While William Penn’s name is one familiar to many Americans thanks to his founding of the Pennsylvania colony, this accomplishment can overshadow both his role as a leading 17th-century English Quaker and his pioneering contributions to Western political thought. In William Penn: A Life
(Oxford University Press, 2018), Andrew R. Murphy
recounts the range of Penn’s achievements and the many obstacles he overcame in the process. The son of a Royal Navy officer, Penn spent many of his early years in a restless search for personal fulfillment. This he found when he turned to Quakerism, his conversion to which set him at odds with the dominant Anglican faith. Penn’s preaching and his campaigns against the state’s intolerance of religious dissent both fueled his status as one of the most prominent members of England’s Quaker community and led him to be jailed several times. Though he viewed Pennsylvania as a haven for Quakers, the many challenges of establishing a colony in North America both limited Penn’s time in the New World and left him with enormous debts that he spent his final years working to resolve.