American Minute with Bill Federer
After serving time in prison for his Christian beliefs, William Penn insisted his colony live together in religious toleration
William Penn was arrested and imprisoned several times for sharing his politically incorrect views 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, William Penn 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.”
Penn wrote in England’s Present Interest Considered, 1675:
“Force makes hypocrites, ’tis persuasion only that makes converts.”
Another dissenter in London’s Newgate Prison was an early Baptist leader Thomas Helwys, who wrote in 1612:
“The King is a mortal man, and not God, therefore he hath no power over the mortal soul of his subjects to make laws and ordinances for them and to set spiritual Lords over them.”
Thomas Helwys who died in the Newgate Prison in 1616, had written A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity:
“If the Kings people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all humane laws made by the King, our Lord the King can require no more: for men’s religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither may the King be judge between God and man.”
A later Baptist minister, John Leland, who helped found Baptist churches in America, wrote in Rights of Conscience Inalienable, 1791:
“Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.”
Penn’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn, Sr., died in 1670.
In repayment of a debt owed to the Admiral, King Charles II, in 1682, surprisingly gave to his son, William Penn, land in America recently acquired from the Dutch and Swedes — 45,000 square miles.
King Charles named this enormous amount of land, 29 million acres, “Pennsylvania.”
As a result of Charles II’s generosity, young William Penn had become the largest non-royalty landowner in the world.
While most countries demanded that citizens believe as the government dictated, Penn’s colony was a “holy experiment” where Christians, Jews, and others who believed in God could live together in religious toleration.
This was an unprecedented endeavor in the world, taking place at a time in history when most of Europe was ruled by kings,
China was ruled by emperors of the Qing dynasty, and Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV’s 200,000 Ottoman Muslim soldiers were laying siege to Vienna, Austria.
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.”
He wrote to a friend, January 1, 1681, that for his colony, he would:
“… make and establish such laws as shall best preserve true Christian and civil liberty, in all opposition to all unchristian … practices.”
Soon there arrived in Pennsylvania:
From 1700 to 1750, Britain’s laws against dissenters drove some 200,000 Scots and Scots–Irish Presbyterians from Scotland and Ireland to America. Most settled in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley and in the western counties of Lehigh, Bucks and Lancaster.
Others came, including:
- German and Swiss New Baptists, or Dunkers,
- German Baptist Brethren, or Seventh Day Dunkers,
- French Huguenots. and
- other Protestant Christians.
William Penn died on JULY 30, 1718.
He had named his capital city Philadelphia, which means “Brotherly Love.”
Lutheran missionary Johannes Campanius dedicated Philadelphia’s first church, Gloria Dei “Old Swede’s” Church, in 1646.
Penn’s religious tolerance allowed the church to continue, and they erected their present church building in 1698.
Johannes Campanius translated the very first book published in the Algonquin Indian language, Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.
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 individuals who worshiped there included:
- George Washington,
- Betsy Ross,
- Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, and
- their daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache, worshiped there.
Others who worshiped at Christ Church included signers of the Declaration of Independence:
- 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.
They published “Martyrs Mirror,” the largest book printed in America prior to the Revolutionary War, listing Christian martyrs from Christ until 1660.
Rev. Richard Denton brought the Presbyterian faith to American in 1644.
In 1692, just ten years after the arrival of William Penn, the first Presbyterian Church was organized in Philadelphia, in a building called “Barbadoes Warehouse,” being shared with Baptists and Congregationalists.
In 1704, Philadelphia’s First Presbyterian Church moved to the corner of Bank Street and High Street (Market), where they build their first church building.
Members of the church included signers of the Declaration of Independence:
- James Wilson,
- Dr. Benjamin Rush, and
- Thomas McKean.
On May 21, 1789, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was held at the church in Philadelphia.
The first sermon at that assembly was preached by John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton University and a Signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1807, the first African Presbyterian Church was founded by a former slave, John Gloucester.
- At the time of the Revolution:
- 98 percent of the country was Protestant;
- around 1 percent was Catholic; and
- one-tenth of one percent was Jewish.
William J. Shepherd, writing for The Catholic University of American, stated in the article “The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Patriots of the American Revolution” (June 23, 2016):
“Catholics made up only an estimated one percent of the population of the nascent republic. Colonial America was generally prejudiced against Catholics … with the notable exception of Pennsylvania.”
There were only seven Jewish congregations in the colonies prior to the Revolution, two of which were in Pennsylvania:
- Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia begun in 1740; and
- Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, begun in 1747.
The first Jews in America were Sephardic, having fled from Spain, to Portugal, to South America and the West Indies.
From the West Indies, Sephardic Jews came to the colonies of North America, the first of which was New Amsterdam, which became New York.
When the British captured New York in 1776, many Jews fled to Pennsylvania.
Mikveh Israel congregation built the first synagogue building in Philadelphia in 1782.
Contributors to the building fund included:
- 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 Mikveh Israel synagogue produced the first Jewish translation of the Bible in 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.
During the colonial era, Catholics were mostly in just two colonies: Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Bishop John Carroll, founder of Georgetown University and cousin of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration, wrote to Rome in 1790:
”The thirteen provinces of North America rejected the yoke of England, they proclaimed, at the same time, freedom of conscience … Before this great event, the Catholic faith had penetrated two provinces only, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In all the others the laws against Catholics were in force.”
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 entire British Empire where a public Catholic church service took place legally.
During the Revolution, French Generals Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau worshiped there.
Pennsylvania’s Quakers and Mennonites led the state to be the first in the nation to pass legislation to end slavery.
America’s first abolition society, The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, was founded in Philadelphia in 1775.
After the Revolutionary War, it was reorganized in 1784 with Benjamin Franklin as its first president.
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.
The pastor of St. George’s was Francis Asbury, 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 started the African Zoar Church.
St. George’s appointed Mary Thorne as the first woman class leader.
The Charter that King Charles II signed and gave to William Penn on 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.”
After receiving the Charter, William Penn wrote:
”It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.”
William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” of “Brotherly Love” resulted in Philadelphia providentially being the birthplace of the nation, as it was there that
- the Continental Congress met,
- the Declaration of Independence was signed,
- the U.S. Constitution was written,
- and where the nation’s first Capital was located.
Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet.