Inspired by his work with the New Jersey colony, Penn formally requested an American land grant from the king on June 1, 1680. His father’s loyalty to the royal family and the unpaid debt owed him aided Penn’s request, and on March 4, 1681, Charles II approved the patent for Pennsylvania. Penn became the sole proprietor of roughly 45,000 square miles of unexplored land in the American colonies. The patent was geographically imprecise, leaving Penn unsure of exactly what land he owned, and resulting in a prolonged dispute over the southern boundary. Penn began his “holy experiment” with grandiose ideas of religious freedom and financial success. He began selling land subscriptions of 5,000 acres, hoping to establish a colony of prosperous Quakers. Only 41 subscriptions of that size were sold at the cost of 100 pounds each, a number far short of his original goal of 100 subscribers. In the absence of wealthy investors, Penn sold 430 subscriptions to smaller investors, at an average of 750 acres. Most of these subscribers were skilled laborers, though the number included some professional men, two teachers, three doctors, and seven single women. These investors immigrated almost immediately.
For his capital city Penn envisioned what he called the “city beautiful” plan, an ideal that proved unrealistic. Investors were slated to receive a bonus grant of 10 acres in the city lot in order to build townhouses. Penn sought to avoid the crowded and polluted conditions of European cities. No homes were to be built closer than one-quarter mile from the waterfront. The city was to have two large open squares and smaller ones in every quarter. Two main highways as well as several smaller streets were to provide a grid on which to organize the city. Streets that ran north and south were to be identified by numbers, while those running east and west were to be named after types of trees. Given the limited financial means of most of his investors, Penn eventually reduced the size of the land bonuses, as well as allowing for the establishment of smaller back streets that would accommodate the less affluent.
William Penn, a prominent English Quaker, spent seven months in prison and wrote scores of books and pamphlets on religious toleration. Finally obtaining a land grant in 1681, Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania. (Private Collection/Bridgeman Art Library) In 1681, as Penn was drafting the frame of government for Pennsylvania, his mother died. Penn had been close to his mother and was now orphaned, his father having died in 1670. During this time Penn relied heavily on his advisers in Pennsylvania. Early in 1682 he dispatched Captain William Markham to the colony to determine a site for the capital and establish friendly relations with the native population. Penn himself arrived in the colony late in 1682.