In November of 1667, William Penn, a freshly converted Quaker, was arrested with 18 other Quakers in County Cork, Ireland. Christopher Rye, the mayor of Cork, was well-known for his persecution of Quakers. In a letter to The Earl of Orrery, one of the lords justice of Ireland, Penn requests that Rye not be encouraged in his persecution.
What is remarkable is that the 23-year old Quaker was already forming and articulating the beliefs that became such an important part of his Holy Experiment:
Religion which is at once my crime and my innocency makes me a prisoner to a mayors malice, but my own freeman, for being in the assembly of the people called Quakers there came several constables, backed with soldiers, rudely and arbitrarily requiring every man’s appearance before the mayor, and amongst many others violently haled me with them. Upon my coming before him he charged me for being present at a riotous and tumultuary assembly…
Penn describes the scene and questions the applicability of the law upon which the Mayor made his arrests. He then appeals to Lord Orrery:
But I presume my Lord the acquaintance you have had with other countries must needs have furnished you with this infallible observation that diversity of faith, and worships contribute not to the disturbance of any place where moral uniformity is barely requisite to preserve the peace… and conclude no way so effectual to improve advantage this country as to dispense with freedom in things relating to conscience.
An astonished Earl Orrery responded that he had already heard about the matter from Rye himself. Orrery wrote, “I confess I was surprised and sorry to see you thus associated ” with Quakers. Orrery forwarded the mayor’s letter to Penn’s father the Admiral(who had at least twice previously demanded that Penn return to England immediately), and cautions Penn that “you cannot expect that I will hinder the Magistrates from doing their duty. I hope you will follow this friendly advice…”
Looks like young adults defying their parents is nothing new…!
Written by Mary Ellyn Kunz, Museum Educator