Historical Markers
John Penn's Home Historical Marker
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John Penn's Home

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
242 South Third Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
October 1932

Behind the Marker

When John Penn assumed the governorship of the colony from his uncle, Thomas Penn, in 1763, he faced serious administrative problems. The sheer size of Pennsylvania made it difficult to collect rents from settlers and increasing conflict between whites and Indians on the frontier was jeopardizing the peaceable policy that his grandfather William Penn, the colony's Quaker founder, had established with the Native Americans.
Formal portrait of John Penn
John Penn, Governor of Pennsylvania

Because the Penn heir refused to approve money bills that taxed his lands, there was little revenue in the public coffers to pay for frontier defense. After Indian raids occurred across the western counties during the first year of his administration, angry white settlers marched on Philadelphia in February 1764 to demand the raising of a frontier militia. Armed volunteers under markerBenjamin Franklin's command headed them off at Germantown and persuaded them to abandon their plans for insurrection and submit their grievances to the Assembly. This so-called marker"Paxton Boys" march intensified the already antagonistic conflict between Penn's proprietorship of the colony and an Anti-proprietary Party led by Franklin.

Hoping to replace the Penn family with royal control of the colony, Franklin deviously exploited the incident by charging that Governor Penn had entered into an alliance with the western settlers that would soon reduce the colony to anarchy. Overwhelmed with these internal problems, John Penn was unprepared to deal with the growing movement for American independence.

Until 1774, Pennsylvania's resistance to British imperial policy was confined to Philadelphia. But when John Penn refused to call the Assembly to select delegates to the First Continental Congress, the city's radicals formed committees of correspondence to select the delegates instead. These committees, established throughout the colony, became the organizational vehicles for the Revolution. Jointly composed of radicals and moderates, the committees were almost unanimous in their opposition to Parliament's Coercive Acts, designed to punish Boston for the destruction of British tea during the infamous "Tea Party."

The following year, when the Second Continental Congress met at Philadelphia in response to the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, Penn realized that the end of his family's rule was at hand. "Our form of government still continues," he wrote in a prophetic letter to a friend in England, "but I think it cannot last long."

Penn lost power in 1776 when radicals overthrew his government and replaced his grandfather's 1701 Charter of Privileges with a new, vastly more liberal constitution. Unlike Pennsylvania's other Loyalists, who returned to England, John Penn was exiled to New Jersey in 1777. Permitted to return to Philadelphia the following year, Penn agreed to take an oath of loyalty to the new government of Pennsylvania during the Revolution.

Although his family was divested of its unsold lands by the state legislature in 1779 with a compensation of 130,000 pounds - the Penn family still retained land that they owned outright - Penn and other family members continued to lobby Parliament for additional compensation for their confiscated property. He continued to live at his red-brick Georgian-style home at 242 South Third Street until his death in 1795.
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