Penn family papers
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The British colony of Pennsylvania was given to William Penn (1644-1718) in 1681 by Charles II of England in repayment of a debt owed his father, Sir Admiral William Penn (1621-1670). Under Penn's directive, Pennsylvania was settled by Quakers escaping religious torment in England and other European nations. Three generations of Penn descendents held proprietorship of the colony until the American Revolution, when the family was stripped of all but its privately held shares of land.
Sir Admiral William Penn was born in 1621 and started his life-long seafaring career as a young boy on merchant ships. In 1642/3, he married Margaret Jasper Van der Schuren (d. 1682). They had three children: William (1644-1718), Margaret (1645-1718) and Richard (1648-1673). Penn joined the Royal Navy, and rose to the rank of rear admiral by 1645. Admiral Penn was a career navy man and was promoted several times over the next two decades. He served as vice admiral of Ireland, admiral of the Streights, vice admiral of England, and in 1653 was made a general during the first war with the Dutch. He served as captain commander under the King in 1664 and was made admiral of the navy by Charles II during the second war with the Dutch. Admiral Penn's efforts were well regarded by both Oliver Cromwell and, after the Restoration, Charles II. Cromwell rewarded his work in 1654 with significant land in Ireland, and he was knighted by Charles II in 1660. In fact, it was in repayment of a debt of roughly £16,000 owed to Admiral Penn from Charles II that his oldest son William Penn was granted the colony of Pennsylvania in 1681. Admiral Penn retired in 1669 and died a year later in Essex in 1670.
His son William Penn was born in London in 1644. He was raised in England and for some part of his youth lived in Ireland, where he met Thomas Loe, who, it is believed, introduced him to Quakerism in 1657. Penn was educated by private tutors and also attended the Chigwig Grammar School and Christ Church College at Oxford. Between 1662 and 1664, he traveled in France and elsewhere in Europe, and spent a year at the Huguenot Academy of Saumur. In 1665, he briefly attended Lincoln's Inn to study law.
In 1666, Penn returned to Ireland, where he became involved in the Quaker faith, which would become central to his life's work. He wrote extensively on and in defense of Quakerism, and traveled across England and Ireland ministering to Quaker communities and advocating for their cause. Like most Quakers, he suffered persecution for his beliefs and was imprisoned several times throughout his life, serving out sentences at Newgate Prison and the Tower of London, among other locations.
It was for the protection of the Quakers that Penn initially sought land in the British colonies of America. In 1675, he became trustee, along with Gawan Lawrie and Nicholas Lucas, of land in western New Jersey, where they established a Quaker community. Then, sometime before 1680, he petitioned King Charles II for additional land to establish another Quaker settlement, which Penn argued would settle a debt owed his late father, Admiral Penn. Charles II agreed and in 1681, Penn received a charter for what was to become the colony of Pennsylvania, making him the largest private landholder in the world. He set up a Free Society of Traders, solicited first purchasers and sent ahead Colonel William Markham as deputy governor to begin administration of the province. Penn himself arrived in 1682.
William Penn remained in Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1684. There he devised a government, laws and plans for Philadelphia's physical development. He established relationships with the local Indians and settled a group of German Quakers in what was to become Germantown. He also built himself a house north of Philadelphia, which he called Pennsbury. In 1683, Penn met with Lord Baltimore to settle a dispute regarding the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Unable to come to an agreement, Penn returned to England in 1684 to deal with the matter. The border dispute was not resolved until well into the 1700s.
