You might say I was a stubborn fool, because I turned my back on being politically correct and powerful. I don't agree with you. My family and their friends expected me to be at least an ambassador or Member of Parliament for England. They placed me in a world of privilege. I had connections, education, wealth, and family. My father was Admiral Sir William Penn. I did nothing to earn what I had. Worse I saw that my class of people treated everyone else as inferior. We insisted that people believe as we did religiously and politically. It became sickening to me, especially as I spent time talking, reading, and worshipping with Christian Quakers.
I was 22 at my first arrest. When the police took me, I was in a secret religious meeting of Quakers. I knew I was breaking the law, but I assumed I wouldn't get into trouble, because of whom I was. Police broke up the meeting and took twenty of us to the city's mayor.
He was shocked when he saw me and apologized to me. He ordered my immediate release. I explained, "Yes, I am a man of wealth and my father is Sir William Penn. But I am a Quaker, as are my friends. I also wish to legally represent my friends as I have legal training." The mayor ordered me into prison. Since then I have been in prison four more times. The last time I was 46 years old
After my first time in jail my father told me, "I do not want to see you again. You will not be in my will or inherit the family estate." The family estate was my birthright as oldest boy in the family. I was sad to leave my family. I also felt free. My privileges and responsibilities as a nobleman were gone. I could use my education and contacts to help Quakers. The lives of many were desperately difficult as the English government and the Church of England were making cruel laws against them and other religious nonconformists. We Quakers believed that God cared most about our inner relationship with Him and living in truth. We did not practice the outward traditions of the Church of England and we believed that the government should not control religion.
The new laws were more than cold decrees written in ink on paper. They were causing legalized cruelty, stealing from the unprivileged, and murder of innocent. One law declared that nobody could have a public office unless he was a member of the Church of England. Another stated that no one could meet for a worship service, unless the person went to the Church of England. It was illegal to have anything to do with Quakers. They were to be outcasts. Penalties included imprisonment, being sent to the West Indies and sold as a slave, death, beatings, and endless fines. One time the heads of twelve Puritans were put on poles around the city of London.
One of my arrests happened when I went to a Quaker meeting place and found it closed by the government. I suggested to the Quaker friends with me, "Let's move to the street corner and pray there." We did so quietly, but police took me to Newgate Prison. Supposedly we were illegally meeting and rioting. I argued with the court recorder, because he would not state what law we were offending. Four times the jury refused to give a verdict of guilty. The judge was furious! He fined and imprisoned the jury. Four of the jurors later sued the judge and court recorder
I wrote a pamphlet called The Great Case for Liberty of Conscience. I argued that a person must have choices to be free and opportunities to test his beliefs. Otherwise all people are hurt.
A place was needed where people lived under fair laws, where there was freedom of religion for everyone. I asked King Charles II to give me a tract of land between Maryland and New Jersey. The same day he received my request he approved it, giving me 45,000 square miles. No one knew his reason. Many were possible. I was grateful to God that there was hope — hope for a land where people could worship God freely.
The king's terms were that I, William Penn, would have absolute control and I would yearly give him two beaver pelts. I could divide the land into counties and set up laws. I could not have a private army. My desire was that all Indians and whites living in Pennsylvania, and future settlers should live in freedom with fair law and participate in making those laws. To me the possibilities were unlimited.