How Pennsylvania was born

William Penn was an English real estate entrepreneur, a philosopher, and a Quaker.   In 1681 King Charles II,  heavily involved in expanding his empire to the New World, handed over present day Pennsylvania to William Penn to pay off an old debt!   It probably sounded like a good deal, but Penn had to accept the pay-off sight unseen – the territory being across the Atlantic Ocean from his home in England. Weeks later Penn sailed to the new country to take a peek at his new asset.  The territory was quite wild with ill-defined borders and in the very early stages of having settlers move in.

Penn’s plan was to name the new colony “Sylvania”, which meant Woods, but the King insisted on the name “Pennsylvania.”   The humble William Penn, influenced by his Quaker upbringing, was embarrassed by the name and worried that people would think he had named it after himself.   But one learns early in life that it doesn’t pay to argue with the King, so the name stood.

Penn brought his religious ideals with him and immediately established his new territory as a Quaker territory.  It wasn’t uncommon in those early days that territories identified themselves with one religious offshoot or another, but as populations grew and people began to relocate and build cities, those designations became harder to enforce.

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2 Responses to How Pennsylvania was born

  1. As I read along about the interesting ways the different states got their shapes, I’m thinking to myself that this is the kind of timeless book that will be around for years to come. It reminds us that geography and history can be fun!

  2. Thanks Nadia. That was actually a surprise to me – how fun and interesting this is. I was one of those people who always thought American history was way too recent to bother with. I was drawn into ancient Greece, and Rome and the Incas … It just didn’t feel like things that happened 200 years ago could be as fascinating.

    But once I got going on this research I completely changed my mind. Did you know there was a spy for Spain in Thomas Jefferson’s close group? Neither did I!

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