Back in England, Penn continued to write and speak out in defense of Quakerism. As a result, he continued to suffer persecution, particularly after William and Mary came to power in 1688. In 1690, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two weeks, and from 1692 to 1693, Pennsylvania was temporarily taken away from him. He also suffered financially, as his lands in Pennsylvania and elsewhere did not earn enough money to cover his expenses.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania continued to grow in population and develop after Penn's departure, though not without issue or conflict. By the 1690s, colonists already resented British authority, and religious differences caused considerable discord. Penn helped govern the colony from afar through correspondence with local officials until 1699, when he returned to Pennsylvania. He brought with him his secretary, James Logan, who would prove invaluable in the development, growth and governance of Pennsylvania. While there he visited other colonies to learn about development and expansion, and he traveled and ministered to Quakers. In 1701, he agreed to grant the City of Philadelphia a charter, the Charter of Privileges, thereby establishing a municipal government. That year, he set sail to England in an effort to better protect his interests in Pennsylvania, which were threatened due to a potential government takeover of privately owned colonies.
William Penn never again returned to his colony, though he was not uninvolved. Politics and religion continued to cause strife among the colonists, and Penn's personal interest in Pennsylvania was endangered more than once. Due to financial troubles and claims made against Penn by Philip Ford, who managed his estate in England, he briefly considered selling the colony in order to pay his creditors. The plan never materialized, however, because Penn fell ill before arrangements could be made, and Pennsylvania was thus governed by the 1701 Charter of Privileges until the American Revolution.
For the rest of his life, Penn continued his work writing and ministering to and about Quakers. In 1712, he suffered the first of several strokes, which ultimately led to his death in 1718.
William Penn was married twice. With his first wife, Gulielma Maria Springett (1643/4-1693/4), he had eight children, three of whom survived childhood: Springett Penn (1675/6-1696), Letitia Penn (1678-1746) and William Penn, Jr. (1680/1-1720). In 1695, Penn married Hannah Callowhill. They also had eight children, five of whom survived childhood: John Penn (1699/1700-1746), Thomas Penn (1701/2-1775), Margaret Penn (1704-1750/51), Richard Penn (1705/6-1771) and Dennis Penn (1706/7-1722/23).
Though contested in court by William Penn, Jr. and his descendants, it was William Penn's four younger sons, with Hannah Callowhill, John, Thomas, Richard and Dennis, who inherited Pennsylvania in 1718. The four brothers shared the proprietorship of Pennsylvania until their own deaths. Thomas Penn and John Penn, who was actually born in Philadelphia in 1699/1700, traveled to Pennsylvania in 1732 and 1734, respectively. John stayed only briefly, returning to England in 1735 to deal with the ongoing legal dispute over the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. Thomas remained in America for roughly nine years, and became the principal proprietor of the province in 1746, when his brother John died. The youngest surviving brother, Richard Penn never visited Pennsylvania; however, his sons, John (1729-1795) and Richard (1736-1811) traveled to and lived in Pennsylvania, and both served, at different times, as lieutenant governor of the colony. Together with their cousin John (1760-1834), Thomas' sons, John and Richard helped protect the family's interests in the colony during and after the American Revolution.
In 1778, though John Penn (1729-1795) swore allegiance to the American cause, the Penn family was stripped of all but its privately held lands in Pennsylvania. He and his brother Richard and cousin John secured £130,000 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania "in remembrance of the enterprising spirit of the founder, and of the expectations and dependence of his descendants" (Shepherd, 92). Later, after the American Revolution, the English government granted the Penn family an additional £4,000 per year in recognition of its lost sources of revenue.
Even after they were stripped of their proprietorship, members of the Penn family retained several thousand acres of privately held lands in Pennsylvania, which were passed down to the next generation. Peter Gaskell (1764-1831), William Penn, Jr.'s grandson, and William Stuart (1798-1874), Thomas Penn's grandson, eventually inherited or made claim to the remaining privately held Penn family lands in America.
"Biographical Sketch [of William Penn]." Unattributed article, see collection file.
"The Family of William Penn, A Collated Record." The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine. 25, no. 2, 1967.
Shepherd, William Robert. History of Proprietary Government in Pennsylvania. New York: Columbia University Press, 1896.
Wainwright, Nicholas B. "The Penn Collection." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 87, no. 4 (October 1963): 393-419.
