Today is the birthday of William Penn (1644), an English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, early Quaker and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English North American colony and the future Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was an early advocate of democracy and religious freedom, notable for his good relations and successful treaties with the Lenape Indians. Under his direction, the city of Philadelphia was planned and developed.
In 1681, King Charles II handed over a large piece of his North American land holdings to William Penn to satisfy a debt the king owed to Penn’s father. This land included present-day Pennsylvania and Delaware. As one of the earlier supporters of colonial unification, Penn wrote and urged for a union of all the English colonies in what was to become the United States of America. The democratic principles that he set forth in the Pennsylvania Frame of Government served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution. He developed a forward-looking project for a United States of Europe through the creation of a European Assembly made of deputies that could discuss and adjudicate controversies peacefully. He is therefore considered the first advocate for the creation of a European Parliament.
A man of profound religious convictions, Penn wrote numerous writings in which he exhorted believers to adhere to the spirit of Primitive Christianity. He was imprisoned several times in the Tower of London due to his faith, and his book No Cross, No Crown (1669), which he wrote while in prison, has become a Christian classic. Penn’s biography is really too long to go into in detail here so I will simply outline a few highlights.
Penn was born in 1644 at Tower Hill, London, the son of English Admiral Sir William Penn, and Margaret Jasper, from a Dutch family, previously the widow of a Dutch captain, and the daughter of a rich merchant from Rotterdam. William Penn, Sr. served in the Commonwealth Navy during the English Civil War and was rewarded by Oliver Cromwell with estates in Ireland. The lands were seized from Irish Catholics in retaliation for the failed Irish Rebellion of 1641. Admiral Penn took part in the restoration of Charles II and was eventually knighted and served in the Royal Navy. At the time of his son’s birth, Captain Penn was twenty-three and an ambitious naval officer in charge of quelling Irish Catholic unrest and blockading Irish ports.
Penn was educated first at Chigwell School, by private tutors whilst in Ireland, and later at Christ Church, Oxford. Penn’s education heavily leaned on the classical authors and “no novelties or conceited modern writers’’ were allowed including William Shakespeare. The school itself was cast in an puritanical Anglican mode – strict, humorless, and somber – and teachers had to be pillars of virtue and provide sterling examples to their pupils. Though later opposing Anglicanism on religious grounds, Penn absorbed many Puritan values, and was known later for his serious demeanor, strict behavior and lack of humor.
After a failed mission to the Caribbean, Admiral Penn and his family were exiled to his lands in Ireland. It was during this period, when Penn was about fifteen, that he met Thomas Loe, a Quaker missionary, who was maligned by both Catholics and Protestants. Loe was admitted to the Penn household and during his discourses on the “Inner Light,” young Penn recalled later that “the Lord visited me and gave me divine Impressions of Himself.” A year later, Cromwell was dead, the royalists resurging, and the Penn family returned to England. The middle class aligned itself with the royalists and Admiral Penn was sent on a secret mission to bring back exiled Prince Charles. For his role in restoring the monarchy, Admiral Penn was knighted and gained a powerful position as Commissioner of the Navy.
In 1660, Penn arrived at Oxford and enrolled as a gentleman scholar with an assigned servant. The student body was a volatile mix of swashbuckling Cavaliers (aristocratic Protestants), sober Puritans, and nonconforming Quakers. The new government’s discouragement of religious dissent gave the Cavaliers the license to harass the minority groups. Because of his father’s high position and social status, young Penn was firmly a Cavalier but his sympathies lay with the persecuted Quakers. To avoid conflict, he withdrew from social life and became a reclusive scholar.
At Oxford Penn considered a medical career and took some dissecting classes. Rational thought began to spread into science, politics and economics, which he did not take a liking to. When theologian John Owen was fired from his deanery, Penn and other open-minded students rallied to his side and attended seminars at the dean’s house, where intellectual discussions covered the gamut of new thought. Penn learned the valuable skills of forming ideas into theory, discussing theory through reasoned debate, and testing the theories in the real world.
