William Penn Proclaims 1701 Charter of Privileges

Dateline: Philadelphia, 28 Oct 1701: Penn offers this new charter. What about religious liberty in the first article? How should the government be organized? Churches?

On 4 Mar 1680 Charles II granted Penn the province of Pennsylvania. On 24 Aug 1680, the king’s brother, the duke of York, granted Penn foeffments (land for Penn’s good service and under the duke’s ultimate control). Finally Penn ordered the charter of privileges to be written out.

In 1683 Penn wrote out his frame of government. Here is his charter of 1701, which updates and improves on the 1683 version.

In England a privilege guaranteed special liberties and protection against arbitrary, exploitative and capricious treatment. A charter was a document that spelled out a variety of grants, like property or the right to build a church or in this case a new nation.

The most interesting point is the first, which guarantees liberty of conscience. But it has limits. Which limits?

Modernized transcription begins:


WILLIAM PENN, Proprietary and Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania and Territories thereunto belong.

To all to whom these presents shall come, sendeth greeting:

WHEREAS KING CHARLES THE SECOND, by his letters patents under the great seal of England, bearing date the fourth day of March in the year One Thousand six hundred and eighty, was graciously pleased to give and grant unto me, my heirs and assigns, forever, this Province of Pennsylvania, with divers [various] great powers and jurisdictions for the well government thereof;

And whereas the king’s dearest brother, James, Duke of York and Albany, etc. by his deeds of feoffment under his hand and seal, duly perfecting, bearing date the twenty-fourth day of August, one thousand six hundred eighty and two, did grant unto me, my heirs and assigns, all that tract of land now called the territories of Pennsylvania, together with powers and jurisdictions for the good government thereof;

AND WHEREAS for the encouragement of all freemen and planters that might be concerned in the said province and territories and for the good government thereof;

I, the said William Penn, in the year one thousand six hundred and eighty-three, did grant and confirm unto all the freemen, planters and adventurers therein, divers [various] liberties, franchises. And properties, as by the said grant titled the FRAME OF GOVERNMENT of the PROVINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA AND TERRITORIES thereunto belonging, in AMERICA, may appear;

Which charter or frame, being found in some parts of it not so suitable to the present circumstances of the inhabitants, was in the third month, in the year one thousand seven hundred, delivered up to me by six parts of seven freemen of this province and territories, in General Assembly met, provision being made in the said charter for that end and purpose;

AND WHEREAS, I was then pleased to promise that I would restore the said Charter to them again with the necessary alterations or in lieu thereof give them another better adapted to answer the present circumstances and condition of the said inhabitants, which they have now by their Representatives in General Assembly met at Philadelphia, requester me to grant;

Know ye therefore that I, for the further well being and good government of the said Province and Territories and in pursuance of the right and powers before mentioned;

I, the said WILLIAM PENN, do declare, grant, and confirm unto all freemen, planters and adventurers and other inhabitants in this Province and Territories these following liberties, franchises and privileges, so far as in me lies, to be held, enjoyed and kept by the freemen, planters, and adventurers and other inhabitants of and in the said Province and Territories there unto annexed, forever;

FIRST, because no people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyment of civil liberties, if abridged of the freedom of their consciences as to their religious profession and worship;

And Almighty God being the only Lord of conscience, Father of lights and spirits and the author as well as object of all divine knowledge, faith and worship, who only does enlighten the mind and persuade and convince the understandings of peoples;

I do hereby grant and declare that no person or persons inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge one almighty God, the Creator, upholder and Ruler of the World and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the civil government shall be in any case molested or prejudiced in his or their person or persons because of his or their consciences, persuasion, or practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place or ministry contrary to their religious persuasion.

And that all persons who also profess to believe in JESUS CHRIST the SAVIOUR of the world shall be capable (notwithstanding their other persuasions and practices in point of conscience and religion) to serve this government in any capacity, both legislatively and executively, he or they solemnly promising, when lawfully required allegiance to the king as sovereign and fidelity to the Proprietor and Governor;

And taking the attests [i.e. oaths] as now established by the law made at New Castle, in the year one thousand seven hundred, titled an Act Directing the Attests [i.e. oaths] of Several Officers and Ministers as now amended and confirmed by this present Assembly.

SECONDLY, For the well governing of this Province and Territories, there shall be an Assembly yearly chosen by the freemen thereof to consist of four persons out of each county of most note for virtue, wisdom and ability (or of a greater number at any time as the Governor and Assembly shall agree) upon the first day of October, forever and shall sit on the fourteenth day of the said month, at Philadelphia, unless the Governor and Council for the time being shall see, cause to appoint another place within the said Province or Territories, which assembly shall have the power to choose a speaker and other [of] their officers and shall be judges of the qualifications and elections of their own members, sit upon their own adjournments, appoint committees, prepare bills in or to pass into laws, impeach criminals, and redress grievances;

And shall have all other powers and privileges of an Assembly, according to the rights of the free born subjects of England and as is usual in any of the King’s plantations in America;

And if any county or counties shall refuse or neglect to choose their respective Representatives, as aforesaid, or if chosen do not meet to serve in Assembly those are so chosen and meet shall have full power of an Assembly, in ample measure as if all the Representatives had been chosen and met, provided they are not less than two-thirds of the whole number that ought to meet;

And that the qualifications of electors of Representatives to serve in Assemblies, though not herein particularly expressed shall be and remain as by law of this government, made at New Castle in the year one thousand seven hundred, titled an Act to Ascertain the Number of Members of Assembly and to Regulate the Elections.

