Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

First Purchasers of Pennsylvania

William Penn

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)

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

English Quaker William Penn founded Pennsylvania in 1681, when King Charles II granted him a charter for over 45,000 square miles of land. Penn had previously helped found Quaker settlements in West New Jersey and was eager to expand his Quaker colony. In order to generate interest in his new land holdings, Penn wrote a promotional tract, Some Account of the Province of Pennsylvania in America, outlining how these tracts of land could be purchased and promising to clear Indian titles to them. In July of that year, he issued his “Conditions and Concessions,” solidifying the rules of purchase. Among these were that all tracts must be settled within three years of purchase or else they could be offered to another buyer, and that a quitrent of four shillings was to be paid to Penn for each servant held on a purchase. Penn, in turn, agreed to reserve 10 acres of every 500 sold to create a “greene country towne.”

Within a year, over 560,000 acres of Pennsylvania had been sold. About a dozen of the first purchases were sold to land speculation firms. The Free Society of Traders purchased 20,000 acres and the Frankfort Land Company, 25,000. Most tracts were much smaller, with 500 acres being the most popular size purchased. Nearly all of the first purchasers were Quakers, though a few parcels of land were sold to sympathetic Dutch and Welsh settlers. By 1685, some 600 individual tracts were sold making up 700,000 acres of Pennsylvania’s land.

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