He also faced his first moral dilemma. After Owen was censured again after being fired, students were threatened with punishment for associating with him. However, Penn stood by the dean, thereby gaining a fine and reprimand from the university. The Admiral, despairing of the charges, pulled young Penn away from Oxford, hoping to distract him from the heretical influences of the university. The attempt had no effect and father and son struggled to understand each other. Back at school, the administration imposed stricter religious requirements including daily chapel attendance and required dress. Penn rebelled against enforced worship and was expelled. His father, in a rage, attacked young Penn with a cane and forced him from their home. Penn’s mother made peace in the family, which allowed her son to return home but she quickly concluded that both her social standing and her husband’s career were being threatened by their son’s behavior. So at age 18, young Penn was sent to Paris to get him out of view, improve his manners, and expose him to another culture.
In Paris, at the court of young Louis XIV, Penn found French manners far more refined than the coarse manners of his countrymen – but the extravagant display of wealth and privilege did not sit well with him. Though impressed by Notre Dame and the Catholic ritual, he felt uncomfortable with it. Instead he sought out spiritual direction from French Protestant theologian Moise Amyraut, who invited Penn to stay with him in Saumur for a year.The undogmatic Christian humanist talked of a tolerant, adapting view of religion which appealed to Penn, who later stated, “I never had any other religion in my life than what I felt.” By adapting his mentor’s belief in free will, Penn felt unburdened of Puritanical guilt and rigid beliefs, and was inspired to search out his own religious path.
With his father laid low by gout, young Penn was sent to Ireland in 1666 to manage the family landholdings. While there he became a soldier and took part in suppressing a local Irish rebellion. Swelling with pride, he had his portrait painted wearing a suit of armor, his most authentic likeness. His first experience of warfare gave him the sudden idea of pursuing a military career, but the fever of battle soon wore off after his father discouraged him, “I can say nothing but advise to sobriety…I wish your youthful desires mayn’t outrun your discretion
Despite the dangers, Penn began to attend Quaker meetings near Cork. A chance re-meeting with Thomas Loe confirmed Penn’s rising attraction to Quakerism. Soon Penn was arrested for attending Quaker meetings. Rather than state that he was not a Quaker and thereby dodge any charges, he publicly declared himself a member and finally joined the Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) at the age of 22. In pleading his case, Penn stated that since the Quakers had no political agenda (unlike the Puritans) they should not be subject to laws that restricted political action by minority religions and other groups. Sprung from jail because of his family’s rank rather than his argument, Penn was immediately recalled to London by his father. The Admiral was severely distressed by his son’s actions and took the conversion as a personal affront. His father’s hopes that Penn’s charisma and intelligence would win him favour at the court were crushed. Though enraged, the Admiral tried his best to reason with his son but to no avail. His father not only feared for his own position but that his son seemed bent on a dangerous confrontation with the Crown. In the end, young Penn was more determined than ever and the Admiral felt he had no option but to order his son out of the house and to withhold his inheritance.
As Penn became homeless, he began to live with Quaker families. Quakers were relatively strict Christians in the seventeenth century. They refused to bow or take off their hats to social superiors, believing all people equal under God, a belief antithetical to an absolute monarchy which believed the monarch divinely appointed by God. Therefore, Quakers were treated as heretics because of their principles and their failure to pay tithes. They also refused to swear oaths of loyalty to the King. Quakers followed the command of Jesus not to swear, reported in the Gospel of Matthew, 5:34.
Penn became a close friend of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, whose movement started in the 1650s during the tumult of the Cromwellian revolution. The times sprouted many new sects besides Quakers, including Seekers, Ranters, Antinomians, Seventh Day Baptists, Soul sleepers, Adamites, Diggers, Levellers, Anabaptists (such as Swiss and German Mennonites, etc.), Behmenists, Muggletonians, and many others, as the Puritans were more tolerant than the monarchy had been. Following Oliver Cromwell’s death, however, the Crown was re-established and the King responded with harassment and persecution of all religions and sects other than Anglicanism. Fox risked his life, wandering from town to town, and he attracted followers who likewise believed that the “God who made the world did not dwell in temples made with hands.” By abolishing the church’s authority over the congregation, Fox not only extended the Protestant Reformation more radically, but he helped extend the most important principle of modern political history – the rights of the individual – upon which modern democracies were later founded. Penn travelled frequently with Fox, through Europe and England. He also wrote a comprehensive, detailed explanation of Quakerism along with a testimony to the character of George Fox, in his introduction to the autobiographical Journal of George Fox. In effect, Penn became the first theologian, theorist, and legal defender of Quakerism, providing its written doctrine and helping to establish its public standing.
