Menorah, c. 1920, owned by Russian immigrants in the harbor Richmond ar of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia history Museum at the Atwater Kent, gift the Howard Robboy, 2012, picture by Sara Hawken)

By Emma J. Lapsansky Werner

What could you perform if you found yourself with nearly 50,000 square miles of watch virgin soil in a ar you have never seen, much from home? In 1681, once William penn – entrepreneur, scholar, spiritual mystic, knowledge intellectual – acquired Pennsylvania, he had actually a ready answer.

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Primed with forward-looking ideas about equality and shared ar resources from cutting board More’s Utopia, and also inspired through the Quaker vision that George Fox and also Thomas Loe, pen was persuaded that he might construct a “Holy Experiment” with a well-planned settlement and a reasonable government. The aimed because that a social contract that would certainly bind and also respect every residents, based no on coercion but on the principle of “what love have the right to do.”

By the moment he to be 22, Penn construed coercion. He had actually been exiled from Oxford college for boycotting Anglican services and for taunting fellow students who acceded come Oxford’s spiritual practices. Return home, the young pen – new to Quakerism – to be beaten through his father, Admiral william Penn, who sent out his child traveling in wishes that he would certainly mature into a an ext reasonable adult.

But the admiral did no succeed in dampening his son’s religious fervor. Instead, 2 stints in jail (as a an outcome of unconventional habits stemming native his religious zeal) provided the young guy time come read, and to contemplate, consolidate, and also write down his Quaker ideas.

A guy of his times, Penn experienced his identification as a member the the British top classes. He had servants, and he owned slaves. But Penn’s religious faith led him to desire to do great in the world.


Located at the edge of 4th and Arch roads in Philadelphia, the Arch Street meeting House, perfect in 1804, was built according to the Quaker values of plainness and simplicity by master carpenter Owen Biddle. Courtesy of partners for sacred Places.

Practicing What the Preached

He want to put right into practice his conviction the in an unsullied environment, “that that God in each person” would emerge triumphant. In No Cross, No Crown, created in prison, he had actually concluded that some experiencing (the cross) to be a necessary component of reward or salvation (the crown). No Cross, No Crown was also a play on words, arguing that one facet of one unsullied atmosphere would be a principled refusal to knuckle under come the false authority of the established church or come the king.

But Quakers to be accustomed come persecution for eschewing “worldly” conventions, and Penn had actually no illusions the it would be easy to produce that perfect environment. Hence, in devising his brand-new World utopia, pen spent many months recruiting males of conscience come populate his new province. He likewise drafted a “Frame the Government” to carry out the scaffolding because that community, and also secured approval from other Quakers who check out the document.

A businessman as well as a man of deep spiritual faith, Penn likewise wanted a return on his investment. He dreamy of a “great towne” – a bustling commercial center that would certainly command a location of respect in the Atlantic World. Top top the various other hand, however, pen wanted a bucolic “greene countrie towne” befitting an English country gentleman. Therefore he rental surveyor thomas Holme come lay the end a grid to accomplish these inconsistent goals. Parks would serve for neighborhood gathering places, and a central marketplace would aid to cement a community and also an economic climate based upon morality, integrity, and mutual compassion amongst citizens.

The “Frame the Government,” based ~ above England’s Magna Carta, additionally affirmed Enlightenment ideas of same justice because that all that would consent to live in ~ the laws. Native this premise flowed the idea of toleration and fair therapy for world of varied religions and also cultures – a principle that extended to supplying contractual relationships for obtaining land indigenous the local Indians.

A Worry around Catholic Allegiance

But in these aspects likewise the wily businessman merged principle through expedience. At first he was leery that Catholics’ allegiance come the pope can compromise their commitment to neighborhood law. But he ultimately concluded that religious persecution interfered v the smooth procedure of commerce and also property, and also therefore Catholic residents should be enabled to seek their religion and community life, as lengthy as castle abided by the civil laws.

Penn’s swarm early welcomed Jews, and also Anglicans, Mennonites, and also the Lutherans who created “old Swede’s” Church by the end of the seventeenth century. That environment of religious openness also paved the method for the world’s first African American Christian denomination – the afri Methodist Episcopal Church – and also for myriad religious groups who reflected the city’s proceeding diversity.

Through 3 centuries of growth and change, Philadelphia has actually retained lot of Penn’s vision, and also has returned continuously to his principles of community and also tolerance. Four of the five ar parks continue to be in center City as important markers of neighborhood unity. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the city government reaffirmed Penn’s vision through purchasing country estates to produce Fairmount Park – a resource used and valued by miscellaneous residents.

Philadelphia is still well-known as a “City the Neighborhoods,” yet the tensions that were noticeable in its founding continue. The general public city parks have often been sites of contention over who has actually the “rights” to specify their use. And just as pen was suspiciously of Catholics, anxieties amongst diverse religious beliefs – Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and more recently Muslims – have actually peppered the city’s political, geographic, and also economic life, also as some residents proceed to storage the legacies of diversity and tolerance.

In 2010, after almost a te of negotiation among these varied people, Philadelphians unveiled a memorial to the city’s years together the nation’s resources (1790-1800). This historic site, the President’s House, takes a hard and also honest look in ~ the location of enslavement in the advancement of the nation’s beforehand history. Nearby, a brand-new National Museum the American Jewish background also opened its doors. These are however a few of numerous examples that the enduring affect of the “Holy Experiment” that invite Philadelphia occupants to revolve “diversity” right into “community.

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William Penn operated to develop his district on 2 levels—with valuable plans because that land use and governance, and with prayer for magnificent Guidance. His 1684 prayer for his “great towne” records much that his mood:

“And thou Philadelphia the virgin settlement of this district named prior to thou wert born, what care, what service, what travail have actually there been to bring thee forth and preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee. O the thou mayest be maintained from the angry that would certainly overwhelm thee, that faithful come the God of her mercies in the life of righteousness, you mayest be preserved to the end. My heart prays to God for thee the thou mayest was standing in the day of trial, that thy children may it is in blest the the Lord and thy people saved through His power.”

Emma Lapsansky-Werner is Professor of background Emeritus in ~ Haverford College, wherein she was Curator the the Quaker Collection.