Charter Day

Sunday marks 340th anniversary of King Charles II approving William Penn’s colonial charter

Photo from phmc.pa.gov This is one of the four pages from the Pennsylvania Charter granted in 1681. “The upper left corner of the first page bears the portrait, or cartouche, of Charles II. The borders of each page are embellished with the shields of lands conquered at one time or another by England, including France, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The four pages were bound together at the bottom of each page with a silken cord, and in turn the cord threaded through the Great Seal of England,” according to the State Historical & Museum Commission.

Sunday, March 7 is Charter Day.

Now, I suspect I’m not the only one that didn’t really have any idea what Charter Day was. But Sunday marks the 340th birthday of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania was created when England’s King Charles II granted a charter to William Penn in 1681,” according to a press release from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.” Once each year, the Pennsylvania State Archives exhibits the original document for a limited time.

“The 340-year-old Charter is written on parchment using iron gall ink. The State Archives preserves the document in a high-security vault, shielding it from strong light and environmental fluctuations.”

In the COVID-19 era in which we live, the events the state is planning are virtual. But, Harrisburg is four hours from Warren County so that means we likely have access to programming for this Charter Day that we haven’t had before.

Photo from phmc.pa.gov One of the seals on the Pennsylvania Charter. According to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, the seals are made of green beeswax, placed in a metal box and hung like a pendant from the document.

Beginning Sunday, March 7 and continuing through Friday, March 12, virtual visitors to the Charter Day 2021 landing page will be able to view the charter and find out more about how the Charter ended up at PHMC and how we care for it, according to the Commission.

I don’t have a direct link to the landing page but the PHMC’s site is phmc.pa.gov. The commission highlights other virtual tours and options present on the website as well.

“Sites and museums along Pennsylvania’s Trails of History will offer online programs throughout the week,” the Commission’s statement explained. “Several sites will come together on Tuesday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m. for a special Zoom webinar as they present and discuss objects from their collections that relate to the aptly chosen theme of ‘birthdays and other celebrations. Advance registration is required.”

Registration can be found at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Xg1Qqri7QLKSQx2Ry-MlYA.

Participating sites include Cornwall Iron Furnace, Eckley Miners Village, Ephrata Cloister,Erie Maritime Museum, Hope Lodge, Joseph Priestley House, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, Pennsbury Manor, Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum, Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, Pennsylvania Military Museum and The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

Beyond wanting to share a place for you to get your history other than this page each week, the release caught my eye. Well, any document that’s 340 years old is likely to catch my eye.

A separate Commission webpage tells that story.

“Proprietor William Penn was a ‘landed gentleman’ having inherited estates in England and Ireland from his father, Admiral Sir William Penn. Like others of his class, he was caught in an inflationary squeeze. Income from his tenants was fixed by custom, while the cost of living was rising. Penn (and others) saw expansion of their land holdings as a solution to this problem. Nevertheless, Penn was more than a real estate promoter; he was a visionary who dreamed of a colony where people could live together harmoniously. This seemed to him impossible in the Europe of the 1600s with its frequent wars and almost constant religious discrimination and at times intense persecution. Essential to Penn was freedom of worship. He had become a member of the Religious Society of the Friends of God, commonly called Quakers.”

That report indicates that Penn asked King Charles II for a charter for land in American in 1680.

“The only available tract in eastern North America,” per the Commission, “lay west of New Jersey, north of Maryland, and south of New York, an area that England had conquered from the Dutch in 1664 and which the King had given to his brother James, the Duke of York.”

While the boundaries were “troublesome in practice,” the charter granted Penn and his heirs control over land and waterways, use of natural resources and possession of gold and other precious medals.

“In return for such material benefits,” the Commission’s history states, “the Charter required Penn to deliver annually to the King one-fifth of all gold and silver and two beaver skins.”

The document itself is four pages — each 20” x 24″.

Here’s a sample of the text with modern spelling issues NOT corrected: Charles the Second, by the grace of God King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, &c., To all to whome these presents shall come Greeting. Whereas our Trustie and well beloved Subject, William Penn, Esquire, sonn and heire of Sir William Penn, deceased, out of a commendable desire to enlarge our English Empire, and promote such usefull commodities as may bee of benefit to us and our Dominions, as alsoe to reduce the Savage Natives by gentle and just manners to the love of civill Societie and Christian Religion hath humbley besought leave of vs to transport an ample colonie vnto a certaine Countrey hereinafter described in the partes of America not yet cultivated and planted. And hath likewise humbley besought our Royall majestie to give grant, and confirme all the said countrey with certaine priviledges and Jurisdiccions requisite for the good Government and saffie of the said Countrey and Colonie, to him and his heires forever.”

The Commission says the document was given to the Commonwealth in 1812 by the Penn family.

“By this time, constant folding and unfolding of the popular first page caused rotting of the parchment in the lower left corner. In the 1830s, the entire document was placed on permanent display in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, where it remained for most of the 1800s,” the history states. “At that time approximately five inches of each page at the bottom were trimmed away to fit in frames for display purposes. The silken cords binding the pages, together with the Great Seal of England, were also removed, and have since been lost. The Charter remained under the administrative responsibility of the Department of State until transferred to the newly created State Archives early in the 1900s. It was displayed at the State Museum until 1984 when it was removed due to increasing concern for its fragility and security, and replaced with full-scale color facsimiles. The document is presently housed in a special climate-controlled high security vault in the State Archives in Harrisburg, and is displayed on special occasions.”


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