The 27-ton bronze statue of William Penn atop City Hall is one of the distinctive landmarks in the city of Philadelphia.
The son of an English father and Dutch mother, William Penn joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) in his 20s. After several tumultuous years for the faith, Penn told King Charles II that the Quakers would leave England in return for a large land grant in America. Influential Quakers purchased West Jersey and East Jersey—New Jersey was not always divided into north and south as it is now—and then Charles II granted Penn 45,000 square miles of land with all powers to govern, except the power to engage in war, and named the territory after Penn's father, with sylvania being the Latin for "forest" or "woods."
The rest of William's Penn's life was complicated; politics and land grants can prove difficult bedfellows in any time; but he is rightly honored as one of the influential founders of the United States, not just the city of Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His legacy survives in our ideas of religious liberty, education, an amendable constitution, and, not least, the city he founded on the Delaware River.
As he left Pennsylvania for England in 1684, he wrote a moving letter to the friends and associates he was leaving behind. An excerpt from the letter is engraved on a plaque at City Hall and is known as William Penn's Prayer for Philadelphia.
And Thou, Philadelphia, the virgin settlement of this province—named before thou wert born—what love, what care, what service and what travail there have been to bring thee forth and to preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee.
Oh that thou mayest be kept from the evil that would overwhelm thee; that faithful to the God of thy Mercies, in the life of righteousness, thou mayest be preserved to the end.
My soul prays to God for thee that thou mayest stand in the day of trial, that thy children may be blest and thy people saved by His power.
Picture of City Hall from Flickr, used as is under a Creative Commons license, courtesy of John Donges.
Penn's letter is available in Papers of William Penn 2:590-591, but I do not have access to that volume, so here is the version in the earliest source available online, Robert Proud's History of Pennsylvania in North America (1797), 289-290. I don't know how faithful the punctuation or text is to the original.
...And thou, Philadelphia, the virgin settlement of this province, named before thou wert born, what love, what care, what service, and what travail have there been, to bring thee forth, and preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee!Oh, that thou mayest be kept from the evil, that would overwhelm thee; that faithful to the God of thy mercies, in the life of righteousness, thou mayst be preserved to the end.—My soul prays to God for thee, that thou mayst stand in the day of tryal, that thy children may be blessed of the Lord, and thy people saved by His power;—my love to thee has been great, and the remembrance of thee affects mine heart and mine eye!—the God of eternal strength keep and preserve thee, to his glory and thy peace....