665 - Penn begins legal studies at Lincoln's Inn, Chancery Lane, London.

March 1666 - Penn sails with his father, along with the Duke of York - the future monarch James II - into a potential battle with the Dutch. However, Penn is sent home with messages prior to any combat.

June 1666 - The Great Plague hits London, while Admiral Penn wins a key victory over the Dutch. Due to the impact of the Plague, Anglican ministers abandon their pulpits, and are replaced by Quakers. Penn continues his legal studies.

Fall 1666 - Penn moves to Ireland and starts his legal practice.

September 2-5, 1666 - The Great Fire of London takes place, on the heels of the Great Plague. The English view these twin disasters as divine retribution, for the sins of Londoners.

Spring 1667 - Penn, along with his ally Lord Arran, goes to Carrickfergus Castle in Ireland, to crush a rebellion. Penn commissions a portrait of himself in armor - a far cry from the pacifist Quaker he eventually becomes.

1668 - While still in Ireland, Penn officially converts to Quakerism.

September 3, 1668 - Penn is arrested in Cork, Ireland, along with other members of the Society of Friends.

After his release, Penn travels to London to deal with Admiral Penn on the matter of his conversion. While on the voyage, he discusses with a companion, Joseph Coale, the possibility of a utopian Quaker settlement in the New World.

Penn publishes his first pamphlet, "Truth Exalted", on Quakerism.

1668-69 - Meets for the first time, George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends.

Penn writes another pamphlet on Quakerism, titled The Sandy Foundation Shaken. He is arrested once more for advocating Quaker beliefs, and - without a trial - is incarcerated in the most notorious prison in Britain, the Tower of London.

While in the Tower, Penn continues to write. He composes two more pamphlets, No Cross No Crown and Innocency with Her Open Face. The latter pamphlet satisfies Charles II as atonement for The Sandy Foundation Shaken, and he directs Penn to be released.

July, 1669 - After about eight months as a prisoner, Penn is released from the Tower.

September, 1669 - Penn starts courting a love interest, Gulielma Springett, the stepdaughter of another Quaker, Isaac Pennington, from Buckinghamsire. Her father, William Springett, had died in the English Civil War. Penn begins a Quaker ministry and writing career.

Winter 1669-1670 - Penn has now returned to Ireland, and resumed his legal practice. He writes another pair of works on Quaker ideas, Letter of Love to the Young Convinced and The Great Case for Liberty of Conscience.

Using his deep aristocratic connections, along with Lord Arran, Penn manages to obtain the release of all of his fellow Quakers imprisoned in Ireland.

In 1670, Parliament renewed the Coventicle Act, and began cracking down on religious dissenters, mainly Quakers and Baptists, who were not in compliance with the Church of England.

June 1670 - Penn returns to England, where he makes peace with Admiral Penn.

August 14, 1670 - Along with another Quaker, William Mead - ironically, a former captain of the Roundhead Army, during the English Civil War fought a generation earlier - Penn is arrested for preaching Quakerism outside a shuttered Quaker meeting house in London. He wanted to be arrested; he was engaging in an act of civil disobedience.

Prior to his trial, Penn spends two weeks in Newgate Prison, where he writes many letters to Admiral Penn.

In a bizarre trial, the jury acquits Penn and Mead - but the judge orders the jury sequestered and deprived of food, until they come back with the verdict the judge wanted - convictions. Penn urges the jurors to stick to their guns, in a figurative sense.

The jurors eventually win a case for false imprisonment against the judge.

September 16, 1670 - Admiral Penn dies. At the age of 26, William Penn inherits a fortune from him - his estate provides an annual income of 1500 pounds, in the 17th century.

February 5, 1671 - Penn is arrested once more and sent to Newgate, where this time, he does not have a jury trial. This time, it is for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown - a violation of Quaker tenets, which prohibit taking oaths.

1671 - George Fox heads to America.

April 4, 1672 - Penn marries Gulielma.

1673 - The Penns' daughter, also named Gulielma, dies tragically. Penn secures from Lord Baltimore - who had established the colony of Maryland as a haven for persecuted Roman Catholics - the guarantee that Quakers will not be required to take oaths in that colony.

1675 - Penn writes yet another pamphlet, England's Present Interest Considered, in which he lays out the case that religious tolerance is not only desirable, but rooted in the fundamental law of England, and is, moreover, conducive to economic prosperity.

March 1678 - Penn appears before Parliament, petitioning for relief from religious persecution, but Parliament adjourns prior to any action on his request.

June 1680 - Charles II - chronically short of funds - seeks to clear a considerable debt of 16,000 pounds, which he had owed to Admiral Penn. William Penn asks for land in America as settlement of the debt.

March 4, 1681 - Charles II makes it official, granting title to the property in America, and insisting that it be named Pennsylvania, after the Admiral.

Spring 1682 - Penn composes a Frame of Government for Pennsylvania.

August 30, 1682 - Penn embarks on his initial voyage to America, on a ship named - aptly - Welcome. Smallpox breaks out on boards, but Penn survives since he had the good fortune to have contracted it at age 3.

April, 1683 - Penn moves to his estate at Pennsbury, Bucks County - which you can still visit, today.

1683 - The three original counties of Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester - select coats-of-arms based on the Penn family coat-of-arms - you can read more about the City Seal and Flag of Philadelphia and its fascinating history and evolution since the 17th century.

1688 - In England, James II abdicates his throne, and Parliament invites the Protestant King William and Queen Mary to take power in London.

1690 - Penn is arrested in England for corresponding with the abdicated James II.

January 13, 1691 - After George Fox's death, Penn eulogizes him at his funeral, and is then charged with treason.

November 30, 1693 - Penn is cleared of all charges of treason.

February 23, 1694 - Gulielma dies.

March 5, 1696 - Penn remarries, to Hannah Callowhill - for whom the current Callowhill Street is named.

1698 - Penn sails back to Ireland.

September 7, 1699 - Penn sails from Ireland.

December 1699 - Penn completes the three-month voyage and arrives in Pennsylvania.

November 1701 - In order to stymie a proposal that the Crown take over proprietary colonies, Penn is forced to sail for England.

January 1708 - Penn is arrested as a debtor.

December 1708 - Penn is finally released, due to intervention from the Callowhills.

1712 - Penn, in physical decline at age 68, is hit by paralysis, and suffers memory loss.

1718 - Penn dies, and is reunited with Gulielma, in the same grave.

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