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Penn’s Letter Recruiting Colonists, 1683

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English colonies were generally funded by joint-stock companies in which investors took significant risks but could reap great rewards. For more than a century, to induce investment and settlement, English sponsors and organizers of colonies wrote promotional literature with extravagant claims about settling in the New World. William Penn helped establish the Pennsylvania colony and acted as its governor. He understood that the success of his colony depended on a steady stream of settlers and financial support. In 1681, Penn encouraged the creation of The Free Society of Traders, a joint-stock company founded by a small group of Quakers in England. The members of this company were given concessions or privileges such as large tracts of land and seats on the Provincial Council in Philadelphia in return for their financial support of Penn’s colony. In this letter to The Free Society of Traders, Penn described Pennsylvania in glowing terms to encourage immigration and assure his investors they made a wise investment in his colony.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who was the author of this document?
  2. What was his purpose in writing this document?
  3. Who was the audience for this document?
  4. Based on his purpose, what do you expect to see in this letter?

Vocabulary Text
For the PROVINCE, the general condition of it take as followeth.
loamy (adj): describing rich soil containing sand and silt

vale (n): valley
I. The country itself in its soil, air, water, seasons and produce both natural and artificial is not to be despised. The land contains divers [many] sorts of earth, as sand yellow and black, poor and rich: also gravel both loamy and dusty; and in some places a full fat earth, like to our best vales in England, especially by inland brooks and rivers. . . .
II. The air is sweet and clear, the Heavens serene, like the south-parts of France, rarely overcast; and as the woods come by numbers of people to be more cleared, that itself will refine.
III. The waters are generally good, for the rivers and brooks have mostly gavel and stony bottoms, and in number hardly credible. . . .
V. The natural produce of the country, of vegetables, is trees, fruits, plants, flowers, The trees of most note are, the black walnut, cedar, cypress, chestnut, poplar, gumwood, hickory, sassafras, ash, beech and oak of diverse sorts, as red, white and black; Spanish chestnut and swamp, the most durable of all: All which there is plenty for the use of man.
muskmelon (n): a type of melon that includes cantaloupe and honeydew VI. The artificial produce of the country is wheat, barley, oats, rye, peas, beans, squashes, pumpkins, watermelons, muskmelons, and all herbs and roots that our gardens in England usually bring forth. . . .
heath-bird (n): a black grouse, a ground-dwelling game bird

brantsnipecurlew (n): types of wading birds
VII. Of living creatures, fish, fowl, and the beasts of the woods, here are divers sorts, some for food and profit, and some for profit only! For food as well as profit, the elk, as big as a small ox, deer bigger than ours, beaver, raccoon, rabbits [and] squirrels, and some eat young bear, and commend it. Of fowl of the land, there is the turkey (forty and fifty pound weight), which is very great, pheasants, heath-birds, pigeons, and partridges in abundance. Of the water, the swan, goose, white and gray, brants, ducks, teal, also the snipe and curlew, and that in great numbers; but the duck and teal excel, nor so good have I ever eaten in other countries. Of fish, there is the sturgeon, herring, rock, shad, catshead, sheepshead, eel, smelt, perch, roach; and in inland rivers, trout, some say salmon, above the Falls. Of shellfish, we have oysters, crabs, cockles, conches and mussels; some oysters six inches long, and one sort of cockles as big as the stewing oysters; they make a rich broth. The creatures for profit only by skin or fur, and that are natural to these parts, are the wildcat, panther, otter, wolf, fox, fisher, mink, muskrat; and of the water, the whale for oil, of which we have good store; and two companies of whalers, whose boats are built, will soon begin their work, which has the appearance of a considerable improvement; to say nothing of our reasonable hopes of good cod in the bay. . . .
VIII. We have no want of horses, and some are very good and shapely enough. . . .
IX. There are diverse plants that not only the Indians tell us, but we have had occasion to prove by swellings, burnings, cuts, etc., that they are of great virtue, suddenly curing the patient: and for smell, I have observed several, especially one, the wild myrtle—the other I know not what to call, but are most fragrant.
X. The woods are adorned with lovely flowers, for color, greatness, figure, and variety. I have seen the gardens of London best stored with that sort of beauty, but think they may be improved by our woods. . . .
XXXI. . . . And for the well government of the said counties, Courts of Justice are established in every county, with proper officers, as justices, sheriffs, clarks, constables, etc., which courts are held every two months: But to prevent lawsuits, there are three peace-makers chosen by every county court, in the nature of common arbitrators, to hear and end differences between man and man; and spring and fall there is an orphan’s court in each county, to . . . regulate the affairs of orphans and widows.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Why do you think Penn begins his description of the province with the soil?
  2. Why does Penn compare the land to England?
  3. Do you think this is an exaggerated description of the weather in the colony? Why or why not?
  4. Why does Penn describe the trees and crops in the colony?
  5. What categories does Penn create for the animals in the colony?
  6. How does Penn know about these medicinal plants?
  7. What is Penn suggesting by saying that the best gardens in London “may be improved by our woods”?
  8. Why does Penn discuss the courts and sheriffs?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Sort Penn’s descriptions of the colony into the following categories: the land, plants and animals, and governmental organization. Why do you think he chose to include information on these things?
  2. Propaganda can be defined as one-sided information meant to persuade. Does this account of Pennsylvania qualify as propaganda? Justify your answer with specific examples from the text.
  3. If you were one of Penn’s investors in London receiving this letter, what additional information would you want to know about Pennsylvania before renewing your investment?
  4. If you were a yeoman farmer living in England, would you move to Pennsylvania on the basis of this description? Why or why not?

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