When we leave Bath for London we pass through the village of Pennsylvania which consists of a petrol station, a few houses, a bed and breakfast. The English Pennsylvania is far less impressive than the state of that name in the USA. It was named after the state by local Quakers and provides a photo op if you happen to have people from there, but has little of interest otherwise. Even the local pub was closed due to lack of business.
The Penn family had links with the area, the sea admiral Sir William Penn having been born in nearby Bristol. King Charles the Second owed him £16,000 (equivalent to over £2 million today) and paid his debt with a grant of 45,000 square miles in his American colony. Kings can do that sort of thing if they are short of cash, which Charles always was. Add the family name to ‘sylvania’, which means woodland, and you have the name of one of the original states, where the Declaration of Independence was drawn up and signed.
Father and son did not always get along, the son being an early Quaker, the father an establishment man. Penn Junior, however, managed in the family estates in Ireland and later Germany. He also spent time in prison for his beliefs, locked up for preaching in public rather than in church, his prosecution becoming a famous case when the jury acquitted him and were themselves locked up for failing to come to the verdict which the judge had wanted! This led to the law being changed giving juries greater independence.
Penn and his father were reconciled and he inherited the American lands moving there to establish Pennsylvania. He followed Quaker principles, negotiating a deal with the local native American (Indian) tribes, one of the few treaties with them never to have been broken. Penn never lived permanently in America, however, and returned to his house Warminghurst Place in Sussex (since demolished). He established the Blue Idol Meeting house, which I went to yesterday – a lovely small but welcoming place on a wet Sunday.
Quakers and are known for their trustworthiness, pacifism and sense of social justice. They were barred from Oxford and Cambridge because they would not join the Church of England (Penn himself was sent down from Oxford) so they used their energies to set up businesses. Their hard-working ethos, honesty and reliability made them successful entrepreneurs and they were particularly noted in the chocolate business, establishing companies like Cadbury and Rowntree, which sponsors social research aimed at reducing poverty. The face seen on a box of Quaker Oats is a symbol of reliability and honesty.
Penn’s later life was blighted by money problems, the death of his first wife and several of his children. His second wife did not care for his Sussex home and they moved to the Chilterns where he died in 1717 at the age of seventy-three. He lies buried next to his first wife in the grounds of Jordan’s Meeting House near Chalfont St Giles, home of that other great non-conformist John Milton (see http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/writers-on-outskirts.html).