Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Emma J. Lapsansky Werner

Quaker City

William Penn (1644-1718), the founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, had high hopes for Philadelphia. He wanted the city to become the economic and moral hub and showpiece of the nearly 50,000 square miles that he had been granted as Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods). Penn outlined his radical notion when he advertised the city for settlement in 1681: he intended to construct a physical, economic, political, and religious environment in which divine virtue would tame the human tendency for sin and corruption. His mission would leave an indelible imprint on the politics, economics, culture, and land-use of the Delaware River valley region and Philadelphia, the Quaker City.

As a member of the Religious Society of Friends of the Truth (Quakers), a British Christian splinter group, Penn shared in the belief that Christ’s arrival was occurring in his time. In response, it behooved people to live up to Christ’s presence. Though there is no evidence that Penn used the term “The Quaker City” for Philadelphia, he drew inspiration from Quaker founder George Fox, his mentor, as he imagined a communal environment where people would live in a way that “taketh away the need for all wars.” Read More »

Holy Experiment

What might you do if you found yourself with almost 50,000 square miles of seemingly virgin land in a place you have never seen, far from home? In 1681, when William Penn - entrepreneur, scholar, religious mystic, Enlightenment intellectual - acquired Pennsylvania, he had a ready answer.

Primed with forward-looking ideas about equality and shared community resources from Thomas More's Utopia, and inspired by the Quaker vision of George Fox and Thomas Loe, Penn was convinced that he could construct a "Holy Experiment" with a well-planned settlement and a rational government. He aimed for a social contract that would bind and respect all residents, based not on coercion but on the principle of "what love can do."

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