William Penn was arrested and imprisoned several times for sharing his religious opinions which were not in agreement with the government’s agenda. Once he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for eight months.
While in London’s notorious Newgate Prison, he wrote 1670: “By Liberty of Conscience, we understand not only a mere Liberty of the Mind … but the exercise of ourselves in a visible way of worship, upon our believing it to be indispensably required at our hands, that if we neglect it for fear or favor of any mortal man, we sin, and incur divine wrath.”
Later, after his father, Admiral William Penn, died, King Charles II gave him land in America as repayment of a debt owed to his father. On this land he started a colony and invited persecuted Christians of Europe to join his “Holy Experiment” of religious toleration.
Soon Quakers, Mennonites, Pietists, Amish, Anabaptists, Lutherans, Reformed, Moravians, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Dunkers (German Baptist), Brethren, Schwenckfelders, French Huguenots, and other Protestant Christians arrived in Pennsylvania.
Who was he? William Penn, who died July 30, 1718.
William Penn named his capital city Philadelphia, which means “Brotherly Love.”
Lutheran missionary Johannes Campanius translated the very first book published in the Algonquin Indian language, Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. He dedicated Philadelphia’s first church, Gloria Dei “Old Swede’s” Church in 1646. Penn’s religious tolerance allowed the church to grow and build their present church building in 1698.
In 1695, the Merion Friends (Quaker) Meeting House was built. It is the oldest church building in Pennsylvania and second oldest Friends meeting house in the United States.
In 1695, Philadelphia’s Christ Church was built. It is called “the Nation’s Church,” as George Washington, Betsy Ross, Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, and their daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache, worshiped there, along with Signers of the Declaration John Adams, Benjamin Rush, Francis Hopkinson, Joseph Hewes, Robert Morris, James Wilson and George Ross.
In 1711, Old Trinity Episcopal Church was built in Philadelphia. In 1732, the Seventh Day Dunkers (German Baptist Brethern) built Ephrata Cloister near Philadelphia. They had the second German printing press in America and published the largest book in the colonies, “Martyrs Mirror,” listing Christian martyrs from Christ until 1660.
In 1733, Philadelphia allowed the first English-speaking Catholic Church in the world after the Reformation – St. Joseph Church. It was the only place in the British Empire where a public Catholic church service took place legally. Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau worshiped there.
On May 21, 1789, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was held in Philadelphia. Signer of the Declaration John Witherspoon preached the first sermon at that assembly. Philadelphia is the birthplace of the Methodist Episcopal churches in America, with St. George’s Church, built in 1769, being the denomination’s oldest church building in continuous service in the world. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, sent the church a communion chalice. St. George’s pastor, Francis Asbury, was the first Methodist bishop. He traveled 270,000 miles on horseback and ordained more than 4,000 ministers, including Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, the first African-American Lay Preachers of Methodism in 1785.
In 1792, Absalom Jones started the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, being the oldest black Episcopal congregation in the United States. In 1794, Richard Allen started the African Methodist Episcopal Church, building “Mother Bethel,” the first A.M.E. Church in America.
In 1796, also out of St. George’s, Rev. “Black Harry” Hosier helped start the African Zoar Church. St. George’s appointed Mary Thorne as the first woman class leader. Philadelphia’s first synagogue, Mikveh Israel, was built in 1782 by Sephardic Jews from Spain, Portugal and the West Indies, many of whom fled from New York in 1776, when the British captured the city. Contributors to the building fund were Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris-Signer of the Declaration, and Haym Solomon, Polish Jew financier of the American Revolution. Beginning in 1845, Rabbi Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel synagogue produced the first Jewish translation of the Bible into English to be published in the United States.
When Mikveh Israel synagogue burned in 1872, Philadelphia’s Christ Church contributed to rebuild it. The two congregations have a long custom of sharing a fellowship-dinner once a year which alternates between their two buildings. In 1795, the first Ashkenazic Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere was founded in Philadelphia, Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
Pennsylvania’s Charter, granted March 4, 1681, stated: “Whereas our trusty and well beloved subject, William Penn, esquire, son and heir of Sir William Penn, deceased, out of a commendable desire to enlarge our English Empire … and also to reduce the savage natives by gentle and just manners to the love of civil society and Christian religion, hath humbly besought leave of us to transport an ample colony unto … parts of America not yet cultivated and planted.”
William Penn wrote in his Charter of Privileges for Pennsylvanians 1701: “… because no people can be truly happy though under the greatest enjoyments of civil liberties if abridged of the freedom of their consciences as to their religious profession and worship.”
William Penn’s “holy experiment” of “Brotherly Love” resulted in Philadelphia providentially being where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written, as well as the city being the first capital of the United States.
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