Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

First Purchasers of Pennsylvania

Upon receiving his grant for Pennsylvania in March 1681, William Penn (1644-1718) immediately set about attracting investors and settlers. To pay expenses and realize a profit from his enterprise, Penn had to sell land. The “First Purchasers” who responded to his promotional tracts provided essential economic support for Penn’s “Holy Experiment.”

A black and white painted portrait of William Penn wearing armor

William Penn received a generous land charter from King Charles II of England to create a Quaker settlement in North America. By 1685, he had sold 600 individual tracts making up 700,000 acres of Pennsylvania’s land. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

Penn sought to attract individuals who would settle the colony, or send servants or tenants to do so, and who had the capital or expertise to establish commercial and agricultural foundations for the province. Penn’s first promotional tract, Some Account of the Province of Pennsylvania, set out the terms for obtaining land and promised to clear all Indian titles. In July 1681, he refined these terms in the document titled “Conditions or Concessions,” issued during a meeting with several First Purchasers. In this agreement, Penn promised to reserve ten acres of land in Philadelphia for each 500 acres purchased, planning a “greene country towne” that would extend for miles along the Delaware River. In order to promote the settlement of the colony and hinder speculation, Penn stipulated that purchasers seeking 1,000 acres or more would have to settle a family on each 1,000 acre lot within three years. He also encouraged purchasers to bring servants by offering a bonus of fifty acres, with an annual quitrent (rent due to Penn) of four shillings, for each servant settled in the colony. Upon completion of the term of service, each servant would receive fifty acres at an annual quitrent of two shillings.

This agreement proved quite effective. Three key groups of investors immediately involved themselves in the project. In 1681, a group of Welsh Quakers purchased a 30,000-acre tract in the hopes of ensuring their religious freedom and preserving their language, customs, and laws. Settling in the area of Merion, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford, these settlers began arriving in advance of the proprietor. Penn granted the Free Society of Traders 20,000 acres and three seats on the Provincial Council in exchange for its investment in developing the province’s economy. Composed of Quakers and other wealthy merchants, landowners, and Penn’s personal contacts, this group fell into bankruptcy within a couple of years. In 1683, the Frankfort Land Company, a group of German investors represented by Daniel Francis Pastorius (1651-c. 1720), received 15,000 acres. Since the members of this group did not emigrate, thirteen Quaker families acquired its acreage and settled under the guidance of Pastorius.

A map of Pennsylvania in 1687 showing land purchases and town and county borders

Thomas Holme’s 1687 map of Pennsylvania shows the tracts of land acquired by the First Purchasers. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

Three Hundred Purchasers

Within four months of issuing the “Conditions or Concessions,” Penn sold more than 300,000 acres to about 300 purchasers, and sales continued assiduously. By 1685, Penn had sold over 700,000 acres to roughly 600 purchasers, which earned him about £9,000. After that, sales slowed somewhat, and, by 1700, he had sold approximately 800,000 acres. Although Penn did not earn as much as he expected from these First Purchasers, they provided the project with a solid foundation. Thomas Holme (1624-95), Penn’s surveyor general, in his Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsilvania in America (1687), delineated lands taken up by First Purchasers during the first years after settlement in the region that became Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and southern Bucks Counties.

While Penn’s fellow Englishmen comprised most of the First Purchasers, his advertising efforts in continental Europe also attracted individual investors from Germany, Holland, and France. Within England, most of the First Purchasers resided in the areas around London and Bristol, where the Society of Friends had met with considerable missionary success and Penn was well known. Quakers of various economic backgrounds took advantage of the opportunity that he created to worship free of the persecution persistent in England. While those purchasing larger tracts hailed from the Quaker mercantile elite, Penn’s offerings to sell plots as small as 125 acres attracted people of more humble circumstances.

The majority of the First Purchasers came from the urban middling ranks of English society, primarily artisans and shopkeepers. These individuals, with entrepreneurial ambitions, played a vital role in developing Philadelphia as a major commercial center. That at least one-half of the First Purchasers eventually settled in Pennsylvania also contributed significantly to the speedy establishment and development of the colony. Although Penn would face multiple financial challenges, from nonpayment by some purchasers and refusal of settlers to pay quitrents, to inflated demands by his business agent Philip Ford (c. 1631-1702) for payment of debts, the First Purchasers supplied the impetus needed to get the “Holy Experiment” started.

Matthew A. Zimmerman earned his Ph.D. in History at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia.

Copyright 2016, Rutgers University

Related Reading

Dunn, Mary Maples and Richard S. Dunn et al., eds. The Papers of William Penn. 5 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981-1987.

Dunn, Richard S. “Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Penn as a Businessman.” In The World of William Penn, edited by Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn, 37-54. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.

Pomfret, John E. “The First Purchasers of Pennsylvania, 1681-1700.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 8 (1956): 137-163.

Soderlund, Jean R. et al., eds. William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania, 1680-1684: A Documentary History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.