The Penn family papers house the personal and governmental records of William Penn, the proprietor of Pennsylvania, and his family. This collection, which dates from 1592 to 1960 (bulk of materials 1629 to 1834), consists primarily of correspondence, legal records, governmental records, surveys, deeds, grants, receipts, and account books; there are also 19th and 20th century auction catalogs and secondary materials. The collection documents the creation of the Pennsylvania colony through records created by William Penn, as well as the continued development of the colony through records produced by Penn's associates and descendants. These records also provide valuable insights into Penn's relations with American Indians, the Pennsylvania/Maryland border dispute, government framework, as well private correspondence between family members and close associates.
The Penn family papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania comprise the most extensive and comprehensive collection of materials related to the Penn family and the creation of the Pennsylvania colony. It is an invaluable resource for studying the founding and development of the Pennsylvania colony, early American colonial history and the Penn family. The Penn family papers have a tumultuous history, and were donated or purchased in small accessions over a long period of time (for more information, see Nicholas B. Wainwright, "The Penn Collection," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 87, no. 4 (October, 1963): 393-419). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, documents were bound together in large volumes based on the source of materials (i.e. donor) and the genre (e.g. "Correspondence"). The series and the titles in this finding aid reflect as closely as possible these groupings.
This collection is arranged into ten series: "I. Correspondence, 1667-1855," "II. William Penn, 1667-1944," "III. Penn family members, 1654-1866," "IV. Government records, 1687-1790," "V. Land grants, surveys and deeds, 1639-1896," "VI. Penn-Physick manuscripts, 1676-1811," "VII. Penn v. Baltimore, 1606-1834," "VIII. Other legal cases, 1672-1869," "IX. Penn manuscripts, 1592-1910," and "X. Auction catalogs and secondary materials, 1812-1960."
The first series, "I. Correspondence, 1667-1855" includes official and private correspondence associated with William Penn, his family members or associates. The second series, "II. William Penn, 1667-1944" includes Penn's financial records, diaries, correspondence, last will and testament, marriage certificate from his second marriage to Hannah Callowhill, and secondary materials such as memorials. The third series, "III. Penn family members, 1654-1866" includes correspondence and financial records associated with specific family members, aside from William Penn (1644-1718). The most represented family members include Sir Admiral William Penn (1621-1671), John Penn (1699/1700-1746), and Thomas Penn (1701/2-1775).
The fourth series, "IV. Government records, 1687-1790" includes materials related to the creation and governance of the Pennsylvania colony. This includes treaties and conferences with American Indians (see also series "IX. Penn manuscripts"), Acts of Assembly and financial records. There are a number of "Pennsylvania journals," 1701-1779, which are accounts of lands and quitrents. The fifth series, "V. Land grants, surveys and deeds, 1639-1896" includes records related to the lands owned or administered by the Penn family. The sixth series, "VI. Penn-Physick manuscripts, 1676-1811" includes the collection of manuscripts previously held by Edmund Physick, "Keeper of the Great Seal" for the Penn family. Physick managed the Penn properties and interests in the colonies for half a century. These records include correspondence, financial records, lecture notes, and legal records.
The seventh series, "VII. Penn v. Baltimore, 1606-1834" includes the extensive records produced over the border dispute between William Penn and Lord Baltimore (Cecilius "Cecil" Calvert). These records include court documents and correspondence. The eighth series, "VIII. Other legal cases, 1672-1869" includes court documents, the bulk of which refer to the Penn v. Ford case. A dispute arose between William Penn and the family of Philip Ford, to whom Penn had temporarily signed over the deed to Pennsylvania while fighting charges of treason. During this time the treason charges were dropped and Ford passed away, leaving in his will the interests of Pennsylvania to his family, unless Penn paid the exorbitant sum of £11,000. This case was eventually resolved with Penn paying £7,600 to the Ford family. This series also includes a letter-book of attorney John F. Mifflin, as well as records related to various other cases.
