Nominated by: Julius Weinberg
William Penn (b. 1644, d. 1718) is buried in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House in Jordans Village. An early member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Penn was founder of Pennsylvania, the North American colony. Penn’s charter for the settlement guaranteed free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment, and limited his own power. He set out a legal framework for an ethical society where power was derived from the people, radical for his time. Quakers, believing all men equal under God, refused to bow, take off their hats to social superiors, or swear oaths of loyalty to the King; they were considered dangerous and treasonous.
Penn insisted that the Quaker grammar schools should be open to all citizens, and that education, high literacy and open intellectual discourse were key to a successful society. Quakers decriminalised insanity, turning away from punishment and confinement. Progressive prisons would correct through “workshops” rather than punitive confinement.
Although he traded slaves, he promoted their good treatment, including marriage and pledged to release his slaves on his death. Other Quakers were amongst the earliest fighters against slavery.
The colony attracted persecuted minorities including Huguenots, Mennonites, Amish, Catholics, Lutherans, and Jews. Voltaire praised Pennsylvania as the only government in the world that responded to the people and is respectful of minority rights.
Penn supported colonial unification with formation of a United States of America, as a pacifist Quaker he advocated a United States of Europe with a European Assembly. The principles he set out were influential in framing the Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia (the city he planned) in 1787.
Penn was frequently in trouble with the English Law. One case established the right for juries to be free from the control of judges and was a victory for the use of “habeas corpus” to free someone unlawfully detained.
William Penn reminds me that Buckinghamshire has a proud history of dissent and toleration. Non-conformism and the Quakers were particularly influential in parts of Buckinghamshire, which may have led to a reputation for toleration and radicalism that embraces the Amersham Martyrs (Lollards distributing English Bibles), John Hampden, one of the leaders of the revolt against Charles I, John Milton, John Wilkes the 18thC liberal and libertine (a member of the “Hellfire Club” and High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire), the 19thC Buckinghamshire Farm Labourers Union.
In more modern times Buckinghamshire has adopted Penn’s ideas on toleration and openness, welcoming Polish refugees after World War II and other migrant groups more recently. I am sure that Penn would have delighted in the diversity of the County. Though, as he aged, he became somewhat more Puritan, so he might have disapproved of the Cinemas and Pubs; in particular the monthly pop-up, “the Jolly Quaker” in Jordans Village Hall!
William Penn’s grave was nominated by Julius Weinberg, Co-Chair of Buckinghamshire Culture. Julius is a proud resident of Buckinghamshire.