Though freed, Penn demonstrated no remorse for his aggressive stance and vowed to keep fighting against the wrongs of the Church and the King. For its part, the Crown continued to confiscate Quaker property and put thousands of Quakers in jail. From then on, Penn’s religious views effectively exiled him from English society; he was sent down (expelled) from Christ Church, Oxford for being a Quaker, and was arrested several times. Among the most famous of these was the trial following his 1670 arrest with William Meade. Penn was accused of preaching before a gathering in the street, which Penn had deliberately provoked to test the validity of the new law against assembly. Penn pleaded for his right to see a copy of the charges laid against him and the laws he had supposedly broken, but the judge (the Lord Mayor of London) refused – even though this right was guaranteed by the law. Furthermore, the judge directed the jury to come to a verdict without hearing the defence.
Despite heavy pressure from the Lord Mayor to convict Penn, the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty”. When invited by the judge to reconsider their verdict and to select a new foreman, they refused and were sent to a cell over several nights to mull over their decision. The Lord Mayor then told the jury, “You shall go together and bring in another verdict, or you shall starve”, and not only had Penn sent to jail in loathsome Newgate Prison (on a charge of contempt of court), but the full jury followed him, and they were additionally fined the equivalent of a year’s wages each. The members of the jury, fighting their case from prison in what became known as Bushel’s Case, managed to win the right for all English juries to be free from the control of judges. This case was one of the more important trials that shaped the future concept of British and U.S. freedom, and was a victory for the use of the writ of habeas corpus as a means of freeing those unlawfully detained.
With his father dying, Penn wanted to see him one more time and patch up their differences. But he urged his father not to pay his fine and free him, “I intreat thee not to purchase my liberty.” But the Admiral refused to let the opportunity pass and he paid the fine, releasing his son.
The old man had gained respect for his son’s integrity and courage and told him, “Let nothing in this world tempt you to wrong your conscience.” The Admiral also knew that after his death, young Penn would become more vulnerable in his pursuit of justice. In an act which would not only secure his son’s protection but also set the conditions for the founding of Pennsylvania, the Admiral wrote to the Duke of York, the successor to the throne. The Duke and the King, in return for the Admiral’s lifetime service to the Crown, promised to protect young Penn and make him a royal counselor.
As conditions for Quakers deteriorated in England, Penn decided to appeal directly to the King and the Duke. Penn proposed a solution which would solve the dilemma—a mass emigration of English Quakers. Some Quakers had already moved to North America, but the New England Puritans, especially, were as hostile towards Quakers as Anglicans in England were, and some of the Quakers had been banished to the Caribbean. In 1677, a group of prominent Quakers that included Penn purchased the colonial province of West Jersey (half of the current state of New Jersey). That same year, two hundred settlers from the towns of Chorleywood and Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire and other towns in Buckinghamshire arrived, and founded the town of Burlington. George Fox himself had made a journey to America to verify the potential of further expansion of the early Quaker settlements. In 1682, East Jersey was also purchased by Quakers.
With the New Jersey foothold in place, Penn pressed his case to extend the Quaker region. Whether from personal sympathy or political expediency, to Penn’s surprise, the King granted an extraordinarily generous charter which made Penn the world’s largest private (non-royal) landowner, with over 45,000 square miles (120,000 km2). Penn became the sole proprietor of a huge tract of land west of New Jersey and north of Maryland (which belonged to Lord Baltimore), and gained sovereign rule of the territory with all rights and privileges (except the power to declare war). The land of Pennsylvania had belonged to the Duke of York, who acquiesced, but he retained New York and the area around New Castle and the Eastern portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. In return, one-fifth of all gold and silver mined in the province (which had virtually none) was to be remitted to the King and the Crown was freed of a debt to the Admiral of £16,000, equal to £2,188,166 today.
Penn first called the area “New Wales”, then “Sylvania” (Latin for “forests” or “woods”), which King Charles II changed to “Pennsylvania” in honor of the elder Penn. On 4 March 1681, the King signed the charter and the following day Penn jubilantly wrote, “It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.” In 1682 in England, he drew up a Frame of Government for the Pennsylvania colony. Freedom of worship in the colony was to be absolute, and all the traditional rights of Englishmen were carefully safeguarded. Penn drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement creating a political utopia guaranteeing free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.
