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Book Musings: The Life and Legacy of William Penn

Happy Birthday William Penn!

William Penn by Henry Inman, 1832/Independence National Historical Park


William Penn’s birthday is October 24th, and so we are celebrating the amazing good he shared with us all, while also shining a light on places where, as a colonialist, his vision and actions reflect ongoing ethnocentricism.

Penn’s influence goes well beyond the Quaker community - Thomas Jefferson called William Penn “the greatest lawmaker the world has produced." Jefferson borrowed from Penn in writing the Declaration of Independence; and Penn’s laws, radical at the time, were an early version of civil rights under the United States Constitution. Additionally, the United Nations can trace its roots back to Penn. His "Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace in Europe" described the prototype for a league of nations promoting peace through diplomacy and would inspire the United Nations. That is why United Nations Day is observed on William Penn's birthday.

On the flip side, we are keenly aware that Penn participated in the devastation and immorality of enslavement of Africans and their descendants. He was a slave owner at his Pennsbury estate. We also know that the land upon which he founded Pennsylvania - the result of a land grant from the King of England - was already home to Native Americans, including the Lenape. Though Penn attempted to treat indigenous communities fairly through treaties and land purchases, cultural differences meant differing interpretations of those agreements, much to the detriment of the Lenape and others.

We know that many people are still impacted by the mistakes made during Penn’s time and that we must strive to correct them. Therefore, as we rightly celebrate William Penn’s important contributions, let us also read about Friends who have testified for equality, then and now. Visit our website via the link below to explore books about Penn and Friends whose activism can inspire us all.

In the Light,
Audrey Greenhall, Manager for QuakerBooks


Featured Titles for October 16th, 2018

The Political Writings of William Penn
Edited by Andrew R. Murphy

A large selection of William Penn's writings, organized into three parts. Part 1 focuses on liberty and religious toleration; Part 2 addresses general arguments to specific events in British politics; and Part 3 presents the "Essay Toward the present and future peace of Europe."

Learn more about this book
Buy The Political Writings of William Penn now

Twenty-First Century Penn
Translated into Modern English by Paul Buckley

This work by Paul Buckley makes available in modern English five key texts by William Penn. Buckley's extensive footnotes further increase the value of this work to persons who are interested in understanding Penn's works. Texts translated into modern English include "The Sandy Foundation Shaken," "innocency with her Open Face," "The Christian Quaker and his Divine Testimony Vindicated," "Primitive Christianity Revived" and more.

Learn more about this book
Buy Twenty-First Century Penn now


Recommended Reading about Quakers Dedicated to Racial Justice and Equality

A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time
by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre
Learn more about this book
Buy It Now

Warner Mifflin: Unflinching Quaker Abolitionist
by Gary Nash
Learn more about this book
Buy It Now

Sarah Mapps Douglass
by Margaret Hope Bacon
Learn more about this book
Buy It Now


Resources For Living into Right Relationship with Indigenous Communities

Interview with Paula Palmer of Boulder Friends Meeting's Towards Right Relationship (video of Paula's presentation to Friends at the 2018 FGC Gathering included)
Read interview on the FGC website

Quaker Organizations Engaged in Building Right Relationship
Access this resource on FGCquaker.org


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