Colonial Records – William Penn’s Letter on Vice

While we at the HJL focus on Berks County starting roughly around 1720s.  It is just one piece of a huge history that was taking place in Pennsylvania.  English history in Pennsylvania begins with the signing of the Charter in 1682.  Following the charter an entire system of government is established and people begin populating the area around Philadelphia.  This history is not totally lost to us.  Buried in our stack room, is a series of books titled the Colonial Records. The Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC) references the Colonial Records as such: “A total of sixteen volumes containing the minutes of the Provincial Council, 1683-1775, in Volumes I-X; those of the Council of Safety (and of the Committee of Safety), 1775-1777, in X and XI; and those of the Supreme Executive Council, 1777-1790, in XI-XVI. These were printed directly from the manuscript books with no editing apparent Issued 1838-1853.

These records, which precede the Pennsylvania Archives Series, are full of history tidbits on the founding and running of our province.  Buried in the minutes are Sheriff Appointments, Road Petitions, Accusations of Witchcraft, and the Crafting of Laws.  And yes, while reading government minute books often fall on the “boring side” (have you ever read the Congressional Record?  There are 2 pages of debate on whether to give the congressional janitor a raise, before the debate on the Repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. snore), you never know what gems you may find, when turning the pages.

The Colonial Records are the story of Us.  It is the Us before we became a county and a state.  It tells the story of trying to carve out a civilization in a new world and away from those that govern you.  It tells individual stories and some of those stories are really interesting.

While Luke continues to bring more of Scholla to life, I will try and highlight some of the interesting “goings on” occurring almost 4 centuries ago.  As always, if you would like to learn more about any document or collection we have in the HJL, please visit us!

Att a Council Held att Philadelphia Die Mercury, 9th Febry, 1697-8

The Governor exhibited to the Council a Lettr from the proprietor, directed for him, to be opened only and read in a full Council; Which being through to be as full a Council as could be got in such a season of ye year, It was yrfor Resolved that the sd Lettr should be opened and read which was done.  The contents grof wer as follows, verbatim, viz: “London 5th 7m., 1697.  Friends, The accusaons of one sort, & the reports of another that are come for England agt yor governmnt, not only tent to or ruin, but disgrace.  That you wink at Scotch trade and a Dutch one too, Receiving European goos from the latter, as well as suffering yors, agt the Law & English interest, to goe to the other; Also, that you doe not onlie wink att but Imbrace pirats, Shipps and men.  These are yor accusaons, and one Fra. Jones of philadelphia has Complained of them to Gor Nicholson, becaus it wa not redrest in the governmt.  The Reports are, and a nameless Lettr is come to me besides from Philadelphia, to ye same purpose, that there is no place more overrun with wickednes, Sins so very Scandalous, openly Comitted in defiance of Law and Virtue: facts so foul, I am forbid by Comon modesty to relate ym.  I do yrfore desire and charge you, the Gor & Council for the time being, to issue forth some act or acts of state forthwith to suppress forbidden trade and piracy, and also the growth of vice and Loosness, till some severer Laws be made agt them: And I do hereby charge that no Licence be granted to any to keep publick houses, that do not give great securitie to keep Civil houses, and are not known to be of a sober Conversaon, and that the Courts of Justice in each County have approbaon, if not Licensing of ym, In order to prevent such acts of the Lewdness and Idleness as are too often seen in such places; And that you take Care that Justice be Impartially done upon trangressors, that the wrath and vengeance of God fall not upon you to blast your so very flourishing beginning.  I hasten to you as fast as ye Complaints here agt you will give me leave, that make my presence now but too necessary.  Let neither base gain nor a byast affection mak you partial in these Cases, but for my sake, yor own sakes, and above all for God’s sake, Let not the poor province Longer suffer under such grievous and offensive Imputations; and will oblige him that loves you, prays for you, and prays to be with you, and is with true Love your real friend & affectionate proprietary.                             WM. PENN.”

The Contents whereof, & the Complaints yrin mentioned being strictlie inquired into, The Gor did appoint Samll Carpenter, Joseph Growdon & Wm. Clarke a Committee of Council further to peruse the sd Letter, & to inquire into the sd Complaints, & to make report yrof to the Gor & council next day, by way of ansr to ye sd Letter.

Adjourned to 10th instant.

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