Penn Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia.

Survey Books and Patent Books, Division of Land Records, Pennsylvania State Archives, 801 N. Third Street, Harrisburg, Pa.

Places to Visit

Caleb Pusey House, 15 Race Street, Upland, Pa.

Pennsbury Manor, 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville, Pa.

Thomas Holme Historical Marker, Pennypack Park, 3000 Holme Avenue, Philadelphia.

11 Comments Comments

  1. Hi:
    My name is Lynn (male) Buckley. My ancestor, John Buckley, came to Colonial America in 1682, the same year as William Penn. John also was a Quaker. John purchased land from Penn in England so Penn said he would give John 2 lots in the city he was to build which of course was Philadelphia. I believe John got the lots in 1707 and they were located where the Constitution Building is today.
    I was wondering if you or anyone you know would have a map of Philadelphia at that time.
    Also, is there a map showing the settlers in PA in 1682?
    Your help is greatly appreciated!!
    Respectfully yours,
    Lynn Buckley

    Lynn (male) Buckley Posted October 31, 2018 at 4:00 pm
  2. Do have something showing the names of early settlers from Europe that bought land from Williams Penn. Hockman or spelled Hagmann. Maybe a map showing the areas ought with names

    Bradd Hockman Posted December 22, 2018 at 1:51 pm
  3. Hi Lynn~
    My ancestor, William Buckman, sailed with William Penn on the WELCOME and as a First Purchaser received property in Philadelphia, as well as in Bucks County, near Neshaminy. In researching all of this, we found a map in a book entitled PASSENGERS and SHIPS PRIOR to 1684, compiled by Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr. 1970
    The pull-out map in next to page 162. It shows “Our Billy’s” property as being at 3rd and Chestnut, exactly where the Museum of the American Revolution is today!

    Hope this is helpful.

    Leslie Rush (female)

    Leslie Rush Posted March 25, 2019 at 11:36 am
  4. Do you know if the Rapine family of France received a William Penn tract of land in 1690s

    Tiny stainket Posted October 6, 2019 at 6:16 pm
  5. My family was from Alsace Lorraine and received a William Penn tract of land near Roxibourgh PA..I am trying to see when they received this and name of Male in the Rapine Family? I believe they came to Philadelphia area in late 1600’s

    Edna Stainker Posted April 22, 2020 at 4:29 pm
  6. I am interested in the 1,000 acres of land in Chester Co. procured by Mathais Slaymaker from the PA Land Co. of London between 1710 and 1729. What sources do I need to search?

    eleanor edmondson Posted May 3, 2020 at 12:13 pm
  7. My Grandfather, Wilbur Wesley Rapine was born in Montgomery County PA. I was told that the family were fur trappers in the Roxborough area in the late 1600’s. One relative called Daniel Rapine bought 20 acres of land from David Rittenhouse. The area is known as Rittenhouse Town. He was a bookseller in Germantown.Later he became the first person to run the Library of Congress and the first mayor of Washington DC. My thoughts are the family were French Protestants that got run out of France under the rule of Louis the 14th. Any thoughts about this?

    Deborah Troxell Focer Posted February 10, 2021 at 5:22 pm
  8. My ancestor, Anthony Deardorff (today’s spelling) purchased land from William Penn’s land grant. Both Anthony Jr. and Sr. signed an alliance to King George. The land they purchased was supposedly in York County but the old house is today in East Berlin, Adamas County. Did York encompass some or all of Adams County in the early days? The family moved from Pa into Md and back and forth through the generations as bst we can determine.
    Although I grew up in Pa and learned some of the state’s history in schools your writings were vvyer interesting and informative. Thanks. Pat Stang

    Patricia M. Stang Posted February 20, 2021 at 2:20 pm
  9. My grandfather John Scarborough bought land from William Penn and left his son to keep the land because my grandfather’s wife didn’t want to come so she stayed in England. Thanks to my grandfather for buying land and our family is doing successful in life.

    Levi Harrison Posted February 23, 2021 at 11:55 am
  10. My grandfather’s family – the Taylor’s – traveled to Lower Dublin area of Philadelphia the 1699. They were Walsh Baptist and arrived in Philadelphia. The members were Not pacifist but were sponsored by William Penn – A Quaker.

    Do you know the history of the group before arriving in America? Why William Penn would allow Walsh Baptist to own or lease property?

    Any literature concerning the purchase or lease of this would be apprecated.


    Jim Taylor

    James Posted March 1, 2021 at 2:51 pm
  11. I saw a comment made by Levi Harrison. We must be related. I have proof that I am related to a John Scarborough from England who bought land from William Penn and gave the land to his son and went back to England to be with his wife. I am related on my mother’s side: her name was Alice Kathryn Burkins Jackson and her mother was Naomi Lucille Knight Burkins. How can I get in touch with this person? I did join Ancestry.com.

    Jennifer Jackson Posted July 13, 2021 at 3:27 pm

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