THIRDLY, That the freemen in respective county at the time and place of meeting for electing their Representatives to serve in Assembly may, as often as there shall be occasion, choose a double number of persons to present to the Governor for sheriffs and coroners to serve for three years, if they so long behave themselves well (as long as they behave themselves well) out of which respective elections and presentments the Governor shall nominate and commission one for each of the said officers the third day after such presentment or else shall stand and serve in that office for the time before respectively limited;

And in case of death or default, such vacancies shall be supplied by the Governor to serve to the end of the said term, provided always that if the said freemen shall at any time neglect or decline to choose a person or persons for either or both the aforesaid offices than and in such case the persons that are or shall be in respective offices of sheriff or coroner at the time of the election, as aforesaid.

And that the justices of the respective counties shall or may nominate and present to the Governor three persons to serve for clerk of the peace for the said county, when there is a vacancy, one of which the Governor shall commission within ten days after such presentment or else the first nominated shall serve in the said office during good behavior.

FOURTHLY, That the laws of this government shall be in this style, viz. (By the Governor with the consent and approbation of the freemen in General Assembly met) and shall be after confirmation by the Governor forthwith recorded in the Rolls office and kept at Philadelphia, unless the Governor and Assembly shall agree to appoint another place.

FIFTHLY, That all criminals shall have the same privileges of witnesses and council as their prosecutors.

SIXTHLY, That no person shall or may at any time hereafter be obliged to answer any complaint, matter or thing whatsoever relating to property before the governor and council or in any other place but in the ordinary courts of justice unless appeals thereunto shall hereafter by law appointed.

SEVENTHLY, That no person within this government shall be licensed by the Governor to keep ordinary, tavern, house of public [a pub] [unless] under the hand of the justices of the respective counties, signed in open court, which justices are and shall be hereby empowered to suppress and forbid any person keeping such public house as aforesaid, upon their misbehavior, on such penalties as the law does or shall direct, and to recommend others from time to time as they shall see occasion.

EIGHTHLY, If any person, through temptation or melancholy shall destroy himself, his estate, real or person, shall, not withstanding, descend to his wife and children or relations as if he had died a natural death;

And if any person shall be destroyed or killed by casualty or accident, there shall be no forfeiture to the Governor by reason thereof;

And no act or law or ordinance whatsoever shall at any time hereafter be made or done to alter, change or diminish the form or effect of this Charter or any part or clause therein, contrary to the true intent and meaning thereof, without the consent of the Governor for the time being, and six parts of seven of the Assembly met;

But because the happiness of mankind depends so much upon the enjoying of liberty of their consciences, as aforesaid, I do hereby solemnly declare, promise, and grant for me, my heirs and assigns that the first article of the Charter, relating to liberty of conscience and every part and clause therein, according to the true intent and meaning thereof, shall be kept and remain without any alterations, inviolably forever.

And LASTLY, I, the said William Penn, Proprietor and Governor of the Province of Philadelphia and territories thereunto belong, for myself, my heirs and assigns have solemnly declared, granted, and confirmed and do hereby solemnly declare, grant, and confirm that neither I, my heirs or assigns shall procure or do any thing or things whereby the liberties in this Charter contained and expressed, nor any part thereof, shall be infringed or broken;

And if any thing shall be procured or done by any person or persons, contrary to these presents, it shall be held of no force or effect.

IN WITNESS whereof, I, William Penn, at Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, have unto this present Charter of Liberties set my hand and broad seal, this twenty-eighth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and one, being the thirteenth year of the reign of King WILLIAM the Third, over England, Scotland, France and Ireland, etc. and the twenty-first year of my government.

And notwithstanding the closure and test of this present Charter, as aforesaid, I think fit to add this following proviso thereunto as part of the same; that is to say, that notwithstanding any clause or clauses in the above mentioned Charter, obliged the Province and Territories to join together in legislation, I am content and do hereby declare that if the Representatives of the Province and Territories shall not hereinafter agree to join together in legislation; and if the same shall be signified to me or my deputy, in open Assembly or otherwise, from under the hands and seals of the Representatives (for the time being) of the Province or Territories or any major part of either of them, any time within three years from the date hereof;

That in such case the inhabitants of each of the three counties of this Province shall not have less than eight persons to represent them in Assembly for the Province and the inhabitants of the town of Philadelphia (when the said town is incorporated) two persons to represent them in Assembly;

And the inhabitants of each county in the territories shall have as many persons to represent them in a distinct Assembly for the territories as shall be by them requested, as aforesaid, notwithstanding which separation of the Province and Territories in respect of legislation, I do hereby promise, grant and declare that the inhabitants of both Province and Territories shall separately enjoy all other liberties, privileges and benefits granted jointly to them in this Charter;

Any law made or passed by this General Assembly to the contrary thereof, Notwithstanding.


Copia vera (true copy)

P[er] [by]. Jos. Antrobus, clerk of the Assembly

This Charter of Privileges being distinctly read in Assembly and the whole and every part thereof being approved and agreed to by us, we do thankfully receive the same from the Proprietor and Governor, at Philadelphia, this twenty-eighth day of October, 1701.

Signed on behalf and by order of the Assembly

p. Jos. Growdon, Speaker

Edward Shippen

Phineas Pemberton

Samuel Carpenter

Griffith Owen

Caleb Pusey

Thomas Story

Recorded in the Rolls office at Philadelphia, in patent Book Am Vol. 2nd, p. 125-129, the 31 of 8th month [Oct.] 1701.

By me, Thos. Story Mr. ibim [sic]

Transcription ends.


Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg Theophilus Fenn, 1838), pp. 51, 54-58.


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