The Founding of Pennsylvania

This lesson is an introduction to the founding of Pennsylvania and will help the students explore how Pennsylvania was colonized in the 17th century. This is meant as an introductory lesson to immerse students into the world of William Penn and create a foundation for future lessons. Using the documents provided, students will understand how Pennsylvania received its name, learn the beliefs of the Quakers, the relationship of the colonists with the Native Americans, and the chronology of events which took place during colonization. It will also incorporate new vocabulary words for the students to utilize in their own writing.

William Penn, born in 1644, was the son of a wealthy Admiral in the Royal Navy. As a young man he joined the Quaker religion, which was illegal since any person who was not a part of the Church of England, the official religion of England, was persecuted as a religious dissenter. This caused Penn to be jailed several times and fight for the right to religious toleration. After his father’s death, Penn took over the family estate. Luckily for Penn, King Charles II owed the Penn family a fairly large debt of 16000 pounds so, rather than the King paying his debt, William Penn received land in the New World to begin his own colony. This is where the dream of a colony where Quakers could practice their religion freely became a reality with the founding of Pennsylvania. The king named the colony Pennsylvania after Penn’s father; it means “Penn’s Woods.”

Essential Questions

How can the story of another Pennsylvanian, past or present, influence your life?


Students will:
• Understand the importance of William Penn and the beliefs of the Quakers.
• Learn to place events in chronological order.

Other Materials

Suggested books for teaching:

Gross, Sandra, Jeffrey P Roberts, and Atwater Kent Museum. William Penn, Visionary & Proprietor: An Exhibit Catalog. Philadelphia: Atwater Kent Museum, 1983.

Wiener, Roberta, and James R Arnold. Pennsylvania : The History of Pennsylvania Colony, 1681-1776. Chicago, Ill.: Raintree, 2005.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1. As a warm up to the lesson, begin with background information on Pennsylvania and what the area was like prior to colonization. This will introduce students to the context surrounding colonization when William Penn landed and who already lived there.
a. Show the primary sources of Native American tribes and how they lived.
b. Explain that William Penn was born in 1644. Quickly do the math and explain that if William Penn was alive today in 2014, he would be 370 years old. This will help students develop the context that these events took place in the past.

2. Next, introduce students to the world that William Penn lived in by reading the Prologue and Chapter 1 of the picture book 13 Colonies: Pennsylvania, as a guide for students to understand the differences between Pennsylvania then and now.  This reading will continue to give students the background knowledge they need to understand the founding of Pennsylvania, the making of Philadelphia, and its importance as a colony in the United States.

3. Tell the students the story of William Penn. The picture book, William Penn: Visionary and Proprietor, is a good guide to teach students about William Penn and the founding of the Pennsylvania colony. While explaining to students the story of William Penn, be sure to include visuals provided in the primary source materials section so students can see graphic representations of different events.

Points of discussion while telling the story of William Penn, utilizing the listed primary sources as teaching tools:
a. Ask the students to tell you what they see in the picture. What are the people wearing, and what does it look like is happening?
b. Explain to students that Pennsylvania was meant to be a haven for people who were being persecuted for their religion in England.
c. Show maps of William Penn’s original layout of Philadelphia and then provide the larger map which shows Philadelphia as well as the surrounding area.
d. Remember to include information on how Pennsylvania got its name and why William Penn did not appreciate it.
e. After telling the story of William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania, work together as a class to construct a timeline on the board starting at 1644. This will help students recall what they just learned as well as create a visual for them to understand the progress which was made from 1644 until Penn’s death. This timeline will also act as a reference for students if they have questions during the rest of the lessons.

4. After discussing William Penn’s life and the colony he created, give students the vocabulary list. As a whole group, or in pairs depending on level of students, have students fill in each vocabulary definition. Since this is the first lesson on William Penn, it is important for students to use this lesson to understand how Pennsylvania was founded and the vocabulary which will show up in further reading.
a. Make sure to go over “English Pound” directly so that they understand that in England, instead of calling money “dollars,” they refer to it as “pounds”.
b. Also, if possible, use these vocabulary words with your weekly spelling words so the students can become familiar with them.


Colonist: A person who lives in a colony or takes part in founding a colony.
Colonization: Establishing or settling a colony.
Dissent: To disagree in opinions.
English Pound: Basic unit of money in England.
Indebted: Owing something such as money or thanks
Native American: The original inhabitants of North and South America.
Persecution: Harassed or ill-treated usually due to a difference in race, politics, or religion.
Quaker: Name of a religious group also known as the Society of Friends.
Treaty: An agreement made by negotiation. Usually between states or rulers.