The ninth series, "IX. Penn manuscripts, 1592-1910" includes miscellaneous items and collections from various sources. The Penn-Forbes papers, collected by Stewart Forbes, were purchased by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1882, and contain an extraordinary group of letters from Admiral Penn and the Founder, as well as copies of items from within this collection and related materials at other repositories. The Penn-Justice papers, collected by George M. Justice, relate to land warrants, surveys, financial accounts with the Penns, and political and domestic affairs, 1769-1804. The Tempsford Hall papers are a miscellaneous group of Penn and related family papers gathered or retained by the Stuart family, descendants of William Penn through Thomas Penn's youngest daughter, Sophia Margaretta Juliana Penn, who married William Stuart, archbishop of Armagh, Anglican primate of Ireland. For a number of years the collection was kept at Tempsford Hall, Bedfordshire, one of the Stuart family houses. The collection was purchased from a Stuart family descendant in 1968 with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Gratz Fund.
The final series, "X. Auction catalogs and secondary materials, 1812-1960" includes records related to the sale of Penn materials at auction and Penn family history.
Wainwright, Nicholas B. "The Penn Collection." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 87, no. 4 (Oct., 1963): 393-419.
Series I. Correspondence
Series II. William Penn
Series III. Penn family members
Series IV. Government records
Series V. Land grants, surveys and deeds
Series VI. Penn-Physick manuscripts
Series VII. Penn v. Baltimore
Series VIII. Other legal cases
Series IX. Penn manuscripts
Series X. Auction catalogs and secondary materials
The materials in this collection were received at various times through donation and purchase. For more information about the history of the Penn family papers, see Nicholas B. Wainwright, "The Penn Collection," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 87, no. 4 (Oct., 1963): pp. 393-419.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Hamilton, Andrew, ca. 1676-1741.
- Logan, James, 1674-1751.
- Penn family.
- Penn, Hannah Callowhill, 1671-1726.
- Penn, John, 1700-1746.
- Penn, Richard, 1706-1771.
- Penn, Thomas, 1702-1775.
- Penn, William, 1644-1718.
- Penn, William, Sir, 1621-1670
- Boundary disputes
- Indians--First contact with Europeans
- Legal issues
- Mason-Dixon Line
- Native Americans
- Pennsylvania--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza
- Finding Aid Date
- May 26, 2011
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Historical Society of Pennsylvania with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
This box contains correspondence and papers from the following individuals: Anne Allen Penn (d. 1830); Granville Penn (1802-1867); Hannah Penn (1731-1791); John Penn (1699/1700-1746); John Penn (1729-1795); John Penn (1760-1834); Juliana Fermor Penn (1790-1801); Letitia Penn (1678/9-1746); Margaret Penn (1704-1750/1); Richard Penn (son of Thomas of Marston); Richard Penn (1705/6-1771); Richard Penn (1784-1863); Springett Penn (1738/9-1766).
This box contains correspondence and papers from the following individuals: William Penn (the founder, 1644-1718); William Penn Jr. (1680/1-1720); William Penn III (1702/3-1746/7); William Penn IV (1776-1845); Third person correspondence and papers: James Calder, Thomas Cuppage, James Logan, Richard Peters, James Steel
Use instead UDE KFD 516 .S97 A7 1677.
Use instead UDE KFD 516 .S97 A7 1678.
Use instead UDE KFD 516 .S97 A7 1679.
See Etting MSS miscellaneous oversize, p. 49 for facsimile.
The materials in this box were purchased by the Dreer fund.
The items in this box include the Thomas Penn marriage settlement and wills.
This box includes probates of wills and letters of administration for the following people: William Penn, 1712; John Penn, 1746; Richard Penn, 1747 & 1750; John Penn, 1795; William Penn, 1812; Granville J. Penn, 1867.