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Delaware County Historical Society Receives Landmark Book Written by William Penn

The book, entitled “The Select Works of William Penn: To Which is Prefixed a Journal of His Life”, was published in London in 1771, 53 years after the final essay was written. It includes twenty four personal letters written by Penn, two of his speeches and thirty six tracts written between 1688 and 1696.

The 862 page book had been in the possession of the Maris family of Springfield since its publication. Connie Jones Pilsbury, the twice great-granddaughter of family patriarch Joseph P. Maris, donated the work to the Springfield Historical Commission. Some years later, the Commission entrusted the volume to the Delaware County Historical Society’s care.

William Penn experienced a great deal of governmental resistance as he worked to establish the Society of Friends as an accepted form of worship and much of this struggle is recorded in this written record of his life and thoughts. An example would be the tract entitled “The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience Once More Briefly Debated and Defended, by Authority of Reason, Scripture and Antiquity”. It was written on February 6, 1670, during one of his times of imprisonment and is signed “From a prisoner for conscience sake, W.P.” Penn struggled to show a clear distinction between Quakers and others who sought to overthrow the government.

The book includes the entire transcript of Penn’s resulting trial in the case of “The King v. Penn and Meade”, heard from September 1 to September 5, 1670. Penn had been indicted, along with William Meade, for assembling with about 300 others on August 15, 1670 on Grace-Church Street in “disturbance of the peace and of the said Lord the King”. Penn pled not guilty and the jury agreed, freeing him.

The Court Recorder, John Howell, declared, “I am sorry, gentlemen, you have followed your own judgments and opinions, rather than the good and wholesome advice which was given to you. God keep my life out of your hands: but for this the court fines you forty marks a man, and imprisonment till paid”.

After the conclusion of the trial one of the jurors, Edward Bushel, appealed the decision in what became known as Bushel’s Case, in which the judge ruled that a jury could not be imprisoned as a result of their verdict.

The biography of Penn, found in the prefix, describes many of the important events in Penn’s life. An especially touching account concerns the death of Penn’s wife, Gulielma Maria, following a long illness. He writes “My dear wife, after eight month’s illness… departed this life the 32nd of the 12th month, 1693-4, about half an hour past two in the afternoon, being the sixth day of the week, and the fiftieth year of her age, and was sensible to very last.” The dates mentioned followed the Quaker’s use of an altered calendar and dating system.

His final essay, “Advice to Children”, offers advice on frugality, temperance, gratitude, diligence and integrity.

This exciting work can be found in the archives of the Delaware County Historical Society, at 408 Avenue of the States, in Chester. Please call 610-359-0832 or visit if you have any questions. DCHS is open to the public from 10am to 4pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 10am to 6:30pmThursday; and from 9am to 2pm on the second Saturday of the month. It is closed on Tuesdays.

Appointments and group/school tours are available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot. Memberships are encouraged and donations are gratefully accepted.

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