I did not have to think at all about which recipe to choose today; it had to be Philly cheesesteak. A cheesesteak, also known as a Philadelphia cheesesteak, Philly cheesesteak, cheesesteak sandwich, cheese steak, or steak and cheese, is a sandwich made from thinly-sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese in a long roll which – duh!—has its roots in the city of Philadelphia.
The cheesesteak was developed in the early 20th century “by combining frizzled beef, onions, and cheese in a small loaf of bread,” according to a 1987 exhibition catalog published by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the sandwich by serving chopped steak on an Italian roll in the early 1930s’. The exact story behind its creation is debated, but in some accounts, Pat and Harry Olivieri originally owned a hot dog stand, and on one occasion, decided to make a new sandwich using chopped beef and grilled onions. While Pat was eating the sandwich, a cab driver stopped by and was interested in it, so he requested one for himself. After eating it, the cab driver suggested that Olivieri quit making hot dogs and instead focus on the new sandwich. They began selling this variation of steak sandwiches at their hot dog stand near South Philadelphia’s Italian Market. They became so popular that Pat opened up his own restaurant which still operates today as Pat’s King of Steaks. The sandwich was originally prepared without cheese; Olivieri claims provolone cheese was first added by Joe “Cocky Joe” Lorenza, a manager at the Ridge Avenue location.”
The meat traditionally used is thinly sliced rib-eye or top round, although other cuts of beef are also used. On a lightly oiled griddle at medium temperature, the steak slices are quickly browned and then scrambled into smaller pieces with a flat spatula. Slices of cheese are then placed over the meat, letting it melt, and then the roll is placed on top of the cheese. The mixture is then scooped up with a spatula, pressed into the roll, and cut in half.
I was once in a cheesesteak restaurant on South St with a gigantic line out the door and around the block (always a good sign). But the line moved very fast, and I calculated that the cook was averaging 20 seconds per cheesesteak. He had an assistant cooking the meat and shoveling it over to him where he chopped it, added cheese, and scooped it up into a bun. Any people fools enough to get to him without knowing what they wanted were abruptly told “next!” It was one of the best ever.
Philadelphians have great debates about the best place to get a cheesesteak with “Pat’s or Gino’s” being a common question. I have had a great many and they were all good. Some of the best are served by food trucks, especially around the University of Pennsylvania campus. They are very messy to eat usually, so standing to eat them is a good idea.
The basic cheesesteak has numerous variations including the addition of sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms, mayonnaise, hot sauce, and ketchup. Pizza sauce can also be added in which case it is called a pizza steak. After trying many variations I have become a purist and prefer plain steak, cheese and a roll.
In Philadelphia, most cheesesteak places use Amoroso or Vilotti-Pisanelli rolls; these rolls are long, soft, and slightly salted. One source writes that “a proper cheesesteak consists of provolone or Cheez Whiz slathered on an Amoroso roll and stuffed with thinly shaved grilled meat,” while a reader’s letter to an Indianapolis magazine, lamenting the unavailability of good cheesesteaks, wrote that “the mention of the Amoroso roll brought tears to my eyes.” After commenting on the debates over types of cheese and “chopped steak or sliced,” Risk and Insurance magazine declared “The only thing nearly everybody can agree on is that it all has to be piled onto a fresh, locally baked Amoroso roll.”
Cheez Whiz, provolone, and American cheese are the most commonly used cheeses. White American cheese along with provolone cheese are the favorites due to the mild flavor and medium consistency of American cheese. Some establishments pre-melt the American cheese to achieve the creamy consistency, while others place slices over the meat, letting them melt slightly under the heat. Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan says “Provolone is for aficionados, extra-sharp for the most discriminating among them.” Geno’s owner, Joey Vento, said, “We always recommend the provolone. That’s the real cheese.” Cheez Whiz, however, has a strong following even at Gino’s.
In a 1985 interview, Pat Olivieri’s nephew Frank Olivieri said that he uses “the processed cheese spread familiar to millions of parents who prize speed and ease in fixing the children’s lunch for the same reason, because it is fast.” Cheez Whiz is “overwhelmingly the favorite” at Pat’s, outselling runner-up American by a ratio of eight or ten to one, while Geno’s claims to go through eight to ten cases of Cheez Whiz a day. I’m a provolone kinda guy.
I don’t recommend making a cheesesteak at home although I have done it. Better to go to Philadelphia and shop around. Find a joint with a long line out the door and it will be good.