Penn’s Pen: Even William Has a Romantic Side!

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we want to offer some touching words of love from William to his first and second wives. 

William and his first wife Gulielma show every sign of having a loving relationship, a true partnership.  Before sailing off to his new colony in August 1682, Penn wrote a letter to his wife and children.  In the 17th century, a sea voyage was a dangerous and sometimes deadly adventure.  So this letter would have offered comforting words of love and advice should he not return…

My dear Wife and Children.

    My love, that sea nor land, nor death itself can extinguish or lessen toward you, most endearly visits you with eternal embraces, and will abide with you for ever: and may the god of my life watch over you, and bless you good in this world and for ever.  Some things are upon my spirit to leave with you, in your respective capacities; as I am to one a husband and to the rest a father, if I should never see you more in this world.

    My dear Wife, remember thou wast the love of my youth, and much the joy of my life the most belov’d as well as most worthy of all my earthly Comforts.  And the reason of that love was more thy inward, than thy outward excellencies (wch yet were many)……

    And now my dear Children, that are the gifts and mercies of the god of your tender father, hear my counsel, and lay it up in your hearts.  Love it more than treasure, and follow it, and you shall be bless’d here and happy in the hearafter……

Two years after his beloved Gulielma passed away, Penn began courting another young woman named Hannah Callowhill.  To see excerpts from their correspondence, visit this link posted to our official website: 

Have a very Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator & Project Assistant


Exploring the Artifacts: Take Your Mattress and Stuff It!

Those of you that have walked the grounds of Pennsbury may have seen a building called The Worker’s Cottage.  This reconstructed outbuilding’s original purpose or even existence is unknown, but we use it to talk about the laboring class’s lifestyle in early colonial Pennsylvania.  Most people did not live as luxuriously as William Penn’s family.  Most homeowners, or people who worked as an apprentice or slave for a homeowner, lived in a 1-2 room house similar to this. 

Today we are exploring one of the biggest features in this cottage:  The Bed!  This is technically not an artifact, but a reproduction, an exact replica of a historic object.  Reproductions are used in many historic sites to fill the gaps in our artifact collections.  The originals may be hard to find or too delicate to handle with visitors, so reproductions are a nice substitute that interpreters and visitors can interact with!

Raised beds would have been a luxury for many families, reserved for the master and mistress of the house.  Children, servants, and slaves would have slept on mattresses on the floor.  Our bed is a reproduction that we use to interact with visitors.  But the old roping and mattress were looking extremely worn out from all the fun we’ve been having.  So it was time for a make-over! 

We started with the roped frame, creating an interlocking bottom similar to basket weaving.  The tool pictured here is called a Key, and is used to pull the ropes tight. Stretching the ropes as tight as possible, then tying them off would keep a firm foundation for the mattress.  Still, ropes stretch with use, and would need occasional tightening to ensure the occupants don’t fall through in the middle of the night!

Once the bed is tightly roped, it’s time to add a mattress.  Whenever possible, colonists would use feather down to stuff their bed.  But those without the money or means could always use straw.  A sturdy, tightly woven linen ticking (cotton would become more accessible and affordable later in the 18th century) made a great casing for the straw and prevented any irritating stalks from poking through.  Just like today’s pillows, they were sewn on three sides, flipped inside-out and stuffed fully, then sewn closed.  Over time the straw would break down, so the mattress could be reopened and emptied, then stuffed with new straw. 

  To see an example of how to stuff a 17th-century mattress, check out this clip of the BBC series Tales of the Green Valley, which documents a year in the life of a 17th-century farm: .  This is an amazing series which I wish was available to purchase in the US.  However, all the episodes are available on YouTube and I highly encourage you to watch – once I started, I couldn’t stop.

In addition to the mattress, well-stuffed pillows and bed covers are also important.  Many people preferred sleeping propped-up, which explains why some beds may seem short to modern eyes (there was not a big difference in height, contrary to popular myth).  Depending on the weather, you might have many layers of sheets and blankets piled on top.  We have one light blanket of a wonderfully scratchy blue wool, but others could certainly be added.

We are so pleased with the way our 17th-century bed turned out – please check out the finished product below!  Continue reading