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Always more to the story

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I learned about the founder in 1681 of the Province of Pennsylvania—William Penn. (I later learned that the real namesake was his father Sir William Penn, an admiral and politician. Charles II had paid off his large debts to Sir William by granting the land to his son )

A writer and thinker, William Penn, a pacifist Quaker, espoused democratic principles and religious freedom, and established his colony as a haven for religious and political tolerance, including having a relatively fair and peaceful relationship with the indigenous people, facts of which I was proud. Left out of my education was the fact that William Penn’s second wife Hannah Callowhill Penn, ran the colony for 14 years, 6 years after a series of strokes left William physically and mentally debilitated and 8 years after his death!

Born to wealthy Quaker parents in Bristol, England in 1671, Hannah, the only surviving child, out of 9, was taught how to manage the family button-making business. Her management skills and financial acumen were vital because William had definitely neither!

They had married in 1696, after 52-year-old William, a widower with several children, convinced 24-year-old Hannah that he was motivated by love not money. William had visited the colony in 1682, and established amicable relationships with members of the Lenape tribes, planned the village of Philadelphia, and began construction on Pennsbury Manor, located on the Delaware River, 25 miles north of Philadelphia. He returned to Philadelphia with Hannah in December 1699; a month later Hannah gave birth to John, who they would refer to as “John the American.” In the summer they moved to Pennsbury where they stayed for twenty-three months. When William was bed-ridden with gout, Hannah managed his duties.

In November 1701, they returned to England, never to return to America, but Hannah had made important connections, including with Penn’s agent in America, James Logan, who had had first hand experience with her and was undoubtedly impressed by her management savvy and financial competence. During a recent trip to Phildelphia, I photographed this

historical marker to Hannah Callowhill Penn. (It is too tall and too small to attract a passer-by’s attention, unless perhaps they bumped into the pole, I thought. Callowhill Street is named for her, although without her first name few people will know it's a street named for a woman.)

William Penn died in 1718. In his will he named Hannah his successor. Her achievements were substantial and wide ranging from foiling her profligate stepson’s attempts to overturn the will to blocking Lord Baltimore of Maryland in his attempt to seize eastern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, to effectively keeping the colony prosperous and thriving, to mediating religious disputes and executing treaties with the Lenape, Conestoga, and Iroquois.

On December 20, 1726, in London, England, Hannah Callowhill Penn died at the age of 55. Almost three hundred years later, Susan Corbett, the First Lady of Pennsylvania, learned about Hannah Callowhill Penn and collaborated with her husband Governor Tom Corbett to honor Hannah. In 2013, Governor Corbett

named her the first posthumous Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, calling her as the “first female governor of the Province of Pennsylvania.” He and Susan commissioned a portrait of Hannah by Ellen Cooper. Unveiled by Susan and Tom Corbett in 2014, the portrait was hung in the Governor’s Office, the only women's portrait amidst many men’s. A year later, Corbett’s successor and current governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf, removed Hannah’s portrait. (Corbett is a Republican and Wolf a Democrat.)

William and Hannah Callowhill Penn’s legacy is painfully complicated by the fact that they owned people who were enslaved. It appears that William Penn bought about 12 people off the first slave ship known to have arrived in Philadelphia, and brought them to his Pennsbury Manor. Here is a link to an excellent article that includes the names and the stories of some of the people William and Hannah Penn enslaved.

Today a reconstruction of Pennsbury is a museum open to the public. Stories of servants and enslaved people, and Native Americans are now included in their presentations.

There is always more to the story!

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