It is the 30th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Let’s talk about Pennsylvania. And Quaker Oats. And Church History.
And you think, “ah yes, I believe the quaker that founded Pennsylvania is the guy on the oatmeal box”. And you would be wrong about that but in the right ballpark.
Today on the anniversary of the death of William Penn in 1718 we will straighten out the story of this curious man who isn’t the guy on the oatmeal box nor is the state technically named after him. But we do well to remember one of the more intriguing characters in the Early Modern transatlantic world and in the history of tolerance within the Christian church.
Pennsylvania is named for William Penn’s father. Who was given the land by the Duke of York (future King James II). It was originally going to be called New Wales or Sylvania (it means “woods” in Latin) but the English Privy council named it “Penn” Sylvania in honor of William’s father who was a famous admiral.
William and his father would clash over the younger’s theological views. William had attended Oxford but was kicked out for attending lectures in the home of John Owen (a staunch Calvinist who had been given the boot from Oxford). Young William would also be moved by the preaching of Thomas Loe- a traveling Quaker preacher that just happened to run across Penn in both England and Ireland.
Penn would become a Quaker himself would become friends with George Fox (the founder of the Quakers, known officially as the Society of Friends). For this, he would be arrested a number of times but would refuse special treatment offered him on account of his famous Father.
It was in prison that he wrote his most significant theological works- these included “the Sandy Foundation Shaken” and “No Cross No Crown”.
In the 1680s he began the “Holy Experiment” of Pennsylvania as a colony for both religious and political freedoms. It was here that he wrote his “Framework of Government”. This would be a big deal as a bridge between the English parliamentary reforms and the later American constitution (it was Penn’s idea to add amendments to legal documents which could help the document adapt to changing times).
The story of William Penn the younger and the Holy Experiment of Pennsylvania is too long for one show- but it’s worth noting the radical nature of this colony theologically and politically.
His approach to witchcraft as a judge and his attempt to sign land and peace treaties with the natives reveal a character ahead of his times.
And contrary to popular assumptions about the identity of the man on the Quaker Oats box, it is not William Penn. Rather the company used a stock image of a man in Quaker garb as it “projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity, and strength”. But I say, on this, the anniversary of William Penn’s death on this day in 1718, you can pretend it is.
The last word for today comes from the epistle to the Ephesians:
4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who reminds you that Cassius Coolidge, the painter of “Dogs Playing Poker” was also a Quaker, he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who ate the same breakfast for at least 3 years- cold quaker oats, peanut butter, and almond milk. I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.