William Penn and Pennsylvania

This is the day that … William Penn died in 1718, at the age of 74.

His father was an Admiral in the British Navy, Admiral Sir William Penn, and so young William enjoyed “the favour of the king … he was admired at court, handsome in person, graceful in manners … expectant heir of a title of nobility …”

And all this he gave up for a life of ridicule and scorn. He was even expelled from Christ Church, Oxford (1661) because he held views no longer in keeping with that of the state church. William Penn had become a disciple of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (the Quakers).

Four times he found himself thrown into prison because of his non-conformist (i.e., not belonging to the Church of England) views. He courted trouble not only by street preaching and by means of the printed word (over 100 tracts and booklets came from his pen), but also by the distinctive Quaker attire, and his refusal to remove his hat to anyone – even King Charles!

Eventually Penn and a group of fellow Quakers migrated to America and a 45,000 acre tract of land was granted him by the king. It was called ‘Pennsylvania’, named after William’s father. Young William had inherited great wealth from his father, including a debt owed by King Charles II, which was paid by the grant of land in the New World.

In Pennsylvania the Quakers and Red Indians intermingled without problems for 70 years. “Whilst English and European settlers in neighbouring areas were constantly at war with the Indians, Penn and his company made friends and lived in perfect harmony …” (English Sects, by A. Reynolds, page 159). This achievement was due to Penn’s “Great Treaty” with the Delaware tribe.

It should be pointed out that the Quakers rejected the sacraments and placed more emphasis upon ‘the Light within’ than the Holy Scriptures. (See the post on George Fox on July 19)

Politically, it could well be argued that William Penn’s religious convictions were a primal component of the principles on which the nation of America was to be built.

Further information on William Penn can be found at: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/PENN/pnintro.html

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Elizabeth Fry – Prison Reformer

This is the day that … Elizabeth Fry was born, in Norfolk, England, in 1780.

The Gurney family (Fry being her married name) were well to do Quakers who “did not wear the usual garb, nor practise the peculiarities … of that faith.”  On the contrary, they lived “in the gaiety of the world” (Doing Good, by R. Steel, page 285).

But at the age of 17 Elizabeth heard William Savery, an American Quaker, preach for over two hours, and she was awakened to a need of serious commitment.  It was 4 February, 1798.  “Since that time,” she wrote 45 years later, “I have never awakened from sleep, in sickness or in health, by day or by night, without my first waking thought being how best I might serve the Lord” (Great Women, by E. Dean, page 170).

On 19 August, 1800, she married Joseph Fry, and bore him 11 children.  At the age of 31 she was accepted as a minister in the Society of Friends (Quakers).  And there began a remarkable philanthropic work among the female prisoners in Newgate whose conditions were horrendous.  Every day at 9.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. a bell would ring, and the inmates would gather to hear Mrs Fry read the Scriptures to them.  More than that, she also fought for a betterment of prison conditions.  She visited every prison ship leaving London.  She founded a nightly shelter for the homeless (1819), a nurses’ training home (1840), and more!

Both Florence Nightingale and the young Queen Victoria admired Elizabeth for her compassionate exercise outside the home. Yet her determination to expose the inhumane conditions in English prisons also brought her opposition. “We long to burn her alive,” Reverend Sydney Smith wrote of Elizabeth in 1821. He added, “Examples of living virtue disturb our repose and give birth to distressing comparisons.”  (Howard League web article)

Dr Boreham records her deathbed scene:  “The more I think of it,” she murmured, “the more I am touched by the exquisite tenderness of the Saviour’s ministrations – of His tone and manner to sinners …” And with her last breath, “O my dear Lord, help and keep Thy servant” (Temple of Topaz, page 225).