Today in Pa. History: The 400th birthday of the OTHER William Penn

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — April 23rd marks the 400th birthday of Sir William Penn (1621-1670), Admiral, Member of Parliament, Commissioner on the Navy Board–and father of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania.

Without Admiral Penn, we wouldn’t even have a Pennsylvania — but he didn’t live to see it happen.

Penn rose to prominence during the English Civil War, the prolonged struggle between supporters of the British Monarchy, and supporters of the British Parliament. By all accounts, he was respected by both sides as a superb sailor and aggressive fighter.

He sailed with the Parliament Navy but managed to keep in communication with the Royalists. As a result, when the Monarchy was restored in 1660 he escorted Charles II in his return from exile.

Admiral Penn, on occasion, found himself digging into his own pocket to feed and clothe his sailors. As a result, when Penn died in 1670, King Charles II owed a large debt to his estate.

William Penn the younger, having converted to Quakerism, came up with the idea of establishing a colony in the New World where Quakers could worship in peace. The King and the Quaker struck a deal; Penn would forgive the debt in exchange for land in America.

The charter was granted in 1681. The original charter may well be the single most valuable artifact in the Pennsylvania Archives. (You can see a copy of the charter on display at the State Museum in Harrisburg.)

First page of the Charter of Pennsylvania (Source: Pennsylvania Archives)

As for the name of this new colony, Penn’s first choice was “New Wales”. His second choice–“Sylvania,” Latin for “woods.” But King Charles insisted it be named “Pennsylvania,” “Penn’s Woods”, in honor of Penn’s father. William Penn went along with the idea, but he worried settlers would think he named the colony after himself.

He was right to worry.

C’mon, admit it, you didn’t know Pennsylvania was named after Admiral Penn.

Neither did I, until I researched this article…

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