Chronicles of America 

Penn Sails For The Delaware

The framing of the constitution and other preparations consumed the year following Penn's receipt of his charter in 1681. But at last, on August 30, 1682, he set sail in the ship Welcome, with about a hundred colonists. After a voyage of about six weeks, and the loss of thirty of their number by smallpox, they arrived in the Delaware. June would have been a somewhat better month in which to see the rich luxuriance of the green meadows and forests of this beautiful river. But the autumn foliage and bracing air of October must have been inspiring enough. The ship slowly beat her way for three days up the bay and river in the silence and romantic loneliness of its shores. Everything indicated richness and fertility. At some points the lofty trees of the primeval forest grew down to the water's edge. The river at every high tide overflowed great meadows grown up in reeds and grasses and red and yellow flowers, stretching back to the borders of the forest and full of water birds and wild fowl of every variety. Penn, now in the prime of life, must surely have been aroused by this scene and by the reflection that the noble river was his and the vast stretches of forests and mountains for three hundred miles to the westward.

He was soon ashore, exploring the edge of his mighty domain, settling his government, and passing his laws. He was much pleased with the Swedes whom he found on his land. He changed the name of the little Swedish village of Upland, fifteen miles below Philadelphia, to Chester. He superintended laying out the streets of Philadelphia and they remain to this day substantially as he planned them, though unfortunately too narrow and monotonously regular. He met the Indians at Philadelphia, sat with them at their fires, ate their roasted corn, and when to amuse him they showed him some of their sports and games he renewed his college days by joining them in a jumping match.

Then he started on journeys. He traveled through the woods to New York, which then belonged to the Duke of York, who had given him Delaware; he visited the Long Island Quakers; and on his return he went to Maryland to meet with much pomp and ceremony Lord Baltimore and there discuss with him the disputed boundary. He even crossed to the eastern shore of the Chesapeake to visit a Quaker meeting on the Choptank before winter set in, and he describes the immense migration of wild pigeons at that season, and the ducks which flew so low and were so tame that the colonists knocked them down with sticks.

Most of the winter he spent at Chester and wrote to England in high spirits of his journeys, the wonders of the country, the abundance of game and provisions, and the twenty-three ships which had arrived so swiftly that few had taken longer than six weeks, and only three had been infected with the smallpox. "Oh how sweet," he says, "is the quiet of these parts, freed from the anxious and troublesome solicitations, hurries and perplexities of woful Europe."

As the weeks and months passed, ships kept arriving with more Quakers, far exceeding the migration to the Jerseys. By summer, Penn reported that 50 sail had arrived within the past year, 80 houses had been built in Philadelphia, and about 300 farms had been laid out round the town. It is supposed that about 8000 immigrants had arrived. This was a more rapid development than was usual in the colonies of America. Massachusetts and Virginia had been established slowly and with much privation and suffering. But the settlement of Philadelphia was like a summer outing. There were no dangers, the hardships were trifling, and there was no sickness or famine. There was such an abundance of game close at hand that hunger and famine were in nowise to be feared. The climate was good and the Indians, kindly treated, remained friendly for seventy years.

It is interesting to note that in that same year, 1682, in which Penn and his friends with such ease and comfort founded their great colony on the Delaware, the French explorers and voyageurs from Canada, after years of incredible hardships, had traversed the northern region of the Great Lakes with their canoes and had passed down the Mississippi to its mouth, giving to the whole of the Great West the name of Louisiana, and claiming it for France. Already La Salle had taken his fleet of canoes down the Mississippi River and had placed the arms of France on a post at its mouth in April, 1682, only a few months before Penn reached his newly acquired colony. Thus in the same year in which the Quakers established in Pennsylvania their reign of liberty and of peace with the red men, La Salle was laying the foundation of the western empire of despotic France, which seventy years afterwards was to hurl the savages upon the English colonies, to wreck the Quaker policy of peace, but to fail in the end to maintain itself against the free colonies of England.

While they were building houses in Philadelphia, the settlers lived in bark huts or in caves dug in the river bank, as the early settlers in New Jersey across the river had lived. Pastorius, a learned German Quaker, who had come out with the, English, placed over the door of his cave the motto, "Parva domus, sed amica bonis, procul este profani," which much amused Penn when he saw it. A certain Mrs. Morris was much exercised one day as to how she could provide supper in the cave for her husband who was working on the construction of their house. But on returning to her cave she found that her cat had just brought in a fine rabbit. In their later prosperous years they had a picture of the cat and the rabbit made on a box which has descended as a family heirloom. Doubtless there were preserved many other interesting reminiscences of the brief camp life. These Quakers were all of the thrifty, industrious type which had gone to West Jersey a few years before. Men of means, indeed, among the Quakers were the first to seek refuge from the fines and confiscations imposed upon them in England. They brought with them excellent supplies of everything. Many of the ships carried the frames of houses ready to put together. But substantial people of this sort demanded for the most part houses of brick, with stone cellars. Fortunately both brick clay and stone were readily obtainable in the neighborhood, and whatever may have been the case in other colonies, ships loaded with brick from England would have found it little to their profit to touch at Philadelphia. An early description says that the brick houses in Philadelphia were modeled on those of London, and this type prevailed for nearly two hundred years.

It was probably in June, 1683, that Penn made his famous treaty with the Indians. No documentary proof of the existence of such a treaty has reached us. He made, indeed, a number of so-called treaties, which were really only purchases of land involving oral promises between the principals to treat each other fairly. Hundreds of such treaties have been made. The remarkable part about Penn's dealings with the Indians was that such promises as he made he kept. The other Quakers, too, were as careful as Penn in their honorable treatment of the red men. Quaker families of farmers and settlers lived unarmed among them for generations and, when absent from home, left children in their care. The Indians, on their part, were known to have helped white families with food in winter time. Penn, on his first visit to the colony, made a long journey unarmed among the Indians as far as the Susquehanna, saw the great herds of elk on that river, lived in Indian wigwams, and learned much of the language and customs of the natives. There need never be any trouble with them, he said. They were the easiest people in the world to get on with if the white men would simply be just. Penn's fair treatment of the Indians kept Pennsylvania at peace with them for about seventy years--in fact, from 1682 until the outbreak of the French and Indian Wars, in 1755. In its critical period of growth, Pennsylvania was therefore not at all harassed or checked by those Indian hostilities which were such a serious impediment in other colonies.

The two years of Penn's first visit were probably the happiest of his life. Always fond of the country, he built himself a fine seat on the Delaware near Bristol, and it would have been better for him, and probably also for the colony, if he had remained there. But he thought he had duties in England: his family needed him; he must defend his people from the religious oppression still prevailing; and Lord Baltimore had gone to England to resist him in the boundary dispute. One of the more narrow-minded of his faith wrote to Penn from England that he was enjoying himself too much in his colony and seeking his own selfish interest. Influenced by all these considerations, he returned in August, 1684, and it was long before he saw Pennsylvania again--not, indeed, until October, 1699, and then for only two years.

Back to: The Quaker Colonies